08/07/2014 04:23 pm ET Updated Oct 06, 2014

Dare to be 100: Eos's Error

Greek mythology identifies Eos as one of the fairest members of the ancient world. She was held to be the goddess of the dawn, and is memorialized in many Greek scriptures and artifacts. She hooked up with Tithonus son of the royal house of Troy and a water nymph mother. Eos was so enamored that she asked the big man Zeus to grant her the special favor of immortality for her beloved.

Zeus is just not a good guy, so in his jealousy he said okay, but not everlasting youth. So, you can guess the rest of the story., Tithonus didn't die, but instead he continued to age and age and age, every day in every way he became worse. The idyll fragmented. Eos was not a happy camper, so in a snit she changed Tithonus into a grasshopper where he continues to live on as that scrawny, withered creature whose most persistent feature is its pathetic chirp.

The motif of this saga has being widely employed in literature. as Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels portrayed the Struldbrugs as caricatures of a society that doesn't die. Tennyson wrote a lovely poem about the ill-starred romance. The promise of immortality has been employed as a basic theme of many religions. Predictably there is a contemporary website, DontDie.Org, that keeps the embers alive heedless of the ultimate mandate applied by the Second Law of Thermodynamics which insists that nothing lasts forever.

My take on all of this is best addressed by the work of my friend Dr. Steve Coles of UCLA who is the esteemed director of the International Registry of Supercentenarians, those over 110 years of age. the oldest people in the world. There are currently 74 persons on the list, but clearly there are many others who have not "come out" and await verification.

Steve lectured for one of my Stanford courses two years ago. He gave a fine talk on the details of being a Supercentenarian with accompanying pictures. The take-home message for all of this display is that you don't want to live to 110 plus, a la Mr. Tithonus. The Second Law of Thermodynamics prohibits endless youth.

But the final take on this reprise of the Eos/Tithonus story is to be careful of what you ask Zeus for.