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?