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Dad Tells Me About Immortality

Emily Wong Posted by Emily Wong, Digital Editorial Intern, Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Dad Tells Me About Immortality

My father is a retired marine biologist who so loved the sciences that he earned a PhD and a DSc (a degree you don't hear too much about because you need to have a PhD before you can get a DSc -- it's the uber-nerd degree). The wonderful thing about him is that he actually thinks I'm smart enough to know a bunch of things that he knows and takes for granted.

Every Saturday, we have long chats via Skype about all sorts of odd things. He was talking to me about how he was getting old (he's in his late 70s now) and told me jokingly, "I should have researched the Turritopsis Nutricula more carefuly." Yes, a totally bio-science geek joke which I did not understand at all. Sensing that he had overestimated my intellect yet again, he added, "You know, so that I can live for ever."

I was still confused. But then he told me something that blew me away. The Turritopsis Nutricula is a jellyfish that can live forever because it can voluntarily rejuvenate itself and literally become young again. I didn't believe it, but he told me to look it up. Sure enough, the old man was right. It's even called the "immortal jellyfish" for this particular reason. They have no measurable life spans -- they are permanently alive unless killed by another organism. Any one of these guys, if you see one, has been alive from whenever it was born -- whether than was just a year ago or tens of thousands of years ago -- and you can't tell how old they are because they don't age.

Sure, it's a jellyfish that's probably not even self-aware, but I was still quite amazed -- I mean, this animal can live forever. It truly is immortal. Every one of these has living ancestors. These (exact) same organisms were around when we were fur-wearing neanderthals, and they're still around now. And these same fellows will see us through to our extinction thousands and thousands of years away from now.

What else does he think I already know that could blow my mind? Ray Kurzweil certainly doesn't seem like such a quack any more.