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Best of 'Think' 2013
Tue December 31, 2013
We All Die Someday, Right? Not Everyone Agrees.
Former VICE editor Adam Leith Gollner isn't obsessed with physical life eternal. But he found the people who are for “The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever.” And they were put off by the author's belief in a sure end. Hear Gollner's deeply philosophical debriefing with Krys Boyd at noon today as part of our "Think: Best Of 2013" series.
It was a given Gollner would encounter people of many different faith and belief systems for his research. The author braced for radical attempts at anti-aging or fervent religious fundamentalists. But he found his time with immortalists "warping," he says. A conviction that death is real is “an outdated mode of thinking" for them. It's deathism.
“They want to eliminate that sort of thinking. The way that we’ve striven to do away with things like racism and sexism. They say that deathism is on the same level. That’s how offensive they find it,” Gollner says.
The way an ancient quest for the fountain of youth has survived technological and scientific progress sent the author reeling. Before laser therapy, emperors in the Ming and Qin dynasties gave us a metaphor - they had all the power and wealth imaginable, and they still drank elixirs laced with mercury that promised to make their bodies survive expiration.
"Many of these emperors – not one, but a dozen or more - died taking potions that were intended for them to live forever. To me, that’s this great way of looking at human nature. We want immortality so badly that we’re always ready to be swept away into unthinkingness," Gollner says.
Uncertainty about what happens after death drives some people to simply believe they can stave it off - refuse the empirical and anecdotal evidence they've amassed their whole lives. As a storyteller, Gollner says dwelling in uncertainty is essential for his life.
"I don't share that dread. I think it could be kind of a relief, when this is finished," he says. "I think its important to value this belief in this extraordinary opportunity we've been granted. A lifetime."
"The great poet Keats said that one of the thing poets need to have is what he called 'negative capability' which he defined as the ability to be in uncertain situations without having to make sense of them, to inhabit mysteries and to allow them to just be what they are without trying to define them or understand them."
Listen to Think Monday through Thursday at noon at 9 p.m. on KERA 90.1 or stream the show live at kera.org.