Astronomer John Gribbin
SPIRITUALITY SCIENCE – AGING AND LONGEVITY:
I would like to pay my tribute to Blaise Pascal who shared his views about man and human nature; “Man is a nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between Nothing and Everything. Since he is infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their beginning are helplessly hidden from him in an impenetrable secret; he is equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which he was made, and the Infinite in which he swallowed up.” Since man exists as a Mortal Being, man has a natural tendency to investigate the Beginning of Life and the End of Life and seek a better understanding of the natural processes liking Aging that propels man to travel and reach the destination termed ‘Death’ without any choice. Aging is a widespread biological phenomenon and all living things display a natural tendency towards a decline of biological functions and a time-related disability to adapt to metabolic stress. At the same time, I ask my readers to note that the ‘Protoplasm’, the living substance that makes up both the cytoplasm and nucleoplasm appears to be potentially immortal. The term ‘Longevity’, the length or duration of a life or lives, must be interpreted in the context of the potential ability of Protoplasm to survive while individual members of species take birth, live, and die after a period of time. The term Life-Span describes the longest period of time that a typical individual can be expected to live. Similarly, Lifetime is the period of time that someone lives, or that something lasts, functions, or is in effect. Human beings have the unique ability to use their Lifetime to create a legacy that can endure giving an aura of immortality to that specific human individual who may have finished his or her mortal existence.
THE PHENOMENON OF LONGEVITY:
The concept of Life-Span implies that there is an individual whose existence has a definite beginning and end. Within the Phylum Protozoa, organisms that consist of a single cell, are numerous species that reproduce by fission which is a form of asexual reproduction in which the parent organism divides into two or more approximately equal parts, each becoming an independent individual. In such organisms where it is not easy to establish the beginning and end of an individual organism, the growth seems to continue indefinitely and a potential immortality can be observed. In organisms that use sexual reproduction, the limits of the life-span of each species appear to be determined by ‘Heredity’ which refers to the transmission of characteristics from parent to offspring by means of genes in the chromosomes. Each individual member of any given species has a life-span during which something of that individual lasts when transmitted to offspring as heritable information. The term heredity and the Laws of Inheritance and the Science called Genetics will have validity if, and only if some biological characteristics survive in spite of the death of any individual member of a species. It is very interesting to observe that there are several species of living things which have continuously lived for exceptionally long periods of time retaining their species-specific identity. Such organisms can be claimed to be immortal as they appear to be fully capable of surviving indefinitely. This faculty has been attributed to some insects, some simpler forms of invertebrate marine life (such as Tube Worms, Jellyfish, Clams, and Lobsters), certain fishes and reptiles which appear to be capable of unlimited growth. As the complexity of an organism increases, the internal changes associated with the aging process contribute to senescence and death of the organism. Even under the most favorable external conditions, there is a predetermined age beyond which a given individual of a species may not be able to survive. The Maximum Life-Span is often an estimate based on the longest lived organism of its species that is known to date. The Average Life-Span is a statistical concept that is derived by the analysis of mortality data for populations of each species. The Average Life-Span is related to Life Expectancy, the statistically probable length of time that a typical individual of any given species can be expected to live. Life Expectancy varies as it depends on the changing death rate over a period of time. Even species that have very slow-growing rates can experience higher than natural death rates due to external factors and may even face the threat of total extinction.
The issue of Life-Span of plants and trees and of Human Life-Span need special consideration. In all animals, where the organism is formed by sexual reproduction, the beginning of life is defined by the formation of the fertilized egg cell or zygote. Very often, physical birth is considered to be the beginning of the Life-Span. The end or death of an organism is reflected in its inability to support its structural and functional organization that gives it a distinctive physical identity. This generation of Life by the union of an egg and sperm is a most remarkable event. In the entire Animal and Plant Kingdom where the organisms achieve reproduction sexually, the Generative Mechanism remains the same and is unchanged over millions of years. This Generative Potential of Sexual Reproduction is unaltered and it describes a most creative process that is involved in the beginning of all living creatures. In my view, the immutability of Life’s beginning is dependent upon the Unchanging Principle called Soul or Spirit.