by Conscious Reminder
“One has to pay dearly for immortality, one has to die several times while one is still alive.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
Immortality has been been a vexation desired by all and achieved by none. By that let us not ponder on the type of immortality that William Faulkner talks about when he says “A human is mortal and his only chance of immortality is to leave something immortal on earth”. No, by immortality here we refer to the basic corporeal need to live forever. Every author ranging from Oscar Wilde to Issac Asimov has contemplated on how an immortal being could be like. Each in their own twisted way. Would he be relieved of all existential crisis the modern man is faced with? Would he turn atheistic believing in the absence of religion on the prospect of eternal life? We can only deliberate… or is it only deliberations?
It is only in the modern age with the explosion in the fields of genetics and medicine that we have started taking immortality as a scientific possibility. The concept of death has a psychological hold over us. The inevitability of death coupled with the suffering that leads to it has made us believe that it is unchanging. We are afraid of immortality because it is unfamiliar. And we all are scared of things we don’t fully understand. We make excuses and say that immortality would be boring and that dictators would terrorize us and the like. Recent biomedical advancements in the research spheres of stem cells, molecular repair, cloning, synthetic organs and cybernetics are already improving people’s life expectancy. Now scientists are daring to believe those developments could soon stop ageing decisively. Life extension. The end of death, bar fatal trauma.
The initial therapies are the hard bit: tissue engineering (creating organs in a lab and transplanting them), stem cell therapy (injecting ‘repair’ cells into the patient) and molecular regenerative medicine (repairing cells within the body). Current thinking is that there’s a 50% chance of getting it all done within 25 years. Those therapies would be applied to middle-aged people, whose bodies haven’t suffered any serious damage. It would grant another 30 years of healthy life. Then when the patient comes back after 30 years the new therapies would have improved. The patient would be rejuvenated for longer. Therapies would improve again. The patient would not age. In the business of beating death, this is known as ‘longevity escape velocity’.
Even if you don’t escape and fatal trauma shuts the gate before we’ve all bolted, it’s not the end. You can come back. In the past two years, improved availability of cryonic techniques have sparked a price-war between clinics all over the world. From those in the US offering eternal-life insurance for $30 (£20) a month, all the way to a center outside Moscow where they’ll preserve your head for as little as £6,000, coming back from the beyond is suddenly far less far-fetched. However much or little you pay, the promise is the same – suspension of your being until a time when death isn’t death any more. There is just one catch, are you rich enough to afford immortality?
The paradox of immortality lies in the fact as the very eminent satirist Ambrose Bierce aptly puts it:
“Immortality: A toy which people cry for, And on their knees apply for, Dispute, contend and lie for, And if allowed Would be right proud Eternally to die for.”