January 5, 2006 at 2:02 pm #9747
Interesting survey of physical science’s attempt to create physical immortality, not to be confused with Tao science of spirtual immortality. But certainly related, as external alchemy (technology) and inner alchemy tend to run in parallel development, despite the modern lag time in re-booting inner alchemy after a few hundred years of domination by outer alchemy.
The scientific research interestingly does focus on hormonal regeneration, which is parallel to taoist emphasis on cultivationn and integration of shen and jing. Of course, they are not lookng at the power of conscioiusness to shape the sexual matrix of regeneration, just hoping to have it all in a pill. Long life without corresponding spiritual development will be a disaster in my estimation.
I will also get to other postings/questions on the site in a few days. right now i am on a dialup in the Caribbean (where I move my office for part of the winter, to do in the body research on Water (ocean) and Fire (sun) alchemy. I should have DSL shortly.
Getting ready for the Year of the Red Fire Dog,
THE QUEST FOR IMMORTALITY
January 1, 2006
[Link above includes videos.]
Hows this for an offer you cant refuse: how would you like to live say,
400 or 500 years, or even more and all of them in perfect health? Its both
a Utopian and a nightmare scenario but there are those who say it is well
within the realm of possibility.
Though we live longer and healthier lives than our grandparents, 100 is more
or less the outer limit because, catastrophic disease aside, we just plain
wear out. But 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer talked to one scientist
who says thats old-fashioned thinking, that sometime in the next 20 to 30
years or so well be able to recondition ourselves for the first steps
We begin our journey to the outer limits with a gentle trip down the River
Cam, floating by that center of British learning, Cambridge University. Our
guide and helmsman: Dr. Aubrey de Grey. He ponders while he punts.
“When I was a student, I bought my own punt, a secondhand one for a few
hundred pounds. And I used it in the summer to do what’s called chauffeur
punting,” says de Grey. “People come along, tourists, and you tell them lies
Today hes pondering his favorite premise: eternal youth.
While most scientists talk about increasing longevity by a few years, de
Grey says he is talking about the “indefinite extension of longevity.”
“Average life spans would be in the region of 1,000 years,” he says.
De Grey and his wife Adelaide are fixtures around Cambridge. Shes a
researcher in genetics; hes an academic maverick. While still in his early
30s he published groundbreaking work in theoretical biology and earned an
international reputation. His day job is managing a fruit fly database.
But the work that consumes him involves larger game humans. And he does
his best thinking in the same 17th century pub where Watson and Crick
refreshed themselves while unlocking the mysteries of DNA. De Grey believes
he has unlocked the mysteries of immortality.
“The aging process is really a buildup of side effects of being alive in the
first place,” he says.
De Grey has identified the biological processes he thinks are responsible
for aging, including the mutations that cause cancer and the gradual buildup
of useless, toxic junk.
What does this accumulation of junk within the cells lead to?
“It depends on the tissue. In the eye, there is a type of junk that
accumulates in the back of the retina that eventually causes us to go blind.
It’s called age-related macular degeneration. In the arteries, you have a
different type of cell which accumulates a different type of junk that
eventually causes arteriosclerosis,” he says.
But de Grey has gone way beyond describing the causes of degeneration. In a
series of papers he has developed a theory he calls “Engineered Negligible
Senescence”. Simply put, it says science will soon enable us to grow old
De Grey says that not all of the conditions that cause our bodies to age can
be avoided or prevented yet. “But I do claim that we have a fighting chance
of developing ways to prevent them within the next 25 years or so.”
So humans will be just as spry at 500 as we were at 25?
“If you have difficultly imaging this, think about the situation with
houses. With moderate maintenance they stay up, they stay intact,
inhabitable more or less forever. Its just that we have to do a bit of
maintenance to keep them going. And it’s going to be the same with us,” says
But Dr. Jay Olshansky disputes de Grey’s conclusions.
Dr. Olshansky studies longevity and aging at the University of Illinois in
Chicago. He says de Greys predictions are more science fiction than
“Currently, life expectancy in the United States is roughly about well,
it’s 80 for women, about 75 for men. They’re talking about numbers that are
simply way beyond comprehension,” he says.
Olshanksy goes on to say that humans are simply not built to last.
“From an evolutionary perspective, we’re designed to make it, to grow and
develop and to reproduce, pass our genes on to the next generation, and
ensure the reproductive success of our offspring,” says Dr. Olshansky. “So
you know, early 60s, one might argue, is where evolution has us surviving
optimally. But we go well beyond that, well beyond the end of our
reproductive period. So it’s no surprise that we see things go wrong with
these bodies when we use them beyond their warranty period. And that’s
exactly what we’re doing.”
De Grey admits his conclusions about people living to 1,000 are very
extreme, “and so the natural reaction is to say, ‘Well, this can’t possibly
be right.’ But then if you look at my reasoning, how I get to those
conclusions, it becomes very much harder to actually identify anything that
I’m saying that is unreasonable,” he says.
Would he compare such critics with those who believed that the Earth was
flat and continued to believe it even when it was only theoretically proven
to be round?
“I think that’s a pretty good parallel, yes,” says de Grey.
“I have no doubt science will make breakthroughs. But how do you develop a
model or a forecast of a life expectancy based on a technology that doesn’t
exist?” says Olshansky.
But de Grey insists that it will exist soon enough. Our success in mapping
the human genome will produce amazingly rapid strides in technology, like
smart drugs designed for individuals, gene therapies to cure hereditary
disease, and stem cells that rejuvenate organs like the heart and brain. And
beyond that, microscopic robots that travel through our bloodstream curing
what ails us.
Progress will be such that each generation will keep us one step ahead of
the Grim Reaper.
“The first generation will give us maybe 30 extra years of healthy
lifespan,” says de Grey. “So, beneficiaries of those first therapies will
still be around to benefit from improved therapies that will give them
another 30 or 50 years and so on. So this is basically staying one step
ahead of the problem.”
But realistically, who wants to live to age 500 or 1,000?
“What I’m after is not living to 1,000. I’m after letting people avoid death
for as long as they want to,” he says.
And de Grey acknowledges that immortality will not be cheap. “We are talking
about serious expenditure here. We are talking about expenditure in excess
of what’s being spent on the war in Iraq, for example.”
That money will only be forthcoming when ordinary people become convinced
that they have a shot at radical life extension.
“The people who are watching this probably still think about serious life
extension in the same way that they think about teleportation. You know,
they think it’s not really foreseeable and they’ll worry about it when it
is,” says de Grey.
Thats where the Methuselah Mouse Prize comes in. Its a multi-million
dollar contest designed by de Grey and others to spur anti-aging research.
The goal is to demonstrate that radical life extension is possible by
producing a so-called ageless mouse within the next 10 years.
“And that is when the real pandemonium is going to happen because people
will want to maximize their chance of making the cut,” says de Grey.
Not all mice are created equal at least not in the laboratory of Dr.
Christian Sell, a research scientist at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
In a separate facility, his mice come in two sizes regular and midi.
The midi mice are 40 percent smaller than regular mice because one gene has
The altered gene, one that all mammals including humans have, regulates a
hormone called IGF-1 that affects an animals size. If the gene is active, a
lot of the hormone is produced and the animal grows large. A less active
gene produces less of the hormone and a smaller animal. Dr. Sell hopes to
prove that the gene also affects longevity. If hes right, his smaller mice,
with less of the hormone, will live longer than the two- to two-and-a-half
year average of their larger cousins.
“Small seems to live longer, within your own species. Across species, small
is shorter. Mice live shorter than elephants,” says Sell. “But within mice,
the smaller mice seem to live longer. Within dogs, smaller dogs live
Could one conclude that this hormone produced by this gene is the longevity
“Why don’t we say it’s a longevity gene?” says Dr. Sell, laughing. “Because
there’s certainly more than that.”
Three years into his research, Sells midi mice are living longer than the
control group, but its too soon to tell if one of them will break the
record of almost five years and win the Methuselah prize.
Is the prize stimulating longevity research?
“It’s stimulating discussion,” says Dr. Sell, “and whether one agrees with
the idea that one will be able to intervene to radically extend life span or
not, well, that’s a good point for discussion.”
Dr. Sell doesn’t think that a fairly radical change in human longevity is a
real possibility in the near term.
But its human nature to want to live as long as possible in reasonable
health, and Olshansky says there are plenty of snake-oil salesmen out to
cash in on that desire. For them he has his own prize: the Silver Fleece
“This was a Silver Fleece Award for my favorite product. You know, I have my
favorite, and this one was called ‘Longevity.’ It says here ‘it drastically
slows the aging process.’ The person who invented it and many of the people
who were listed as having used it, including John Wayne, Yul Brenner ,
Anthony Quinn, Russian and German party leaders and many other worldwide
dignitaries, all share one common characteristic. They’re dead. They have
all died,” says Olshansky.
So what does Olshansky say about guys like de Grey, legitimate scientists?
“What I like about Aubrey is, he’s not selling anything except ideas. He’s
set forth a series of testable research hypotheses, which is what science is
all about, and he said test them. I love that. That is what we should be
doing in the world of science,” Olshansky says. “I just wouldn’t hold out
immortality or 5,000-year life expectancies as the end result or the promise
of what you’re going to get from this.”
But what if de Greys vision really does come to pass? Are we prepared to
deal with a whole new set of problems?
“We’re talking about saving 100,000 lives a day. And it takes a lot of
problems to match that,” says de Grey.
De Grey acknowledges that some people will say those 100,000 lives lost a
day are just in the nature of things. “But, you know, it didn’t stop us from
using treatments for infectious diseases when we found out how to develop
them,” de Grey responds.
What about the social issues, like overpopulation, that would come with
“Sure, it will be difficult,” de Grey says. “All I say is that this is a
choice that the society of the future that has these therapies at its
disposal is entitled to make for itself.”
————January 5, 2006 at 8:06 pm #9748
I’m just wondering that if the above proposition becomes a reality, how crowded will this earth become?
Oh yeah, and prolonged physical life without shen cultivation? = immature 235 year old.
matJanuary 6, 2006 at 6:02 am #9750
The search for the cheese of immortality is on!
Perhaps we will need immortal cats to deal with the oncoming problems of immortal mouse infestation!January 7, 2006 at 10:48 am #9752
I reccon space…
As fish got out of the water and onto land and progressively into the air, there is no reason for us not to leave the earth and settle in space. I sometimes amuse myself with the idea that the real intelligence here on earth is DNA – we are just its tool to propogate it throughout the universe and help to bring about its own spiritual enlightenment. DNA has survived far longer than any individual species – it’s the ultimate problem solver… we may think we’re developing technology out of our own ‘free will’ – but perhaps it’s the underlying urge (a message from DNA) to survive and expand into the universe that’s fueling our ‘progress’.
Internal alchemy, imo also correlates with this idea… as we recreate the universe inside our own body – bring perfect harmony and correlation between microcosm and macrocosm, we become more and more independent, perhaps independent enough to leave earth and all its gifts and limitations and progress into living in space with the vast resources that it entails.
And i think that longevity and space travel really go hand in hand – space is vast and we need to live on a different time-scale to start to make use of this vastness.
And btw – please dont take this seriously – it may happen, it may not, either way is fine for me, sometimes it’s fun to speculate – and if already speculating why not make it fun, optimistic and slightly ‘out-there’?January 7, 2006 at 11:58 am #9754
Author Brian Stableford in his e”e-mortals” series of books speculates that they might live on artificial islands. I think people are much more likely to use ocean and desert space than live in outer space, at least initially.January 7, 2006 at 9:20 pm #9756
I wasn’t serious, it was more of a sarcastic question. I just had a comical picture in my head of people walking into each other.
But I agree with your DNA hypothesis and the way that alchemy allows for our cosmic expansion. Great insight.January 8, 2006 at 9:26 am #9758
>I wasn’t serious,
great! I tend to think that the less serious conversations bring the most rewarding insights. In reality it’s our monkey-mind playing with words and ideas – so why not play with words and ideas that entertain as well as enlighten?
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