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Home » Shabaan » 2015

Longevity from a Scientific Viewpoint

Prelude

It is our firm belief that Imam-e-Zamana (a.t.f.s.) is the Proof of Allah upon the earth in this era. It is also our belief that Allah, by His Infinite Grace and Mercy, has granted him a long life. This belief is doubted by people who do not believe in it by questioning its validity and saying that such a belief is unscientific.

The purpose of this article is not to elucidate to prove the long life of Imam-e-Zamana (a.t.f.s.) from science. Rather it is an attempt to broaden the conceptual understanding of longevity in the minds of the esteemed readers. To make them aware of the relevant views prevalent in the scientific arena today. Thus, longevity of Imam-e-Asr (a.t.f.s.) is logically possible and well within the realm of scientific probability.

Science as it is defined today, though progressing at an exponential rate, has a minute area in its circle of influence and that is the physical part of the body of the human being and that too only the human systems that could be empirically recorded and verified. Even in this, scientists view in awe the intricacies of the human system that they are unable to fathom and the inadequacy of their measuring systems.

In the measuring systems too, many-a-times, the effects have been monitored but the causes and the drivers of the effects remain hitherto unknown. Hence, there are innumerable factors which govern human life encompassing physical and spiritual parameters that have not been studied or even acknowledged. But what we find imminently surprising is that every study, theory and idea eventually runs aground when it tries to put a limit to human life and every researcher of note, be it in any field of science, grudgingly admits that there can be no limit to human life. Scientific research becomes in fact a means to extending human life.

It is this conclusion which we together will strive to arrive at through the explanation of various theories, factors and opinions of data and scholars. The first fact we put on record is that empirical evidence has only been the norm for the last 200 years at most. There has been no substantive record before that and even if the facts are true, science will only say, in circumstances, that they are unproven though they may not be incorrect. So we come severely hobbled in our quest. We also do not question that most people live a lifespan of only a century at best but we will point out that there have been instances of extraordinary events recorded which normally do not occur but cannot be ruled out.

We will try to maintain brevity and relevance in the discussion.

Biological Immortality

The readers will be surprised to know that there is a scientific term called biological immortality meaning everlasting life and certain living organisms are characterized with exceptionally long lives, almost endless in definition.

  1. Pando is a Populustremuloides (Quaking Aspen) tree or clonal colony that has been estimated at 80,000 years old. (“Quaking Aspen”. Bryce Canyon. National Park Service.)
  2. The Jurupa Oak colony is estimated to be at least 13,000 years of age, with other estimates ranging from 5,000 to 30,000 years
  3. A huge colony of the sea grass Posidoniaoceanica in the Mediterranean Sea is estimated to be between 12,000 and 200,000 years old. The maximum age is theoretical, as the region it occupies was above water at some point between 10,000 and 80,000 years ago. (Pearlman, Jonathan (2012-02-07). “‘Oldest living thing on earth’ discovered”. The Daily Telegraph (London)).
  4. King’s Lomatia in Tasmania: The sole surviving clonal colony of this species is estimated to be at least 43,600 years old. (Discovery Channel (21 October 1996)).
  5. Eucalyptus recurva: Clones in Australia are claimed to be 13,000 years old. (“Oldest Living Organism: Ancient Bacteria”. Extreme Science)

These are some examples of a seemingly very long list of organisms which are already so old and expected to continue living for a very long time. Let us include two examples of organisms which undergo stasis and can be revived into activity.

  1. Various claims have been made about reviving bacterial spores to active metabolism after millions of years. There are claims of spores from amber being revived after 40 million years. (Cano, RJ; Borucki, MK (19 May 1995). “Revival and identification of bacterial spores in 25- to 40-million-year-old Dominican amber”. Science 268 (5213): 1060–1064).
  2. Spores from salt deposits in New Mexico being revived after 240 million years.(“The Permian Bacterium that Isn’t”. Oxford Journals. 2001-02-15.).

The reason for these examples is to clarify that organisms can live for a long period of time and the above cases are not extreme in their noting but show that some species can and do stay alive for a very long period.

The proofs presented next seek to confirm the fact that though other organisms of the same species have lived less, these proven examples have lived more. Again we take brevity into account while examples are numerous.

Individual Plants with a long life

  1. A Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinuslongaeva) is measured by ring count to be 5063 years old. (“Oldlist”. Rocky Mountain Tree Ring Research) –The normal life of a pine tree is between 20 to 100 years but there have been several examples of pines living for thousands of years.
  2. Llangernyw Yew, the oldest individual tree in Europe and second or third oldest individual tree in the world. Believed to be aged between 4,000 years and 5,000 years old, this ancient yew (Taxusbaccata) is in the churchyard of the village of Llangernyw in North Wales –The normal life for a yew tree is 100 years but there have been proven examples of some living thousands of years.

Note: Lives of trees can be easily measured so examples which buck the trend are clear and recorded. This is much more difficult in the cases of animals.

Individual Animals with a long life

  1. Turritopsisdohrnii, the immortal jellyfish, is known to be the longest-living creature which could live on forever without dying of old age – Normally jellyfish live for 5-30 years except this one type.
  2. Some species of sponges in the ocean near Antarctica are considered to be 10,000 years old –Normally sponges live from a few months up to 20 years.
  3. Specimens of the black coral genus Leiopathes are among the oldest continuously living organisms on the planet: around 4,265 years old –normal life is from several decades to a century
  4. Adwaita, an Aldabra Giant Tortoise died at the age of 255 in March 2006 in Alipore Zoo, Kolkata, India – Normally they live for 80 years.

This proves that the normal lifespans of a society, culture or species does not limit the extraordinary life span of some members of the same species or culture. The first point therefore stands logically argued and that is – A long lifespan maybe improbable but not impossible.

We would have gladly added names and examples of people who neither figure in mythology nor in Islamic traditions – like Devraha Baba (1477–1989) who was supposed to be over 700 years old. But these remain scientifically unproven so we have desisted from giving what is indeed a very long list of people.

The second point we prove is that there are many things in this world which cannot be explained logically or scientifically but they are very much present and recorded. So science does not and cannot have a stand stating that long life is impossible.

A few things out of sync with scientific wisdom:

  1. Ronnie and Donnie Galyon (born October 28, 1951) are two American conjoined twins, who hold the current record for the oldest living conjoined twins. – They are joined at the waist, live together, sharing one set of organs and THEY ARE ALIVE STILL.
  2. Lina Medina, from the Ticrapo District of Peru, gave birth by cesarean section in Lima at age 5 1⁄2. The infant was a 2.64 kg (5.8 lb), 47.5 cm (18.7 in) boy named Gerardo. Medina’s parents, who assumed their daughter had a tumor, took her to a hospital in late March, where she was found to be 7 months pregnant – This has been scientifically recorded
  3. A 25 year old West Virginia man has two complete stomachs. This was a UPI press release on the 5th of August 1981. – And working without a hitch.Surprising yet true.

These examples illustrate the limitations of generalizations in science and open the mind to new ideas. So Longevity may be an aberration to general trend but eminently possible.

The next step in this discussion is that scientists themselves believe that long life is possible. The best way to prove this is to document various scientific efforts to rout out the impediments to long life and their steps to prolong it.

  1. Longevity and lifestyle:

The attempt at increasing longevity in the human population is by providing them a better lifestyle i.e. nutrition, hygiene and healthcare. This has already paid rich dividends. In preindustrial times, deaths at young and middle age were common, and lifespans over 70 years were comparatively rare. This is not due to genetics, but because of environmental factors such as disease, accidents, and malnutrition, especially since the former were not generally treatable with pre-20th century medicine. Deaths from childbirth were common in women, and many children did not live past infancy. In addition, most people who did attain old age were likely to die quickly from the above-mentioned untreatable health problems.For example, an 1871 census in the UK (the first of its kind) found the average male life expectancy as being 44, but if infant mortality is subtracted, males who lived to adulthood averaged 75 years. The present male life expectancy in the UK is 77 years for males and 81 for females. The following are some of the steps recommended by researchers and doctors to increase lifespan.

  1. Spiritual Calmness

Religious people seem to have a longer life. Example: (i) AyatullahBurujerdi (teacher of AyatullahKhoei)was confronted with so many problems but he was a Marja-e-Taqleed and lived for 88 years. (ii) AyatullahKhoeihimself lived for 96 years and was solving the problems even at such an old age.

Dr. Williams Paak, a famous American physician while giving statistics says that “… In Europe those who reach the age of 70 years out of every 1000 are 43 religious people, 40 farmers, 29 scholars and 24physicians …”

We see that religious people are almost double the number of physicians which should be the reverse. Other religions and disciplines also advise meditation in various forms to increase life and stop or slow the ageing process.

  1. Inheritance

Genetic plays a great role in the long life of a person. Also mice have been genetically engineered to live twice as long as ordinary mice. This proves that genetics play a role.

  1. Nutrition

It has been observed that the Queen bee lives 400 times more than the other bees. Balefour, a famous French biologist, discovered that the queen bee during its entire lifetime eats jelly which is procured by workers whereas the other bees eat this jelly only three days.

  1. Eating less

It has been observed that people having a long life are those who eat less. Islam too has emphasized on eating less.

  1. Environment

Freedom from pollution, stress, etc.

  1. Fresh air

Breathing fresh and gentle air/breeze (especially at the time of morning) and living in green environment and in a room with ventilation.

  1. Cold climate

Cold plays an important role in long life and statistics shows that people living in colder areas live longer than those in warmer areas.

  1. Hard work & Exercise

It is an indisputable fact that people, who work hard, live a longer life as compared who have no work to do. Recent studies find that even modest amounts of leisure time, physical exercise can extend life expectancy by as much as 4.5 years.

The above points are widely acknowledged. If a man lives a healthy lifestyle and has proper medical facilities at hand, his lifespan will increase. But the eye opener is the research paper published in the Science magazine in the year 2002 where the scientists Oeppen and Vaupel observe that experts who assert that “life expectancy is approaching a ceiling … have repeatedly been proven wrong.” That man can and will have an unlimited increase in lifespan reflecting the progress in science.

  1. Aging should be classified as a disease:

Various eminent scientists feel strongly that aging is in fact disease attacking normal bodily functions. Harry R. Moody, Director of Academic Affairs for AARP, notes that what is normal and what is disease strongly depends on historical context. David Gems, Assistant Director of the Institute of Healthy Ageing, strongly argues that aging should be viewed as a disease. Because of the universality of aging he calls it a ‘special sort of disease’. Robert M. Perlman, coined the terms ‘aging syndrome’ and ‘disease complex’ in 1954 to describe aging.

  1. Anti-ageing drugs:

The most popular scientific method to prolong human life is anti-ageing drugs and prescriptions. You cannot live in a city or a town without encountering advertisements from skin rejuvenation, hair implants to enzymes to increase lifespan.

  1. Nanotechnology:

Future advances in medicine could give rise to life extension through the repair of many processes thought to be responsible for aging. K. Eric Drexler, one of the founders of nanotechnology, postulated cell repair machines, including ones operating within cells and utilizing as yet hypothetical molecular computers, in his 1986 book Engines of Creation. Raymond Kurzweil, a futurist and trans-humanist, stated in his book ‘The Singularity Is Near’ that he believes that by 2030, advanced medical nano-robotics could be a complete remedy for the effects of aging.

  1. Cloning:

Some life extensionists suggest that therapeutic cloning and stem cell research could one day provide a way to generate cells, body parts, or even entire bodies (generally referred to as reproductive cloning) that would be genetically identical to a prospective patient. Recently, the US Department of Defense initiated a program to research the possibility of growing human body parts on mice.

  1. SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence):

Another proposed life extension technology would combine existing and predicted future biochemical and genetic techniques. SENS proposes that rejuvenation may be obtained by removing aging damage via the use of stem cells and tissue engineering, among other ways. It is important to note that there are regular SENS conferences and that there is a field specialized in increasing lifespan and arresting aging. It is called Bio gerontology.

There are many other such advances in the scientific fields. The obvious conclusion is that thousands of scientists, researchers and doctors around the world work solely to stop aging and increase lifespan. They also met with modest success in increasing lifespan which points to a bright future. The message is unmistakable – increased Lifespan is very much possible.

It is evident that the body today, as it has been made, is capable of an almost unlimited longevity. Though that potential has not been exploited due to lack of knowledge as to what triggers this process

The Theory of Regeneration

In biology, regeneration is the process of renewal, restoration, and growth that makes genomes, cells, organisms, and ecosystems resilient to natural fluctuations or events that cause disturbance or damage. Every species is capable of regeneration, from bacteria to humans.

Simply put, cells make up the body. Man has the cellular capacity to create and replace those cells which have been damaged, aged or inefficient with new cells manufactured inside the body itself. Man ages and dies because this capacity to regenerate cells slows down and the damage and residue increases. Also it was a long held view that man lacked the capability for regeneration of some parts like bones. But studies have shown that some humans do have this capacity too.In May 1932, L.H. McKim published a report in The Canadian Medical Association Journal, that described the regeneration of an adult digit-tip following amputation. The severed finger digit grew back. Toes damaged by gangrene and burns in older people can also regrow with the nail and toe print returning after medical treatment for gangrene.

The clear biological reason for aging is not known to science though they have put forward a lot of theories. However, laboratories and research centers all over the world have begun to use body stem cells to manufacture various body parts.

Scientists are unanimous that man does possess an inane capability to regenerate his body against damage and wear and tear. They do not possess the knowledge yet as to what triggers the slowdown of this capability. But if this capability were to continue as it indeed does in some species then man too would live for a very long time existing naturally. Only accidents or fatal bouts of disease would discontinue his life span.

Conclusion

It was our primary goal to prove the possibility and probability of a long life span by putting forward credible scientific research and data as proofs. In that we have succeeded by the Grace of Allah, the Almighty, clearly establishing that a long life span though not common is very much possible in the realm of science.

The long life of Imam-e-Zamana (a.t.f.s.) therefore should not surprise anyone, least of all those who claim that it is against nature.