The Men Who Want to Live Forever
Would you like to live forever? Some billionaires, already invincible in every other way, have decided that they also deserve not to die. Today several biotech companies, fueled by Silicon Valley fortunes, are devoted to “life extension” ― or as some put it, to solving “the problem of death.”
It’s a cause championed by the tech billionaire Peter Thiel, the TED Talk darling Aubrey de Gray, Google’s billion-dollar Calico longevity lab and investment by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. The National Academy of Medicine, an independent group, recently dedicated funding to “end aging forever.”
这项事业得到了科技亿万富翁彼得・蒂尔(Peter Thiel) 、TED演讲(TED Talk)的宠儿奥布里・德・格里(Aubrey de Grey)、谷歌(Google)投资10亿美元的Calico长寿实验室和亚马逊(Amazon)杰夫・贝佐斯(Jeff Bezos)的投资的支持。独立机构美国国家医学院(National Academy of Medicine)最近出资，希望“永远结束衰老”。
As the longevity entrepreneur Arram Sabeti told The New Yorker: “The proposition that we can live forever is obvious. It doesn’t violate the laws of physics, so we can achieve it.” Of all the slightly creepy aspects to this trend, the strangest is the least noticed: The people publicly championing life extension are mainly men.
致力于长寿的企业家阿拉姆・萨贝提(Arram Sabeti)对《纽约客》(The New Yorker)说：“我们可以长生不老的主张显而易见。它并不违反物理定律，所以我们能够实现它。”在这一潮流之中，有些方面略微有点}人，而最奇怪的恰恰是最不受人关注的一点：公开支持延长寿命的主要是男性。
Not all of them, of course. In 2009, Elizabeth Blackburn received the Nobel Prize for her work on telomeres, protein caps on chromosomes that may be a key to understanding aging. Cynthia Kenyon, the vice president for aging research at Calico, studied life extension long before it was cool; her former protégée, Laura Deming, now runs a venture capital fund for the cause. But these women are focused on curbing age-related pathology, a concept about as controversial as cancer research. They do not appear thirsty for the Fountain of Youth.
当然，不能一概而论。2009年，伊丽莎白・布莱克本(Elizabeth Blackburn)因染色体终端研究获诺贝尔奖。染色体终端是染色体上的蛋白质末端，它可能是了解衰老的关键。Calico实验室负责衰老研究的副主任辛西娅・凯尼恩(Cynthia Kenyon)早在这个领域火起来之前就开始研究延长寿命了。劳拉・戴明(Laura Deming)曾是凯尼恩的门生，目前经营着一家面向该领域的风险投资基金。但这些女性侧重的是抑制与衰老有关的病理，这个概念的争议性和癌症研究大致相当。她们对青春不老泉似乎并不渴望。
Professor Blackburn’s new book on telomeres couldn’t be clearer. “Does our research show that by maintaining your telomeres you will live into your hundreds?” it says. “No. Everyone’s cells become old and eventually we die.” Ms. Kenyon once described her research’s goal as “to just have a healthy life and then turn out the lights.” Even Ms. Deming, a 23-year-old prodigy who worked in Ms. Kenyon’s lab at age 12, points out that “aging is innately important to us.”
Few of these experts come close to matching the gaudy statements of the longevity investor and “biohacker” Dave Asprey, who has told journalists, “I decided that I was just not going to die.” Or those of Brian Hanley, a microbiologist who has tested an anti-aging gene therapy he developed on himself, who claimed: “There’s a bunch of things that will need to be done to achieve life spans into at least hundreds of years. But we’ll get there.” Or of the 74-year-old fashion mogul Peter Nygard, who during a promotional clip receives injections of his own stem cells to reverse his aging while declaring: “Ponce de León had the right idea. He was just too early. That was then. This is now.”
这些专家的话远远比不上长寿投资人兼“生物黑客”戴维・阿斯普雷(Dave Asprey)、微生物学家布莱恩・汉利(Brian Hanley)和服装大亨彼得・尼加德(Peter Nygard)的夸张言论。阿斯普雷曾对记者表示，“我断定我不会死。”汉利对自己研发的一个抗衰老基因疗法进行了检测，宣称：“要实现寿命延长到至少几百岁，有很多事情要做。但我们会实现的。”现年74岁的尼加德则在一条宣传片中接受注射自己的干细胞，以此扭转衰老趋势，并宣称：“庞塞・德莱昂(Ponce de León，文艺复兴时期西班牙探险家，传闻在美洲发现了青春不老泉。――编注)的想法是对的。只是太早了。此一时也，彼一时也。”
I came across Mr. Nygard’s ode to human endurance three years ago while beginning research on a novel about a woman who can’t die, and watching that video allowed me to experience something close to life extension. As Mr. Nygard compared himself to Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin while dancing with a bevy of models ― or as a voice-over explained, “living a life most can only dream of” ― nine minutes of YouTube expanded into a vapid eternity, where time melted into a vortex of solipsism.
我在三年前偶然看到了尼加德对人类耐久程度的这曲颂歌。当时，我刚开始研究一部小说，它描写了一个不会死去的女子。观看那段视频让我得以经历一种接近生命延长的体验。尼加德在片中把自己比作莱昂纳多・达・芬奇(Leonardo da Vinci)和本杰明・富兰克林(Benjamin Franklin)，同时又和一群模特共舞――或者就像画外音解释的那样，“过着大部分人只能梦想的生活”，这段9分钟的YouTube视频演变为一种索然无味的永恒。时间融化成一个唯我独尊的漩涡。
At that time I was immersed in caring for my four young children, and this paean to everlasting youth seemed especially stupid. I recall thinking that if this was eternal life, death didn’t seem that bad.
But now, as powerful men have begun falling like dominoes under accusations of sexual assault, that video with its young women clustered around an elderly multimillionaire has haunted me anew. As I recall my discomfort with the proclamations of longevity-driven men who hope to achieve “escape velocity,” I think of the astonishing hubris of the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, those who saw young women’s bodies as theirs for the taking.
Much has been said about why we allowed such behavior to go unchecked. What has remained unsaid, because it is so obvious, is what would make someone so shameless in the first place: These people believed they were invincible. They saw their own bodies as entirely theirs and other people’s bodies as at their disposal; apparently nothing in their lives led them to believe otherwise.
Historically, this is a mistake that few women would make, because until very recently, the physical experience of being a woman entailed exactly the opposite ― and not only because women have to hold their keys in self-defense while walking through parking lots at night. It’s only very recently that women have widely participated in public life, but it’s even more recently that men have been welcome, or even expected, to provide physical care for vulnerable people.
Only for a nanosecond of human history have men even slightly shared what was once exclusively a woman’s burden: the relentless daily labor of caring for another person’s body, the life-preserving work of cleaning feces and vomit, the constant cycle of cooking and feeding and blanketing and bathing, whether for the young, the ill or the old. For nearly as long as there have been humans, being a female human has meant a daily nonoptional immersion in the fragility of human life and the endless effort required to sustain it.
Obviously not everyone who provides care for others is a saint. But engaging in that daily devotion, or even living with its expectation, has enormous potential to change a person. It forces one to constantly imagine the world from someone else’s point of view: Is he hungry? Maybe she’s tired. Is his back hurting him? What is she trying to say?
The most obvious cure for today’s gender inequities is to put more women in power. But if we really hope to create an equal society, we will also need more men to care for the powerless ― more women in the boardroom, but also more men at the nurses’ station and the changing table, immersed in daily physical empathy. If that sounds like an evolutionary impossibility, well, it doesn’t violate the laws of physics, so we can achieve it. It is surely worth at least as much investment as defeating death.
Perhaps it takes the promise of immortality to inspire the self-absorbed to invest in unsexy work like Alzheimer’s research. If so, we may all one day bless the inane death-defiance as a means to a worthy end.
But men who hope to live forever might pause on their eternal journey to consider the frightening void at invincibility’s core. Death is the ultimate vulnerability. It is the moment when all of us must confront exactly what so many women have known all too well: You are a body, only a body, and nothing more.