Is It Mathematically Impossible to Beat Aging?

The Prophet (PBUH) said, “The best of people are those who live longest and excel in their deeds.” (Tirmidhi). Thus, Islam praises those who live longer as long as they use their lifetime for piety and good deeds.

On the other hand, Islam reminds man of his final destination, which is the Day of Judgment and the afterlife.

Allah says in the Holy Qur’an: {Every soul will taste death. We test you with evil and good as trial, and to Us you will be returned.} [Surat Al-Anbya’: 21:35]. 

But that doesn’t mean that man has to succumb to sickness and disease. He has to strive to seek cure for whatever ailment befalls him. Islamic teachings regard finding cures for diseases and prolonging man’s lifespan is highly praiseworthy.

Aging is a natural part of life, but that hasn’t stopped people from embarking on efforts to stop the process. Unfortunately, perhaps, those attempts are futile, according to University of Arizona researchers who have proved that it’s mathematically impossible to beat aging in multicellular organisms like humans. Reported on October 30.

“Aging is mathematically inevitable – like, seriously inevitable. There’s logically, theoretically, mathematically no way out,” said Joanna Masel, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and at the UA.

Masel and UA postdoctoral researcher Paul Nelson outline their findings on math and aging in a new study titled “Intercellular Competition and Inevitability of Multicellular Aging,” published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Current understanding of the evolution of aging leaves open the possibility that we can stop aging. But, only if science could figure out a way to make selection between organisms perfect. One way to do that is to use competition between cells to eliminate poorly functioning “sluggish” cells linked to aging.

However, the solution isn’t that simple, Masel and Nelson say.

Can We Escape?

Allah states in the Holy Qur’an in unequivocal terms that our bodies belong to Him: {Who say, when afflicted with calamity: ‘To Allah We belong, and to Him is our return’} [Surat Al-Baqarah 2:156].

Allah also declares that this world is temporary, while the Hereafter is enduring and is payback for our worldly deeds.

Also, He challenges people to bring back the soul; {Then why do ye not (intervene) when (the soul of the dying man) reaches the throat… Call back the soul, if ye are true (in the claim of independence)?} [Surat Al-Waqiaa 56:83-87].

Thus, the human body will definitely experience death and decay. Yet, the soul on the other hand is eternal and will return to its Creator upon demise.

Immortality as pertains to bodily and physical existence in this world has, therefore, no place in Islam. Allah orders humans to make full use of their short life and time endowed.

Even if humans succeed, with the help of their God-created sophisticated brains in achieving biological immortality which Allah allows them to accomplish, this still doesn’t guarantee an eternal life.

Scientists admit that even if we could eliminate all biological factors that lead to death, there is one left; physical trauma, which is still beyond humans’ control.

Soul in the Qur’an

If we analyze closely the Holy Qur’an, we will see that none of its verses gives any impression that it is ultimately impossible for humans to remove the possible biological causes of death within their limits. Physical trauma, however, falls under the category of ‘random’ or ‘accidents’ and hence it is in the hands of God.

The horror of ‘The Day of Resurrection’ as depicted in many Qur’anic chapters to indicate the end of the human race, seems to associate man’s ultimate demise with physical injury when the earth falls apart.

If again, by all means humans succeed in getting physical intangibility into reality, which will allow humans to avoid accidents and physical trauma as they are able to pass their bodies through solids, this is still unlikely to help them escape from dying before the Day of Judgment as Allah promised.

Various verses in the Holy Qur’an assert that the soul belongs to Allah and that despite all, it will return to its Creator.

On top of that, the Qur’an confirmed that man know very little about the nature of the soul, unlike the physical body. {And they ask you concerning the soul. Say: “The soul is one of the things of which the knowledge is only with my Lord. And of knowledge, you (mankind) have been given only a little.} [Surat Al-Isra’: 17:85].

Why Can’t We?

Two things happen to the body on a cellular level as it ages, Nelson explains. One is that cells slow down and start to lose function. For example, when your hair cells stop making pigment. The other thing that happens is that some cells crank up their growth rate. This can lead cancer cells to form. As we get older, we all tend, at some point, to develop cancer cells in the body. Even if they’re not causing symptoms, the researchers say.

Masel and Nelson found that even if natural selection were perfect, aging would still occur, since cancer cells tend to cheat when cells compete.

“As you age, most of your cells are ratcheting down and losing function, and they stop growing, as well,” said Nelson, lead author of the study. “But some of your cells are growing like crazy. What we show is that this forms a double bind – a catch-22. If you get rid of those poorly functioning, sluggish cells, then that allows cancer cells to proliferate, and if you get rid of, or slow down, those cancer cells, then that allows sluggish cells to accumulate. So you’re stuck between allowing these sluggish cells to accumulate or allowing cancer cells to proliferate, and if you do one you can’t do the other. You can’t do them both at the same time.”Beat Aging

Undisputed Fact?

Although human mortality is an undisputed fact of life, the researchers’ work presents a mathematical equation that expresses why aging is an “incontrovertible truth” and “an intrinsic property of being multicellular,” Nelson said.

“It’s no surprise that we’re all going to die; lots of things are obvious because they’re so familiar to us, but really, why is it that we age? We start to explain why,” said Masel, who also teaches in the UA’s Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Applied Mathematics.

“People have looked at why aging happens, from the perspective of ‘why hasn’t natural selection stopped aging yet?’ That’s the question they ask, and implicitly in that is the idea that such a thing as non-aging is possible, so why haven’t we evolved it? We’re saying it’s not just a question of evolution not doing it; it can’t be done by natural selection or by anything else,” Masel said.

In the end, things just break over time and – according to the math – trying to fix them can make things worse.

“You might be able to slow down aging but you can’t stop it,” Masel said. “We have a mathematical demonstration of why it’s impossible to fix both problems. You can fix one problem but you can’t with the other one. Things will get worse over time, in one of these two ways or both: Either all of your cells will continue to get more sluggish, or you’ll get cancer. And the basic reason is that things break. It doesn’t matter how much you try and stop them from breaking, you can’t.”

As Nelson says: “It’s just something you have to deal with if you want to be a multicellular organism.”