Neglected by evolution or man’s own doing?

What do the following biblical characters have in common apart from the fact that their related by blood; Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech and Noah? They are also known as the Antediluvian Patriarchs, which translates as Scriptural Fathers of the Pre-Flood Age. According to the bible, they all lived to be a couple of hundred years old. That was my first thought when I read the synopsis of a TED talk under the theme; “Might you live a great deal longer?”

This is the final post on an unintentional series about ageing. I have written about immortality, the youth culture and the final act. Today’s post looks at Aubrey de Grey’s assertion that the first human beings to live to a 1000 years have already been born. The British researcher on gerontology claims that we need to develop treatments that repair the damage caused by ageing and thereby delaying pathology. Below you will find the video of his TED talk. However be warned that he talks really fast and packs a whole lot of information into 18 minutes.

Basically Aubrey claims that ageing leads to pathology because of physical damages accumulating in our body. He identifies 7 areas where this damage occurs; Cell loss/atrophy, Death-resistant cell, Nuclear Mutations and Epimutations, Mt DNA mutations, Protein crosslinks, Junk inside cells and Junk outside cells. (These points were listed on a slide Aubrey used during the talk – 16th minute.) I need an encyclopaedia to make sense of some of these points. But the gist of it is metabolism damages our cellular structures, which culminates in death.

Aubrey proposes that it is possible to repair the damage through treatments. He says that anti-ageing treatments would keep improving and treat people before they enter the certain death phase and thereby increasing their life duration century by century. As a result of these continuous treatment improvements it would be possible to reach a life span of a thousand years. However we need to invest in the research of such treatments immediately, if we want to experience longevity to this extent.

In the Q&A session after the talk, Aubrey stressed that ageing is not the result of selection. In his opinion, evolution has neglected to find a way to resolve mortality because it would require too much energy and more sophisticated genes. In other words, if evolution were more hardworking we probably would be immortals by now.

This brings me back to the topic of the Antediluvian Patriarchs. I probably would get to hear that the bible is a fictional work and thus not a fitting reference when trying to find answers to a scientific question. Since this is my post, we will stick to the assumption that the Antediluvian Patriarchs had existed. The last of this group, Noah, supposedly lived up to 950 years. Therefore according to the bible, men started out with life spans of almost 1000 years. However after Noah, the life span continually decreased until King Solomon only lived to be about 70 years old. According to WHO statistics from the year 2009 the median life expectancy is at 71 years. It would seem that human life expectancy has been constant for thousands of years.

Why has the time we spend on earth shortened after Noah? It would appear that sin and men distancing themselves from God led to a drastic cleansing through the flood. Noah was the chosen one to start a new civilisation on earth. However this new world became tainted by sin too.

Since I believe in the existence of God, I do not find it too farfetched to assume that God’s original creation had very sophisticated genes. However the quality of genes deteriorated overtime as a result of our indulgence in activities harmful to our physical wellbeing. Therefore I think it is plausible to undo these damages through advanced medical treatments.

Do I think this is the right time to invest in such medical treatments? No. In my opinion, if such treatments were available now, it would only benefit the rich. After all, we have vaccinations for diseases that still kill thousands of children in the third world country. The reason for their death is lack of money, which bars their access to the medication. Thus you can imagine how it would be, if it were possible to live for centuries. It would be naive to assume that such treatments would be free of charge.

What do you think?

Related Articles
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antediluvian
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchs_%28Bible%29#Antediluvian_Patriarchs
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah
http://www.biblestudy.org/maps/life-span-of-bible-patriarchs-before-after-the-flood.html
http://www.who.int/healthinfo/statistics/mortality_life_tables/en/index.html

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Similarities between Gouda and Life

I love Gouda. I love the creamy taste of its young body rubbing against juicy ham between 2 slices of soft white bread. I love the slightly crunchy taste of its older body and gladly wash down the saltiness with a glass of fine red wine. It would be wrong to assert that Gouda gets better with age. To claim the opposite would be wrong too. Gouda tastes great in any age to me.

To me Gouda presents a suitable metaphorical comparison to the human lifecycle. As it is with Gouda, I will not claim that life gets better with old age. Surely there might be aspects that get better with age like our wealth of knowledge and experience. Similarly there are aspects that definitely worsen over time like our eyesight.

We should refrain from comparing old age with middle age or youth or focusing on the things that no longer function as well as they used to. Instead we should be seeing it as a unique phase of the human life cycle. As a unique phase that has its own ups and downs and potentials for self-realisation.

I used to liken life to the seasons in nature. Spring symbolises Childhood, summer symbolises Adolescence, autumn symbolises Midlife and winter symbolises Old age. Is one to view life as a process that progresses from growth, maturity, decay and ends in waiting for the cold embrace of death? That sounds like a rather pessimistic view of life. It doesn’t have to be that way. Winter can be a wonderful time for relaxation. A time to go on a virtual trip together with a good book, with a cup of hot chocolate in a hand, while snuggling under a fluffy blanket. Winter is also a wonderful time to take walks in the nature, especially for those who like me suffer from hay fever. Such a walk provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the meaning of life, while breathing in the cold and crisp winter air. Therefore there are ways we can make the wintery phase of like more pleasurable.

Although I have about thirty years to reach this phase of my life, I was inspired to write this post after watching a TED talk by Jane Fonda titled: Life’s third act. Below you will find a video of her talk, which lasts about 11:20 minutes.

Here is the gist of her talk. We live on average 34 years longer than our great-grandparents and a whole adulthood could fit into this time span. However old age is still viewed as the time before death – a time when our bodies weaken and degenerate. Jane Fonda calls the last three decades of our lives <em>The Third Act</em>. She talks about how an ageing demographic has forced (the intellectual) society to rethink its definition of this period in life, which has its own unique characteristics and opportunities. Traditionally life is viewed as an arch; where it is all downhill after the peak in midlife. But she thinks the metaphor of a staircase to more suitable to describe ageing. As we age –ascend the staircase – our spirits become wiser, more whole and more authentic.

Jane Fonda relates about the time when the thought of growing old made her depressive. Now she is right in the middle of the life phase she was terrified of and she realises she has never been happier. She does admit that ageing is no bed of roses and we might encounter problems as a result of our genetic construct. Nevertheless we can undertake measures to make use of the extra life time we have available. Old age presents us with the opportunity to review our lives. We can tie up loose ends, find closure for unresolved business, forgive others and ourselves and move on. As a result, we can change our relationship with our pasts.

In closing, she makes a point that as children we know who we are and what we want. As we grow older, to be part of a group or another person’s life we compromise who we are. In old age, we have the freedom to focus on our person again and redefine our lives. This would not only impact the rest of our lives but also impact the lives of the younger generation, who can use our new gained knowledge to (re)shape their own lives.

I agree with Jane Fonda, although in her stead I would have used the Gouda instead of the staircase as a metaphor. 🙂 Do you agree with Jane Fonda’s view of The Third Act? Do you already have plans to make your third act special?

Forever young – I want to be forever young

As I write this post, the chorus of the Alphaville song Forever Young is playing over and over again in my head, like a broken record. There is a line in the song that goes, Youth like diamonds in the sky and diamonds are forever. Some time ago, I blogged about why immortality is not as great as it sounds. This post is about what I believe to be more than a trend in modern society – the mission or obsession to remain youthful and also about why I hate Jennifer Aniston and the likes of her.

When I was about 16 years old, I participated in a public speaking competition. There were two parts to the competition. The first part was delivering a prepared speech and the second part to make an impromptu speech on a topic given by jury. My prepared speech was on the topic of Youth Culture. I spoke about, if it is just a trend or a way of life. I am so sure about what I spoke about so long ago because I was traumatised by a case of total mental blackout on stage that day. But I also remember that most of the points in my speech came from my teacher. Honestly what can a youth know firsthand about trying to stay young as long as possible? However ever since I have crossed the thirties threshold, I am confronted with this topic every day – whether I want to or not. With age comes wisdom and I believe I have enough experience of my own to add my two cents worth to this subject.

Wrinkle free skin and a body I would have been proud of in my twenties
Wrinkles and grey hair are widely accepted as the first signs of growing old. I was distraught the day I turned thirty and the salesgirl, who packed my “make-me-feel-good” shopping items, added a sample of an anti-wrinkle cream to the lot. I still do not know what I did to her to deserve such horrible treatment!

The ladies in Hollywood are turning the natural process of ageing into a nightmare for me. Have you noticed how incredible actresses like Demi Moore look the older they get? I am certain Jennifer Aniston looks better in her forties than in her twenties. I know that a lot of money and effort is invested in maintaining this appearance. But the mind only hangs onto the thought that it is possible to look age defying young. If they can do it, I should be able to do it too, right? Who cares that even in my youth I did not have toned muscles or a flat tummy? I can imagine that I am not alone here and that others feel the same way too. So whose idea of youth are we trying to emulate? (Again the word stereotype comes to mind.)

Manipulating our age to look younger
We have a couple of ages. There is the calendar or chronological age, the biological age and the perceived age. The calendar age is self explanatory. It is the number of calendar years we have lived. The biological age is much more difficult to ascertain. It is a combination of various factors, which reduce, slow down or reverse the constant cellular deterioration that constantly goes on in our bodies. The perceived age refers to the age others estimate us to be at based on our appearance, attitude and behaviour.

There is nothing we can do about our calendar age; apart from forging birth certificates. But it is possible to manipulate our biological age. Here is an interesting talk by Dr. Dean Ornish, a clinical professor at UCSF.

From the sound of it, it takes more than creams, hair dyes and clothes to being youthful. No pain, no gain. I am not referring to the pain due to plastic surgeries or Botox injections. (Honestly taking away the mimic from your face does not make you look younger. Instead it makes you look like a well embalmed zombie.) I am referring to the muscle aches as a result of exercising and the pain of having to abstain from sinfully delicious fatty food. The good news according to Dean Ornish is that sport, a healthy diet and lifestyle have a positive effect on our cellular structures. This helps us reduce our biological age.

My perceived age is younger than my calendar age, which is actually a curse in disguise. It keeps me from exercising because my subconscious tells me that there is no need to start just yet. (In project management speak; I am using up my puffer time.) In my opinion, two factors contribute to the perceived age. First is the appearance factor, which is influenced by the physical appearance and fashion sense. Certain types of clothes or hairstyles can make us appear older than we are. Second is the attitude factor, which is the way we think and behave. Our attitude towards technological advances and affinity to new social media could make us appear younger.

Why do we want to be youthful?
One reason that comes to mind is that looking youthful has an impact on the level of success in our career. On the one hand, looking old might give an impression of not being up-to-date. On the other hand, looking youthful is associated with being dynamic, open-minded, flexible and able to easily adapt to changes. It might sound shallow but it is common knowledge that good-looking people are more successful in their careers. (I blogged about it some time ago.) Given the choice between a youthful looking candidate and a old looking candidate with the same qualification and experience, I am pretty sure that the youthful looking candidate would be chosen. In this case, it would not even be a case of ageism.

Another reason I can think of is the fact that we live longer than our ancestors did. Retirement may mark the end of one’s career but it marks the beginning of life. Retirees finally have enough time and money to catch up on all the dreams postponed in favour of the career and the quest of earning money. Therefore being physically youthful is necessary to support an active and possibly adventurous lifestyle.

As I have expressed in this post forever young could mean many different things. Do you want to be forever young and what does being young mean to you?

20 Sure Signs you might be a WordPress Junkie

Its confirmed. I am a WordPress junkie. I need help! 🙂

Running Naked With Scissors

Blogging is fun no doubt about it.  And WordPress makes it more fun with all the cool stuff that you can do with your blog.  The possibilities are endless. You can write about whatever you want, be as open or anonymous as you want, change your name, make yourself a super hero, chat with people from countries whose name you can;t pronounce, make friends with amazing people whom you probably never would even have bumped into in a crowded anywhere….endless…

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Are gender stereotypes overhauled?

Stereotypes are one way of simplifying a complex world. But some people forget that stereotypes are oversimplified generalisations. They constrain us when we use them as behavioural guidelines, when we accept them as the law of nature, when we let them dictate our actions or when we use them to judge others.

Some time ago, I read about a British couple, who kept the gender of their child a secret for 5 years. Apart from a few people, no one knew that Sasha was a boy. When I read this article, I was impressed by the extreme step the parents took to protect Sasha from stereotypes and the resulting societal behavioural expectations and pressures. Who decided that it is alright for girls to play with Barbie dolls but not boys? Why is pink considered a girly colour? Why is a girl, who climbs trees and likes to play ball games with the boys, a tomboy?

This British couple stressed that they did not hide his sex from Sasha. He knew that as a boy, he has different body parts than girls. All they wanted for him was the freedom to be a child, without society indirectly dictating and judging his behaviour. I applaud the parents for their courage to take such an extreme step for an applaudable cause.

What I do not understand is the backlash that the couple faced from the general public. People seemed appalled by what the couple had done. Some even called for the child to be taken away from them. In my opinion, such reactions show how unwilling people are to break away from gender stereotypes. Megan Gibson mentions in her article that probably people see sex and gender interchangeably. I found it an interesting thought. I always thought that gender and sex referred to the same thing. What is the difference between gender and sex?

According the online edition of the Merriam Webster dictionary, Sex is used to distinguish individuals based on their reproductive organs. Gender can refer to the sex of an individual or the stereotypes typically associated with a sex. Given this ambiguity, it is understandable that people were confusing sex with gender and the resulting backlash. But was it justified?

While researching this topic on the internet, I came across an NBS news piece about a then 5 year old boy, who liked to wear dresses. At first, his parents were against it because everyone knows that boys do not wear dresses, right? Until one day, the boy’s elder brother asked his mom a question. What’s wrong with his brother wearing dresses, if it made him happy? This innocent question caused both parents to realise that they were the ones with the problem. They allowed their younger son to wear dresses. Naturally they told him that boys do not usually wear dresses but he was free to wear what he wants. By the way, his favourite colour is pink. 🙂

This small boy with his love for pink dresses and all things sparkly caused me to think that possibly prevailing gender stereotypes are overhauled. By the way, there was a time when young boys did wear dresses.

I found this photo on Wikipedia. The note, “English boy, 1871. Without his name on the back the sex would be hard to determine”, is captured below the photo. This page also shades light on the reason for boys to switch from wearing dresses to pants.

It goes to show how stereotypes constantly evolve to suit prevailing societal “norms” and I guess we are ready for the next update.

Are you leaving behind a digital inheritance or a digital zombie?

As I was researching for the post on the Facebook app, If I die, I came across a Ted talk by Adam Ostrow. His talk was titled: After your final status update. It is about his idea for the future of our digital inheritance. He pondered the possibility that all the digital content we create during our lifetime, could be used to create digital personas. These in turn can interact with the living even after our death. Click here to view the video. Here is a transcript excerpt of his talk that inspired me to write this post.

But what if those robots were able to interact based on the unique characteristics of a specific person based on the hundreds of thousands of pieces of content that person produces in their lifetime?

Finally, think back to this famous scene from election night 2008 back in the United States, where CNN beamed a live hologram of hip hop artist will.i.am into their studio for an interview with Anderson Cooper. What if we were able to use that same type of technology to beam a representation of our loved ones into our living rooms — interacting in a very lifelike way based on all the content they created while they were alive? I think that’s going to become completely possible as the amount of data we’re producing and technology’s ability to understand it both expand exponentially. Now in closing, I think what we all need to be thinking about is if we want that to become our reality — and if so, what it means for a definition of life and everything that comes after it.

Do the contents we are creating accurately describe us?
Adam mentions in his talk that on average of 200 million tweets are posted in a day and each user creates about 90 pieces of content on Facebook in a month. By the sounds of it, we are creating a lot of content. There should be enough input for some machine to analyse all the content we have created and generate a digital persona incorporating our interests and views. Theoretically this digital persona would create new content on its own and continue to interact with the world and no one might be the wiser for it.

But how much of the content we are creating is new content and how much of it is forwarding content created by someone else? Of course you might argue that the act of forwarding in an indication of our interest. Is it really? Or do we think about what others would favour and post accordingly? Of all the videos uploaded on YouTube, what proportion are rip offs of TV series and movies and how many are original? (One user uploaded a video of a popular TV series and added the disclaimer “No copy right intended”. I wonder if the producers would agree with her. :-)) How about the YouTube stars? Is the image they are presenting really theirs or are they saying and doing stuff just to attract the clicks? How would their loved ones react, when this digital persona is brought to life? Would they feel as if they are communicating with someone they know or would they think that it is a stranger?

Do I want this to be my reality?
Two aspects come to mind when I consider this question. One aspect is would I want to “live” on after death, albeit in a digital form? A part of me says yes. Otherwise why do I blog? There are other ways I can improve my writing. Don’t we all feel the need to leave some kind of “legacy” behind? Leave something that would make others think of us after we are dead? What about all the photos we take and videos we make? Even having children could be seen as a way of keeping a part of our genes alive. It might sound narcissistic. But I think that human beings are somewhat narcissistic; some more than others. But would I want some algorithm to calculate what I would post, if I were alive and do it on my behalf? I don’t think so. I might want people to read what I had written but not what I might have written.

The second aspect is would I want to digitally interact with a dead person? Every one deals with loss in a different way. In the movies, grieving people often watch home videos or photos showing the person, who passed away. Wouldn’t a hologram of the loved one sitting next to me and conversing with me- using words written by my loved one- be more satisfying? Wouldn’t it be great to get an answer to a question and the answer would be what your dad would have told you had he been alive? On a superficial level I would say yes. If I really think about it, I would have to answer with a No.

Saying goodbye might be the hardest thing to do. But wouldn’t having a digital replica to hang on to only prolong the grieving period? The temptation might be great to hang on to an inanimate being; especially when we are feeling lonely and vulnerable. The movie Lars and the Real Girl comes to my mind. In the movie, shy and single Lars compensates his loneliness with a Real Girl doll. The whole village plays along, treating the doll like a real person and giving him the feeling that he is in a real relationship. Eventually he doesn’t need the doll and she dies from an “illness”, giving him the opportunity to meet a real girl. I think there is a danger of people withdrawing from reality and leading a life with a digital persona, if they feel alone.

Definition of life and what comes after it
I do not want to get into a religious discussion here. I am Christian and my definition of life after death is different from those of other religions. I would like to sum up the points I made earlier though. In my opinion, if it possible to live digitally after death, we all might spend more thought over the contents we generate in the digital world. After all these contents would make up the “genetic” code of our digital being.

From the perspective of the one living and interacting with a digital zombie, it could mess up the rest of our lives, if we become dependent on it and use it to delay dealing with the grief of losing a loved one. I would rather manually go through the posts, photos and videos instead of having a machine do it for me. I think it is a necessary process of dealing with death. On the other hand, to have a hologram repeating but not creating new content is a much comfortable way to do through the digital inheritance of a person than surfing through posts on the internet.

What do you think?