Staying Alive

I’m not a religious person, I’m not particularly spiritual either. When I do meditate it’s to calm my mind more than anything else. There is one thing I do believe in: Life must be preserved. Life gives rise to intelligence and intelligence gives rise to sentient beings capable of experiencing and understanding the Universe. While “live and let live” is a part of this, there’s another, perhaps even more basic component: we should take care of our own lives. In particular, we must take care of bodies because we depend on them so much. Unfortunately this is easier said than done.

Part of the problem is that there are large gaps in our understanding of how our bodies work and how they are affected by our environment. We’re not sure if sugar is toxic, we’re only just starting to understand how aging works, our brain is still a place of great mystery. On top of it much of our decisions about our bodies are driven by convenience and market pressures rather then science.

However, each day we learn more and more about how to preserve our bodies and our lives. We learn that our bodies are made for endurance running. We learn that just half an hour of exercise on a daily basis can dramatically reduce our chance of disease and increases our quality of life. We learn that reducing caloric intake greatly extends the lifetimes of worms and that humans share many of the same metabolic pathways. And there are people trying to help us live longer, perhaps forever.

As we learn more about our bodies, about disease and health I hope we can also rethink our ideas about health, life and death. Perhaps one day we’ll realize that simply being disease-free is not enough. We’ll understand our bodies well enough to be able to determine what each individual’s optimal body state is and how to get there. Perhaps one day “normal” will be defined as “optimal” and not just “not sick”. And maybe, just maybe, one day we’ll start to think of death as a disease, the last human disease and work to eradicating it.

The effort to preserve and optimize our lives brings its own challenges. What happens to agriculture and food supply chains in a world of health-conscious eaters? What happens to the planet’s natural resources (especially the scarce ones) when there are fewer deaths and large numbers of healthy, active people? If we do get on the path to eradicating death, how many people will the Earth support? Will it finally force our hand and push us into colonizing other planets?

Who knows?

I think we’re entering (and maybe we’re already in) a golden age of biology and health science. Backed by incredibly precise biochemical tools and powerful computational strength we’re going to have an unprecedented amount of knowledge about how our bodies work and react to various conditions and inputs. How are we going to use this knowledge? Will it substantially improve the condition of the human race? I hope so.

Live and let live. Let’s start with ourselves.

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Published by

Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

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