The Immortal Human Being
What is a human being? Is it simply a physical life form, a flesh machine designed to procreate and spread it’s species across the planet it is a resident of? Or is it something more, such as a being with a shell made of flesh but containing a mind and a soul that, with the right technological advances, could literally exist for hundreds, if not thousands of years? It is a question worth examining, especially considering that every day we see more and more technology being designed to extend our lives. We have, for years had devices implanted in us designed to help us live longer, everything from pacemakers to regulate the operation of our hearts to the more simple steel rods and pins used to permanently fix broken bones. Now these examples are simplistic and far from anything that will extend our lives to unheard of levels but one has to assume that as technology and science advances, and it always does, that there will be grander goals as far as human longevity goes. There are numerous areas where we are seeing humanities science community strive to make unbelievable advances, huge steps designed to help humans begin to measure the length of their lives in centuries as opposed to decades, and these are the ones I want to focus on in the hope I can give you a clear view of what science may be a hundred years from now. Take a moment to consider the long-term ramifications of some of these areas of science and then ask yourself if, at some point, our science will achieve their goal of evolving us not through natural evolution but instead through scientific advancement.
The first area of study that comes to mind is stem cell research. We have all seen the debate going on publicly, as many of these cells originate in unborn fetuses and with that being true, there is great debate over whether they should be used and if the process to acquire them is an unnatural one not worth taking part in. You see, modern stem cell research, depending on if you are talking about the publicly discussed levels of success, or the assumed levels governments have achieved behind the scenes, seems to focus on the ability to regrow cells in a body that we previously could not. This could have widespread ramifications if perfected and harnessed correctly, and the research could literally lead to the eradication of dozens of diseases that destroy cells in the human body. Cancer, for example, eats away at its victims but what if, through this area of study, we were simply able to regrow the damaged parts as we get rid of the cancer? Chemotherapy can be physically damaging in its quest to destroy cancerous cells, but if our science advanced to the point where regrowth of cells was commonplace you would imagine that even if chemotherapy left a person damaged after the procedure, as long as the cancer was gone we could simply regrow any non-cancerous cells hurt during the process. This concept, if ever perfected, would literally eliminate cancer as a fatal disease and turn it more into a sickness, that while unpleasant and time-consuming, would be easily beatable. I mean there are already people beating cancer today, so with this additional option of recovery and replacement, it seems the days of cancer being fatal could be left behind us.
Cancer is only one of many diseases that damage cells permanently in the human body. There are countless other examples of an ailment that destroys part of the body, but if stem cell research would allow us to just inject and regrow whatever a particular person needed then you would have to wonder aloud how many countless diseases could be permanently beaten. At this point though, this begs the question of whether we should do this as opposed to whether we can. The medical community is already heavily overburdened by cost issues and personnel shortages with only the simplest of advances being common to our treatments and the longer lives of many people these days is having a significant effect on that. If a person living to be 80 or 90 years old consistently is already causing such a strain on the system, what happens if we advance enough that people start living 125 or 150 years on a regular basis? Additionally, we have a massive overpopulation problem on this planet right now that is becoming a larger and larger problem, so if people suddenly see their life expectancies jump thirty or forty years over the next half century, where will that leave our population issues? Or the issues concerning the rate at which we consume natural resources?
Another area of science that raises concerns as far as population and too much longevity go is cloning. Cloning in the United States is, for all intents and purposes illegal, but I highly doubt that means it is not being experimented on by members of the military or by secretive government labs hiding under the guise of “classified” information or “national security”. The interesting thing about cloning is that because it can produce a genetic replication of pretty much any part of the human body, it is reasonable to assume that if ever perfected, that if you were to suffer a serious injury or illness to a specific organ, it could simply be replaced. Organ transplants can be dangerous but usually they are because of the chance that your body will reject an organ that does not match up with its genetic code. Well if the organ was cloned from your very DNA it would be logical to assume that your body would view that replacement as a perfect genetic match and therefore have a greater chance of accepting it. So imagine a scientific process producing a scenario where your heart, your liver, your lungs could all be replaced with new ones with many years’ worth of less mileage on them. If a person’s brain is still in good shape, which is often the case of people who die from heart failure, lung cancer, etc., then it could be possible for any individual, barring an instant death from something severe, to live well beyond one hundred years. Again, this brings the question to mind of if elongating the lifespan of people on a planet so overcrowded already is going to be a good thing for all of us.
These are just two areas of science that we are rapidly advancing towards and as we do it saddens me that the question is rarely asked if we even should be striving towards such goals. Yes, technology and the advancement of science is both purposeful and amazing, but as we attain higher and wider reaching levels of science, and the effect of that science has major implications on our development as a race, I often wonder why we rarely consider the consequences until after we have been forced to suffer them. Trust me, I am about to become a father and if my daughter was ill and this science was available, I would be the first one to stand in support of it but saying that is merely a reflection of how much I love my daughter, not how good or bad I think the long-term effects would be for all of us as a race. In that sense I suppose I am somewhat selfish but that is another blog altogether. I will leave you by simply stating that I genuinely hope that whatever direction our scientific advancement as a race goes, that we are prepared to deal with the consequences of our actions.