Monday, May 17, 2010
The Big Sleep (Part 3)
I saw something the other day which was new to me. I like to keep myself as fit as possible, swimming, multi-gym, running on a trampoline and so on. In Ghana this requires true dedication to the contours of the body. Even in the evening it is close to 30 degrees and the humidity is extremely high. Thus, exercise is both a challenge but also a reward as the sweat pours of me and so I can cut down the time I spend in this masochistic pursuit of a few more years of life.
Perhaps you have heard that at seventy you can have three-quarters of the strength you had as a young, vibrant, semen-rich twenty year old male. I can’t think of the equivalent hyperbole for women but it must exist. At the same time we know that the body replaces cells at a fantastic rate (some, every three days!). So, the question arises, why do we age? The answer appears to be that when the body replaces cells, it copies the last known version as its prototype. Now, imagine taking a photograph and then scanning it. And then scanning the last scan, on and on for eighty years. What would you have? The answer is a very decrepit version of the original. A pixelated morass. It is another example of entropy. In the academic world, plagiarism is a crime probably worse than homicide and here we have the body managing it on a huge scale. It seems irrevocable then that we just break down. That is why there is such a buzz about stem cell surgery. Take some stem cells from me when I am very young and store them until I am very old. Then begin growing and replacing bits and bobs of my body, not with the zillionth copy but with relative originals. It will happen but nor for my generation.
This entropic process continues all around us, from New Labour ‘running out of steam and ideas’, to houses needing constant upgrading, to businesses who forget to develop their workforce, to crockery and glassware. The universe itself is heading, it seems, for its own final Big Sleep where all the atoms that comprise it are spread through an infinity of icy blackness, so far apart that they can no longer interact and make stars, planets or us.
So what those of the end-game generation are doing is encouraging cells to copy cells that are a bit stronger than they would have been otherwise. The finishing line may or may not remain in the same place but we will run as close as we can to it before the final crawl.