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Healthcare

Immortality & 300 years of boredom

If you had the chance to live forever, or at least for another 100 years, would you? Or maybe, the more important question is: would you even want to? In the youth-obsessed Silicon Valley, this is what Joon Yun, a hedge fund manager is working on. He believes ageing is something that needs to be “cured” and thinks science has the answer. He has even set up the Palo Alto Longevity Prize, a $1million life science competition dedicated to ending ageing. So far, 15 scientific teams have entered and if they can prove that they can restore vitality and extend lifespan in mice by 50% they are onto a winner – and will be handsomely rewarded.

Yun might be seen as crazy by some, but he is not the first to deal with this “problem” of ageing. Google’s Calico, an ageing research company is highly secretive but is known to be working on developing drugs to target diseases associated with ageing. Then there is Human Longevity that according to its website is: “building the world’s most comprehensive database on human genotypes and phenotypes to tackle the diseases associated with aging-related human biological decline.” Now reports are saying that the commonly used painkiller, ibuprofen may be able to extend human life by up to 12 years.

So science may have the answer to extend human lifespan, and it may take time but it’s possible we may eventually get there. But do we really want to? If you know you have an infinite number of years to achieve your goals in life, what will be the motivation to live for today? And this is just the tip off the iceberg. What about the broader implications on society. What will be the impact on generations of children and the workforce? And just because we will be living longer, doesn’t mean that we will be healthier.

The wider implications of immortality on our society is a debate that could go on forever, but there is another thing. The issue of boredom. You can see this in the story of Elina Makropulos from Janacek’s opera – The Makropulos Affair. In the story, Elina Makropulos is given the elixir of life by her father and is able to live for 300 years at her current biological age. At the end of the time period she has a choice to make. She can take the elixir again and live for another 300 years or die. Elina chooses the latter. Her boredom has made her choose to die rather than live.

The Makropulos Affair might just be a fictional story but it touches upon a very real human element. What gives our life meaning? The philosopher, Bernard Williams questions the desirability of immortality in his famous essay exploring the story of Elina Makropulos. Williams argues that in order to lead a meaningful life, there needs to be the fulfilment of certain categorical desires. He believes that immortality would exhaust all these desires, leading to a life of monotony and boredom.

Whatever you might think of William’s arguments, the tech companies working on the fountain of youth still have a long way to go. And in the meantime, maybe we all need to work on being a little less afraid of death. As Kenneth Minogue puts it, “The problem is that death hardly ever comes at quite the right time – often too early, sometimes too late. Such is the human condition.”


Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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