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The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization

By Stephen Cave
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Immortality by Stephen Cave

Immortality explores humanity’s drive to live forever and the constructive and destructive forces that accompany it. The book elaborates on the various ways that we try to achieve eternal life, and ultimately offers us some advice on how to cope with our mortality.

Key idea 1 of 9

The knowledge of our own death is what separates us from all other life-forms.

Do you ever lie in bed contemplating your death – the moment the Grim Reaper finally knocks at your door? We know that it will come one day, yet we still hope it never will. Why is it that we suffer from these kinds of thoughts?

For starters, like all other living things, humans are “survival machines”; our ultimate aim is to stay alive at all costs. This struggle for survival is carried out through the evolutionary process of adaptation and reproduction: the individuals with the fittest genes are most likely to reproduce, thus extending its likeness into the future through its posterity.  

What makes humans unique, however, is that we struggle to survive with the full knowledge that we will nonetheless die one day. This desire to survive and knowledge of our own demise leads to something called the mortality paradox.

On the one hand, surrounded by deaths of animals and other people, we know very well that we’re going to die at some point. On the other, we can’t actually imagine the experience of death, i.e., we cannot conceive non-existence.

Just try it: imagine your own death. What do you see? A tombstone? A funeral? You may think that you are imagining death, but in fact you aren’t. Being dead means that there is no you to consciously contemplate these situations; we have no way to experience or even imagine what it’s like to not exist.

Hence the paradox: our perception of death is both inevitable (as we all will die) and impossible (since we cannot imagine the experience of death).

So what do we do when faced with this paradox? Our desire to survive and our inability to comprehend what it is like to not exist makes us look for ways to cheat death altogether, i.e., strive for immortality. The following blinks will explain how we go about this.

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