Reduced fertility and extended aging seem to be biologically linked with some lower orders of insects and animals as well as humans. Procreation also has a cultural component for homo sapiens.
For the first time in our history, increased health, better contraception, the expanded ability to earn money and enjoy other life-fulfilling experiences in childbearing years have encouraged couples to put off having families, often in a mistaken belief that they can start a family later. This contributes to a decrease in birthrates and an extended childlessness for many men and women in their middle age.
Early episodes of the television drama "Star Trek" offer philosophical parables for our time on the theme of longer lives. One is called "Miri," short for Shakespeare's Miranda, who spoke the famous line, "O brave new world that has such people in it."
In the "Star Trek" episode, the crew of the Enterprise comes upon a planet where a "life prolongation project" has had disastrous results. Children on the planet age one month for every 100 years until puberty, when a virus kills them. The culture is one of perpetual immaturity, with behavior suggestive of "Lord of the Flies."
In "Requiem for Methuselah," another episode of "Star Trek," the Enterprise confronts Flint, who is 6,000 years old, born in 3,834 B.C. (The original Methuselah died in the Flood at 969.) Flint has lived a thousand different lives because of his capacity for continued tissue regeneration, but he is as cold and brittle as his name.
Art and beauty could not mellow his misanthropic impulses; a bitter old man, he has seen too much of life. Not until he is rendered mortal and recognizes that he will die can he feel love and compassion for his fellow man.
Mercifully, Father Time will make his usual exit this week, and we get the symbol of a new baby for the new year. Here's hoping it's a good one.
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