Two hundred and fifty pills to immortality

May 27, 2009

So you want to live forever? Ray Kurzweil will tell you how. The life and work of the futurist and inventor was the subject of a film at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Barry Ptolemy’s Transcendent Man. When he was in his early 20s, Kurzweil watched his father lose a battle with heart disease. The experience spurred his deeply rooted desire to conquer death. He’s received White House honors from three presidents, including the National Medal of Technology, and is known for his innovations in print-to-speech text translation for the blind.

Suffering from heart disease himself at age 61, Kurzweil takes between 180 and 250 pills a day to help him live long enough to reach what he calls “Singularity,” a point after which, because of tremendous advancements in technology, he believes he will be able to live forever. In his most recent book, Transcend, he and co-author Terry Grossman offer detailed support for the “living long enough to live forever” concept, which was introduced in their previous book, Fantastic Voyage.

Many academics liken Kurzweil to a prophet; others call him a crackpot. Either way, he has reached celebrity status for his bold theories about Singularity, when man and machine will converge, creating super-intelligent, immortal beings. According to Kurzweil, within this century we will have blood-cell-sized robots, or “nanobots,” swimming through our bloodstreams to keep us healthy by zapping cancer, correcting DNA errors, removing toxins, extending our memories and eating up brownies before they hit our thighs.

In Transcend, the authors remind us that our brain is like any other muscle, and we must “use or lose it.” We know that travel, crossword puzzles, reading, writing and engaging in interpersonal relationships help the brain stay in shape. But what if we could take pills to replace its deteriorating cell structures? Did you know that taking natural supplements like Acetyl-L-carnitine strengthens mitochondria (the parts of cells that produce energy) and slows down inflammation of brain tissue? You’ve heard of the idea of “exercising your brain,” but did you know it’s particularly good for the cerebellum, which controls voluntary movement and can be kept healthy by playing sports?

Kurzweil and Grossman expose the dangers of certain foods, hormone regulation and our biologically outdated methods of stress management. Kurzweil describes the fat in our bloodstream as “pink cream,” which is enough to stay away from high-glycemic foods such as dried dates, pancakes, jellybeans, baked potatoes and white spaghetti. The chapter on nutrition recommends several recipes, like the “Israeli breakfast,” which includes feta cheese, hummus, cucumbers, salmon and red and green peppers. They also suggest adding turmeric to your diet, a spice used in many curry dishes that contains powerful anti-inflammatory agents and allegedly helps against cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. […]