Sunday, August 28, 2011

Outside the Box

A feature in the NYT today (“Imagining the Downside of Immortality,” by Stephen Cave) again reminded me: the cosmic models people hold entirely determine how far their thoughts can reach. The hypothesis the author examines? Suppose we conquered death somehow? Would it be a good or a bad thing? He thinks that physical problems (like overpopulation) could be overcome, but that the end result would be a psychological disaster. All human progress, aspiration, effort, and achievement (in his view) is motivated by the fear of death. That fear drives all of our behavior, consciously or unconsciously. He views all religious concepts of immortality as projections—efforts to cope with our fear. And he underlines that all of us, religious or not, seek immortality. The only difference is the modality of that search. It produces civilization, hope. False hope, to be sure. Cave’s underlying hard conviction, of course, appears to be the sophisticated orthodoxy of materialism. To be sure, if all that is worthwhile is just illusion pursued in dread of death, a rather pathetic picture of life is unveiled. But at least it’s grimly realistic. My questioning all of this Cave would no doubt assign to my own naïve dread of disappearance.

Amusing to read such articles in a world where breaking all the rules makes you a visionary and thinking outside the box is highly touted.


  1. Well, this post does not encourage me to read Cave's article, that is for sure! How very grim, indeed, seeing our wondering at the beautiful complexity of the world as motivated by fear... So limited and small a perspective.

  2. I sincerely doubt all progress is motivated by a fear of death. I feel that the notion the concept of immortality is but a defense against fear of death to be a mediocre mockery of religious genius.

    The banishment of the Grim Reaper would, however, indeed cause psychological disaster:
    imagine 500 years of Sarah Palin,
    imagine yourself repeating your opinions for a millenium,

    The hope of the future has always been the bright and untarnished Youth! Without Death, the Earth would groan under the oppression of the Tired, the Worn-Out, the Know-it-alls....
    Even if we could have eternal youth, imagine an eternity of Jersey Shore!

    There would be no revolutionary ideas and concepts; there would be no breaths of fresh air. There would be a tedious sameness from day to day, because we may not like to admit it, but we are not nearly as fascinating and intelligent as we think we are.

    I am reading your posts backwards, but you will come to a post on the Sibyl, imprisoned within a glass cage and forced to live and prophesy without connection, without love, without meaning... an exhibit of unending antiquity to the curiosity of the young boys gathered before her.

  3. The most horrible prosect, up there, is my repeating the same-old-same-old still in 3011. As the Sibyl said, "I want to die."


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