Thursday, January 28, 2010

Eclipses and the Future

I was looking at the NASA website for information about future total eclipses. There is a total solar eclipse in Gabon (equatorial Africa) in 2013, another in Svalbard (a Norwegian arctic island) in 2015, in Indonesia in 2016, in the United States in 2017. There is one in 2019 and then 9 during the 2020's. There is one in Australia on November 23, 2030, a week after my 84th birthday. There are six more during the 2030's. I copied down their dates and locations with progressively failing confidence. I ran out of lines in my daybook to write on with the eclipse in the Congo, Rwanda, and Kenya on April 30, 2041. The last few held less and less interest and little belief that I would see them. In 2041 I would be 94 years old. My people, particularly the men, die in our 70's.

As the dates mounted, the credibility of planning or even hoping to see them, waned. I found that I felt lonely and abandoned by the future. It would move ahead without me, cast me off without a thought. A perfunctory service, a stone, and then the business of the world, the business of the living, and more eclipses, ad infinitum. Without me.

In contemplating the world of the eclipses of the 2030's and after, I felt lonesome. I missed me.

Harvey's daughter, my niece Lucy, is two years old. She is a girl, healthy, and has good genes. She will live a long time.

Most of what kills us is no longer pathogens. We do not die of plague, smallpox, tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, as people did a century ago. Instead we die of auto-immune diseases. Diabetes is caused by an autoimmune response which destroys the insulin-producing Isles of Langerhans. Alzheimer's is caused by an auto-immune response which destroys the brain. Much heart disease is either caused or exacerbated by inflammation of coronary artery linings which is typically an immune response. Most arthritis is also an inflammation that is not a response to an injury or a pathogen and could also be said to be an auto-immune response. Cancer, though not an immune response disease, is analogous because it too involves the body destroying itself rather than being attacked by an external pathogen. Most degenerative diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis and Lou Gehrig's disease are also immune response diseases.

With the continuing progress of molecular analysis of proteins and such, it seems likely that during Lucy's lifetime auto-immune diseases will become readily treatable. Without pathogens or auto-immune and analogous diseases, life expectancies for Lucy and her peers will be long. Without degenerative diseases, their quality of life will be good.

Hey Lucy! There is a helluva good eclipse passing over Maui and most of Big Island on March 10, 2100. Have a good time and tell 'em Uncle Jack sent you.

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