Baby Boomers – We Have Seen the Future and It Is Now

I received a magazine this summer that contained a number of interesting juxtapositions that relate to our experiences as Baby Boomers or people of the Third Chapter. The cover story dealt with changes in the last thirty years – changes that we have lived through or witnessed – and what we might expect in the next thirty years or so.

The cover story was the thirtieth anniversary of “Discover” magazine (1980-2010), billed as ‘thirty years that changed everything.’ This rather grandiose claim is perhaps justified by the fact that the magazine itself doesn’t claim to be responsible for those changes, but rather reported on them. “Discover” cites twelve scientific breakthroughs that “transformed the world” These were:

Astronomy: planets discovered around other stars.

Paleontology: dinosaurs demystified

Anthropology: mankind’s ancestors unmasked

Medicine: the rise of cell therapy

Materials: controlling individual atoms

Brain: consciousness mapped

Space: seeing the real solar system

Genetics: secrets of the human genome

Physics: the hidden unity of nature

Technology: transformed by the Web

Cosmology: taking the measure of the universe

Environment: making sense of climate change

Not content to rest on its laurels, however, the magazine – like the Roman god Janus – looks back to the past and forward to the future as well. The articles in this issue also discuss such “crystal-ball gazing” topics as clean energy, bringing the dinosaurs (previously demystified) back, brain plasticity, exploring the deep seas, robotics, the search for alien life, eradicating childhood disease, what came before the Big Bang, cellular medicine, privacy, and a theory of everything.

Now, I admit that I have not yet read all of these articles, either of the past or of the future. But I will. What caught my attention this time, however, was an article entitled “Live Long and Prosper” which detailed current research on the aging process.

One lone wolf scientist, longevity researcher Aubrey de Grey (I wonder if his name influenced his field of study) claims that the life span of a healthy human being could hit 1,000 years!

Most of the scientists mentioned in the article, though, had more modest claims. Scientists like Nir Barzilai of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, David Sharp at the University of Texas Health Science Center, and David Harrison at the Jackson Laboratory in Maine want to increase our life span only slightly – possibly to 100 years. The main thrust of their research, however, is to increase our “health span.”

David Harrison puts it this way: “Aging is an underlying timing mechanism for all chronic diseases…If we can retard aging a little bit, we can actually improve health not just from one disease but from cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson – from most of the bad things. We get an increase in healthy life span.”

I said at the beginning that this issue of “Discover” had some juxtapositions that relate to our experiences as Baby Boomers. What I meant is this: We have lived through these last thirty years that “have changed everything.” These last thirty years of our lives have changed everything, too.

Like “Discover” and like old Janus, we look to the past because it has shaped us. But we also look to the future. We’re not ready to give up on life or to give up life. We have a lot of living yet to do. Hopefully, we’ll be healthier along the way.

I’ve got to tell you, I for one would not want to live 1,000 years if 930 of those years had to be spent dying of cancer or wandering in the shadow reality of Alzheimer’s.

One other piece I want to mention from the “Discover” magazine. On the last page, in an article entitled “20 Things You Didn’t Know About the Future” – a spoof of “Discovers'” usually more serious “20 Things….” series, Elliott Kalan writes:

“When the future arrives, we won’t recognize it at first. What we think of as just more of the present will turn out, only after weeks of intensive study, to have been the future.”