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Biology, Critical Thinking, Opinions, Philosophy, Science

IN SEARCH OF IMMORTALITY

fountain-of-youthDecember 7, 2011 – 11:30 pm – just hours after celebrating the birthday of the woman who gave me life, I sit and ponder over my own existence.  It’s not the first time I have sat to think about some of the most interesting and important questions surrounding my condition. I am after all, even as a militant defendant of objective thought, a lover and admirer of subjectivity.  However, things are different today in that I feel the (almost) uncontrollable need to know and not just to imagine or arrive at an intuitively satisfactory answer, which could potentially render me a victim to that immoral arrogance inherent in the human psyche: self-deception (a common result of dishonest introspection).

Ideas come and go; they pass one following the other as my mind happens upon many of then at once. The relative confluence of intelligent thought and confusion produces one concrete yet disconcertingly contradicting thought: stop thinking! My eyes shut to hide their erratic dance from no one. The anxiety emerging from my inability to comply with my own requests to cease contemplation has now, alarmingly, manifested itself as a ferocious rumbling in my stomach. Hunger! I tell myself as I move towards the refrigerator where I’ve deposited large amounts of delicious food left over from the celebratory meal I partook in just hours ago. The trip towards unnecessary calorie consumption is seamless and almost unnoticed by me; I am suddenly there, and though the question comes to mind it is rebuked by an unconsciously unified effort of mind and body: my lips move as I tell myself once again in a soft yet assertive voice: of course I’m hungry! 

I wasn’t hungry… but the meal, which was psychologically warranted has worked to focus my mind on the more relevant concepts of aging and dying.

There are now more pertinent questions to be answered, most of which are significant to the former banquet. Obviously, these are not questions that have only occurred to me; in fact they seem to be some of the very imperatives behind philosophical movements since the times of early thinkers. The illusive Fountain of youth for example, the mythical spring that reputedly restores youth to those who drink from or bathe in its waters, has appeared in the legends of Prester John (also Presbyter Johannes) and the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. Now, as fond as I am of the Alexander Romances, a book that now reposes on my lap apprehensively waiting to be opened, and as much as I can’t assume to take them in accurate historical context, it is important to note that the enduring search for the legendary fountain could be the stuff of history.

According to several apocryphal stories the Spanish explorer, and first governor of Puerto Rico, Juan Ponce de León was searching for the fountain of youth when he traveled to what is now Florida in 1513.  I once again begin to navigate an endless oceanic storm of thought and tempest questioning.  What a fantastic adventure it must have been? Indubitably more extraordinary than any in which I have ever embarked, but suspiciously much less incredible than the journey through time and space I am on at this very moment, which is more seamless than my voyage to my refrigerator and more confounding than the thought of eternal youth itself.  I return after having covered thousands of leagues through the sea of my imagination and visited an obscene number of ports in minutes, and I’ve brought better questions as souvenirs.

Is there any truth to eternal life? Is it objectively justified to allot time and effort to the endeavour of studying this possibility, and if so in what capacity? 

My dear friend of many years, Jerome Juan (first name, sometimes spelled with an extra “e” at its end) once presented me the knowledge that a correlation between diet and longevity exists. His assertion that controlled lower calorie consumption can increase lifespan is actually correct. Fuck! I say to myself as I reach for a handful of chips in the now half-empty bag resting beside my keyboard – I shouldn’t have eaten so much – as I realize that the last few hours have detrimentally reduced my life expectancy. Then, curiosity and that uncontrollable need for knowledge (which has now possessed my Carpals and Phalanges) lead me to the unquestionable source of  knowledge that is Wikipedia, only to further satisfy them both empirically.

As it turn out scientists have experimented on a caloric restriction dietary regime to improve age-related health, and to slow the aging process in a wide range of animals and some fungi. Though observation of the long-term effects in humans and non-human primates is still inconclusive due to the long lifespan of the species, the results are so far positive.  There are several negative side effects to caloric restriction diets, including Low B.M.I due to musculoskeletal losses and the possibility of triggering eating disorders. These studies have also found that proper CR diets can offer their practitioners reduction of cardiovascular risk and in factors for major diseases, as well as improved memory. It is also noted that individuals under twenty-one years of age and those with low body fat should not be subjected to these dietary regimes.

My mind feels calm as I read and move from one article to the other wanting to find something that I can at least hope to observe in a different dimension. I am not entirely sure that such a thing can be found and I continue to take the helm of the cyber-nautical vessel that is my computer. I am suddenly distracted by the realization that hours have gone without notice, they have in a sense flown by indifferently, leaving behind the feeling of having aged: taking me inevitably closer to end of my journey.  I’m now calm and tired, the impulse to know has begun to subside and the light coming through my window tells me it’s time to respect other factors that can induce my early demise, such as lack of sleep.  However, as I decide that it is (in fact) time to digest everything I’ve taken in today… I find it! It is beautiful and magnificent; it’s awe-inspiring. It is a treasure that makes my voyage as extraordinary as Ponce de León’s but without the burden of merit attributed to such a great explorer.  It appears after all, and much to my rejoicing that the testimony to the possibility of eternal life is actually in the water, it’s in the sea; and it might have been there forever (so to speak).

The Turritopsis Nutricula – a very peculiar name for an exceptional creature and a master of life and death. The immortal jellyfish is a member of the Hydrozoans. It can revert from sexually mature in a colonial stage to sexual immaturity in a solitary stage. It is apparently the only known metazoan to be able to do this through cell transdifferentiation: a process in which the differentiated states of a mature cell are altered and transformed into a new cell. This can potentially allow the Turritopsis Nutricula to live forever, provided of course that other factors like disease and predators are not imposed into the life equation of the Jellyfish. The turriptosis nutricula’s cell development method of transdifferentiation has inspired scientists to find a way to make stem cells use this process for renewing damaged or dead tissue in humans. Also, it is believed that the immortal jellyfish may hold the information needed to cure cancer and create anti-aging medication.

“The Immortal jellyfish is one of the most unique animals not just within the species of jellyfish, but within the entire history of the animal kingdom. It has actually managed to accomplish the one feat that has been yearned by many and accomplished by none. It appears to have cheated death and hence transformed itself into a perpetually immortal being!”

Read more: http://www.jellyfishfacts.net/turritopsis-nutricula-immortal-jellyfish.html#ixzz1fx5OghrY

I wonder, after pondering the questions of my own existence, what this might mean for our species. I think of all the possibilities and the repercussion it may have: the impact on our societies and our humanity. Is eternal life something we want or need? Ironically enough but not unexpectedly, finding answers to some questions has yielded countless more. I imagine that I will not see this in my lifetime, but I have hope that when it all materialises as true, we will have the philosophical potential and the humility to use it for the benefit of nature. I also hope that we will remember to fully observe ecology when transcending the limits of our intelligence; that we are able to maintain our humanity as we redefine the biological parameters of such a construct. It is my fear that too much of what is important to us may pass us by unnoticed – like the prelude to my latter meal – or the hours of my night. And finally, I hope that hope itself is not the quintessential human delusion I’ve perceived it as before.

December 8, 2011 – 9:30 am – many hours after celebrating the birthday of the woman who gave me life, though my journey ends and I’ve lowered the anchor of my vessel, I continue pondering over my own existence.

Peyton Dracco

(Unedited Draft – Revision Required)

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"Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world. Science is the highest personification of the nation because that nation will remain the first which carries the furthest the works of thought and intelligence."

Louis Pasteur

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