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Is the Desire for Immortality a Healthy Desire?

Death is nature’s way of telling you to slow down.

On the surface I seemed to have everything I could reasonably want—good health, energy, an adventurous life, rewarding friendships, exhilarating love affairs, success in my work, exciting travel, the sustained nourishment of music, theatre, reading—but in the middle of it all I was overwhelmed, almost literally so, by a sense of mortality. The realization hit me like a demolition crane that I was inevitably going to die. This feeling, when it came, was not an ordinary fear or anxiety but was hyper-vivid and preternaturally powerful. As in a nightmare, I felt trapped and unable to escape from something that I was also unable to face. Death, my death, the literal destruction of me, was totally inevitable, and had been from the very instant of my conception . . . I felt—as I imagine a lot of the people who have confronted firing squads must have felt—engulfed by mind-numbing terror in the face of oblivion. For several years this was my normal mode of existence, a nightmare from which it was impossible to awake because I was awake already.

Bryan Magee

A wish for death superseded, and in intensity vastly outmatched, the wish to grow up. The attraction has remained with me ever since. I was not unhappy. There was nothing morbid about it. There is nothing morbid now. But over the past forty-five years I do not think it has been out of my mind for as long as a single day. Earlier I had seen in growing up the means to emancipation; in 1916 I saw in death the means to a more significant emancipation. It is just that I do not much like living.

Dom Hubert van Zeller (artist-monk)

There are two attitudes towards Death which the human mind naturally adopts. One is the lofty view, which reached its greatest intensity among the Stoics, that Death ‘doesn’t matter,’ that it is ‘kind nature’s signal for retreat,’ and that we ought to regard it with indifference. The other is the ‘natural’ point of view, implicit in nearly all private conversations on the subject, and in much modern thought about the survival of the human species, that Death is the greatest of all evils: Hobbes is perhaps the only philosopher who erected a system on this basis. The first idea simply negates, the second simply affirms, our instinct for self-preservation; neither throws any new light on Nature, and Christianity countenances neither.

C. S. Lewis

I must die, and if immediately, then immediately. If in a few hours, I will dine first and then die. How shall I meet death? As befits a man who restores that which is not his own . . . Never say of anything, ‘I have lost it,’ but ‘I have restored it.’

Epictetus

Because of death human existence has no meaning. All the crimes that men could commit are nothing in comparison with that fundamental crime which is death.

Albert Camus

[Below are the final two paragraphs of philosopher John Gray’s book, The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death, 2011.]

While most people may never give up dreaming of immortality, individuals here and there can loosen the hold of the dream on their lives. If you understand that in wanting to live forever you are trying to preserve a lifeless image of yourself, you may not want to be resurrected or to survive in a post-mortem paradise. What could be more deadly than being unable to die?

The afterlife is like utopia, a place where no one wants to live. Without seasons nothing ripens or drops to the ground, the leaves never change their colours or the sky its vacant blue. Nothing dies, so nothing is born. Everlasting existence is a perpetual calm, the peace of the grave. Seekers after immortality look for a way out of chaos; but they are part of that chaos, natural or divine. Immortality is only the dimming soul projected on to a blank screen. There is more sunshine in the fall of a leaf.

If human existence obeyed the laws of rational logic, it would seem that those who live most intensely and love life most passionately would most fear death. For wouldn’t death terminate something very precious to them? On the other hand, the tired and discouraged, all those who find life a painful burden should welcome it as a deliverance from their miseries. But experience shows this not to be the case.

Ignace Lepp (psychiatrist)

Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer? It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you. What are you afraid of? Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret?

C. S. Lewis

Your brother, Jesus said to her, will rise again. Martha said to him, I know well enough that he will rise again at the resurrection, when the last day comes. Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and life; he who believes in me, though he is dead, will live on, and whoever has life, and has faith in me, to all eternity cannot die.

Jesus of Nazareth (before raising Lazarus)

Religion teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end.

Richard Dawkins




Thoughts about Death & Immortality

Death is something so strange that in spite of our experience of it we do not think it is possible for those we cherish; it always surprises us as something unbelievable and paradoxical.

Goethe

According to the almost unanimous testimony of the ethnologists, primitive peoples rarely consider death the natural end of life. It is generally attributed to more-or-less fortuitous causes—the machinations of sorcerers, the ingratitude of a son, or malevolent spirits.

I am a temporary enclosure for a temporary purpose; that served, my skull and teeth, my idiosyncrasy and desire, will disperse, I believe, like the timbers of a booth after the fair.

H. G. Wells

As for future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague possibilities.

Charles Darwin

I believe in life everlasting; but not for the individual.

George Bernard Shaw

[Shaw] calls the desire for immortality a paltry selfishness, forgetting that he has just called the desire for life a healthy and heroic selfishness. How can it be noble to wish to make one’s life infinite and yet mean to wish to make it immortal?

G. K. Chesterton

I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.

Stephen Hawking

Does the brain survive death? Clearly not. But does that then mean we don’t survive? Only if we accept a dogma that, though it is constantly drilled into us, the members of cultures past were not at all as sure about as we are: The brain produces thought.

Ptolemy Tomkins

It is not death I fear, but dying.

Montaigne

Death must be distinguished from dying, with which it is often confused.

Sidney Smith

Life is a great surprise. I do not see why death should not be an even greater one.

Vladimir Nabokov

Many people assume too easily that with five senses and a rather limited though remarkable intellect we can comprehend everything that happens and that ever will happen, and that there will never be a surprise for us.

Robertson Davies

No one has ever touched a soul or seen it in a test-tube; and what can be neither touched nor seen and so eludes objective verification must be dismissed as non-existent.

Robert Watson

There is no direct evidence to prove if and how neurons in the brain produce the subjective essence of our consciousness.

Pim Van Lommel

People who think much of the next world rarely prosper in this.

Winston Churchill

Where we go hereafter depends on what we go after here.

John Henry Newman

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Thomas Gray

If some persons died, and others did not die, death would indeed be a terrible affliction.

La Bruyere

The question for man most momentous of all is whether or no his personality involves any element which can survive bodily death. In this direction have always lain the greatest fears, the farthest-reaching hopes, which could either oppress or stimulate mortal minds.

Frederic W. H. Myers

Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Susan Ertz

There is only a single supreme idea on earth: the concept of the immortality of the human soul; all other profound ideas by which men live are only an extension of it.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

In response to a question about his reaction to the evidence that the human spirit survives death, T. H. Huxley said, “It may all be true, for anything that I know to the contrary, but really I cannot get up interest in the subject.”

To philosophize is to learn how to die.

Cicero

If you would have peace prepare for war, and if you would have life prepare for death.

“We are all,” said Victor Hugo, “under sentence of death, but with a kind of indefinite reprieve.” We murmur, “How true,” but in normal times we remain unconvinced, and continue to plan our life on the assumption that we shall live for ever.

Arnold Lunn

Jung said the psyche doesn’t pay any attention to whether you’re going to die or not. It goes on as if you were going to live forever.

What man is capable of the insane self-conceit of believing that an eternity of himself would be tolerable even to himself?

George Bernard Shaw

Asked whether he believed in life after death the English writer William Golding replied, “No. I couldn’t bear the thought of being myself forever.”

When life is intolerable the mind can be relieved by thoughts of death.

O, let him pass! He hates him
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer.

King Lear (Kent)

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