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Living for ever?

Last week’s New Scientist (9 April 2005) has an article about scientists who are hoping to extend their lives indefinitely, or at least for many hundreds of years. One of them, Ray Kurzweil, plans to do this by (a) taking 250 dietary supplements daily, (b) using genetic testing to determine his liability to cancer and choosing the most appropriate treatment, and (c) (in the future) enlisting the help of an army of nanoscale robots to replace his digestive system with a more efficient alternative.

Kurzweil is apparently a sane and respected scientist but this scheme seems to me to be anything but sane. Even if it could work, which seems extremely doubtful, it would not provide protection against infectious agents such as bird flu or whichever plague will probably arrive in the fairly near future. Nor does it seem to provide for the avoidance of degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, for which there is no immediate prospect of a cure. In any case, would you want to live for ever, given the near-certainty that conditions in the world are going to get worse owing to environmental degradation, civil unrest, war and other unpleasantnesses? We certainly aren’t doing much at present to ensure the happiness or even the survival of our grandchildren.

“Count no man happy until he’s dead,” they used to say in classical times. Life has been compared to a race across open country under fire. I tend to agree with Alan Gauld, in Mediumship and Survival, when he says that he hopes there is no such thing as reincarnation. I’ve been pretty lucky this time (so far anyway) but I wouldn’t want to take a second dip in the bran tub, which contains many more snakes than eels.

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