Flamboyant pop music icon Prince celebrated his 53rd birthday in 2011. Yep, you read that right. Our planet has experienced decades of "Purple Rain," and no matter how old and busted that makes you feel, it's clear that Prince's genes didn't get the memo. The man looks as youthful as ever. Will he ever age? And if he does, will he ever die?
Sure, the human species evolved to reach maturity, pass on some genes and then exit stage left. But thanks to the ongoing breakthroughs in the field of gerontology (the social, psychological and biological study of aging), it all might eventually become a thing of the past. Just think of life as an endless Prince and the New Power Generation concert with infinite encores.
Noted gerontologist Aubrey de Grey is one of the foremost advocates of this view of ageless, healthy human life. In his headline-catching research, de Grey takes the historically futile war against aging and breaks it down to seven individual battles, ranging from brain cell death to cancer. Each of these battles, he argues, is surmountable given sufficient scientific advancement.
Ultimately, de Grey paints a picture of a world in which a barrage of regular medical procedures can stave off aging for decades, centuries or even longer. It's not quite immortality as people would still be susceptible to accidental or intentional death, but it would certainly change the face of mortality as we know it.
Thanks to evolving brain-mapping technology and our growing understanding of the human mind, we may even learn to defeat the various neurological and psychological problems that come with an older brain. Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project to create a virtual model of a working human brain, believes that by 2020 we'll reach the point where a computer model will be able to diagnose our emotional state. Other experimental procedures, such asLund University's experiments in reprogramming skin cells into fresh brain cells, may mean that our 200-year-old descendants might walk around with both the healthy bodies and brains of a 30-year-old.
How will the end of aging change the way we live? How will it change the world?
Envision an Ageless Tomorrow
If anti-aging procedures become widespread and available for all, the future would likely look just like this one, only you'd see far less time, energy and heartache devoted to end-of-life care and the treatment of severe illnesses. World population would increase, though people would still die from any number of accidents, murders and suicides.
Other individuals would inevitably cling to unhealthy or self-destructive lifestyle choices, limiting the effectiveness of anti-aging treatments. After all, we're talking preventive medical measures here, not magic solutions. So, personal health would still be important. Think of it as a war against aging. Just as famed Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu believed that wars are won via the accumulation of small advantages on the battlefield, so too would every small health advantage in your life contribute to the forestallment of death.
Without a doubt, ageless human societies would have to rethink their approaches to various social concerns. In the United States, for instance, would only individuals with health insurance have access to anti-aging treatments? Would long life become a luxury of the wealthy? Or would aging achieve the same status as starvation, elevating preventive gene therapies to a basic human right? We might also have to reconsider our proclivity for human reproduction, though it wouldn't be the first time that advances in medical science resulted in a population boom.
But what would it mean for you, the individual? So many things in life are framed by the eventuality of aging and death. Would you still say yes to the whole "till death do us part" clause if it meant having the same spouse for eight centuries? What would a career look like if there were no such thing as retirement age? Devoted professionals would have time to pursue a particular craft or field of study as long as they avoided fatal injury. Every man and woman would have the chance to try their hand at various trades and disciplines.
Would the end of aging take some of the motivating urgency out of life? Maybe, but then again, just look at Prince: So far, he's devoted his eternal youth to hammering out 25 studio albums, 91 singles, 136 music videos and three movies (as of the time we wrote this). Who knows what he'll do with his next 53 years?
Before you get any older, explore the links on the next page for more information on aging.
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- "Aubrey de Grey." Curiosity Project. 2011. (July 5, 2011) http://curiosity.discovery.com/user/aubrey-degrey/answers
- Bal, Hartosh Singh. "End of Ageing" OPEN Magazine. June 12, 2010. (July 5, 2011) http://184-106-237-247.static.cloud-ips.com/article/living/end-of-ageing
- de Grey, Aubrey. "Aubrey de Grey says we can avoid aging." TED Talks. July 2005. (July 5, 2011) http://www.ted.com/talks/aubrey_de_grey_says_we_can_avoid_aging.html
- Lund University. "New Genetic Technique Converts Skin Cells Into Brain Cells." ScienceDaily. June 13, 2001. (July 5, 2011) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110609084815.htm
- Pareles, Jon. "True Guitar Hero, With More Love and Less Leer." The New York Times. Dec. 16, 2010. (July 5, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/17/arts/music/17prince.html