Discover more from Stephen's People
Is 150 years the outer limit?
(no. 55) Our living ancients. Our nose forests. Our racial disparity, by Stephen P. Williams
How Long Will You Live?
In Kashmir, a disputed territory on the border of India and Pakistan, health workers going door to door gave 124 year old Rehtee Begum a COVID-19 vaccine. Her family’s ration card confirmed her age. That would make her two years older than Jeanne Calment, the Frenchwoman who died at age 122 in 1997, and has been considered the longest lived human ever.
(Animals can live much longer. Jonathan, a rakish 189 year old Seychelles tortoise lives a cushy life on the island of St. Helena, where Napoleon lived out his exile before dying at age 51.)
Still going hard at age 189.
Born in an obscure French village, he went on to rule Europe, but then died younger than maybe he should have, like many of us. Painting: Napoléon à Sainte-Hélène by François-Joseph Sandmann
Our societal obsession with looking younger is in direct conflict with our obsession with living longer. The two things just don’t compute; the latter just makes the former more difficult.
Regardless, some researchers believe they’ve determined the outer limit of how long the human body can carry on, and it’s 150 years, according to a study published in Nature Communications. Apparently, the key is how well the body can bounce back from injury and upset — the level of resilience a person has.
“As we age, more and more time is required to recover after a perturbation, and on average we spend less and less time close to the optimal physiological state,” said the lead researcher, Timothy V. Pyrkov.
In other words, gradually the human body reaches a point where it can’t recover from distress or injury. It wears out.
Yet, conclusions drawn today might seem antiquated tomorrow. This stellar graphic from The New York Times lists a variety of interventions that will be available between now and 2031 to help extend our life spans. Take advantage of those that are available today, and prepare yourself for the interventions of the future. If you like.
I’m not really interested in living to be a super-centenarian (over 110 years old). Advocates say that extreme old age offers the potential to have new careers, know your great, great, great grandchildren, and taste all the flavors of ice cream now and yet to be invented alongside your many birthday cakes. Yum. But I fear that a world of supercentenarians might pose more problems for the rest of humanity, such as overpopulation, environmental damage, loss of species, economic disaster.
The elusive Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote about a supercentenarian in his short story, The Immortal. In it, a military guy finds a river that cleans death from men. He takes a few sips and spends years in deep contemplation. Finally, he comes to the conclusion that without death, life has no meaning. If no one disappears, no one has value. He wanders for hundreds of years, searching for the key to death. In the end, he finds it when he sips from a clear spring. Then, by accident, he scratches his hand on a thorn. He feels pain. He sees a drop of blood. He is now immortal again. He watches the wound, feeling “incredulous, speechless, and in joy.”
The meaningfulness of death is a very romantic thought. Maybe that’s easy for me to say now, since I don’t expect it soon. But ask me again in 30 years, when I might not see the point.
Ageist ancient pop music
Deborah Harry didn’t die young, but she did stay pretty.
The statistics, in Black and white
There is a racial gap in longevity. In 1900, the life expectancy for white people was 47.8 years (which, in retrospect, seems shockingly short.) For Black Americans it was only 33 years, which seems criminal. Now the figures are about 78.9 for whites and 75.5 for Blacks.
He gobbles pills
This young man works hard and spends big to live long. At age 43, he claims to have the biological age of a five year old. (More than once in my life I’ve been told I have the emotional age of a five year old.)
Dealing with nose hair
First, don’t put Nair in your nose.
Men in pain
Everything about this video from Nad’s for Men feels wrong, but it’s funny to watch.
Watch Jonathan take his first bath in 184 years. What must it feel like?
I’m becoming a little obsessed with this tortoise.
Please send any thoughts to email@example.com