To Live Forever

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Adam Leith Gollner, former Vice editor and the author of The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever (Scribner, 2013), talks about his quest to find the secret to eternal life -- from religions to science.


Adam Leith Gollner

Comments [18]

Mark Plus from Mayer, Arizona, USA

I don't know about the "living forever" part, but some mainstream neuroscientistst think we can turn death from a permanent off-state into a temporary and reversible off-state by pushing hard with current brain preservation techniques, including human cryopreservaton. Look up website of the Brain Preservation Foundation. Michael Shermer, the critic of pseudoscience and editor of Skeptic magazine, serves as one of this foundation's advisers, so he apparently considers its goals scientifically defensible.

Aug. 28 2013 08:10 PM

I'm surprised no one mentioned this afterlife explanation:

Aug. 28 2013 10:18 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Really reminds me a little of Gravity's Rainbow. Anyway, how odd, here is the Catholic Church, that publicly preaches the truth of eternal life all over the world ... and you're searching among magicians on islands and holy men in caves. Hmm.

What secular data is there that there is no life after death?

Life after death is not only spiritual, but physical 'I believe in the resurrection of the body...' Catholic Creed.

The speakers are denying that God has revealed Himself to man. They are also denying the resurrection of Jesus. In Jesus' resurrection, life after death has been revealed to man. Life after death isn't a conclusion we've come to on our own, it has been revealed to man by God. But the philosophers did come to it on the basis of reason alone (Plato and Aristotle for a start).

The idea of Brian Lehrer that the poor believe in life after death for solace - just the old Marxist idea. Or that it's for control or fear - perhaps in pre-Christian pagan religions, which were not meant to be final.

One should read Pope Francis' recent encyclical 'The light of faith' to get some ideas.

Aug. 27 2013 09:09 PM

Cy from NYC wrote:
"One thing I always loved about Judaism is that there's no hell."

I'm afraid that is completely untrue, though it may be a common misconception or myth, as I was also taught as much as a child, by my predominately secular, non-observant Jewish parents.

There is absolutely a very real concept of Hell in Judaism. Known by the Hebrew word "Gehinom" or "Gehenom", we find mention of it throughout the Talmud and other canonical texts. The descriptions of fire and burning many times greater in intensity than any that exists on earth, and other physical torment, are understood as being metaphorical/allegorical for a spiritual/emotional/mental anguish that surpasses anything corporal. The late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (peace be upon him), the scholar and author who was quoted by one of the posters here, described the anguish of Gehenom as the humilation and shame of being caught in a grave misdeed by a revered and feared figure of authority-- only infinitely greater for here it is The Ultimate Authority before whom one is fully exposed; "Naked before G-d", was how I recall Rabbi Kaplan putting-it, in one of his books that I read years ago.

For those who have "merely" transgressed and committed evil up to a point (which describes all-but-barely-a-handful of everyone who has ever lived, though obviously to considerably varying degrees) and died without achieving full atonement (which, alas, is true for at least a clear, solid majority of people) , Gehenom can be likened to a /cleansing/, /reparative/ process. Although excruiatingly painful, it is a necessary preparation in order to bring the soul to a state of being able to delight in the intense spiritual intimacy with G-d that is the unparalled, unique ecstasy of "Gan Eden" or Paradise. There is, however, a level of evil, wickedness, degradation, depravity and enormity that, alas, if attained, is so great as to /fundamentally/ and /irreparably/ corrupt and destroy the very /essence/ and /foundation/ of the soul. For those individuals who, tragically, have sunk that low, Gehenom can be thought of more as an /incinerator/ of sorts.

I will try to continue, in a subsequent post at some point.

Aug. 27 2013 01:13 PM
Tom Crisp from UWS


Aug. 27 2013 12:15 PM
Tom Crisp from UWS

To evoke posterity
Is to weep on your own grave,
Ventriloquizing for the unborn:
‘Would you were present in the flesh, hero!
What wreaths and junketings!’

And the punishment is fixed:
To be found fully ancestral,
To be cast in bronze for a city square,
To dribble green in times of rain
And stain the pedestal.

Wpiders in the spread beard;
A life proverbial
On clergy lips a-cackle;
Eponymous institutes,
Their luckless architecture.

Two more dates of life and birth
For the hour of special study
From which all boys and girls of mettle
Twice a week play truant
And word excuses try.

Alive, you have abhorred
The crowds on holiday
Jostling and whistling – yet would you air
Your death—mask, smoothly lidded
Along the promenade?

Aug. 27 2013 12:13 PM
Susan from Manhattan

When I was a child, I had a thought. I saw the soul as an idea. To me, the soul is an idea. It lives like an idea lives. Only when it's perceived.

I do not want to be immortal. I like to think that one day, I'll go back to whatever "I" came from.

In a way, I take a lot of comfort that life will not go on endlessly.

Aug. 27 2013 11:57 AM
Cy from NYC

One thing I always loved about Judaism is that there's no hell. As kids we were taught that we behave well (i.e., we're good) because it's the right thing to do (not because we're threatened with punishment). Doesn't insult one's intelligence.

Aug. 27 2013 11:55 AM
John A

Materialist immortality is fundamentally not spiritualist immortality.
Belief in the materialist escape seems to be a big indicator of the death throes of empire dwellers.
Now to read all these weighty comments...

Aug. 27 2013 11:55 AM
Esther from Baltimore

God is omniscient. He knows all and does not forget. God knows every thought and memory that exists within our brains. There is no bit of information that escapes His knowledge.

What, then, happens when a person dies?

God does not forget, and therefore all of this information continues to exist, at least in God's memory.

(An allusion to this is also found in the Kaballah. Gan Eden or Paradise is said to exist in the sefirah of Binah -- the divine understanding. This may well be related to the concept of memory. Souls, on the other hand, are conceived in the sefirah of Daas -- knowledge. One may say that while we live, we exist in God's knowledge; after death we exist in His memory.)

We may think of something existing only in memory as being static and effectively dead. But God's memory is not a static thing. The sum total of a human personality may indeed exist in God's memory, but it can still maintain its self-identity and volition, and remain in an active state.

This sum total of the human personality existing in God's memory is what lives on even after man dies...
by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan was a multi-faceted, prolific exponent of Jewish thought -- skilled in both Kabbalah and Jewish law, as well as the natural sciences (he was listed in "Who’s Who in Physics"). He suffered an untimely death at age 48.

Aug. 27 2013 11:54 AM

@ Amy from Manhattan, 11:51:

Well said.

Aug. 27 2013 11:54 AM

Spelling correction: corporal

Aug. 27 2013 11:51 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Do you reverse jeans by turning them inside out, or by putting them on backwards? That makes as much sense as "reversing genes," which is a completely meaningless phrase. Maybe the processes that genes code for can be reversed, but genes aren't things that even have a reverse. BTW, if a segment of DNA is inserted backwards (an "inversion error"), that's a bad thing & not likely to make you live longer.

Aug. 27 2013 11:51 AM

To all of the reflexive, doctrinaire* /anti/-Religious types who never miss an opportunity to make simplistic,
puerile, blanket, unqualified condemnations of religion (much like a child who, upon learning a taboo word, utters it with glee at every possible opportunity):

As I've noted in a past post, Noam Chomsky is one individual who is no less atheist than any of you but who has a far more intelligent, mature, sophisticated, nuanced view of and approach toward religion than any of you.

See some apropos quotes at

Just the beginning of one:
"I think religion has often played a very positive role. Take western civilization, the Catholic Church has played an honorable role in helping those in need."

*Yes, you are no less doctrinaire and reflexive than even the most doctrinaire, reflexive, fundamentalist religious adherents. That is the great irony that never ceases to amuse me about you types.

NOTE: Unfortunately, while I have a great deal of respect for Chomsky's intellect and scholarship, there are at least some areas where I have not found him to be above doctrinaire, simplistic and reflexive thinking /himself/. Particularly, when it comes to certain highly-charged cultural and social issues on which there is virtually unanimous consensus on the left. Were Chomsky to dare to dissent from this orthodoxy, he would no doubt face considerable backlash and lose much of the respect and admiration (often almost cult-like) that he has so long enjoyed. I am rather convinced that an awareness (albeit likely a subconscious one) of this reality prevents Chomsky from approaching and dealing with the areas in question with the incisiveness, scrutiny and independence that characterize so much of his work. How ironic that someone so cogent in describing the ways in which thought and opinion are controlled in free societies, should succumb to some of them himself. But hardly surprising, given inexorable realities of the human psyche.

Aug. 27 2013 11:47 AM

Immortality of the /body/ (impossible) is completely different from immortality of the /soul/ ( achievable through doing good while alive in corproal form).

Apropos the former, a quote I appreciate:
"What do we perceive today as possible? Just follow the media. On the one hand, in technology and sexuality, everything seems to be possible. You can travel to the moon, you can become immortal by biogenetics, you can have sex with animals or whatever, but look at the field of society and economy. There, almost everything is considered impossible. You want to raise taxes by little bit for the rich. They tell you it’s impossible. We lose competitivity. You want more money for health care, they tell you, "Impossible, this means totalitarian state." There’s something wrong in the world, where you are promised to be immortal but cannot spend a little bit more for healthcare. Maybe we need to set our priorities straight here. We don’t want higher standard of living. We want a better standard of living."
-Slavoj Zizek, from the transcript of a speech delivered at Occupy Wall Street,

Apropos the latter: The Talmud says that the deeds and legacy of the righteous are their monuments.

Aug. 27 2013 11:21 AM
john from office

On the other hand, I am a Marian Catholic. Mary to me is all women and all mothers, my mom. I always get her flowers. Maybe there is a Santa.

Aug. 27 2013 07:52 AM
john from office

Oy Vey ED!! There is also a Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Since Houdini never came back, as he promised he would if there was an after life, there is no after life.

Aug. 27 2013 07:11 AM
Ed from Larchmont

In Catholic theology man is made of body and soul, the soul is immortal and the body will eventually be raised at the end of time. The soul stands before God at the moment of death and is judged, the general judgment will occur at the end of time. This belief is in line with Plato and Aristotle on the one hand, and the Hebrew tradition on the other, in addition to resting on the Church's own authority. The many apparitians of Mary around the world, and others, encourage us in our faith. (St. Paul - 'If there is no resurrection from the dead, our faith is in vain ...'.)

Aug. 27 2013 05:55 AM

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