Is Controlled Death the Key to Physical Immortality?
Apoptosis is our organism’s tightly regulated and highly efficient cell death program. Apoptosis works with a genetically encoded signaling network: when our organism recognizes that a cell is damaged, it uses signal substances to trigger death receptors in its cell membrane, inducing the damaged cell to commit suicide and dissolve. Apoptosis can also be triggered from inside a cell, for example when a cell deems its DNA damaged.
Apoptosis is a program of Biblical proportions: in an average human adult, it replaces between 50 and 70 billion cells each day. After a shower, you rub a mind-boggling 10 million dead cells off your body. Savor this: controlled, perpetual dying is the foundation of our body’s survival. Accordingly, when there’s a problem with an organism’s apoptosis, sick cells survive and grow in an uncontrolled manner – the result is cancer. Of course, scientists are very keen to learn how apoptosis works. Imagine: instead of killing cells with chemicals and causing a lot of collateral damage, doctors could simply induce sick cells to commit suicide.
Scientists are still looking for the reason why our organism ages and dies; theoretically, it could go on forever regenerating itself – with the help of apoptosis. Conclusion: aging must be the result of a malfunctioning organic death program. But simply boosting cell suicide isn’t recommended. Apoptosis research classifies two kinds of ailments: ailments which are caused by insufficient apoptosis (e.g. cancer, arthritis, …) and ailments which are caused by an excess of apoptosis: (e.g. HIV, Parkinson, etc..). So, the key is balance: not too much and not too little death.
Now, what has this to do with immortality? Well, almost all spiritual traditions hint at an immortal, physical body that can be constructed by obscure mental practices and they agree that dissolution and equilibrium are the two secrets of this great work. Is apoptosis the lost secret to physical immortality? Was Methuselah for real?
In spirituality (and physics incidentally), there’s no death-death, only transformation, and what is apoptosis, but a perpetual, organic transformation? Tarot card 13, Death, is said to hold the secrets to immortality. Paul Foster Case commented on this Tarot card: “When somebody is able to balance the destructive and constructive forces in his body he is able to prolong his life far more than an average human being.” That sounds pretty much like apoptosis, doesn’t it?
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