One of the planet’s most extraordinary creatures floats in the Mediterranean Sea. The pale pink disk doesn’t look like much, but this jellyfish, called Turritopsis dohrnii, has a survival skill like none other: When injured or dying, it can return to its juvenile form, becoming young again.
That ability gives Turritopsis dohrnii its nickname: the immortal jellyfish. Scientists are studying these creatures closely, hoping to uncover secrets about human aging. Is it possible that someday we could go on living far into the future?
Some scientists believe that within the next few decades, it could be possible for humans to live 1,000 years or more. Normally, as time passes, our cells undergo changes: Our DNA mutates, cells stop dividing, and harmful junk—by-products of cellular activity—builds up. All these processes together cause us to age.
But experts such as Cambridge University researcher Aubrey de Grey think that we’ll soon be able to use advanced medicine to keep these changes from happening and stop the aging process in its tracks. Many other scientists disagree, saying that we know far too little about how aging works to tell whether it can be stopped.
But some people think we may know enough in the future, possibly centuries from now. That belief is why some people have gone so far as to freeze their bodies in liquid nitrogen in the hopes that someday, humans will have the scientific knowledge to bring them back to life—for good. One company charges $200,000 to preserve and store a body.
But experts point out that no evidence exists that it’s even possible to revive someone who has been frozen. And as people from philosophers to vampire novelists have long wondered—even if it’s possible to live forever, is it a good idea?
Mind the machine
No matter how advanced technology gets, it might be impossible for our bodies to go on forever. Some researchers believe there’s a limit on how long it’s physically possible to live: perhaps 125 years. But what if we don’t need our bodies at all?
Some people, including famed futurist Ray Kurzweil, believe that by 2045, we might become immortal by uploading our brains into computers. Then we could leave our bodies behind and live forever as machines.
To do it, we’d have to map the wiring of the whole human brain—a task we’re nowhere near accomplishing with current technology. And it’s a mystery whether transferring the inner workings of a brain into a computer would also transfer the person’s feelings, thoughts, and personality, too. But that’s not stopping some futurists from trying.
Would you want to live forever?
Excerpted from Nat Geo Kids’ Ultimate Book of the Future by Stephanie Warren Drimmer