A categorical account of humanity’s attempt to achieve immortality, from European philosopher and Financial Times essayist Cave.
“Death is meticulous in collecting every living thing sooner or later,” writes the author in this architectural examination of what we think about when we think about death—or rather the ways we devise to trick the inevitable out of its reward. Cave explains how the seeking of immortality is the foundation of human achievement, the wellspring of art, religion and civilization. Our institutions, rituals and beliefs are efforts to clear the path of immortality, and they can be comfortably culled to four impulses: that of simply staying alive, via food, safety and health; the resurrection narrative, rooted in nature’s rhythms, then blossoming into cryogenics and digital avatars; the survival of the soul, what anyone who has had an out-of-body-experience can readily appreciate; and legacy, the indirect extension of ourselves. The touch of the matter, however, is that we know we are going to die, but we can’t accept, or even imagine, nonexistence, so we create institutions that deny or distract us. The author is rangy and recondite, searching the byways of elixirs, the surprises of alchemy, the faith in engineering and all the wonder to be found in discussions of life and death. “Our lives our bounded by beginning and end,” he writes, “yet composed of moments that can reach out far beyond ourselves, touching other people and places in countless ways.”
When death harkens, Cave provides a luminous, mindful taste of the alternatives.