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Category Archives: Immortality Medicine

Could humans attain immortality? – Curiosity

Posted: December 23, 2013 at 5:42 am

Mankind's quest for immortality has taken an interesting path. In the 1500s, Juan Ponce de Leon sought the legendary "Fountain of Youth." Today, optimistic individuals sign up to be cryogenically frozen in the hopes of being restored to life and good health in the future. Others promote everything from extreme calorie deprivation to popping pills of Resveratrol to combat the aging process. The pursuit of immortality has even led to the formation in 2002 of The Immortality Institute (, an international, non-profit, member-based organization dedicated to "conquering the blight of involuntary death."

The simple fact that the aging process is still largely a mystery -- there are countless theories surrounding how it works -- is just one reason immortality will likely never be realized. This is because aging affects practically every cell, organ and system in the body: The heart becomes less efficient, blood vessels lose elasticity, bones and muscles weaken, digestion slows down, brain cells decrease -- the list goes on and on. Finding an everlasting antidote or replacement for each of these deteriorating functions is highly unlikely. Even if, as futurologist Ian Pearson has proposed, we succeed at downloading our minds into machines so that the failing of the body becomes irrelevant, what's to say that machine will be in it for the long haul?

It's certainly conceivable that experts may one day be able to extend the human lifespan to an extent unimaginable today. After all, scientists have already designed artificial hearts and highly functional artificial limbs, and they are close to releasing an artificial retina that can restore sight to the blind [source: CBS News]. But the possibility of extending life indefinitely, forever and ever amen, is a long shot. The human body simply is not meant to last forever -- just look at what happened to Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep in "Death Becomes Her."

Could humans attain immortality? - Curiosity

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – Book …

Posted: at 5:42 am

Discussion Guides

1. On page xiii, Rebecca Skloot states This is a work of nonfiction. No names have been changed, no characters invented, no events fabricated. Consider the process Skloot went through to verify dialogue, recreate scenes, and establish facts. Imagine trying to re-create scenes such as when Henrietta discovered her tumor (page 15). What does Skloot say on pages xiiixiv and in the notes section (page 346) about how she did this?

2. One of Henriettas relatives said to Skloot, If you pretty up how people spoke and change the things they said, thats dishonest (page xiii). Throughout, Skloot is true to the dialect in which people spoke to her: the Lackses speak in a heavy Southern accent, and Lengauer and Hsu speak as non-native English speakers. What impact did the decision to maintain speech authenticity have on the story?

3. As much as this book is about Henrietta Lacks, it is also about Deborah learning of the mother she barely knew, while also finding out the truth about her sister, Elsie. Imagine discovering similar information about one of your family members. How would you react? What questions would you ask?

4. In a review for the New York Times, Dwight Garner writes, Ms. Skloot is a memorable character herself. She never intrudes on the narrative, but she takes us along with her on her reporting. How would the story have been different if she had not been a part of it? What do you think would have happened to scenes like the faith healing on page 289? Are there other scenes you can think of where her presence made a difference? Why do you think she decided to include herself in the story?

5. Deborah shares her mothers medical records with Skloot, but is adamant that she not copy everything. On page 284 Deborah says, Everybody in the world got her cells, only thing we got of our mother is just them records and her Bible. Discuss the deeper meaning behind this sentence. Think not only of her words, but also of the physical reaction she was having to delving into her mothers and sisters medical histories. If you were in Deborahs situation, how would you react to someone wanting to look into your mothers medical records?

6. This is a story with many layers. Though its not told chronologically, it is divided into three sections. Discuss the significance of the titles given to each part: Life, Death, and Immortality. How would the story have been different if it were told chronologically?

7. As a journalist, Skloot is careful to present the encounter between the Lacks family and the world of medicine without taking sides. Since readers bring their own experiences and opinions to the text, some may feel she took the scientists side, while others may feel she took the familys side. What are your feelings about this? Does your opinion fall on one side or the other, or somewhere in the middle, and why?

8. Henrietta signed a consent form that said, I hereby give consent to the staff of The Johns Hopkins Hospital to perform any operative procedures and under any anaesthetic either local or general that they may deem necessary in the proper surgical care and treatment of: ________ (page 31). Based on this statement, do you believe TeLinde and Gey had the right to obtain a sample from her cervix to use in their research? What information would they have had to give her for Henrietta to give informed consent? Do you think Henrietta would have given explicit consent to have a tissue sample used in medical research if she had been given all the information? Do you always thoroughly read consent forms before signing them?

9. In 1976, when Mike Rogerss Rolling Stone article was printed, many viewed it as a story about race (see page 197 for reference). How do you think public interpretation might have been different if the piece had been published at the time of Henriettas death in 1951? How is this different from the way her story is being interpreted today? How do you think Henriettas experiences with the medical system would have been different had she been a white woman? What about Elsies fate?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot - Book ...

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The Immortal Life « Rebecca Skloot

Posted: December 21, 2013 at 8:41 am

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cellstaken without her knowledge in 1951became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henriettas cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family cant afford health insurance.

Soon to be made into an HBO movie by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball, this New York Times bestseller takes readers on an extraordinary journey, from the colored ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers filled with HeLa cells, from Henriettas small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia, to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew. Its a story inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff were made of.

Winner of several awards, including the 2010 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the 2010 Wellcome Trust Book Prize, and the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences Award for Excellence in Science Writing, the 2011 Audie Award for Best Non-Fiction Audiobook, and a Medical Journalists Association Open Book Award, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was featured on over 60 critics best of the year lists. For more reviews, praise, and media coverage of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, please visit the books press page. Also explore the resources found throughout this site for book groups, classrooms, and more.

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The Eucharist: What Do Catholics Believe?

Posted: December 20, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Many Christians are unfamiliar with the term "Eucharist," yet as the quote from St. Augustine below demonstrates that the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ was of greatest importance to the earliest Christians. Essentially what many Christians now call "communion," the early Church called "Eucharist," which in Greek means thanksgiving. The Eucharist is the partaking of Jesus' body and blood with other believers. The Eucharist worship service consists of many parts that emulate parts of an actual meal, such as taking the bread, breaking the bread, distributing the bread, and eating the bread, although the Eucharistic meal is not an ordinary meal, but a heavenly banquet.

It is an excellent thing that the Punic Christians call baptism itself nothing else but "salvation" and the sacrament of Christ's Body nothing else but "life." Whence does this derive, except from an ancient, and I suppose, Apostolic Tradition, by which the Churches of Christ hold inherently that without Baptism and participation in the Table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal. This is the witness of Scripture too. St. Augustine, De Peccatorum Remissione et de Baptismo Parvulorum, AD 412

The Eucharist is also called the Lord's Supper, Divine Liturgy, or the Mass. The word "Mass" is derived from the Latin word meaning "to dismiss" or "send forth," which appears at the conclusion of the Western Eucharistic service. Jesus instituted the Eucharist in the New Testament when he blessed bread and wine, assuring his disciples that the elements are his body and blood (see Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Jesus even said that the teaching that his followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood caused many to stop following Him (John 6:52-66). Since the beginning of the Church, Christians have been meeting regularly to celebrate the same Eucharistic meal. St. Justin Martyr (AD 150) speaks of weekly Sunday Eucharist, when Christians, by "transformation," consumed Christ's body and blood. The Eucharist has been the "main event" at Christian worship services since the earliest times, which surprises many people whose churches have relegated communion to a once-a-quarter activity, if that often. The basic themes of the Eucharist are:

Trinitarian context- In the Eucharist we pray to the Father in Thanksgiving. We call upon the Holy Spirit to sanctify the bread and wine, and sanctify us (called the epiclesis). We also experience the real objective presence of Christ through the Eucharist, asking that the elements become his body and blood (through The Words of Institution).

Christ's Presence / Transubstantiation- When Jesus said, "This is my body..." and "this is my blood," the early followers of Christ believed that Jesus was truly present with them when they took Eucharist, that they were consuming Christ himself in some way. Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Ambrose of Milan, and many others speak of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. When we receive communion, we truly encounter Christ, partaking of his body and blood. The Catholic Catechism states it like this:

By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1413)

This may sound a little confusing to modern ears because the official Catholic definition has been shaped by a medieval understanding of Aristotelianism. Essentially, the Church teaches that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ in substance, while the incidentals (or accidents), the physical characteristics of bread and wine, remain. This means that what you see, feel, and touch will seem to be bread and wine, while in reality, they are actually the body and blood of Christ. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 350) describes this mystery similarly:

Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that, for they are, according to the Master's declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm (Catechetical Lectures 22:6, 9)

Once the bread and wine are properly consecrated, by a validly ordained priest, we receive the certainty of Christ's presence. In other words, the presence of Christ is not dependent on subjective belief on our part, or the moral worthiness of the priest (God does the action, not a man). While Catholics use the term transubstantiation to describe the conversion of the elements into the body and blood, Eastern Orthodox Christians use other terms, including transformation, although they too affirm nothing less than a conversion of the elements into the body and blood of Christ. How this happens is ultimately a mystery, but a mystery based on the promises of Christ, to be experienced by faith. While the terms describing the change are technical, recently some Catholic leaders have asserted that transubstantiation is the Catholic way of describing the mystical and Real change using limited human language, as opposed to being a term narrowly scientifically and philosophically describing the change. So while transubstantiation still correctly describes the change, the term does not exclude the Eastern definitions (1).

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Elixir of life – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Posted: at 4:41 pm

The elixir of life, also known as elixir of immortality and sometimes equated with the philosopher's stone, is a mythical potion that, when drunk from a certain cup at a certain time, supposedly grants the drinker eternal life and/or eternal youth. The elixir of life was also said to be able to create life. Related to the myths of Thoth and Hermes Trismegistus, both of whom in various tales are said to have drunk "the white drops" (liquid gold) and thus achieved immortality, it is mentioned in one of the Nag Hammadi texts.[1]Alchemists in various ages and cultures sought the means of formulating the elixir.

In ancient China, various emperors sought the fabled elixir with varying results. In the Qin Dynasty, Qin Shi Huang sent Taoist alchemist Xu Fu with 500 young men and 500 young women to the eastern seas to find the elixir, but he never came back (legend has it that he found Japan instead). When Shi Huang Di visited, he brought 3000 young girls and boys, but none of them ever returned.

The ancient Chinese believed that ingesting long-lasting precious substances such as jade, cinnabar or hematite would confer some of that longevity on the person who consumed them. Gold was considered particularly potent, as it was a non-tarnishing precious metal; the idea of potable or drinkable gold is found in China by the end of the third century BC. The most famous Chinese alchemical book, the Danjing yaojue (Essential Formulas of Alchemical Classics) attributed to Sun Simiao (c. 581 c. 682 CE),[2][3] a famous medical specialist respectfully called King of Medicine by later generations, discusses in detail the creation of elixirs for immortality (mercury, sulfur, and the salts of mercury and arsenic are prominent, and most are ironically poisonous) as well as those for curing certain diseases and the fabrication of precious stones.

Many of these substances, far from contributing to longevity, were actively toxic. Jiajing Emperor in the Ming Dynasty died from ingesting a lethal dosage of mercury in the supposed "Elixir of Life" conjured by alchemists. British historian Joseph Needham compiled a list of Chinese emperors whose deaths were likely due to elixir poisoning. Chinese interest in alchemy and the elixir of life declined in proportion to the rise of Buddhism, which claimed to have alternate routes to immortality.

Amrita, the elixir of life, also known to Sikhs as "Amrit, the Nectar of Immortality" (see Amrit Sanskar), has been described in the Hindu scriptures. Anybody who consumes even a tiniest portion of Amrit has been described to gain immortality. The legend has it, at early times when the inception of the world had just taken place, evil demons had gained strength. This was seen as a threat to the gods who feared them. So these gods (including Indra-the god of sky, Vayu-the god of wind, Agni-the god of fire) went to seek advice and help from the three primary gods according to the Hindus; Vishnu (the preserver), Brahma (the creator) and Shiva (the destroyer). They suggested that Amrit could only be gained from the samudra manthan (or churning of the ocean) for the ocean in its depths hid mysterious and secret objects. Vishnu agreed to take the form of a turtle on whose shell a huge mountain was placed. This mountain was used as a churning pole.

With the help of a Vasuki (mighty and long serpent,king of Nagloka) the churning process began at the surface. From one side the gods pulled the serpent, which had coiled itself around the mountain, and the demons pulled it from the other side. As the churning process required immense strength, hence the demons were persuaded to do the job they agreed in return for a portion of Amrit. Finally with their combined efforts (of the gods and demons), Amrit emerged from the ocean depths. All the gods were offered the drink but the gods managed to trick the demons who did not get the holy drink.

The oldest Indian writings, the Vedas (Hindu sacred scriptures), contain the same hints of alchemy that are found in evidence from ancient China, namely vague references to a connection between gold and long life. Mercury, which was so vital to alchemy everywhere, is first mentioned in the 4th to 3rd century BC Arthashastra, about the same time it is encountered in China and in the West. Evidence of the idea of transmuting base metals to gold appears in 2nd to 5th century AD Buddhist texts, about the same time as in the West.

It is also possible that the alchemy of medicine and immortality came to China from India, or vice versa; in any case, for both cultures, gold-making appears to have been a minor concern, and medicine the major concern. But the elixir of immortality was of little importance in India (which had other avenues to immortality). The Indian elixirs were mineral remedies for specific diseases or, at the most, to promote long life.

Comte de St. Germain, an 18th-century nobleman of uncertain origin and mysterious capabilities, was also reputed to have the Elixir and to be several hundred years old. Many European recipes specify that elixir is to be stored in clocks to amplify the effects of immortality on the user. Frenchman Nicolas Flamel was also a reputed creator of the Elixir.

The Elixir has had hundreds of names (one scholar of Chinese history reportedly found over 1,000 names for it.), including (among others) Amrit Ras or Amrita, Aab-i-Hayat, Maha Ras, Aab-Haiwan, Dancing Water, Chasma-i-Kausar, Mansarover or the Pool of Nectar, Philosopher's stone, and Soma Ras. The word elixir was not used until the 7th century A.D. and derives from the Arabic name for miracle substances, "al iksir." Some view it as a metaphor for the spirit of God (e.g., Jesus's reference to "the Water of Life" or "the Fountain of Life"). "But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14) The Scots and the Irish adopted the name for their "liquid gold": the Gaelic name for whiskey is uisce beatha, or water of life.

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Immortality – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Posted: at 4:41 pm

Immortality is the ability to live forever, or eternal life.[2]Biological forms have inherent limitations which medical interventions or engineering may or may not be able to overcome. Natural selection has developed potential biological immortality in at least one species, the jellyfish Turritopsis dohrnii.[3]

Certain scientists, futurists, and philosophers, have theorized about the immortality of the human body, and advocate that human immortality is achievable in the first few decades of the 21st century, while other advocates believe that life extension is a more achievable goal in the short term, with immortality awaiting further research breakthroughs into an indefinite future. Aubrey de Grey, a researcher who has developed a series of biomedical rejuvenation strategies to reverse human aging (called SENS), believes that his proposed plan for ending aging may be implementable in two or three decades.[4] The absence of aging would provide humans with biological immortality, but not invulnerability to death by physical trauma. What form an unending human life would take, or whether an immaterial soul exists and possesses immortality, has been a major point of focus of religion, as well as the subject of speculation, fantasy, and debate.

In religious contexts, immortality is often stated to be among the promises by God (or other deities) to human beings who show goodness or else follow divine law (cf. resurrection).

The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the first literary works, dating back at least to the 22nd century BC, is primarily a quest of a hero seeking to become immortal.[5]

Wittgenstein, in a notably non-theological interpretation of eternal life, writes in the Tractatus that, "If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present."[6]

The atheist philosopher William Godwin asked 'Why may not man one day be immortal?' [7]

Life extension technologies promise a path to complete rejuvenation. Cryonics holds out the hope that the dead can be revived in the future, following sufficient medical advancements. While, as shown with creatures such as hydra and planarian worms, it is indeed possible for a creature to be biologically immortal, it is not yet known if it is possible for humans.

Mind uploading is the concept of transference of consciousness from a human brain to an alternative medium providing the same functionality. Assuming the process to be possible and repeatable, this would provide immortality to the consciousness, as predicted by futurists such as Ray Kurzweil.[8]

The belief in an afterlife is a fundamental tenet of most religions, including Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Islam, Judaism, and the Bah' Faith; however, the concept of an immortal soul is not. The "soul" itself has different meanings and is not used in the same way in different religions and different denominations of a religion. For example, various branches of Christianity have disagreeing views on the soul's immortality and its relation to the body (cf. Soul (spirit)).

Physical immortality is a state of life that allows a person to avoid death and maintain conscious thought. It can mean the unending existence of a person from a physical source other than organic life, such as a computer. In the early 21st century, physical immortality remains a goal rather than a current reality. Active pursuit of physical immortality can either be based on scientific trends, such as cryonics, digital immortality, breakthroughs in rejuvenation or predictions of an impending technological singularity, or because of a spiritual belief, such as those held by Rastafarians or Rebirthers.

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OpenWorm brings simulated life one step closer with ‘real’ digital muscles

Posted: at 4:41 pm

The important thing about Caenorhabditis elegans, also called a roundworm or nematode, is how simple it is. A mouse may be small, but its still a mammal, and composed of many billions of cells. Even a fruit fly is a relatively complex organism, and as scientists manipulate its genes they see all kinds of emergent properties arising from the incredible number and variety of cells affected. But c. elegans is both tiny and enormous, simple and complete, a multicellular organism with all the features of a real animal but just barely. The worlds most important worm has things like a mouth and digestive tract, reproductive organs, and neurons. At just 1mm long, though, all those features come packed into an organism with just 959 total cells and hey, thats a low enough number of cells that we might actually be able to figure out what each of them does! For years, a project called OpenWorm has been trying to do just that, and this week it reached a major milestone on that path: muscles.

On a nematode, muscles run in four bands along the length of the body and allow it to move various segments of the body back and forth. In the video below, the OpenWorm team used its hard-coded abstraction for muscular contraction to drive the worm forward through a medium of simulated water particles. Though it takes place over just a fraction of a second, the simulation is so complex, it took a full three days to render. Each muscle segment receives an independent contractile signal, just like the real things. Its not literally simulating signaling and contraction, modeling the rush of calcium ions or the ratcheting of myosin, but boiling biological processes down to their practical effects and hard-coding those into the model. The sum total of the teams work is a nematode that swims naturally though water, closely mirroring the movements of a real nematode.

This is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is cool. Beyond that, though, OpenWorm represents a novel, non-arbitrary way to quantify just how well we really do understand physiology. Its ultimately a metaphor, as anything will be until we can simulate biology down to the quantum level, but even so, medicine is waiting eagerly for the ability to compile and run a biological entity. Though a nematode is certainly not human, when OpenWorm gains the ability to simulate a nematodes tiny, 302-neuron brain in its entirety, the project will have made the first step toward true, usefully modern brain science. As mentioned, the only truly important difference between a nematode and mammalian brain is scale and complexity and humans are nothing if not good at improving things weve already done.

This is what a real nematodes movement looks like.

The simulation is complex enough, which several different existing and custom simulation models running at once; when the worm moves, the Sybernetic Engine determines the effect on surrounding water particles and a bio-simulation engine called Geppetto models the worm. All muscle cells were modeled one-to-one on the worms body, meaning that every contractile unit on the real animal is accounted for in this program. That sort of uncompromising, ultra-literal simulation is what gave rise to OpenWorms ultimate goal: to simulate the full nematode brain well enough that we can carry out preliminary neurological experiments on a computer, rather than in a lab.

Though its in the earliest stages, supporters already talk about the brain simulation effort as an attempt at immortality; if we know how brains connections function in terms of data, then we could simulate that data and download human consciousness into a machine you know, maybe. These are the sorts of things people naturally consider, though, when faced with the prospect of recreating lifes basic processes. Its fun to let yourself get caught up in the excitement.

Now read: HIV structure cracked using GPU-based simulations

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Tozer Devotional – The Alliance: Living the Call Together

Posted: at 4:41 pm

What a sweet comfort to us that our Lord Jesus Christ was once known in the breaking of the bread. In earlier Christian times, believers called the Communion "the medicine of immortality," and God gave them the desire to pray: Be known to us in breaking bread, But do not then depart; Savior, abide with us and spread Thy table in our heart. Some churches have a teaching that you will find God only at their table-and that you leave God there when you leave. I am so glad that God has given us light. We may take the Presence of the table with us. We may take the Bread of life with us as we go. Then sup with us in love divine, Thy body and Thy blood; That living bread and heavenly wine Be our immortal food! In approaching the table of our Lord, we dare not forget the cost to our elder Brother, the Man who was from heaven. He is our Savior; He is our Passover!

He took bread... and their eyes were opened, and they knew him. Luke 24:30-31

We may take the Presence of the table with us. We may take the Bread of life with us as we go.

Lord, thank you that the lesson of the Lord's supper is not left at the table, but continues to nourish the faithful partaker from day to day.

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What I believe about God is the most important thing about me.

A. W. Tozer, a modern day prophet, was a key figure in The Christian and Missionary Alliance. His legacy reaches through time and has impacted countless millions. A prolific author and pastor, Tozer was known for his emphasis on the deeper life movement. His message, informed as it was by A.B. Simpson the founder of The Alliance, brought the missionary call to a massive audience. A series of his sermons are available as audio files.

His books have been published around the world and in many languages. This devotional was compiled from the Renewed Day by Day, Chapter -

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An artificially intelligent future: Ray Kurzweil on engineering the brain

Posted: November 28, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Ray Kurzweil is an American technologist and futurist who is on a mission to make us all immortal, starting with himself, thanks to what he calls 'the law of accelerating returns'. The rate of change is getting faster to the extent that 'within 10 or 15 years we will be able to overcome cancer and heart disease, and stop and reverse ageing'. Thanks to the 'exponential progression' of technology, Kurzweil says, we are heading for 'profound changes', an event horizon where artificial intelligence spirals beyond our control, or even our understanding.

In his latest, published recently in America, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, Kurzweil envisages 'reverse engineering the human brain' and a time when humanity and technology will fuse to give birth to a new sort of existence. But why stop there? Kurzweil believes that beyond this lies an inflection point, a nirvana where we can scan our consciousnesses into computers, then inhabit them as software, for ever, virtually.

So what's next? Machines are going to become more human-like, Kurzweil predicts. In How to Create a Mind, he discusses how to simulate the brain, understand 'the principles of operation, the basic ideas that evolution utilised to create intelligent performance' and then 'focus, amplify and leverage them' to create even smarter machines.

Kurzweil dismisses the claim of his detractors that it would take 'trillions of lines of code' to simulate a brain. He sees the brain as layer upon layer of pattern recognition, that extend from spotting the shape of a letter to irony, humour or pity. 'There are 300 million pattern recognisers in the human cortex,' he says. By simulating these biological modules, he is confident that before long the moment will come when computers can model human consciousness.

And yet, Kurzweil adds, 'There are limitations to the human brain.' The electrical signals that zip around our heads are somewhat sluggish. So why not, he says, develop ways to download our minds into machines? 'We have extended our physical reach and we are now going to extend our mental reach, by merging with our tools.' To do that non-invasively will take technology that he predicts is only a few decades away.

Now 64, he wants to ensure that he is still around when humanity takes its next evolutionary step. His father died of heart disease, and he himself was diagnosed with high cholesterol and type 2 (adult) diabetes aged 35. After using old-fashioned diet to tackle these problems, Kurzweil decided to try speculative ideas. A decade ago he met Terry Grossman, a 'leading proponent of immortality medicine', who prescribed a cocktail of complementary treatments. In reality, that means about 150 pills a day. Kurzweil claims his physical profile now matches that of 'someone much younger than myself', so he may still be alive when scientists build the next 'bridge' in technology, the stem cell revolution, and that in turn will keep him making predictions until the subsequent bridge, when nanobots will have been designed to prowl around his bloodstream.

A conversation with Kurzweil is entertaining, thought-provoking and just a little bit bonkers. But one thing is certain this is a man who is not prepared to accept his limitations.

Roger Highfield is director of external affairs at the Science Museum Group. 'How to Create a Mind', by Ray Kurzweil, will be published by Duckworth in February

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Posted: October 15, 2012 at 6:25 am

St. Ignatius of Antioch with the child Jesus

DENVER: On Oct. 17, the Roman Catholic Church remembers the early Church Father, bishop, and martyr Saint Ignatius of Antioch, whose writings attest to the sacramental and hierarchical nature of the Church from its earliest days. Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate his memory on Dec. 20.

In a 2007 general audience on St. Ignatius of Antioch, Pope Benedict XVI observed that no Church Father has expressed the longing for union with Christ and for life in him with the intensity of Ignatius. In his letters, the Pope said, one feels the freshness of the faith of the generation which had still known the Apostles. In these letters, the ardent love of a saint can also be felt.

Born in Syria in the middle of the first century A.D., Ignatius is said to have been personally instructed along with another future martyr, Saint Polycarp by the Apostle Saint John. When Ignatius became the Bishop of Antioch around the year 70, he assumed leadership of a local church that was, according to tradition, first led by Saint Peter before his move to Rome.

Although St. Peter transmitted his Papal primacy to the bishops of Rome rather than Antioch, the city played an important role in the life of the early Church. Located in present-day Turkey, it was a chief city of the Roman Empire, and was also the location where the believers in Jesus' teachings and his resurrection were first called Christians.

Ignatius led the Christians of Antioch during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian, the first of the emperors to proclaim his divinity by adopting the title Lord and God. Subjects who would not give worship to the emperor under this title could be punished with death. As the leader of a major Catholic diocese during this period, Ignatius showed courage and worked to inspire it in others.

After Domitian's murder in the year 96, his successor Nerva reigned only briefly, and was soon followed by the Emperor Trajan. Under his rule, Christians were once again liable to death for denying the pagan state religion and refusing to participate in its rites. It was during his reign that Ignatius was convicted for his Christian testimony and sent from Syria to Rome to be put to death.

Escorted by a team of military guards, Ignatius nonetheless managed to compose seven letters: six to various local churches throughout the empire (including the Church of Rome), and one to his fellow bishop Polycarp who would give his own life for Christ several decades later.

Ignatius' letters passionately stressed the importance of Church unity, the dangers of heresy, and the surpassing importance of the Eucharist as the medicine of immortality. These writings contain the first surviving written description of the Church as Catholic, from the Greek word indicating both universality and fullness.

One of the most striking features of Ignatius' letters, is his enthusiastic embrace of martyrdom as a means to union with God and eternal life. All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing, he wrote to the Church of Rome. It is better for me to die in behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth.

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