Immortality or Bust!

News goes in cycles and the nature of the stuff that interests us ebbs and flows, but immortality is always a hot topic especially when it’s presented as something that is almost within reach.

Drat the luck if people figure out how to live forever the day after I fall off a ladder while hanging Christmas lights!

Three years ago, inventor Ray Kurzweil said immortality was 20 years away. That’s a humbling number for anyone over or around 60. Kurzweil is taking no chances with his own bid to live forever. This 2008 article in Wired described his elaborate regimen of clinic visits and supplements intended to bolster his health until “the singularity” arrives, when intelligent machines take over and provide a vital assist to keep their biological buddies (us), perpetually present.

Best of luck, Mr. K.

If you can’t wait for your chance to become a citizen cyborg, there’s always the tantalizing hope offered by an enzyme discovered in an Australian pond by molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn. Not only did she get to share a Nobel Prize for her work, she got a nifty 45 minute program on the Smithsonian channel.

But if Blackburn’s enzyme doesn’t spark your dreams of endless longevity, how about jellyfish? This past Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran an extremely long article that’s getting lots of interest right now, about a creature called Turritopsis dohrnii, also known as the Immortal Jellyfish.

I confess I haven’t read any of Kurzweil’s books, watched the complete Smithsonian program, or done more than skim through the Times article. Anyone who wants to stay up to date on all the different ways we might become immortal will need to have a lot of extra free time to take it all in.

But my favorite thing about the jellyfish story (when it’s too old to live, Turritopsis dohrnii “ages backwards”, returning to it’s polyp stage so it can start over again) is the character who turns out to be one of the world’s leading experts on the creature.

Dr. Shin Kubota of Japan is living this life like he gets only one shot at it. He’s not merely a scientist, he’s a karaoke enthusiast (two hours each day!) and a songwriter. This isn’t a sideline – the music is part of his fascination with immortality. Here’s a quote from the Times article:

“We must love plants — without plants we cannot live. We must love bacteria — without decomposition our bodies can’t go back to the earth. If everyone learns to love living organisms, there will be no crime. No murder. No suicide. Spiritual change is needed. And the most simple way to achieve this is through song.”

Here’s how you know he’s not your typical scientist. He goes on TV, wearing a jellyfish hat, to sing songs he has written about Turritopsis dohrnii.

This is called “Scarlet Medusa Chorus”.

The Times didn’t provide a translation, but Sarah Laskow posted some of the words in Grist.

My name is Scarlet Medusa,
A teeny tiny jellyfish
But I have a special secret
that no others may possess
I can — yes, I can! — rejuvenate

Not the greatest lyrics, but if Kubota’s research pans out, he’ll have forever to do the revisions.

Would you want to live forever?

85 thoughts on “Immortality or Bust!”

  1. If I could sit in a corner reading, blogging, drinking beer forever maybe. But I bet I would have to really really take care of myself. As a man on his way to ride the exercise bike at 5 a.m., I’m not feeling willing to be wheeling for a million years. And gluten free forever. After the first 3-4 centuries, I would have to have a pizza and a beer.And just think of some of the people I’d have to listen to forever. My skin crawls. And a all those years of stupid mistakes and embarrassments I would have to live with. I cannot really manage 68 years worth. Then there’s . . .

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    1. Heck ya
      I have nothing else planned beyond my lifetime and when I think of allvid enjoy doing i salivate
      I would like to begin the rejuvenation now please.
      Check back next century
      Ben even the who could be young again
      Clyde if health weren’t the issue would pizza and beer be an issue, or couldn’t you just spend a couple hundred tweaking the recipe to get the gluten free ones the way you wanted them?

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  2. Morning all. I think Clyde has already identified the problem of they day — the quality of the life to be lived forever. If I had to go to work everyday for time immemorial and fight my weight for eons and eons into the future, I’m not sure I’m onboard for that. If I could retire tomorrow with enough money to travel and read and work in my garden, I might consider it.

    Of course, finding the key to immortality in 20 years is pointless. Our poor planet will not be able to handle many more of us, especially since those of us here now haven’t managed to take care of the her properly!

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  3. Thank for this morning’s inspiring post, Dale. Where do you find these gems? You have got to LOVE Dr. Shin Kubota, I know I do. We need more eccentrics like that.

    As to wanting to live forever, for me, not a chance! But the idea of being able to reverse your aging process sounds intriguing, at least as an idea. Toying with how far back I would reverse the process; at what point would I want to start aging again? One thing I know for sure, I would not want to go through my childhood and teenage years again.

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    1. I was thinking that those lyrics probably sounded better in Japanese. I’m pretty sure now that they don’t. But a scientist with a sense of humor, who doesn’t mind looking a bit silly in public if he can share his love of his subject? Value beyond rubies.

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  4. It presents something of a religious conundrum, doesn’t it? Would you want to test your faith by leaving this world to go to your reward in a presumably better one? But then there is a perceived moral problem with suicide. Do you have to live forever?

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    1. If anyone could live forever, I wish it was Pete Seeger. Life won’t be the same without him gently reminding us of our better natures.

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  5. Good morning. I do plan on living forever. No one knows when they will die. As long as you are alive you are alive. Of course, I do know that I will die and I am making some plans for what will happen when I die, such as writing a will. However, I am not going to give in to death and stop living my life they way I want to because I am old and my years are number. So, in some ways, I plan on living as if I will live forever.

    I have seen people suffer severely from health problems at the end of their lives. I would be very hesitant to help a person end their life even if they were close to death and extremely ill. However, if I knew a person who I thought truly wanted to end their life because they were very sick and near death, I wouldn’t be apposed to granting their wish.

    It would be a very different situation if we actually knew that we could live forever. I hope that this would only happen if we put a stop the things we are doing that are destroying the place where we live. As Kubota says, we need to learn to love living organisms.

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  6. There are many old legends and tales from Middle ages especially about people who were condemned to live forever. A key part of this dismal punishment was to wander forever.

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  7. For me the issue comes down to two arguments that have nothing to do with each other.

    There is the perspective of environmental ethics. Living creatures have their work to do creating more of their kind, then they have few useful functions and become a drag on the universe. It is just appropriate and right for those who are living to eventually move off the limited stage and make room for younger performers. Putting it another way, what gives me the right to continue to consume food and water forever when there is already not enough to go around? We owe the universe a death as payment for the joy of living, making room for others to know that joy.

    Then there is the perspective of psychology. People value things if they are rare and precious. They don’t show proper respect for things that are common and limitless. The fact we die is a wonderful thing because it helps us appreciate the gift of life. A performer friend used to urge his audience to stay up for a show he did that ran for hours and hours into the early dawn. “You folks are going to be dead for millions and millions of years, you know. You might as well stay up late tonight and have fun.”

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    1. I am okay with the idea that we should look on death as making way for the next generation. At the same time we also need to live our lives in a way that leaves the world to good shape for the next generation. That doesn’t seem to be getting much consideration. Of course, I am not apposed to people having fun as long as they do it in a way that is not harmful to the world in which they live.

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  8. OT – Oh, no….. Snow Miser song just came on the radio. I’ll have it in my head the rest of the day! I need company in my misery…

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        1. You are a cruel woman VS. I am at the LaCrosse Allergy Clinic in a waiting room, so I listened to this…..OFF WITH YOUR HEAD!

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  9. I’m ambiguous about the question.

    Yes, I’d like to live forever, but only because I’m so damn curious about what will happen to this mortal coil in 50, 100, 1000, 10000 years.

    No, I don’t want to live forever, because I’d have to suffer with all the stupid thngs humans are doing to themselves and our mortal coil over the next 50, 100, 1000, 10000 years.

    But I certainly wouldn’t mind another 100 years or so to work on my golf game. I might find the secret of how to play well every day by then.

    Chris in Owatonna

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    1. That’s about my point of view. I would only want to live long if people would think me a wise old man to whom they should listen, but they would not, unless there is a huge cultural shift. I would for instance want to point out cycles if history that people ignore. For instance, in our church as in many the older people want everything about the worship service to stay the same and think it has been this way forever and it any change is Biblically incorrect. I would like to be here when the young, who want to change everything (and with whom I mostly agree), are then 75 and think that they way they made it should last forever and any change to their vision is Biblically incorrect.

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  10. No, I wouldn’t want to live forever. We’ve seen a lot of change in the past century and it seems to be accelerating. I wish some things could remain stable for just a little while but then something else changes (e.g.: technology) or is improved. TLGMS was always a stable home in a world of constant change. When it was gone, I felt adrift. But we’ve been through all that.

    I strongly agree with Steve and VS about the ethical considerations of living forever. We already take more from this planet than any other species ever has – why do we think it’s all right to live forever on top of all we’ve already done?

    OT: It’s been challenging for me to keep up lately because I’m trying to teach my supervisor how to do my job and I’m working long hours, not taking breaks, and I’m exhausted when I get home. My new job starts next Wednesday with training in Anoka. I’ll have 11 or 12-hour days for about a week and a half before actually starting my new job. I won’t have access to a computer, so I may not be here as often as I’d like to be.

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    1. Krista, will you have to commute from Anoka to your house every day, or are you able to stay overnight in Anoka? Sounds like a rigorous schedule for a while. Pace yourself, and take good care of yourself.

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      1. BiR has graciously offered me a place to stay, but there is a van leaving Faribault daily during this training period and the trainees will all be traveling together. After the first day at Anoka RTC, the training will move to DHS offices in Vadnais Heights. I’d really like to stay at BiR’s, but I’m afraid I might have too much fun!

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        1. I was going to offer that you could stay at our house, but that’s still a long way to Anoka, and probably not nearly as much fun as staying with BiR.

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    2. I think you just need to explain about the blog up front and tell them it won’t get in the way much but the expect your left elbow to be there at work they need to understand the blog family will be there too

      Ain’t that right captain billy aaaaagggghhhh

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  11. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    I am with Beth Ann–NO WAY. There is something about a finite “dead”line so to speak, that intensifies the one mindful enjoyment of the moment. If I knew I would live forever, I would put of the pleasure.

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  12. Another rough night last night and then this morning WordPress wants to know if I’m Clyde Birkholz. Am I? I forget 😉

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    1. Shut the computer off
      Run out of batteries
      Switch which computer or device you are accessing it from?
      Word press cares about all that. At least you’re not a damn doily

      And whats with chi trader. Now we know his secret identity

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  13. I love this quote: “I like life. It’s somethingto do.” (Ronnie Shakes)

    I like life, but I really can’t think of anything I do here that I want to go on doing forever, so I guess my answer would be a resounding NO. Also, I am really curious about what’s on the other side once we go, always have been. Don’t need to put off forever satisfying that.

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  14. I’m beginning to have a hard enough time accepting that I’m approaching my own “fiscal cliff” as it is with my recent thoughts about being only 12 years away from 80. I wish this had never occurred to me! Since the harmony of my interior life with my exterior life has only been accomplished in the last few years, I’m clinging to it ferociously as long as I can. I’ve only discovered the gift and joy of dancing since turning 60 after all. It does seem unfair that the wisdom and acceptance of self which only seems to come with advanced aging evolves when life’s on fast-forward, though. If I could freeze frame my current life in terms of health, vitality, and contentedness, I’d certainly desire another 30 years just as is. I think that the fact that I “blossomed” so late in life is going to make it harder to accept physical aging. In other words, it’s hard to imagine an 80-year old out there wildly dancing like Tina Turner. Then again, I’ll be quite blessed if my cancer doesn’t recur and I even have until 80 to enjoy myself?!

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  15. Hey-
    Busy here; haven’t had a chance to read all the entries but been thinking about it all morning.

    To paraphrase: ‘Lightbulbs die. I have departed.’
    (I think I want that on my tombstone.)

    And my old fallback on this issue, ‘Mr Magoriums Wonder Emporium’:
    Mr. Edward Magorium: [to Molly, about dying] When King Lear dies in Act V, do you know what Shakespeare has written? He’s written “He dies.” That’s all, nothing more. No fanfare, no metaphor, no brilliant final words. The culmination of the most influential work of dramatic literature is “He dies.” It takes Shakespeare, a genius, to come up with “He dies.” And yet every time I read those two words, I find myself overwhelmed with dysphoria. And I know it’s only natural to be sad, but not because of the words “He dies.” but because of the life we saw prior to the words.
    [pause, walks over to Molly]
    Mr. Edward Magorium: I’ve lived all five of my acts, Mahoney, and I am not asking you to be happy that I must go. I’m only asking that you turn the page, continue reading… and let the next story begin. And if anyone asks what became of me, you relate my life in all its wonder, and end it with a simple and modest “He died.”

    [picks Molly up, sighs heavily]
    Mr. Edward Magorium: Your life is an occasion. Rise to it.

    I fully believe there are more interesting and exciting things to be experienced out there… Perhaps I’ll come back as a bumblebee.

    Ben

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    1. A couple of years ago someone pointed out that no one ever says “he died” it’s always he passed or he’s gone on to blah blah blah. I still catch my self every time and I have had people scrunch up their faces and obviously wish a cushion but I hold fast

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  16. I just thought of another reason I don’t want to live much longer–roundabouts. They are a pox spreading their way across America from Boston. There is one a block from our last house. We escaped just in time. In another decade they will be in the Mojave Desert.

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    1. I’ve used them all my life. I don’t understand what all the resistance to them is all about. They’re easier to use than 4-way stops, and you never have to make a left turn. I just don’t get it. Why do you find them bothersome Clyde and vs?

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      1. We have a few in Rochester on some minor roads around the college; not much traffic on them so they’re kinda fun to zip around.
        Now this summer they put one on Hwy 63, just North of Rochester; a major traffic artery into town. People here haven’t used them enough to get used to them.
        I remember the first roundabouts I saw about 25 years ago out in Boston. Glad my friend was driving; scared the daylights out of me!
        Even the one here is just a single lane of traffic. My memories of those Boston ones still scare me.

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        1. It’s the other people issue. People not looking and just forging ahead. People not understanding and crawling through. People ahead of you paralyzed and not moving at all!

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      2. They told my reasons. But I so associate them with Boston. In Boston roundabouts are about three times as big around as here and have an inner and outer lane, often spreading out to five or more exits. I’m trying to read a map and pick my exit and not get in an accident with a rental car surrounded by all those “polite and and friendly and helpful” Bostonians. Everyone but me is used to them and roars through them blaring their horn at me for what offense I am not sure. Boston is so fun to drive in anyway. The exit signs on the freeways do not tell you what is coming up. There is one exit in downtown Boston I needed which is right around a tight corner and there is the sign for it on the far side of the exit. The first time I was there I missed it twice. Basically the message in Boston is if your not from here, get off the road.
        The one they put in my our last house has a large volume of traffic, most of it student traffic, often with semis on them. that do not make that turn all that well.

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      3. I find them somewhat anxiety-provoking. If there’s someone coming around when you’re trying to enter, should you yield? They are not signaling, but you’re not sure if they’re turning off before they get to your entry point or not, and if they’re going kinda fast they may be pissed at you if you don’t yield… and how about if you’re trying to go straight and somebody zooms up on your right and maybe they want to go around and are going to be pissed at you if you’re going straight and moving too slow for them. And if you miss turning off where you intended to get off, you can go around again, but you have to count correctly or you’re going to get confused. I kind of like four-way stops.

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        1. Linda, the driver entering the roundabout must yield. All cars in the roundabout have the right-of-way, and you should never attempt to merge into the roundabout until space is available. Successfully negotiating a roundabout does require that you pay attention; yacking on the cell phone and texting simultaneously is not conducive to a happy roundabout encounter (or a lot of other traffic encounters, I might add). One reason I prefer roundabouts over 4-way stop signs is that so many drivers can’t seem to figure out who got to the stop sign first, either because they’re distracted or confused. I’m making a not so safe assumption here that a driver approaching a roundabout will not be distracted. I still think roundabouts are a good idea; it’s a matter of people becoming familiar with the rules, and I think a lot of work needs to be done in that department. A driver running a red light knows he’s breaking the law; a driver forcing his way into a roundabout isn’t necessarily aware that he’s breaking the rules.

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    2. I’m excited for whenever I get to design my first roundabout. I’ll be going to a workshop on roundabout analysis at the end of January. I can’t wait! As a civil engineer, roundabouts are great solutions to horrible intersections without having to put in a stupid signal. Traffic continues flowing and they’re easy to use. I love them 🙂

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      1. In southern MN the word Yield makes no sense, for whatever reason here. New Prague MN has three of them in a row. Last time through there a person drove through the Yield sign right in front of me in two of them.

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      1. I started to say more but son#2 knows all about TB. Though he’s never indicated that he does, I wonder if he lurks.
        I should probably have left the comments at the thoughtful and whimsical.
        Thanks for your thoughts, Steve.

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    1. Well, if there was nothing about living forever that would be a problem, why not live forever? I like being alive and I should think I would never want to stop being alive in a perfect world where every thing will be fine in the future. I don’t see any proof that I or anyone else is going heaven or will lead a second life of some kind. I admit that I don’t have any proof that there is no heaven. Any one can believe anything they want.

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    2. Edith, I accia dentally posted my comment under yours. My comment to you is I hope you do not have life sentence and will be out of prison soon if that is where you are at this time.

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  17. Nah – too much pressure to Do Something With a Positive Impact on The World. That’s hard enough now with the measly few decades I have allotted. I hardly think – even though it’s kinda fun – that helping create a better way to find stuff to buy on a web site is gonna earn me a Nobel or anything.

    That said, and I think Ben would agree with me on this, it would have been nice to have Freddy Mercury on this planet for longer than we did:

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    1. You got that right Anna. But for that matter, I want him to stay young right there along with Roger Daltrey’s voice and Pete’s windmilling.
      And lets put David Lee Roth back in VanHalen. And bring back Jaclyn Smith in her — I mean my fantasies! And Jim Ed! Let him retire, but still working in the shop.
      And my daughters best friend. And and and—- too many.

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  18. By the way, Dale. I think the title for this “Immortality or Bust” is very, very funny. Kinda like saying, “I’m going to be immortal – or die trying!”

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