Silicon Valley’s quest for immortality – and its worrying sacrifices

Silicon Valley’s quest for immortality – and its worrying sacrifices

Somewhere in Silicon Valley, a man wakes early with the sunrise. Venturing into the kitchen, he pacifies his rumbling belly with a cup of coffee infused with a large knob of grass-fed butter. He’s in the middle of a fast, after all.

After a two-hour meditation session, he’s off to spend thousands of dollars on his latest indulgence – stem cell injections. The clinic’s practitioner assures him that removing stem cells from his bone marrow and injecting them into other tissues will rejuvenate them from their fatigued state.

He trusts their word, just as he trusts that spraying nicotine into his mouth will give him the benefits of a cigarette without the negative side effects.

When he retires for the night, equipped with melatonin tablets and blue light-blocking glasses to ensure his sleep cycle isn’t disturbed, he’s satisfied with the day’s achievements. He’s taken another small step towards his goal. He may be a product of the 21st century, but he’s also part of the growing contingent who are doing everything in their power to make it alive into the 23rd.

Humans have long harbored an obsession with living forever. But all those who shared the quest for immortality have something in common – they failed. And yet the dream of eternity hasn’t wavered. So much so, that many alive today cannot help but wonder if the key to their immortality is already lurking in the ever expanding pool of human knowledge.

Modern science has opened an assortment of new ways to improve survival, and now members of the technology-driven ultra-rich are adopting these new approaches in an attempt to extend their own lives.

But what is often left unsaid is that modern science has also revealed the darker side of longevity extension: the inevitable physiological trade offs that seem destined to hold us back. Nature seems set to deny our human forms from having it all. So what will it be: humanity, or something else entirely?

A utopian fantasy

Francis Bacon’s symbolic narrative New Atlantis was published in 1627. The unfinished novel portrays a society where humankind has used science to wrestle control of its world from nature.

To some, this world represents a foreshadowing of the scientific utopia that we are barreling towards today. But our world, unlike Bacon’s, is one full of self-interest and greed, and it is to these traits that the quest to defy aging belongs.

Failed quests for immortality have a long record. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of humanity’s oldest tales dating back to the 22nd century BC, the title character embarks on an epic quest to attain everlasting life. After many trials and tribulations, he eventually hears of a flower on the ocean floor that will restore his youth.

And despite a warning from the only people ever granted immortality by the gods – that his quest will ruin the joys of life – Gilgamesh plucks the flower from the watery depths.

His success doesn’t last. Gilgamesh inevitably loses the flower; and eventually, like all mortals before and after him, he dies. His is a story of defiance against our mortal forms, our endeavor to go to great lengths to overcome them, and the ultimate futility of the idea. It encompasses a theme that still holds significant relevance in the field of anti-aging research.