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How Long Can We Live?

Adam Tanner writes that scientists say we may eventually live to be hundreds of years old. "I think we are knocking at the door of immortality," says Michael Zey. "?What was science fiction a decade ago is no longer science fiction." But Dr. Geoffrey West isn't so sure, because we're bound to the Rule of Four. He says, "Four is the magic number of life."

Researcher Donald Louria says, "There is a dramatic and intensive push so that people can live from 120 to 180 years. Some have suggested that there is no limit and that people could live to 200 or 300 or 500 years."

But what kind of life would it be? "It remains to be seen if you pass the threshold of say 120, you know; could you be healthy enough to have good quality of life?" says Leonard Poon. "Currently people who could get to that point are not in good health at all." He visited Jeanne Louise Calment of France, the oldest person on record, who died in 1997 at age 122. He says, "At 122 she was fairly debilitated. I visited her when she was 119 in France and at that time she was pretty much blind and having very much difficulty hearing."

Simon Collins writes in the New Zealand Herald that Dr. Geoffrey West says aging is based on the number four: length, depth and width plus one. West found more than 50 biological relationships in the bodies of mammals, such body size and heart rate, which are based on 4. West says, "If you are 16 times bigger than your dog, your heart rate is half the dog's rate." That means that if you're 16 times bigger, you?ll live twice as long. We live longer than that only because of modern medicine. The average lifetime of indigenous peoples without modern health care is around 30.

West says the number 4 governs all life on Earth, from single-celled bacteria to trees, because every living thing is made up of networks carrying blood, air and other nutrients through big tubes, then through a succession of smaller ones. Within each class of species, such as mammals, the size of the last stage in the chain (the capillaries) is the same. Our cells are the same size as well. But in larger mammals, the distribution network increases more, as if it had a fourth dimension.

The heart of every mammal beats about 1.5 billion times in its lifetime, whether it's a dog or a human, a mouse or an elephant. West says, "This says that there is a maximum lifespan for a given size."

Want to know what it's like to live forever? Ask the experts.

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