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Surprising Science

Living Better, Longer—And Maybe Forever

In 15 to 20 years, says futurist Ray Kurzweil, a biotechnology revolution will yield powerful ways for us to reprogram our genes. Our bodies will be altered on the genetic level so that we don’t contract diseases, we will be able to slow down, stop, and eventually reverse the aging process. A decade later we could very well have “billions of nanobots keeping us healthy at the level of every cell on our body and that will go in our brains and extend our brains enable us to backup ultimately the information in our brains.  Those technologies will ultimately give us very dramatic extensions to our longevity.”

Big Think’s latest series, Living Longer, Better—And Maybe Forever, is collection of features examining how medical breakthroughs and mental training could soon allow human beings to fight aging like never before—and perhaps live to be healthy at 120, 150, or beyond.

While studying yeast, MIT biologist Leonard Guarente uncovered the gene that also controls how other organisms, and perhaps humans, grow old. In his Big Think interview, he talks about how the activity of sirtuin genes has been correlated with cells living longer. In a recent post on the Big Think blog Dr. Kaku’s Universe, CUNY theoretical physicist Michio Kaku wrote about a discovery by scientists at Harvard Medical School that the enzyme telomerase seems to reverse the aging process in mice, helping the revive older cells.  

Nutritionist Johnny Bowden says that, on some level, aging is actually a something that we can control with our minds. This is not to say that nothing ever slows down with age, but he posits that a positive attitude can make a big difference: “If you think of aging that’s something that’s inevitable, and you’re going to slow down and you’re not going to be able to do what you used to do, believe me, that’s going to happen. … When you stay active and you stay engaged and you stay involved and you look forward to things, you send a different message to every cell in your body about what’s going on and what you’re capable of doing.”

Spiritual guru Deepak Chopra agrees, saying that there are many ways in which we play a part in our own aging process: “There is more and more data that the biological molecules of aging are more under the influence of psychological factors than the chronological age that we usually associate with. … Everybody plays a role in their own aging. Some people accelerate it. Some people slow it down. Some people manage to reverse it. It all depends on how much you are invested in the hypnosis of our social condition. So if you believe that at a certain age you have to die and you become dysfunctional, then you will.”

If we are indeed going to live long enough for the anti-aging biotech revolution Kurzweil speaks of, anti-aging expert Aubrey de Grey says we need to really pay attention to our bodies and keep ourselves healthy until the proper technology is in place. But if we are to live longer, we may have to seriously change some of our habits, says the late Dr. Robert Butler, the former president and CEO of the International Longevity Center: “We will still have the effects if we continue to expose ourselves to the sun, we are going to have wrinkles. If we continue to smoke, we are certainly going to have wrinkles. There are things we can do to make ourselves appear more attractive as we grow older if we have the discipline to do it. Alcohol too is a huge problem and people don’t realize how serious alcoholism is in America.”


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