“And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred eighty and two years, and begat sons and daughters: / And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died.”
Methuselah was reputedly the oldest named person recorded in the bible. He was the grandfather of Noah, and supposedly died at the age of 969 years of age. His death occurred in the same year as the Flood.
Throughout history there has always been a fascination with the idea of immortality and of defying the aging process. Today there are an abundance of products available aimed at both men and women that try and stem the onset of the aging process. There are some that take the idea further, in what some would consider at best eccentric measures, like those that believe that cryonics are the answer to eternal life. There is a long-standing rumour that Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen following his death from cancer in 1966, but this was later exposed as being an idea circulated by former colleagues as a prank. He was in fact cremated and his ashes interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in California.
The first human cryonic freezing following death, took place in January 1967. The ‘recipient’ was James Bedford, a University of California professor of psychology. Bedford was born in 1893, and had had an interest in the concept of being suspended ‘on ice’ at the moment of death with a view to being reanimated at a later date, when medical advances etc had be made that would allow for a cure for diseases such as the cancer that he was suffering from had been made. He was well aware that his life expectancy was limited – he was suffering from Kidney cancer that had spread to his lungs.
The Life Extension Society had been researching the possibilities and had reached the stage at which they needed to put the theory into practice. In 1965 they offered the opportunity to one person to be the first to be frozen. Bedford was the one chosen for the experiment. Bedford even left the organisation $100,000 for further research in his will. His immediate family were aware of his wishes and upheld his decision, but faced a court battle with other relatives over the decision. The last days of Bedford’s life were spent at a nursing home so that the process could begin immediately death occurred. He was successfully frozen and was stored in a specially designed tank. Bedford’s body has been stored at a number of facilities over the years and is now housed at Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona. In 1991, the body was removed from it’s storage tank and inspected. It was found to have few issues and was generally in good condition, and placed in a replacement tank where it remains today.
The quest for immortality was a priority for the Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang. He was the Ist Emperor of the unified China, ruling from 246 BC to 210 BC and only 13 when he came to the throne. The construction of the Great Wall of China was begun during his reign as part of defensive measures. Although he was responsible for construction projects like this he was also known to be savage in his treatment of any who defied him, burying in excess of 400 people alive because they disagreed with his ideas. Qin Shi Huang developed an obsession with becoming immortal as he grew older. He had doctors and alchemists around him create potions in his search for a way of defying death, many of which contained ingredients such as mercury. We can speculate that his quest for immortality was in fact responsible for hastening his end. He was however unconvinced that he would live forever and had a massive personal tomb created, guarded by an army of now famous terracotta warriors.
Throughout time however there have been many things that have been considered helpful in the quest for immortality. Various fruits have been associated with it. Norse traditions and Celtic mythology both link apples with the gods and immortality. The wood of the cherry tree was seen as having protective powers over evil spirits and the fruit of the tree as having powers of immortality, to name a few. Wherever you go in the world you will find a myth or legend which links to the human need to believe that life can go on forever.
As medicine progresses and diets are improving, the population of Earth is achieving longer lifespans. There is one region of Japan, where longevity is quite common-place, and many of the residents have achieved over a hundred years of life regularly. Traditionally, they consider adulthood reached at the age of 55. In the last few years, we have seen remarkable ages achieved, with the people involved ascribing their advanced age to a wide variety of things, such as daily porridge, long walks and in one case, a gentleman of 110 years put his long life down to hard drinking, bad habits and loose women. It seems as though if you intend pushing the boundaries of mortality, it’s best not to plan on a pristine wrapper when it ends.
Today scientists are continuing the search for cures to the many killer diseases that are a part of our lives, genetic modification, organ transplants and cloning being examples of their research, continuing in many ways the idea that we can live forever. Perhaps one day the secret of eternal youth and immortality will be found.