How to live forever


First aired on Day 6 (30/8/13)


Is it possible to live forever? And if it was, how could we do it? That's the question journalist Adam Gollner explores in his new book, The Book of Immortality. His quest takes him on a journey into the wide world of pharmaceuticals, cyborgs and David Copperfield's private island.

Gollner looks at immortality through three different lens: magic, belief and science. It was magic that led him to David Copperfield. The illusionist claimed he had discovered the fountain of youth on his private island and Gollner decided to investigate. Copperfield was more than willing for Gollner to visit him, but was reluctant to show him the source of water that could supposedly bring dead flies back to life and turn brown leaves green again. "What he basically proposed was 'You can come down to the island with me and I will discuss the fountain with great verbal aplomb, but I will not show you my wrinkly hand going into the stream and coming out young again," Gollner told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

Despite spending several days on the island -- and even sneaking out in the middle of the night to search for it -- Gollner never saw the fountain. Despite that, Gollner believes if anyone has found a fountain of youth, it would be David Copperfield. "I left that island feeling like he probably has the fountain of youth," Gollner said. "That's how good a master illusionist he is. He convinced me."

Researching "belief" introduced Gollner to the concept of deathism. There's a group of people who believe in what's called "physical immortalism," which is the belief that we will find a way to live forever -- and that the notion of death, and discussing death is offensive, akin to sexism and racism. "Most of them seem to be followers of the idea of singularity, that humans and computer will eventually merge in the coming decades and we'll find a way of uploading our minds into computerized hard drives," Gollner said. "We will eventually be cyborgs."

Gollner says immortality is still a long way off, but we've made a surprising amount of scientific progress. Some of the biggest advancements have been pharmaceutical. "One of the biggest stories in the anti-aging scene in recent years has been the discovery of a suite of genes called sirtuins." When someone drastically reduces their caloric intake, they will potentially live longer -- and companies are spending "billions of dollars" to figure out how to get the benefits of caloric restriction while still eating all the cheeseburgers you want. "There is a very, very big institutional massive effort [behind this]," Gollner said.

So, knowing all he knows about immortality, does Gollner find the possibility of living forever appealing? Not at all. "I do believe that death is real and I do believe it's an extraordinary moment and that we should celebrate it," he said. "Ephemerality is what makes life precious."

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