Death: on the whole, it doesn’t sound like much fun. Which is why a lot of people – as seen in upcoming SBS VICELAND doco double bill Forever Young and Frozen Faith – are doing their best to avoid it, whether it’s by trying to stay alive as long as possible or figuring out a way to be brought back to life after they die.
It’s no idle quest. Many people believe advances in computing and medicine are heading towards a technological singularity which could make human beings functionally immortal as soon as 2050, which means it’s an extremely good idea to try and stay alive until then. It’d be tragic to be the last human being to die before it became possible to live forever, which is why people are trying just about anything to stay alive until then, including the following...
The simple things
Don’t live somewhere violent – wars and riots are hazardous to your health. Likewise, don’t be poor, as having no money is also a bad health move. Being depressed can also shorten your lifespan, so try and conquer that, but don’t use drugs or alcohol to do it, as they’re going to cut years off your life. And speaking of drugs, don’t forget that breaking the law (especially going to jail) is also a health hazard. Be proactive – sleep more, don’t smoke, eat well, learn basic health tips like how not to choke to death… And if you’re a man, get a partner, as married men live longer than single men, while single women live longer than married men, though that might be because women tend to live longer than men in general, so maybe just be a woman.
Go on a serious diet
We all know eating right is a good way to extend your lifespan – it’s even mentioned in the paragraph before this one. But there are a range of tests and studies on animals that suggest severely restricting your intake of calories – a strategy known as caloric restriction – can dramatically extend your life. One theory goes that cutting down on calories also cuts down on mTOR, a signalling pathway in the body that regulates cellular metabolism. When the body thinks it’s starving, it decides it’s a bad time to reproduce and a good time to work on repairing cells. Then again, starving yourself for the rest of your life just sounds like a great way to make it feel like you’re taking forever to die.
Frozen Faith looks at a church built around the idea of cryogenics, where believers have their bodies frozen (or more often, because it’s cheaper, just the head) and put into storage to await the day when they’ll be able to be restored to full life. Unfortunately, this is a science still very much in its infancy, and every decade or so, scientists discover yet another way that freezing actually doesn’t really preserve the brain as well as we’d like (or at all). Then there’s the question of whether the future will actually want to revive these people as anything more that museum exhibits. Plus, there’s always the chance the money to keep them frozen for centuries will run out and they’ll end up defrosting by the side of the road. Believers believe it’s still better than giving up on the future, but despite the rumours about a cryogenic chamber beneath Disneyland, Walt Disney wasn’t one of them.
Repair and replace
Science fiction loves the idea of replacing worn-out parts of the human body, whether it’s with cloned organs taken from handsome movie stars like Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johannson in The Island, and Keira Knightly, Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go or robotic replacement parts, as seen in Robocop. The problem with cloned organs is that if you’re creating an entire clone to take them from, that’s amazingly expensive and pretty much murder. Meanwhile, robot parts sound good in theory until you think about maintenance (do you want access hatches in your body?), replacement parts and reliability. Having a software update brick your heart isn’t something you can fix with a call to tech support.
Stem cells and nanomachines
Another plan is to come up with technology so advanced it can repair your body at a basic structural level. Rather than replacing your liver, you’ll be able to turn it back into a brand new model. Non-scientists call this “magic”, which gives you a pretty good idea of how likely it is in the short to medium term.
Uploading your mind
The problem with a lot of these approaches is that if something goes wrong with your brain, you’re screwed. The solution, according to some of the people seen in Forever Young? Upload your brain into a computer where, like your MySpace page devoted to Alien Ant Farm, it will live forever. Exactly how your brain is going to be scanned into a computer is one hurdle (especially if the end result of the scan is you staring at a computer screen while a copy of you looks back); having to constantly update your hardware is another. Make one mistake and you could get stuck on an obsolete platform – living forever as a Commodore 64 program might not be much fun when everyone else is on an iPhone X.
Become a vampire
Some people, who are obviously not vampires because vampires aren’t real, claim that regular injections of blood from young people help keep them young. Good luck making this a long term strategy, as, generally speaking, most young people prefer to keep their blood inside their own bodies whenever possible. Also, there’s already a lot of concern the entire field of life extension is basically a way for rich white guys to maintain their stranglehold on our society for as long as possible (as shown by the large percentage of Silicon Valley that’s extremely into this kind of thing). Maintaining your existence by literally feeding on the young is probably not going to ease those concerns.
The one crazy secret guaranteed to make you live longer
There is one proven way for a man to live around 14 years longer than average: become a eunuch. In the larger scheme of things, it’s a small price to pay.
Watch Forever Young and Frozen Faith on Tuesday 28 November from 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND.