If you could live forever, would you want to? Both a fascinating look at the history of our strive for immortality and an investigation into whether living forever is really all it’s cracked up to be.
A fascinating work of popular philosophy and history that both enlightens and entertains, Stephen Cave investigates whether it just might be possible to live forever and whether we should want to. He also makes a powerful argument that it’s our very preoccupation with defying mortality that drives civilization.
Central to this book is the metaphor of a mountaintop where one can find the Immortals. Since the dawn of humanity, everyone – whether they know it or not—has been trying to climb that mountain. But there are only four paths up its treacherous slope, and there have only ever been four paths. Throughout history, people have wagered everything on their choice of the correct path, and fought wars against those who’ve chosen differently.
In drawing back the curtain on what compels humans to “keep on keeping on,” Cave engages the reader in a number of mind-bending thought experiments. He teases out the implications of each immortality gambit, asking, for example, how long a person would live if they did manage to acquire a perfectly disease-free body. Or what would happen if a super-being tried to round up the atomic constituents of all who’ve died in order to resurrect them. Or what our loved ones would really be doing in heaven if it does exist.
We’re confronted with a series of brain-rattling questions: What would happen if tomorrow humanity discovered that there is no life but this one? Would people continue to please their boss, vie for the title of Year’s Best Salesman? Would three-hundred-year projects still get started? If the four paths up the Mount of the Immortals lead nowhere—if there is no getting up to the summit—is there still reason to live? And can civilization survive?
Immortality is a deeply satisfying book, as optimistic about the human condition as it is insightful about the true arc of history.