The Age of Anxiety
February 24, 2019
Satisfaction
March 14, 2019

Longevity

photo by Ivan Obolensky

Time is something of which we are all aware. Over the years, time seems to accelerate. Whether this is a perceptual illusion, the result of living and experiencing time in a different way as we age, or an actual fact, is an interesting question.

One day in the life of a two-day-old baby is fifty percent of their current lifetime, while one day for an eighty-year-old is only .003 percent of their existence. Much happens in a single day of a child because every day is a comparatively large proportion of how long they have lived in comparison to a day as a future adult.

For example, do you remember summer vacations being so much longer when you were little as compared to today? There was plenty of time. To me, summers would blissfully stretch forever into the future, while every September, the school year would cast an equally long shadow before me. The length of time didn’t change, but my perception of it did.

Cynthia Kenyon, an American Molecular Biologist, discovered in 1993 that mutating a single gene (daf-2) in the C. elegans roundworm doubled their lifespan, and that this could be reversed by a second mutation in the daf-16 gene. Research in this area continues, but whether the findings can be utilized to double the length of a human life is still unknown.  The idea of living to 160 or 200 got me wondering about a few things.

  1. How will we perceive the passing of a single day when we are that old?
  2. Although there is a fixed amount of short term memory (the normal human can hold only seven to nine digits in their minds fairly easily) how much capacity do we have in our long term memory? Surely, it is not infinite.
  3. If we have finite long term memory, how much will we have to ignore or forget, to handle the overflow, and how will that happen? As our memories leak away, how will we make sense of our lives with so many gaps? Will we be aware that the leakage is even happening? How will we feel about that?
  4. The more we forget, the more our stories will diverge, not only from what actually occurred, but from each other’s version of events. What will that mean? Will we grow farther apart, or closer together?

Sometimes the questions are more important than the answers. To begin to formulate them is to start to see the difficulties involved, and perhaps gain an insight into that area of unknowns. Ultimately, without questions, there can be no answers.

Science will likely extend the span of our lives, but no matter how long those extensions may be, I think growing that old will require extraordinary inner strength and courage, but I’m not particularly worried. I have post-it notes aplenty around here somewhere.

 

2 Comments

  1. craig houchin says:

    Ivan,

    These are interesting questions. Perhaps, given evolutionary time, our minds might evolve to encompass our longer lifespans (if those longer lifespans were to come about naturally in the first place.) But we have always been a species that uses tools – such as this gene alteration – to try to jump ahead. And we often outpace our capacity to manage our new technology and, thus, bring ourselves to crisis points.

    Where other species rely on the physical world to provide the stressors that press their evolution one direction or another, we have used our minds and our own advancing technology to self-apply stressors that, in turn, push us to adapt or die.

    To what type of future being are we, today, the “photo-monkey.” Or, will all of our Sturm und Drang lead us into a cosmic dead end?

    Are we now swirling the drain of existence, or just about to make another sudden turn and skirt the edge a while longer?

    What a ride!

    • Hi Craig, Thanks for your wonderful comment. The future is bound to be exciting. As an interesting point of reference as to where we are headed, I read an excellent Sci-Fi book just recently. I’m backlogged on numerous Goodreads reviews but will get to it next week. It is called “Children of Time” by Adrian Tchaikov. It won the Arthur C. Clarke award and that was well deserved. In keeping with the overall premise of the book, we are ultimately a cooperative species which appears to be a genetically driven characteristic. See my article The Cooperation Game. It was the last article I wrote and will likely be the last since I am now full time on my next two novels. It was a good note to end that series on. All will be well. I suppose we all wish we would see what happens, but resolution usually requires conflict to sort out. That, too, is normal for us, even inside our own heads. The future is brighter than it might appear because life will always find a way.

Leave a Reply to craig houchin Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

//]]>