Quest for eternity

Can death be postponed? Billionaires and some scientists believe it can be. It is only in such a hope that the quest for immortality has become a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Quest for eternity

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is a story of a man who could never get old. In Kate Atkinson’s 2013 novel Life After Life, the protagonist Ursula keeps dying, then dying again. She is even dying from being born. Argentinian short-story writer Jorge Luis Borges is known for embracing the unknown. 

A protagonist in one of his stories visits the city of Immortals where, with the exception of humankind, all creatures are immortal. The protagonist mistakably achieves immortality and soon begins to worry about long life and struggles hard to relinquish it. 

The mythical fountain of youth has been a popular legend for thousands of years. Herodotus wrote about mythical restorative water in Ethiopia in the 5th century BC. In the modern age, the legend of the Fountain of Youth stems from stories told by the indigenous people of the Caribbean about the mythical land of Bimini. 


The best-sellers like Ninety Minutes in Heaven (2004) and Heaven Is for Real (2010) are a measure of interest in life after death. The human’s God quest is no more the exclusive preserves of sages and writers. 

Now enter the billionaires, futurists and experts in artificial intelligence and genomics and things are all set to change. Billionaires are now putting cash on the line to conquer the galactic world. 

The high-profile business leaders, entrepreneurs and successful dreamers have now made significant investments in space programmes and the quest for immortality. 

“My boat is bigger than yours” is the unwritten theme of the billionaires’ playground. The super-rich and their superyachts were jostling for space in the idyllic Caribbean beaches till Covid- 19 spoiled the game. Now the race is for a decent parking space in the galactic world and God-quest. 

Humans are never going to stop craving immortality. The billionaires want to make it real. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Alphabet’s Larry Page, Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Palantir’s Peter Thiel are spending a lot in the fast-emerging field of longevity. The super-rich is using their enormous wealth to try to help humans “cheat death.” 

Zoltan Istvan, futurist, philosopher and transhumanist, believes technology has the power to transform the human mind and body. 

In 2016, he ran for president of the US for the Transhumanist Party. He campaigned in an “Immortality Bus” in the shape of a huge coffin. He is obsessed with extending human life- spans using technologies such as cryopreservation, mind uploading, body augmentation and genetic manipulation. 

Can death be postponed? Billionaires and some scientists believe it can be. It is only in such a hope that the quest for immortality has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. Liberal funding has prompted some scientists to reprogramme old cells to make them young thereby rejuvenating the immune system. If they succeed, it will go a long way to protecting the elderly from life-threatening ailments. 

Peter Thiel, many believe, is interested in parabiosis, the practice of injecting old people with young people’s blood. 

Some reports suggest, that “young blood transfusions” company Ambrosia sells a litre of blood for $5,500. Google co-founder Larry Page’s Calico Life Sciences, a research and development biotech company, is working to combat neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. 

It hopes to get humanity closer to lifespans of 140 or 150 years. Altos Labs, a Silicon Valley start-up backed by billionaires Jeff Bezos, is seeking to extend life even further ~ well into the hundreds ~ using biological re-programming technology. 

The super-rich wishes not just to control assets that give them an extra level of power, they now want nothing less than to abolish death. Their obsession with immortality may be utopian, even outright mad. But their wealth and power today can buy anything except eternal life. Who will stop them from wanting to cross the last frontier? 

Around 500 cryopreserved corpses are stored in vats around the world at minus 196C. There is a belief that science will one day allow them to be resurrected. Several bodies lie frozen inside a thermal sleeping bag immersed in liquid nitrogen in an aluminium pod in Arizona’s luxury suburb of Phoenix on the edge of the Sonoran Desert.

In the last half-century, the science of cryogenics, or freezing humans to preserve them for reanimation, has had some spectacular failures when bodies are inadequately frozen and have simply started to decompose.

But things have changed now. An MIT graduate Robert McIntyre for the first time successfully froze and then revived a mammalian brain. When thawed, the rabbit’s brain was found to have all of its synapses, cell membranes, and intracellular structures intact. 

Another option is mind uploading, where a digital copy of the brain is stored so that one day new technologies will re-animate the dead person’s personality in avatar form. 

People who sell multivitamins promising life extension through cellular renewal are usually charlatans.

But geroscience promises to prolong life. Dr Nir Barzilai, who heads the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, has been following some 700 centenarians. Others are looking for ways to prevent “multimortality” at the end of life. 

One good outcome of the billionaires’ obsession with im- mortality would be good progress towards longevity. Scientists are optimistic that humans may be able to live up to a maximum of between 120 and 150 years. To live beyond this limit, humans would need to stop cells from ageing and prevent disease. Will autophagy (cells ridding themselves of toxic material) help? Research in the field is still in its infancy. 

The tech billionaires are not interested in pumping their billions into climate change mitigation technologies. They don’t subscribe to the view held by the majority of people that it is pointless living forever on a dying planet. 

The ordinary mortals have multiple problems to wrestle with. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP), the “toxic triple combination” of conflict, weather extremes and the economic effects of the Covid pandemic will further undermine food security. Hunger hit an all-time high in 2021. The UN has predicted that the number of people without enough to eat is poised to reach appalling new levels. 

The super-rich is not interested in such mundane things. They dream big. For them, even an impossible dream can be alluring, as Don Quixote had found out. Dreams are known to have ignited the mind and body in real life. 

But dreams are fragile entities. They crumble on account of human folly. The billionaires would do well to remember Rumi’s advice: “the light is one, the lampshades are many.”