Paranormal Phenomenon Omnibus


Article by Joe McBrayer

Mythological Origins / De Leon's Journey / De Leon's Legend /
The Scientific Search for Immortality / Further Explanations

We all want to live forever, don't we?

Immortality has always been a great topic for movies and books. Such episodes as Young At Heart, or Our Town, which deals with ritualistic cannibalism as a means to immorality, Synchrony, or Tithonus, which deals with a paranormal, and unintended means to Immortality, reference the subject. In Stephen King's book The Green Mile, Tom Hanks's character Paul Edgecomb had physical contact with John Coffey, an empathic spiritual enigma with healing powers. Hanks's character becomes immortal due to his healing encounter with Coffey.

In Christian Theology, physical immortality was lost when Adam and Eve commited the first act of sin in the Garden of Eden. This also effected their descendants in the fall of man.

Another way to achieve immortality is to find the Fountain of Youth. Herodotus talked of a fountain that had a special kind of water located in the land of the Ethiopians. Herodotus attributed the longevity of the Ethiopians to this water. The more famous story of The Fountain of Youth is that of Ponce DeLeon's journey to Florida to find it. Here's the rest of that story...

Mythological Origins / De Leon's Journey / De Leon's Legend /
The Scientific Search for Immortality / Further Explanations

According to tradition, the natives of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and Cuba told the early Spanish explorers that in Bimini (Beniny), a land to the north, there was a river, spring, or fountain where waters had such miraculous curative powers that any old person who bathed in them would regain his youth. About the time of Columbus's first voyage, according to legend, an Arawak chief named Sequene, inspired by the fable of the curative waters, had migrated from Cuba to southern Florida. It seemed that other parties of islanders had made attempts to find Bimini, which was generally described as being in the region of the Bahamas.

Juan Ponce de Leon (1460-1521), who had been with Columbus on his second voyage in 1493 and who later conquered and became governor of Puerto Rico, is supposed to have learned of the fable from the Indians. The fable was not new, and probably Ponce de Leon was vaguely cognizant of the fact that such waters had been mentioned by medieval writers, and that Alexander the Great had searched for such waters in eastern Asia. A similar legend was known to the Polynesians, whose tradition located the fountain of perpetual youth in Hawaii.

As described to the Spanish, Bimini not only contained a spring of perpetual youth, but teemed with gold and all sorts of riches. The fact that the party of Arawaks who had gone in that direction and never returned was taken as evidence that they must have found the happy land.

In that age of discovery, when new wonders and novelties were disclosed every year, not only the Spanish explorers but also men of learning accepted such stories with childlike credulity. Pietro Martire d'Anghiera (1472-1528), an Italian geographer and historian who moved to Spain in 1487 and who is known as "Peter Martyr," wrote to Pope Leo X in 1513: "Among the islands of the north side of Hispaniola, there is about 325 leagues distant, as they say who have searched the same, in which is a continual spring of running water, of such marvelous virtue that the water thereof being drunk, perhaps with some diet, maketh old men young again." The chronicler himself discounted the tale, but he told his Holiness that "they have so spread this rumor for a truth through all the court, that not only all the people, but also many of them whom wisdom or fortune hath divided from the common sort, think it to be true."

Ponce de Leon, who had become wealthy in the colonial service, equipped three ships at his own expense and set out to find the land of riches and perhaps the mythical fountain that would restore his health and make him young again. It is a common mistake to suppose that he was then an old man. He was only about fifty-three.

Ponce de Leon, like most of the other early Spanish explorers and conquerors, was looking primarily for gold, slaves and other "riches," and it is not likely that he actually put much stock in the fable of the fountain of youth, if he had heard about it at all.

Mythological Origins / De Leon's Journey / De Leon's Legend /
The Scientific Search for Immortality / Further Explanations

That fable was not associated with de Leon's name until long afterwards, when Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda told it in his account of Florida. In 1545, Fontaneda, at the age of thirteen, he was shipwrecked on the coast of Florida and spent seventeen years as a captive of the Indians. He was finally rescued, probably by the French in northeastern Florida, and later returned to the peninsula as an interpreter for Menendez in 1565. Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas (1540?-1625) had access to Fontaneda's manuscript and incorporated the story in his history of the Indies.

Whether any Europeans had visited Florida before Ponce de Leon's first expedition is not known for certain. Some authorities suppose that both John Cabot and Amerigo Vespucci had explored and mapped part of the coast. At any rate, Alberto Cantino's Spanish map of 1502 indicated a peninsula corresponding to Florida.

On March 27, 1513 (not 1512 as often stated), after searching vainly for Bimini among the Bahamas, Ponce de Leon sighted the North American mainland, which he took to be an island, and on April 2 he landed somewhere on the eastern coast. Nobody knows for certain where he first set foot on Florida soil. Some suppose that it was north of St. Augustine, while others think it was as far south as Cape Canaveral. Either because the discovery was made during the Easter season, or because he found flowers on the coast, or for both reasons, he named the country La Florida. In Spanish, Easter Sunday is referred to as la pascua florida, literally "the flowery passover." "And thinking that this land was an island they named it La Florida because they discovered it in the time of the flowery festival."

Mythological Origins / De Leon's Journey / De Leon's Legend /
The Scientific Search for Immortality / Further Explanations

Eventually Carrell's experiment was disproved, and an explanation was found about how cells could divide over a span of decades. Carrell mistakenly misread his data; the original cells died, while new cells kept dividing. In 1951, a thirty-one-year old African-American woman named Henrietta Lack had some cells removed from her cervix during a doctor's visit. The cells were cancer cells, and although she died from cervical cancer eight months later, the cancer cells survived, and were code named "HeLa". These cells provided scientists with their first immortal human cell line. The problem with "HeLa" cells is that they divide so rapidly that they easily overwhelm all other cell cultures if scientists are not careful to keep HeLa cells confined to their own containers.

By the late 1950s, Scientist Leonard Hayflick and Paul Moorhead tried to find new answers between Carrell's experiments and the immortal "HeLa" cells. No matter how hard they tried, the healthy embryonic skin cells that they placed in cultures survived only a few months. When Hayflick injected HeLa cells into living animals, the cells formed tumors, suggesting that HeLa cells were still cancer cells. Eventually, Hayflick became convinced that cells placed in culture could live and divide for only so long before aging and dying. Hayflick and Moorehead's findings were published in 1961, and are known today as the "Hayflick Limit." Apparently cells are programmed to divide a certain, finite number of times starting sometime after fertilization of the egg. Hayflick found that cells cannot escape the fifty-division limit, even if the cells spend part of their lifetime frozen in liquid nitrogen. Which has led to the idea that there's an internal clock counting down the number of cell divisions. Current research in aging indicates that cells in people rarely, if ever, divide enough times to reach the "Hayflick Limit". This has further led researchers to explore other notions about what helps to control life span. Using fruit flies, researchers found a gene that when faulty, allows the flies to live a third longer than expected. Researchers have also found two genes that allow worms to live much longer lives.

Mythological Origins / De Leon's Journey / De Leon's Legend /
The Scientific Search for Immortality / Further Explanations

Diseases like Progeria and Werner syndrome have helped scientists to eliminate one theory of aging–that aging and death occur because the body simply wears out after years of hard use. The "wear and tear" theory was first suggested by German biologist, August Weismann, over one-hundred years ago. If it is true that there is some mechanism within cells that control aging, scientists have searched for that clock. In 1972, American Nobel laureate James Watson and Russian scientist Alexei Olovnikov simultaneously came up with an intriguing idea; each time a cell divides, it needs to duplicate its DNA. If the newly made DNA is different from the original DNA, the copied DNA is of a shorter length, like the lace of a shoe that becomes worn with age. A perfect duplicate of this DNA string would be the same length as the original, yet with their understanding of how enzymes in cells duplicate DNA, both realized the newly made DNA couldn't be the same length. Olovnikov believed that this DNA shrinkage was that internal clock.

Many scientists believe that damage to the cell's DNA is caused by free radicals. When oxygen grabs an electron away from a metal, the oxygen becomes a highly destructive molecule known as a free radical, so one of the great ironies of a cell or organism, is that to archive immortality, it would have to avoid oxygen. Fortunately, organisms that have to breathe oxygen aren't exactly at the mercy of oxygen's destructive nature; cells contain enzymes that hunt down and destroy free radicals. There are natural chemicals that help to protect cells from free radicals. They are called antioxidants, and such chemicals can be found in vitamin E and C. Therefore, once could speculate, that the fountain, or environment found in Ethiopia, could have been a super antioxidant, and perhaps this was the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve were said to have picked from the tree of knowledge.

In conclusion, we are all still trying to find our Fountain of Youth. We want to live longer through vitamins, healthier living, and yoga. When the water runs out is when human kind does the unthinkable and chooses face lifts, tummy tucks, botox, plastic surgery, or more serious means like Cryogenics, or DNA therapy.

The Fountain of Youth doesn't give immortality; it actually questions our morality.

Herodotus, Book III: 22-24
Anne Simon, Ph.D. - "The real Science behind the X-Files", pubished by Touchstone books. 1991, 2001
"Misconceptions and Myths Related to the Fountain of Youth and Juan Ponce de Leon's 1513 Exploration Voyage"

Additional science material: Matt Allair
Page Editor: XScribe

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