Supercentenarians, Age and Immortality

DNAToday is the birthdate of Mary Josephine Ray, who was born on May 17 in 1895 and died in 2010, at the age of 114. At the time of her death, she was the oldest person in the United States.

Aging is a condition about which most of us live in denial.   We’d rather not think about getting older and for women, there is the attendant issue of losing our looks, and the possible demoralization that goes with that.

I suspect (although I have absolutely no evidence) that many readers like to read about vampires and other immortals because of the long-lived aspects of their lives. A life that goes on forever provides opportunities that short-lived humans can never take advantage of. Long term projects, spreading over decades or even centuries become possible when one person remains in control of the project for the full length of time.

What sort of projects could possibly last that long?

Many science experiments could take advantage of long time frames: breeding and evolution research, which often need many generations of a species recorded in order to prove theories.

Space travel: Spending seven months traveling to Mars would mean nothing. Taking over six years to get to our nearest neighboring star would also be nothing. The interstellar distances and times would become meaningless for travelers who live very long lives.

How long does a life have to be, to be considered long?

Eleven thousand years ago, before agriculture was invented, living to 25 years of age was considered a long life. Anyone who lived longer than that was fortunate.

Then something interesting happened: A few humans began to live a bit longer.

The tribes who had long-lived members had a distinct survival advantage, because those long lived individuals remembered things: How the herds sometimes changed their migratory patterns; where the best plants were from year to year, and how to read the stars and the sun and moon for weather patterns.

Knowledge (memory, in those days) became a key for better survival.

Eventually, humans began to live for more than thirty years…and this was also a key moment, for humans older than thirty often had children still living…and their children’s children were still living. Three generations of living humans provides a pool of knowledge that helps extend human life even further.

Fast forward to today and the expectation of a long life is anywhere from 90 to 120.

Thanks to scientific breakthroughs and medical therapies, the average human life is extending every year. The reasons for aging are already well known and documented. Once a problem is defined, it doesn’t take long for science and technology to solve the problem – not these days.

Currently, thanks to science and technology, the average human life is extending three months for every calendar year.

Advances in medicine, therapy, and science will push that extension further. Eventually, humans will gain an average of six months for every calendar year. Then nine months. Then…a year.

At that point, humans will have reached a break point: They could theoretically live forever..or at least long enough for the next breakthrough in age-therapy.

Then, long-lived and essentially immortal humans will be able to complete tasks that take generations of time. The pool of useful knowledge will expand exponentially and the possibilities for the human race will become infinite.

Age will no longer be considered a disease, and aging won’t be feared by individuals. Instead, I hope, advanced age will be revered and celebrated for the gifts it give to the human race.

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