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Man's Best Attempts at Immortality

Posted November 07, 2012 10:23 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: cloning cryonics death healthcare

Such a morbid post title, eh? Well, without beating around the bush, that's exactly what we'll be covering this week. Yes, Halloween was last week, but science is every week! Yay, science!

The concept of breathing new life into dead humans is as old as Biblical times, with Jesus resurrecting Lazarus four days after his death. Whether you are Christian or not (and this is CR4, so no one is going to listen to you either way), this is one of the oldest recordings of reanimation in existence. Fictionalized accounts of reanimation gained popularity in literature in the 19th century, with Dracula and Frankenstein's monster being most prevalent. "The beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart." -Victor Frankenstein upon the realization of his creature.

Yet we all know tossing a body in the air and it getting struck by lightning doesn't bring the dead humans back to life, or dogs for that matter. Several other methods of reanimation exist however, with varying degrees of scientific validity. Let's take a look at your options for when that carnival goldfish dies.

Zombification

Zombies are originally a creation of voodoo and subsequent creation of disease. African cultures believed that zombies were the result of sorcerers. As these traditions carried to Haiti, western societies were able to determine that zombies were a result of a powerful combination of neurotoxin drugs delivered by witch doctors into wounds. When these toxins didn't kill or paralyze the victims, they became obedient addicts with low levels of affection. Furthermore, during the French Creole and Haitian conflicts of the early 1800s, a man by the name of Jean Zombi gained fame for his brutal attacks and his service to the Haitian nationals, so the name 'zombie' came to represent obedient and scary individuals.

While the dubious credibility of voodoo is clear, more modern takes on zombies place the origins in the hands of disease spread by blood and saliva. These zombies just want to eat you and your brains, and you must kill them appropriately. On the date of this publication, zombies are very much 'in'. The highest rated cable TV show is currently "The Walking Dead" and zombies continue to serve as a silver screen staple.

Many officials, namely the CDC, have debunked the possibility of a virus that reanimates deceased individuals, despite their publicized zombie apocalypse advisory. Several medical conditions resemble a zombie virus, however: Taxoplasma gondii is a parasite that causes rats to sacrifice themselves to cats, and may be responsible for some human suicides; stem cell research has proven capable of regrowing brain stems-meaning people can be reanimated into stumbling, bumbling humanoids; finally, nanobots have been programmed to work with bacteria to help keep humans alive when they find cancers and viruses. It's not farfetched to think that these nanobots could continue to repair human tissue upon expiry.

No matter how many drug-crazed, nude homeless men eat each other, zombies seem like an unlikely reality. Zombies as film represents them remain out of the medical reality. In my opinion, there are enough guns and adverse weather to stave off any large-scale zombie attack, this method isn't an effective means of keeping the cognitive person people love (or hate) alive.

Cloning

Genetic cloning gave us Dolly-the first cloned sheep, as well as the cloned dinosaurs from the film Jurassic Park where a man is eaten by a tyrannosaurus while sitting on a toilet. Dolly was relatively easy to clone when compared to a dinosaur. The sheep's entire genome had already been mapped from the DNA donor and the embryo was carried to term by an unrelated sheep. Unfortunately, DNA mapping of an entire dinosaur's genome is impossible since the half-life of DNA is about 1 million years even in perfect preservation, and it would be extremely difficult to sustain the dinosaur in an egg. Reptiles have yet to be cloned at all.

Cloning humans has become a grey area in many arenas. Religions argue that cloning is immoral, politicians claim that cloning is illegal, and scientists say cloning is inevitable. In 2004, a Greek fertility doctor implanted a woman with a cloned embryo, but the pregnancy was unsuccessful. Scientists have cloned large, complex animals like buffaloes and steers, so the technology to clones humans is probably available despite its limited attention.

Two areas of cloning are particularly related to immortality: replacement cloning and persistence cloning. Replacement cloning involves the duplication of a person already deceased by the preservation of their DNA, while persistence cloning involves the creation of clones to keep the DNA donor permanently healthy and young. Most countries capable of cloning have adopted laws banning the process for humans, but as stem cell research advances a more thorough debate on cloning will be needed. In the 1960s bioethicist Leon Kass wrote, "The programmed reproduction of man will, in fact, dehumanize him." which sounds eerily reminiscent of Dr. Frankenstein's quote at the beginning of this article.

Cryogenics

A process that gained a lot of press in the 1990s, and more recently upon the death of .400-hitter Ted Williams and the 2003 legal battle as to status of his remains; Williams DNA remains in a state of frozen suspension. Much like Austin Powers and my nemesis' wife Nora Fries, individuals are suspended in a frozen state until technology exists to resuscitate the deceased or heal the diseased. Many countries require that individuals in cryopreservation already be dead or the medical team can be charged with murder or assisted suicide. The basis of cryogenics is built upon a well-accepted notion of medical science: that a person's mental faculties can exist post-mortem when preserved by freezing. However, the second part of cryogenics is largely based on skepticism, which is the belief that medical advances will allow the reanimation or successful cloning of the individuals being preserved.

This future technology must also be able to account for tissue regeneration, since it is likely some tissue will be irreparably damaged. During typical frostbite crystal formation within cells causes them to burst and die, but through a process of vitrification tissues are frozen while microwaves keep the water in liquid form. When the microwaves are removed the water freezes instantaneously without bursting the cell walls.


Being immortal isn't for everyone. But right now, it also isn't for anyone. Would it be worth it to be alive in 100 years? Time would become useless, but that's up to the individual to decide. There are a variety of scientific methods where this could become possible.

It should be important to note that many cases of Lazarus syndrome have been documented, so even when it's over-it may not yet be over. This could just be malpractice as well, but that doesn't bode well for techniques requiring medical technology.

In 2012, Russia saw the creation of a new, single-policy political party called the Longevity Party. Its sole mission is to reform legislation to make extended human life a reality. If I lived in Russia, I think 70 years would be a good "I'm done now." There are plans to make this a party in Holland and the USA as well.

Yet some of the world's greatest individuals and their accomplishments could be preserved. Your grandchildren can see Ted Williams #2 hit triples in Fenway. To me, that alone is worth the research.

Resources

Image credits: Kumquat Writer; Eric B. Olsen Tripod; Gajitz; CDC; Immortal Humans; Animal Research; Alcor; ABC News

Wikipedia - Zombie; Resurrection; Cryonics; Haitian Voodoo (Mortality); Human cloning;

Extreme Tech - Sorry, you will never ride, see or pet a cloned dinosaur

Mother Nature Network - CDC denies rumors of zombie apocalypse

Smithsonian Mag Blog - The Curious World of Zombie Science

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#1

Re: Man's Best Attempts at Immortality

11/07/2012 10:35 PM

Doesn't the "Epic of Gilgamesh" resurrection story predate the Bible story by centuries?

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#2
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Re: Man's Best Attempts at Immortality

11/08/2012 5:02 AM

You beat me to it! And with the oldest known example.

I was going to cite the resurrection of Osiris (which is almost a retelling of Gilgamesh for a new society) and, just staying within the book cited by HUSH, the resurrection of the Widow of Zarapheth's son by Elijah (First Book of Kings, if memory serves). I use the latter example whenever someone talks about Lazarus, or indeed when someone makes reference to Jesus being "the first fruits of the dead".

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#3

Re: Man's Best Attempts at Immortality

11/08/2012 10:23 AM

The human quest for immortality is indeed old and as stated the Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest known story. It was also believed to be the inspiration for Homer's Odyssey and for the biblical story of Noah's flood. As for many of the quests for immortality, I find most are based on wishful thinking and not on reality. That is fun for writers, Hollywood, vampires, and Zombies but for us mere mortals, we can be proud of our attempts to extend our useful lives with longevity. Useful lives can mean we can be active and viable to an old age most could not achieve only a century ago. Life expectancy is increasing dramatically. At the beginning of the 20th C., the average man in western civilizations was living to about 47 years. Today in Japan that age is 82. In Swaziland the average is only 31 (child mortality rates are high). The longevity enjoyed today means many can golf, tennis, swim, travel, etc well in to their eighties if they make it that far. In Canada the age to collect old age pension has been increased from 65 to 67. That increase is based on the expectancy to live longer or even work longer. Old age pension funds would or will be stressed to keep up without some increase in age eligibility.

Gerontology, once the backwater area of science, is now a hot field of study. We are unraveling the causes of old age. It is the accumulation of errors in genetic and cellular material. These errors build up in various ways and cause aging. Entropy is visible in the faces and stance of the elder. Michio Kaku in his book, "Physics of the Future", 2011, has predicted that as we unravel genes, we will extend useful life by the 22nd Century to 150 years. Not quite immortality but a huge step forward. We can now preform organ transplants, bypass surgery, and with stem cells we can even regenerate arteries. It is even postulated that with a 30% reduction of caloric intake we can extend our lives by 30%. At least in the western world. Swaziland may actually need a 30% increase in calories. Science and engineering will lead the way in human longevity. If you want true immortality I suspect you will have to have faith in the gods. In my case it will be immortality in hell so I will take my chances on this world but thanks anyway.

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#10
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Re: Man's Best Attempts at Immortality

11/12/2012 12:12 PM

"Useful lives can mean we can be active and viable to an old age most could not achieve only a century ago."

I think it was Benjamin Franklin that said "most men die at 25 and wait till 65 to be buried."

Most people these days are "dead" eventhough they are still breathing. They have lost hope that their surroundings, their lives, their jobs, etc., will ever get better and they simply trudge through life waiting to die.

The solution to this is to find out why you exist. What is your God-given purpose/mission in life? What were you built to do?

Most people have no clue about why they exist or what they should be doing with the time on earth that they have. There is another quote that applies to this; "most men/women live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their 'song' still inside them". It is sad that people have resigned themselves to a life of mediocrity, rather than excellence, doing what they were created for and love.

If you want true immortality I suspect you will have to have faith in the gods. In my case it will be immortality in hell so I will take my chances on this world but thanks anyway."

Mankind has amazing God-given talent to learn, experiment and hypothesize about things but they are all within the constraints of Natural Law.

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Re: Man's Best Attempts at Immortality

11/12/2012 12:51 PM

"Most people these days are "dead" even though they are still breathing. They have lost hope that their surroundings, their lives, their jobs, etc., will ever get better and they simply trudge through life waiting to die."

What a perfectly true statement. I call it the "It's as good as it gets" syndrome.

What sucks is that a lot of people do strive to get better situated in life that have to get through people work to keep them where they are at.

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Re: Man's Best Attempts at Immortality

11/12/2012 5:09 PM

There is no single reason to find a Joie de vivre . Each individual human may find his purpose based on many things or ideas. I enjoy learning and look forward to some sort of progress each and every day. I enjoy my family and friends. I enjoy walks. I enjoy loving my wife and being loved. I enjoy giving payback to a beggar on the street with a twenty to experience the joy of giving. I often think that the beggar may be a vet (or anyone just down on luck) who spent his purpose saving my ability to enjoy my life. I enjoy volunteering my time for various purposes. I enjoyed working and running a business when I was more viable. I am of an age to be retired and now I do enjoy that aspect.


What I do not enjoy is getting old and losing my physical capabilities. It happens to us all and aging is not so kind as to care what else you did in life. Old age will punish abusers who smoked and drank too much. There can be rewards in taking care of your body to optimize the longevity aspects. Feeling good about your life may also have rewards. An optimist has a better chance of enjoying old age than a pessimist. And you are right one should not "trudge" through life but find a purpose. A "God-given purpose /mission in life" is fine for those who have a need of a god. But for the humanist who enjoys life as it is presented and who can direct his own course of action, I promise you it is not "trudging". The real joys of life can be found within each individual for many reasons. Goodness (godness) can only come from within and a god/religion is not necessary to guide this action. In fact I believe many religions cause much more harm than good.


My reference to immortality in hell was really a tongue in cheek take on faith in a god as a means to immortality. My pointing out the aspects of longevity as viable humans was not based on esoteric ideals but on health aspects only. Science and medicine will allow future generations to enjoy older and healthier lives. The Hayflick limit can be overcome with telomerase enzymes but again we have limits. I respect anyone to believe what they want as long as it does not cause harm to others. Everyone has an obligation to help others and in particular those who are not capable of helping themselves to live better.


I apologize in advance for any rudeness construed in my post.

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Re: Man's Best Attempts at Immortality

11/12/2012 5:50 PM

"A "God-given purpose /mission in life" is fine for those who have a need of a god. But for the humanist who enjoys life as it is presented and who can direct his own course of action, I promise you it is not "trudging". The real joys of life can be found within each individual for many reasons. Goodness (godness) can only come from within and a god/religion is not necessary to guide this action. In fact I believe many religions cause much more harm than good.


My reference to immortality in hell was really a tongue in cheek take on faith in a god as a means to immortality."

Our immortality doesn't depend upon one's belief system, it happens regardless of what we believe or not. Our belief just determines where we spend it.

"A 'God-given purpose /mission in life' is fine for those who have a need of a god."

You and I will just have to agree to disagree on this point. If we are the result of some primordial ooze then there is no purpose in living but we have been designed we are designed for a purpose. kevinm, I appreciate the fact that you reach out to those around you who can benefit from what you have done with your life to this point. That needs to happen much more often with a lot more people. It is great when catastrophe's like "Sandy" happen to see some communities or groups of people step in to help one another without anyone (government) telling them to do so.

The "trudging" has more to do with a person's drive and their outlook on life rather than their spiritual thinking, although someone who sees their lives as having God-given purpose will be impacted by that mindset although many people who see their lives with a spiritual perspective don't really live that out very well, which is sad to say.

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Re: Man's Best Attempts at Immortality

11/12/2012 5:54 PM

Yes, Have you seen Gene Hackman lately. He's 82 years old running around with a young Asian wife, some guy comes up begging for money, whom Hackman had given money to before, the homeless guy insulted Hackman's wife and Hackman cold cocked him. Hackman looks the same now as he did 10 years ago. The guy doesn't age.

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Re: Man's Best Attempts at Immortality

11/08/2012 10:57 AM

I saw an article not long ago about being able to prolong life to well over 100 through medical science by 2050.

Seeing the pictures above of the zombies brings the question about Vegans and Vegetarians. I think those two groups out of anyone would fear becoming zombies over anyone else because of the thought of coming back and craving meat.

On another note:

How are zombies even walking around? They have no heart beat so there is not blood flowing to their muscles.

And, since humans are omnivores, why don't zombies just go around eating anything they can get into their mouths.

And another thing, since the desire to eat only comes from the base of the brain for satisfying their primal need to eat, shooting them in the forehead wouldn't stop them, in fact you could basically cut their heads off at mouth level and their bodies would still be wondering around aimlessly trying to eat.

Since zombies were created by some virus, of all the scary creatures out there, zombies are the only ones that aren't evil. They are just here and they are hungry.

One thing I don't get. Since the virus must have been airborne to be able to spread so effectively, the survivors must have been resistant to the virus, so why should biting somebody be a problem that late in the game?

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Re: Man's Best Attempts at Immortality

11/08/2012 11:12 AM

As great a source as this is:

The walking dead describes everyone to have the virus all the time. To become a zombie as well, all you need to do is die. That means, if you have a heart attack, the virus takes over the husk of a human you once were and turns "you" into a zombie. The bite is just extremely infectious to the point of causing death - thus creating another zombie.

They don't discriminate against any of the living creatures. The one thing I've never understood is why they weren't eating one another. Could be that they smell death on one another and negates their appetite? It's hard to say. No two movies / games / shows ever fully explain it quite the same way, so it's up to interpretation, I suppose.

As for immortality, it's easy. Just become a jellyfish really quick.

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Re: Man's Best Attempts at Immortality

11/08/2012 12:06 PM

There was one Zombie movie where the Zombie was trained to eat fried chicken.

Bruce Lee had it all wrong then, he was teaching people to be the water.

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Re: Man's Best Attempts at Immortality

11/09/2012 1:29 PM

If "one" is only the body it might make sense to pursue it; otherwise it is barking up the wrong tree.

(The subject reminds me of the song, "Who Wants to Live Forever?"; Sarah Brightman cover ... which then reminds me of the song, "All I Ask of You," [lyrics in comment] from "The Phantom of the Opera." Love is more than a four-letter word; note., lyrics. For me, Love (?) is the only reason to want immortality. For all that can be said (and sung) about it -- Wiki ref., etc. -- it, and the pain of separation from it's object, remains beyond words.)

-- Off-topic for the sheer number of links as much as anything else.

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#8

Re: Man's Best Attempts at Immortality

11/11/2012 1:07 PM

Well I was imortal until I got married.

Now I feel the life draining out of me little by little every morning that I wake up. (Some weeks more so than others)

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Re: Man's Best Attempts at Immortality

11/11/2012 5:11 PM

There's the engagement ring, the wedding ring, and the suffer-ring

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