Eternal life: bad idea?

Steve Cave thinks immortality is a bad idea. Ronald Bailey, reviewing Cave’s new book Immortality for Reason magazine writes:

Imagine you are offered a trustworthy opportunity for immortality in which your mind (perhaps also your body) will persist eternally. Let’s further stipulate that the offer includes perpetual youthful health and the ability to upgrade to any cognitive and physical technologies that become available in the future. There is one more stipulation: You could never decide later to die. Would you take it? Metaphysician and former British diplomat Stephen Cave thinks accepting such an offer would be a bad idea.

Cave’s fascinating new book, Immortality, posits that civilization is a major side effect of humanity’s attempts to live forever. He argues that our sophisticated minds inexorably recognize that, like all other living things, we will one day die. Simultaneously, Cave asserts, “The one thing that these minds cannot imagine is that very state of nonexistence; it is literally inconceivable. Death therefore presents itself as both inevitable and impossible. This is what I will call the Mortality Paradox, and its resolution is what gives shape to the immortality narratives, and therefore to civilization.”

Of Cave’s view of the soul, Bailey writes:

The most popular immortality narrative is Soul. Most Christians now believe that their souls, which persist after death, will be reunited with their resurrected bodies. Souls thus solve a lot of the identity problems associated with the earlier Resurrection narrative. Cave argues that Soul narrative resolves the Mortality Paradox by denying “that the failing body is the true self, identifying the person instead with exactly that mental life that seems so inextinguishable.” In Christianity all souls are equal before God, so if the omnipotent and omniscient Creator of the universe is interested in your life then who are your politicians to ignore your desires?

What about the afterlife? Cave cites American evangelist James L. Garlow who says that in Heaven “your every desire is satisfied more abundantly than you’ve ever dreamed.” But what if your desire is to be reunited with your wife who instead desires to spend her eternity with her childhood sweetheart? A more sophisticated theocentric view of the soul’s afterlife is that Heaven is the eternal exaltation of God. But what can this mean? Cave points out that an afterlife without time is not really a life at all. “Everything that makes up a human life—experience, learning, growth, communication, even singing hosannas—requires the passage of time. Without time, nothing can happen; it is a state of stasis, a cessation of thought and action,” he argues. “The attraction of the soul view was the unique aura it gave to every individual life, but its logical conclusion is an eternity of nothing, with life negated altogether.”

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