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August 29, 2021 41 min

Jeanne Calment lived her entire life in the South of France. She filled her days with leisurely pursuits, enjoying a glass of port, a cigarette and some chocolate nearly every day. In 1997, Ms. Calment died. She was 122.

With medical and social advances mitigating diseases of old age and prolonging life, the number of exceptionally long-living people is increasing sharply. But no one is known to have matched, let alone surpassed, Ms. Calment’s record.

Longevity scientists hold a wide range of nuanced perspectives on the future of humanity. Some consider life span to be like a candle wick, burning for a limited time. While others view it as a supremely, maybe even infinitely elastic band.

As the eminent physicist Richard Feynman put it in a 1964 lecture, “There is nothing in biology yet found that indicates the inevitability of death.”

This story was written by Ferris Jabr and recorded by Audm. To hear more audio stories from publications like The New York Times, download Audm for iPhone or Android.

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