Interview with Ben Bova about Immortality

A noted American science writer and editor believes that, "Men and women alive today may well be able to live for centuries and if they survive that long, they will undoubtedly be able to live for millenia." In his book Immortality: How Science is Extending Your Life Span -- and Changing the World Ben Bova cites a number of scientific breakthroughs, including cell regeneration which may soon make it possible for humans to live for indefinite periods. Doctor Bova discusses some of the social and economic aspects of living longer in a conversation with Voice of America's Dan Noble.

DN: Well, exactly, what are some of these challenges?

BB: When people no longer fear dying, when the death rate has gone down, almost to zero, we are going to have to learn to bring the birth rate down almost to zero. Or we are going to overpopulate the world and cause tremendous problems that way. I see a new sense of human responsibility. When people live for centuries, they'll no longer be able to say: I don't have to worry about population growth. I don't have to worry about global warming. I don't have to worry about any of these long range problems, because I'll be dead when they come about. My grandchildren will have to worry about it. No, you'll have to worry about it and you will still be here. So, I think it will generate a sense of responsibility in people."

DN: But, you also write that: "Of all the barriers to life extension and immortality, religious injunctions will undoubtedly be the most severe." Why is that?

BB: They are the hardest to overcome because when people have a religious belief, they feel that they are getting the word from God. To change that, or to go against it is against God's wishes. But, we've come to this situation before. In Immortality, I write about the situation in the 19th century when anesthesia was first used in surgical theaters. In Britain, moralists said: It is obvious that you must never give anesthesia to a woman in childbirth, because the Bible commands that women bring forth their children in pain and suffering. Well, Queen Victoria, who eventually had nine children, decided for her next birth she was going to use anesthetics. The argument dissolved. The moralists were silenced. It turned out that the church didn't crumble. The human race didn't become a bunch of depraved savages. What was seen as a moral issue was really a matter of opinion, human opinion. The same thing has happened in our own lifetime with organ transplants. The first heart transplant operations, people cried that the surgeons were playing God. Now, we take it for granted. The first time we see people getting injections of enzymes that will extend their lives for centures, people will say you are trying to evade God's justice. You are trying to evade going to hell, or, postpone going to heave. A hundred years from now this will be seen as a quaint, little argument. People living for centuries will be taken for granted.

DN: Even if people live a decade or so more, won't this have other implications? For instance, work and retirement age?

BB: It certainly will. If you are going to live three or four hundred years, retiring at 65 is nonsense. If you are going to be young for many centures, you won't need to retire. You'll still be productive. What you will be able to do is change careers. Spend some time learning some things that you've always wanted to learn but never felt you had the time for. Education is no longer going to mean sitting in a classroom and listening to a lecture. It is going to mean a virtual reality experience. You want to learn chemistry, you'll do it in a virtual realtiy simulation laboratory where you will grab atoms in your hands and put them together.

DN: How do we plan, economically, to live -- if not forever -- for a very, very long time?

BB: You know, this thing is sort of like the year 2000 problem for computers. People have known about the problem for awhile but they haven't done anything about it until the problem is almost upon us. Immortality is a book that talks about something that is going to happen, and begin to happen, within ten years. Nobody is even aware of it. That's why I wrote it, so that people will be aware and begin to plan, begin to think: How do I want to spend the centuries? How do I want to plan for this financially?

DN: Thank you, very much, Dr. Bova. We've been speaking with Ben Bova, author of Immortality: How Science is Extending Your Life Span -- and Changing the World. I'm Dan Noble.

Ben Bova Interview on
the Science Involved in Immortality
The Science Fiction Bookshelf

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