The Dream of Eternal Life: Biomedicine, Aging, and Immortality

Can we grow old without dying? Why do we have to grow old at all? In this fascinating book Mark Benecke investigates the biological meaning of life and death and the prospects for extending human longevity, or even achieving immortality. The first section of the book discusses the biological fundamentals of why death exists and what modern biology, especially the biology of genetics, tells us about aging and death. Human life and death, Benecke explains, is shaped by cellular life and death, so he examines the mortality of the normal cell as well as the “immortality” of cancer cells. In the second part Benecke assesses the various ways that we humans cope with a finite life span and the looming certainty of death, including such topics as the link between sport and vitality, the legends of Dracula and the undead, melatonin, vitamin C, and “the French paradox” concerning the link between alcohol consumption and heart disease. The third part looks at the possibility for extending our lives through cloning, organ and brain transplants, live cell therapy (favored by Sir Winston Churchill among others), and deep freezing of humans for reawakening in a future age. Finally, Benecke tells us what we can learn about the prospects for the human race from a study of the earth as a whole-for we can stay healthy only if the earth is healthy. Climate change, overpopulation, population “crashes,” Gaia, and the possibilities of future emigration into space are explained and explored. The Dream of Eternal Life concludes with a look at the human genome project and developmental biology, and Benecke sheds light on what this knowledge will mean for us in terms of understanding the nature of human life and our place in the living world. Throughout, Benecke maintains a scientific and skeptical attitude to many of the claims and counterclaims made by countless experts and fellow scientists.