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Mindful : June 2018
When the respected physiologist Charles- Édouard Brown-Séquard extolled the rejuvenat- ing properties of mashed-up puppy and guinea pig testicles before Paris’s Société de Biologie in 1889—describing how injections of the liquefied gonads allowed him to perform experiments for hours on end while standing, lift 100 pounds with ease, and expel a jet of urine 25% farther than he could before—he was not the first scientist who claimed to have discovered a way to turn back the biological calendar. The Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2100 BC), for instance, recounted the king’s search for eternal life (it turns out to be a thorny marine plant, but he doesn’t manage to hang on to it). And the “recipe for transforming an old man into a youth” can be found in an Egyptian med- ical text from 2500 BC. I’ll save you the trouble: It’s a fruit-infused mudpack for the face. Nor, of course, was Brown-Séquard’s the last such discovery. A few decades after his death at age 76 (oh, well) in 1894, other fountain-of- youth fads swept Europe and America. Implants of goat testicles into men’s scrota became all the rage in the 1920s, and the “Steinach operation,” basically a one-side vasectomy, promised to increase vigor, reduce fatigue, and slow aging. Among the recipients was poet William Butler Yeats. I leave to your imagination why these early efforts focused on men and their reproduc- tive organs and ask a different question: Why are some people obsessed with extending life span? For obsessed is what many are. In the last few years anti-aging research has been attract- ing buckets of public and private funding, the United Kingdom’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics pointed out in a report released in January 2018. Tech billionaires have been sinking money into what is variously called life extension, the end of aging, a search for immortality, or, as longtime biology-of-aging scientist Cynthia Kenyon put → The Quest to Live Forever Some scientists are working on making the last stages of life a little healthier, others are trying to extend life, and still others are hoping to make death obsolete. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Sharon Begley is senior science writer with S TAT, a national health and medicine publication. She is also author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain and Can’t Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions (2 017, Simon & Schuster). By Sharon Begley • Illustrations by Edmon de Haro 32 mindful June 2018 brain science