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Longlife: Wishing on a star?


ACCORDING to the results of strategic and international studies, the main challenge for the world economy in the next century will be shift in age.

By 2050 the worldwide number of people over the age of 60 will be approaching two billion, representing a third or more of many countries’ populations.

To the business community, this translates to labour shortages and burdening social security systems as many of us would no longer be able to tie our own shoe laces.

To society, however, it’s a reflection on science’s success is slowing down and in many cases stopping the process that lead to disease and aging so that we can live well for decades longer than what we now consider a long life.

The fantastic evidence that offer rigorous support to these fantastic claims can be found in knowledge, diet and medicine.

The purpose of our lives is to move toward the creation and appreciation of intelligence and knowledge. Technology has enabled our thinking process to occur at the speed of light rather than in very slow electrochemical reaction.

The world contains an unimaginably vast amount of digital information which is getting more vast ever more rapidly.

We are at a different period because of so much information as Joe Hollerstein a computer scientist at the University of California calls it “the industrial revolution of data”.

Epistemologically speaking, information is made up of a collection of data and knowledge is made up of different strands of information.

As the capabilities of digital devices soar and prices plummet, sensors and gadgets are digitising lots of information that was previously unavailable.

As a result, many more people have access to far more powerful tools. For example there are fivebillion mobile phone subscribers and more than two billion people use the internet.

As people interact with information they, spot business trends, prevent diseases, combat crime and so on.

This has led to more than a billion people worldwide entering the middle class and as they become richer, they become more literate which fuels information growth. The results are showing up in politics, economics and law. Even business strategies are now acknowledging that revolutions in science have often been preceded by revolutions in measurement.

Just as the microscope transformed biology by exposing germs and the electrons microscope changed physics, today’s data is turning the social sciences upside down.

Researchers are now able to understand human behaviour at the population level than the individual level.

With the global livestock sector responsible for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and grain prices reaching record highs, cheap, environmentally low, impact alternatives could be the food of the future.

According to the 2008 United Nation’s Food and Agriculture entomophagy conference held in Bangkok, the idea; that what we have become more accustomed to exterminating could provide a healthy meal that guarantees a long life ceased to ridiculous.

Entomophagy is the scientific term for consuming insects. This practice has been a natural phenomenon in Latin America Africa and Asia from time immemorial. The very qualities that make bugs so hard to get rid of could also make them an environmentally friendly food.

Nature is very good at making bugs which in turn require little room and few resources to grow.

For instance it takes less water to raise a pound of grasshoppers than needed to produce the same amount of beef. Since insects are cold blooded vertebrates, more of what they consume goes to building edible body parts, whereas pigs and other warm blooded vertebrates need to consume a lot of calories just to keep their body temperature steady. Incredibly efficient to raise insects are also crawling packets of nutrition. For example a 100g portion of cooked usata terpischore caterpillars (amacimbi) contains about 28g more protein than you would get from the same amount of chicken.

Water insects have four times as much as iron as beef. Food taboos are not eternal; think about the “eww” factor that used to characterise our response when we watched contestants munching insects on Fear Factor.

Today our brains tell us that bugs can be good for you as we cheer on a survivor contestant chewing a spider or maggots (although our stomachs are ready to revolt).

We know we can ward off chronic illness by eating well, exercising and staying mentally engaged.

Scientists are pioneering bold new strategies for restoring our bodies as they disintegrate. If the new field of regenerative medicine fulfils its promise, doctors will soon use embryonic stem cells to restore our failing brains. Lab-grown cartilage will repair arthritic joints and people with faltering hearts or livers will order fresh ones from the factory. Physicians can now remodel a child’s defective heart by manipulating tiny instruments through catheters.

Surgically implanted devices can quintuple the hearts output when it flatters or regulate its contractions when they become dangerously erratic. An optimist might predict that death itself will be banished or at least dramatically delayed through such piecemeal repairs. It is a tantalizing idea and almost surely an illusion.

Regenerative medicine may enrich our lives and prevent many premature deaths. Although it is in our nature to try prolong life and should we succeed wont the cure be worse than the disease?

Any treatment that confers long life would keep people generally healthy but the extra years would be a kind of medical balancing act, akin to the jugglers who dash about keeping plates spinning on top of poles. Quite a nerve racking experience. A crucial point that is often overlooked in discussions of longevity is on whether treatments do help one’s memory.

The brain is by far the most complex organ known to us and the workings of memory are not really understood.

Even the ordinary lifetime often seems too much for human memory to hold or recall and if decades are added on, the long middle years of a life might be substantially forgotten, leaving only dim memories of childhood and recent events. This will be disastrous for it is memory that makes us human.

Meanwhile human society would be devastated by the presence of this growing population of semi-amnesiac super elderly.

Our demographic balance depends on births only slightly outnumbering deaths and a longevity treatment would drastically alter that balance. With fewer of the young and many more of the old, the people in the middle would have to take on an incredible burden.

Having sketched the problems of having a senior society can we give up on such a beautiful idea? Not at all.

The reason being that human history is a collective struggle to make life easier for ourselves and our descendants.

We regard the struggle of life to extend itself as the most natural thing in the world and everyone’s desire is to live a long life, have most profits and receive long dividends.

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