Monday, February 25, 2008

Why Do Humans Age?

                         

                   Adjusted repost of June 12, 2006

Nature certainly has it all fixed, I'd say.  No matter what we do, our genetic blueprint will dictate what happens to us and when.  From the moment we're born, we're vulnerable to the progression of time, and we start to grown up.  But why do we grow old?  Insects, especially bees, ants, they all die soon after procreating.  It's their main purpose.  They don't age.  In fact, many animals seem to have that purpose, to reproduce for as long as possible, then quickly die.  They don't hang around in that limbo called "old age" for the many decades humans do.  No, not like the human animal, who can choose whether or not to have young, and can even choose how they age.  Humans are the only mammal who grow into older age for no natural reason (you have to be coldly analytical here) and contribute nothing of substance to the commune.  I know, it rings of the icy logic of nature.  But is it true?  Once we have children, and they are sufficiently weaned from us, why do we continue living?  What force of nature keeps us alive into our 70's, 80's?  It's not always an inviting life, either.  Like other mammals we're prone to bone loss, heart disease, cancerous cells, a plethora of illnesses which cost us dearly, emotionally, financially, spiritually.  So why do we age, while others species never do?

The elephant, now there's a similar example of growing old for no viable reason, and yet there's a very good reason, which I'll explain.  It takes almost 3 years for the baby elephant to gestate, and if it's female, remains with its mother for the rest of her life, having babies of her own.  The male is rarely tolerated and must leave the herd when fulled weaned, going off to find his fortune, perhaps starting his own herd.  The elephant lives a long time in comparison, over 70 years, well past the time to procreate.  So why does it live on?  In studying these wondrous creatures it's found that the aged and elder of the herd are always the decision-makers, the keepers of the health of the commune by not allowing rogue elephants to mate with the females.  They preserve the viability of the genetic health of the herd.  They lead the young to water, when none can be found.  They show the young where to migrate for the best grasses.  They teach the ways of fending off predators, and in their numbers they form a true family bond, eagerly followed by the young.  So the elephant world has a use for its elder members.  Why are others different?

Look to the ape family, genetically the most similar to our own species.  When a female is past the age of bearing young, she is tolerated for a short time by the pack, but only by her relatives, then left to fend on her own.  Ignored and left out of special feedings when meat is available, she soons starves or dies of simian disease.  Yes, apes eat meat on occasion, usually monkeys.  But the point is, once you can no longer give anything of import to the pack, you're considered a burden, and because you're older you are susceptible to all the illnesses we humans are, including SIV, the simian form of HIV.  None of the wisdom you may've collected in your life is of any use, since nature sees with its cold icy eye that having you around is more trouble than not.  That is the condition in ape society.  Is this starting to sound a bit familiar?

The human animal ages if allowed to live healthy, born without disease, and lives in the proper environs.  In aging, we acquire illness and disease making it a burden for us to live, and for others to care for us.  The total wisdom collected in our lives is rarely respected, if even tolerated.  And yet, the Asian people see their elderly as honored living treasures, and treat them accordingly.  What's wrong here in the west, why do we fear aging so?  Perhaps because it's the harbinger of death, a state we can only hope is not some oblivion since we have no proof at all that our molecules won't dissipate into the stratosphere when our bodies decay.  We cling to our faith in a Special Being, a God, who will welcome us (who will we be when we die though?) yet it's easier to believe than not to.  We know in our hearts there's a chance our Judeo-Christian God may not be what we imagine, and the afterlife is something so alien to how we think now that it's just unimaginable, using the limited brain power we have.  This tableau frightens many into offering prayer to something they don't really believe in but would rather not chance the prospect of oblivion, so they believe in what they're told is true.  

This can have nothing to do with religion, it's about the cold, clear waters of science and nature.  Belief in God is something that comes from the spirit or soul, and we choose to believe because it comforts us.  No matter how many times I pray to God, meditate on what He is, I cannot explain Him.  But I believe I comprehend nature, believe I can explain it, still it puzzles me why nature allows the human to continue on into old age if for no other reason than we can.  People live so much longer now, I wonder is that natural?  Hasn't anyone noticed how many older humans are on this planet compared to other species?  What use has nature for the elder human past the ability to reproduce?  Well I certainly know the very personal, emotional use of my grandparents, and anyone with accumulated knowledge I can benefit from, but again, why does nature allow this condition?  And in that regard, what about habitat?  Most animals require a certain amount of space to live a normal, healthy life.  Except humans, who demand the whole planet as their habitat, and not content with that have propelled our bodies far into space, to explore other worlds.  I know of no other creature who only truly needs a small amount of space to live but demands all of the planet and then some.  We even rob the habitats of other species to use for ourselves, and end up misusing that space by trying to farm it.  Why would such a life form be allowed to procreate at will, take up all the space they can buy or steal, and the big question, live for such a long, long time?  I feel in my bones that nature will win out in this question, and someday humans may be confronted with the hard fact that, as a species, we may not be as successful as we think. 

20 comments:

lanurseprn said...

People did not live so long a few decades back. With the invention of Penicillin, it added years to our lives. In the old days, the average life span wasn't even close to what it is now. In fact, according to those statistics, I'd be at deaths door right about now. Maybe that is why they revered the elderly back then. It was rare to have an elderly person live to tell their stories. But, now it's commonplace.
My ethical issue with the medical profession is keeping people alive who should be allowed to leave this world. That is part of the reason I had to leave the ICU setting to practice my nursing. There are horrible things happening to people, and they just aren't allowed to die with dignity. Most people don't even realize it either. But, that's a whole different subject, isn't it? LOL!
Very thought provoking entry. Have a good night.
Pam

ksquester said...

I will never understand death.  It seems as though mean people live a long life. Then there are the true angels on earth that pass much too quickly leaving us to wonder and ponder WHY?    Anne

sybilsybil45 said...

What a great Entry. Some ownderful thoughts and ideas. I think that we are perhaps living longer nowadays mostly because we have so many drugs, and different hygene, more space, mostly a better environment..why we sould have to live so longthough is another question altogether. I think that there is far to much intervention to keep us alive at all costs....Playing God...Thanks for the thoughts  Love sybil xx

mutualaide said...

Cath, Old Age Sucks ... indeed some days it does and I'm not feeling particularly old just now.  Science or Mother Nature will have her way with humans eventually, I have no doubt.  In the meanwhile I try to impart some coherant if not wise life skills to my kids.  :::sigh:::

Very well thought out and written Cath.  Very well.

princesssaurora said...

Great entry... and I agree... old age sucks, but it should be valued and isn't.  I shall try to at least be a wise crone for my kids and family... all you can do really.

be well,
Dawn

sunnyside46 said...

Dawn at Carpe Diem sent me to your journal.
This is a very thought provoking entry and I enjoyed it very much.
Marti

valphish said...

Very interesting.  I have a couple of thoughts.  God made us DIFFERENT than the rest of the animals.  He gave us dominion over them.  We still need to be responsible for the planet, though.  YES!!  We didn't use to live into old age, well, we did back in Noah's time, if you believe the Judeo-Christian religion, and I do.  That said, I feel the elderly have EXTREME value.  Just because someone has illness or is breaking down doesn't mean they are worthless.  I love to listen to the wisdom of my parents and my elderly neighbors.  Like I stated before, we are not like the other animals on the planet.  God has a special relationship with us.  Not that he doesn't find other animals special.  We DO need to take care of the planet and the animals, too.  That is why I go to Care2.net every day =) among other things to try and keep us from destroying ourselves and our fellow animals on this planet!!  Love you, my Cateri!!  Love, your Maire xoxox
http://journals.aol.com/valphish/ThereisaSeason

rockoned7 said...

Science V Nature? A very thought provoking thread. Could give you an arguement on both subjects without mentioning death or religion and it is not so clean as you assume either Cathy. Nature will always win and Scienbce will always explain that.

"Evidence confirming an observation is evidence that the observation is wrong."
- McNameless
'Tends to say it all for me ED

pamal3 said...

I think somebody somewhere has a rather strange sense of humour! lol ;-) Love Pam xx

gazker said...

As usual, you are full of wisdom.What I want to know is, I don't feel my age, I don't act my age, I don't dress my age but when I look in the mirror, it's like someone I don't know staring back at me! Sigh........... Gaz

dcmeyer420 said...

The age old Darwinian theory explains it all. Survival of the fittest, that is...

shrbrisc said...

very interesting I think it is to torture our children lol
hugs
Sherry

gehi6 said...

I remember when my dad had many health crisises we daughters would all be so worried that he might die.  In fact, my youngest sister was worrying about him when she started cracking up and in the hospital she became convinced he was dead and we just weren't telling her.  He even came to see her and as soon as he left she became fearful he had died again.  Seeing how she was acting I think he was inspired to live another 8 years of so, despite some terribly bad lungs.  He had many traits that were not very nice either, but he was such a capable man he gave us a great sense of stability.  When he did die at 64 I remember being very upset because he did not live as long as my Grandfather (his dad) who died at 87.  I would think about all he could have done to live longer like not drink or smoke because his cigarettes actually helped kill him.  So I know what it is first hand to lose a parent before I was ready for him to go, even though he was 64.  Thoughtful entry.  

swmpgrly said...

Hmmmm

wwfbison said...

This entry is incredible, the points you make about humans and the treatment of our elderly as well as the examples of nature.  I will be thinking about this long after I've left your journal.  And by the way, I love elephants, they are so awesome.  Great read, thank you.
Lisa

thegirlnexdoor77 said...

Hummmm..that is something to think about....I am sure my grandma lived as long as she did for me and my kids..have a great day!  TerryAnn

ally123130585918 said...

This was a really interesting read ~ Ally x

gdireneoe said...

I have to say, I didn't realize, while I was gone, how much I missed your posts.  Always so completely interesting.  For me...God is...and that's why we are...and we're here so long because, we have something to do...until we don't.  Simple...for/to me anyway. ;)  C.

mutualaide said...

Stop. Making. Me. Think.  Just stop.  :)

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