The Crusades were the same. Or take Nazism for example, which is less obvious than jihad but was the example more in the minds of those writing in the sixties and seventies. Nazism was also a system that promised immortality for being part of the German volk. In order to become immortal Germany had to become pure, and in order to become pure it had to destroy what was impure — and that was Jews, homosexuals and so on.
This was a ritual act of cleansing, purging the evil as they saw it in order to create something pure. This one is a sequel? The Denial of Death got a lot of attention when it came out [in ], and won a Pulitzer prize. But in Escape From Evil , you feel he is more free to express his own views. He was dying when he wrote it, and a lot of it was done posthumously by his estate.
This is very much about the first path to immortality, of just staying alive, here in this body, forever and ever. It begins with Francis Bacon — one of the founding figures of science — and the wonderful story of how he died trying to figure out how to preserve life. On a cold night, he went outside in the snow, bought a live chicken, killed it, and stuffed it full of snow in the hope of preserving it, convinced that this was the key to preserving life, or at least organic matter.
In the process, he caught pneumonia and died. That sets the tone perfectly for this book.
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The Chinese emperor whose elixir of life ended up killing him is another great example of how the quest for immortality often leads to an early grave. Lots of immortality elixirs are useless at best and deadly at worst. Other people have claimed that they found the secret to immortality in ground-up dog testicles, or by sewing monkey balls onto themselves.
This makes them seem like charlatans or snake oil salesmen, but they were very serious people who believed in what they were doing. There are a lot of people today, like [gerontology theoretician] Aubrey de Grey, who believe that we are machines, and as such are repairable and can be kept running indefinitely.
If you only listen to people like him, you can start nodding your head and thinking maybe it is possible, maybe we are going to crack this. Tell me more about where are we now. But no one has yet frozen a rat and re-animated it, though it may well happen soon. There are a lot of obstacles, and much debate in the scientific community over whether these are inherent obstacles — whether defrosting organic matter causes all of the cells in our bodies to explode or something.
A lot of people believe these problems can be solved. Cryonics is like an ambulance into the future. They argue that just as people go to Dignitas if they want to die, people who have a terminal disease should be able to be frozen before it destroys their body completely. But at the moment, you have to be dead to be frozen. Genetic research has also made leaps and bounds over the last decades.
I understand we have identified some genetic agents of mortality, such as telomeres, structures at the end of chromosomes that impact on their self-replication. Great progress has been made, but the question of whether ageing is pre-programmed in us, and can be turned off or not, is hugely controversial in the scientific community. It is a problem that there is this limit to how often cells can replicate through their telomeres, but we usually die before we reach that limit.
Because by the time that we reach the age when we suffer from these diseases, our bodies are already fading. Some people even see cancer as a symptom of this more general disintegration. The fact is, there are no evolutionary pressures for longevity beyond reproductive age. We must also not forget that we are already living much longer than our ancestors did. We often fail to acknowledge what an enormous revolution we have seen in the last two centuries, when life expectancy has doubled.
It was, until a couple of hundred years ago, around 40, and before that around So our great great great great great grandfathers, not that long ago, who lived lives not unlike ours in cities, had life expectancies not that different to cavemen. And now we can all expect to live to This is perhaps the most important revolution in human history — and it is continuing, although not at the same rate.
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We can expect to live longer than our parents, and our children can expect to live longer again. But this may have a limit. The oldest person to live so far reached Whether we can go beyond that is yet to be seen. My position is that all this progress is welcome, but we are still going to die. We have to accept that reality, while supporting the research that is going to help us live until — which is a long way from eternity. This story is about a Roman officer who finds the fountain of youth, a river that cleanses men of death, as he puts it.
He becomes an immortal and meets the other immortals who have found the river, and the story is about the consequences of this — namely, madness and meaninglessness. These 20 pages capture it so perfectly. This Roman soldier, at the end of his quest, comes across a group of troglodytes who are naked and withered, doing nothing but staring at the sky and living on snake meat. After some time the Roman realises that these are the immortals, and this is what has become of them.
Could not the same scientific construct that traced the decaying cell be used to inhibit its deterioration or return it to its youthful state? Unlike the philosophes , they no longer believed that the key lay in working with nature. Rather, they argued, seemingly immutable natural laws could be overcome if they took immediate action. The cell, they asserted, was immortal; only its development within the body caused its degeneration and death. One of the first to advocate this position in relationship to old age was Elie Metchnikoff in the late s.
Focusing on cells termed phagocytes, he contended that they poisoned the body and led to decline. In response, he advocated a diet rich in lactic acid, which, he declared, would lead to the eradication of intestinal putrefaction and the destruction of microbes that caused the body to decay Following a similar logic, Charles A.
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Stephens argued that the road to longevity and the elimination of death lay in the perfection of cell nutrition. Believing that he could retain the youthfulness of tissues through proper nutrition and stimulation, he envisioned a time when cells would never age. There would be, according to Stephens, no senescence or death, but simply everlasting youth. While these physicians looked to diet and hygiene to unravel the mysteries of growing old, others took a more experimental and invasive approach. A small—though well publicized—group was convinced that the fountain of youth lay deep within the endocrine system.
Focusing particularly upon the testicles and ovaries, they were adamant that natural debility and decline of old age could be overcome. One of the first to perform such experiments was C. Linking the aging of the body to a weakening of the sexual function, he argued in that science—and radical intervention—could return these key sex glands to their adolescent state.
At age 72, he claimed he had proved the validity of his thesis on his own body. Injecting himself with a mixture of animal sex glands, he asserted that he had restored his own vitality to its youthful state. Spread by both scientific and lay journals, the news of his work led to great public and commercial interest. Although patients lined up for injections, the initial popularity of the product and Brown-Sequard's approach failed to produce long-term success.
Other companies found themselves charged with fraud for swindling a gullible public Nonetheless, throughout the early 20th century, an increasing number of physicians argued that their experimental procedures had indeed overcome nature by eliminating old age and restoring vigor.
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In , Dr. Frank Lydston of Chicago performed human testis transplants on several patients, including one on himself. Claiming to be one of the first to experiment with this technique, he argued that the grafting process slowed down the onset of senility. Not only did it improve his sexual performance, but even turned his gray hair back to its original color.
While Lydston believed he never obtained the attention or credit he deserved, the work of L. Stanley almost immediately received widespread scientific notice. In the pages of Endocrinology , he later reported that he had performed the operation on inmates as well as 13 physicians, all with outstanding results. By , one researcher estimated that the Stanley procedure had been performed effectively with over 50, patients Although later studies revealed that such operations could not possible have been successful, throughout the s, several physicians became international celebrities by performing these grafts.
While Stanley's unique position as a prison surgeon provided testicles from human participants, others experimented—successfully they claimed—with a variety of animal gland grafts. Serge Voronoff, probably the most well known for this technique, turned to monkey gland grafts to rejuvenate his patients. Beginning first with operations using the glands of chimpanzees, and then later with baboons, he traveled the globe, performing operations, giving scientific papers, and exhibiting his star patient, Edward Liadet, a year-old London businessman who, after receiving his monkey gland transplant, claimed to look and feel as if he were no more than Although Liadet died within 2 years of the operation, Voronoff was convinced that his method was a success The response from more orthodox medical professionals ranged from polite hearings to direct attacks.
While the journal Endocrinology originally published some of the papers, many authorities directly challenged the idea of transplanting animal glands onto humans. Immediately following the announcement of Brown-Sequard's experiments, Dr. Further than that, I believe it is a very dangerous proceeding, and that it is time for reputable physicians to express their disapproval of the experiments.
By , Dr. Despite increasing doubts about the efficacy of his operation, he continued to perform both human and animal operations to popular acclaim. They were, however, not unaware of the financial benefit they could gain. Having studied 3 months at the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas, Brinkley received a medical diploma that he later used to become licensed in Kansas and Arkansas.
Upon settling in Milford, Kansas, he began grafting goat glands onto individual seeking cures ranging from impotence to insanity, as well as hoping that they might obtain the secrets to eternal youth. Along with music, religion, and his attack on traditional medicine, he advertised his operations and pharmaceuticals. By the end of the decade, he had become a millionaire, complete with several homes, two airplanes, a yacht, and numerous cars. Eventually, however, he found himself attacked by orthodox medicine. Gland grafting, however, was not the only operation early 20th century physicians used to extend middle age.
Contending that sperm held great reinvigorating powers, he detailed numerous case studies in which the operation restored youth and vigor to both animals and men. The outcome, rejuvenation advocate Norman Haire declared, was almost always outstanding. If an ovary is transplanted from a young into an ageing female it ceases to produce ova, but continues to secrete hormones which circulate in the blood of its new host and produce great improvement in mental, physical and sexual health, and stimulate the host's own ovaries to renewed activity of both its functions.
Numerous case studies from these doctors testified to outstanding results as aged, haggard old women suddenly became sexually alluring and attractive. Despite the differences in approach and types of operations, all these researchers shared one clear belief: Aging was an enemy to be attacked at all costs. Without question, to grow old was to become impotent and useless. The body weakened, the mind grew dim. In this characterization, senescence was hardly linked to wisdom or experience.
Rather, nothing in the last stage of life was worthy of maintaining. The only hope was to eradicate it entirely through a direct attack, in the form of laboratory research, invasive operations, or a myriad of foods and prescriptions. Embedded in this medical view of old age was the belief that not only were elderly people nonproductive and obsolescent, but they also represented a severe economic challenge to modern society.
For many commentators, turn-of-the-century western industrial societies were facing a crisis of aging. Believing that the old held power and respect in agricultural societies, they bemoaned what they perceived to be the declining status of elderly people in the modern world. In their eyes, to be old was to be poor; modernization, for the old, meant dependence rather than respect. As old age was an incurable disease, and with no hope of maintaining their health, elderly persons would have little choice but to seek refuge in the poorhouse or depend on their children or the state for support in their inevitable dotage.
The weakness of the old, therefore, was not simply an individual medical problem but seemed to challenge the prosperity and progress of the nation. Social as well as medical experts on aging utilized a wide array of data to prove the negative impact of the old on modern-day society. Elie Metchnikoff, for example, noted that France spent huge sums maintaining 2 million people aged 70 years and older. Even the new film industry of the early 20th century delivered this message to its mass audience. In a short silent film, D. Those who had already succumbed to the ravages of old age were clearly pictured as the marginalized other —they had become little more than a problem for themselves and a useless drain on society.
The only hope, longevity advocates proclaimed, was to use science and technology to eliminate the stage entirely. To support this contention, many aging advocates pointed with statistical inaccuracy to the seemingly growing proportion of aged individuals who filled the almshouse. These numbers, they asserted, proved that old age was an appalling stage of existence. By the s, the federal government accepted these statistics as one of the rationales for adopting federal pensions.
What few advocates acknowledged, however, was that the growing proportion of aged inmates within the asylum was not due to the increasing impoverishment of the old but to the removal of other, often younger inmates. Nonetheless, aging advocates repeatedly claimed that the almshouse demonstrated the horror of old age. Unless extreme action was taken, the government would be overwhelmed with the cost of their care. For physicians such as Elie Metchnikoff, the only hope for solving this seemingly ever-growing problem was to look to the discoveries and procedures of medical science.
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Although Metchnikoff looked to future research, many of the anti-age surgeons argued that the pending crisis had been solved. Touting their operations, they declared that they had already discovered how to stop the inevitable poverty of the old. With surgical transplants, they contended, the old would no longer suffer debility or disease; they would remain productive and self-sufficient indefinitely.
In the s, such pronouncements were taken quite seriously. Following one of Voronoff's testis graft operations, a Hungarian insurance company refused to pay an old age pension to a patient. With the monkey gland attached to his body, the man, the company asserted, could no longer claim the annuity that had been intended for the debilitated old Other insurance companies hoped that Steinach's vasoligation procedure would save them from the increasing high cost of annuities.
Provisions for old age, pensions, etc. Here, it seemed was an answer to the growing financial burden of the elderly population. Beginning in the s, this message was conveyed with decreasing frequency. The failure of many of these miracle treatments to deliver endless youth, along with the establishment of Social Security and the growing number of private pension plans, all served to diminish the promises of prolongevity advocates and the harsh descriptions of aging. Instead of categorizing the entire stage as a disease, newly formed organizations such as the American Geriatrics Society and The Gerontological Society of America sought to separate normal old age from treatable, pathological conditions.
Authorities who had once emphasized the incapacity of the old now spoke of the last stage of life as a time of independence and autonomy. Information on planning for retirement, tips on autonomous living, and advice on sexuality after menopause filled the pages of literature directed to the aging community and their families In the early s, however, beliefs about the uselessness of old age and the need to eliminate the aging process have reappeared, espoused by the founders of the American Academy of Anti-Age Medicine A4M.
In their approach and their attitudes, this movement obviously shares little with the first wave of longevity advocates. Unlike Cornaro, Condorcet, or Rush, the anti-age advocates see nothing of value in old age itself. Hardly a period of wisdom, or contemplation, the last stage of life is characterized only as a time of weakness and disease. But if the new anti-age advocates repeat few of the ideas of their 16th century, 17th century, and 18th century precursors, they clearly mirror many of the attitudes and practices of a century ago. This could be a viable tool to repair not only those living with illness but also the cryonically suspended.
When year-old Dora Kent was cryonically preserved at Alcor in the procedure was relatively new and misunderstood, she was only the 8th patient to undergo the process. There was a coroner's investigation and the Alcor staff were arrested. They were released and Alcor sued the county and won, the county paid Alcor 90 thousand dollars for false arrest and illegal seizure. In Thomas Donaldson, a mathematician, was diagnosed with a virulent form of brain tumor with a low survival rate. Fearing the tumor would severely damage his brain before it killed him Donaldson appealed to the California courts for the right to be cryopreserved before his legal death.
The family was in dispute with each other over his wishes to be cryonically suspended. While the Ted Williams case brought a discussion about cryonics into major broadcast media and American living rooms, it was mostly negative. Williams is currently cryonically preserved at Alcor. Why is cryonics so controversial?
Since the dawn of humanity people have been conditioned to expect death and so far everyone who has lived has died. Someone living beyond a natural death would be a huge change and change can be scary. But death is also scary and we have created a vast array of beliefs to alleviate our fears about dying.
For example if we are good in life we will be rewarded with a heavenly afterlife where there is no pain or sorrow. This creates comfort and an escape from an otherwise final nonexistence. Cryonic suspension could provide the scientific version of immortality. Some have called cryonics quackery because it is not feasible, however traveling into space was not feasible at one time and yet research continued and we have gone to the moon.
But natural is not always good, diseases such as cancer and Alzheimers occur naturally but they are not good. And the unnatural is not always bad. We have created: computers, hospitals, equipment and medication to cure illnesses, prosthetics, pacemakers, and synthetic organs. These are unnatural man made tools created to provide better health and extend lives. When it comes to improving our health and longevity, where is the line drawn? And who draws it? When either cryonic suspension is successful or nanotechnology extends life or provides immortality will a frightened public try to stop it?
Will someone tell me how long I am allowed to live? Will the health of my body be managed, or limited by someone else? I believe it should be up to the person as it is now, do I want to take vitamins? Do I want this surgery to extend my life? The public is not being forced to take vitamins but they are available to those who want them.
People will not be forced to use nanobots or be revived, it will be a personal choice. However there are preliminary concerns for cryonicists because today, life or death decisions are often being made for patients by hospital staff. But not forcing you to be alive but the opposite. Hospitals can and do refuse the right to care.
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Surprisingly there are no guidelines or rules that hospitals have to follow about when it is ok or not ok to pull the plug. There have also been legal battles between families and hospitals about keeping a loved one on life support or not. This is usually about money and the cost for care. It costs money to take care of a patient and especially for prolonged care. There have been people who have woken from a coma years later, what seems gone is not always gone.
Many people find out about this after it is too late, make sure you have a living will that expresses your wishes and if you do not want to be resuscitated make sure you have a DNR - Do Not Resuscitate provided to your doctor. All moments would be equal; the deep sad, human wisdom of Ecclesiastes would vanish. If for everything there is an endless season, then there is also no right season. No time to be born, nor to mourn, nor rejoice, nor die. The future stretches before you, endlessly flat. Time would be the same. Emotionless or flat? I cherish every season.
Today is as meaningful to me as tomorrow will be. I am not thinking about dying at this moment, I am living in this incredible life that I appreciate so much because I am alive, I am living it.
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