Aging is a biologic phenomenon. It involves basic changes that occur within living cells. The key to halting or reversing the aging process is our understanding of the life processes. It is most encouraging, therefore, to discover that we are beginning to understand the precise manner in which our bodies function.
The most spectacular advances in the past decade have been in biology. With the use of equipment like the electron microscope and techniques such as X-ray crystallography, scientists have been able to examine the structure and workings of living cells on a molecular level. Light has been shed upon the mechanism by which genetic information is transferred from cell to cell, and simple types of DNA & RNA, the master chemicals involved in the process, have been duplicated in the laboratory.
As our understanding of the life processes increases, it is reasonable to assume that it will become possible to devise bio-engineering techniques to modify the aging process.
But this is all in the future. How far in the future depends upon us. It is common to hear people say that they believe that someday it will become possible to extend the human life span. This kind of prediction is misleading.
The problems involved in conquering aging have not been solved. They will never be solved unless people decide that they want to conquer aging — that they want to extend their lives. History has shown that man is capable of solving monumental problems once he sets his mind to it. At the turn of the century heavier-than-air flight was believed to be impossible, but the Wright brothers wanted to fly; just a few years ago rocket travel to the moon was looked upon as a fantasy, but scientists such as Werner Von Braun wanted to go to the moon. If we truly want to extend our lives — to maintain youth, vigor, and vitality indefinitely, we must become emotionally involved in the project.
To begin, we must face squarely certain facts about the human condition. The will to live is ingrained biologically within every living cell. Maintaining life is a constant, involuntary struggle involving the perpetual destruction of pathogenic elements within our bodies. When this struggle does not disrupt our normal patterns of behavior, we are considered to be in good health. If we can breathe, sleep, and eat without difficulty we are in a state of homeostasis.
When we become aware of the malfunctioning of our body, it is a sign that a crisis is at hand. With the onset of serious illness, the struggle to survive becomes dominant, and we experience pain and suffering. Unless the direction of the struggle can be reversed we will die. Disease is a dramatic confrontation with death. It heightens awareness of our vulnerability by shocking us into the realization that our existence is threatened — that our world is on the verge of collapsing at any moment.
Intellectually we are always aware of our impending demise. When we are in the throes of a serious illness, however, we become emotionally committed to recovery, without any intellectual urging.
If we are to conquer aging, we must learn to maintain this passionate state of mind throughout our lives. We must realize that we are never in good health — that the physical pleasure we experience is temporary and illusory — that even when we feel good, our bodies are not functioning efficiently, but merely well enough to hide the discordant elements within our system from our conscious minds.
Our position is no different in kind than the man who is told by a physician that he has cancer and can expect to live for only one year. Such a calculation is an estimate based upon statistics which indicate that other patients in a similar condition have lived an average of one year. The man might live only 6 months or as long as 2 years, but barring an unforeseen medical breakthrough, he must realize that his limitations have been clearly defined.
The same physician could make the very same statement about any of us, based upon our age and actuarial statistics. Does the fact that we may have 30, 40, or 50 years to live change the basic conditions of our fate?
We must face the fact that we are all in a terminal condition — that to be alive is to be in the midst of a crisis. We must realize that diseases are only manifestations of the intensification of that crisis. By conquering the diseases of childhood and youth we have merely prolonged the crisis, so that we may be lucky enough to look forward to the prospect of submitting to it, as victims of the degenerative diseases of our later years.
Heart disease and cancer are not isolated phenomena, but merely manifestations of the general progressive degeneration of our bodies. We call this progression aging because it affects our entire organism and is time dependent. It is the ultimate disease.
Many people have pointed out the enormous unsolved problems involved in conquering aging, and the need to accelerate the pace of scientific research in order to solve these problems. They have advised us to devote all our efforts to raising money for such research and to ignore any possible application until there are further advances.
These people either misunderstand or choose to ignore the motivation behind our efforts. We support scientific research on the problems of aging only because we feel it will lead to the opportunity to extend our lives. The extension of the human life span is our problem because we are human. If we were not concerned with freezing people who are dying, we would not be involved at all, because we are the ones who are dying.
Cryonics Reports – Volume 3, Number 4, April 1968