Things You Thought You Knew #11: Is Immortality Possible?

What You Thought You Knew: All living things die.

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What You Didn’t Know: From a purely biological perspective (we’re not going to touch on religion today), it seems that for some, life need not end at all. Nor does it need to be restricted to the confines of time as we understand it.

The nature of space and light is at the heart of how humanity can cheat time (but perhaps not death after all). Light is not bound by time. Therefore, if a human were to accelerate to the speed of light, he would not be aging while the things around him continued to. This, however, applies only to the concept of time. It seems to me that his body would still physically age and die, but the concept of time (his actual calendar age) would cease for as long as he remained moving at the speed of light (as per the Theory of Relativity’s Lorentz equations).

Unfortunately, theoretical immortality isn’t enough for most people. And that’s why people are inferior to jellyfish.

Yes, that’s right. What humankind has been trying to achieve for centuries, jellyfish get right from birth. The Turritopsis Dohrnii, otherwise affectionately (and appropriately) known as “The Immortal Jellyfish,” does not seem to die. In fact, it grows in reverse. This is why Turris are also known as the “Benjamin Buttons of the Sea.”

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As the Turri ages to the point that it is time to die, it scoops itself together into a little ball, jiggles its cells around a bit (to turn them into different cells, in much the way that stem cells work), then continues on its way. This process of change reverts the jellyfish back to its early life stages. Think of it as a chicken turning back into an egg and then hatching again. As far as humans have studied, this process can be performed an indefinite number of times.

For all those years, people were looking for magic gems, elixirs, the fountain of youth….They should have been looking for jellyfish.

Now You Know: that some living things might just live forever.

Things You Thought You Knew #4: There’s a Word for That in English, Right?

What You Thought You Knew: The English language vocabulary is sufficient for expressing our needs. When we don’t have a word for something, it’s because we haven’t learned the word for it.

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What You Didn’t Know: You know you’ve been there — that moment when you’re stuck, mid-sentence, scrounging around for a word, but you just can’t find anything that means what you want. So you have to resort to spelling it out in a long, explanatory phrase because you just can’t find a word for it.

What’s up with that?

You’d think that any language that’s been around for a while would be able to articulate anything that you’d ever need. And truth is, we can. So What You Thought You Knew is actually pretty correct to begin with — our language can function to cover our expressive needs.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that we’ve got a word for everything! Other languages have words that we don’t, so it looks like we’re missing a lot of words. We don’t have a single word to express a person whose face just really needs a fist (literally…a person in need of a face-punch), but German does — backpfeifengesicht. Similarly, Malaysia’s pisan zapra has no parallel in English…unless we were to explain that it’s the amount of time an average person takes to eat a banana.

Now You Know: That foreign languages have a lot of interesting words that we don’t!