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Immortality has long been considered the domain of religion. But immortality projects have gained increasing legitimacy and power in the world of science and technology. With recent rapid advances in biology, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence, secular immortalists hope for and work toward a future without death.
On Not Dying is an anthropological, historical, and philosophical exploration of immortality as a secular and scientific category. Based on an ethnography of immortalist communities—those who believe humans can extend their personal existence indefinitely through technological means—and an examination of other institutions involved at the end of life, Abou Farman argues that secular immortalism is an important site to explore the tensions inherent in secularism: how to accept death but extend life; knowing the future is open but your future is finite; that life has meaning but the universe is meaningless. As secularism denies a soul, an afterlife, and a cosmic purpose, conflicts arise around the relationship of mind and body, individual finitude and the infinity of time and the cosmos, and the purpose of life. Immortalism today, Farman argues, is shaped by these historical and culturally situated tensions. Immortalist projects go beyond extending life, confronting dualism and cosmic alienation by imagining (and producing) informatic selves separate from the biological body but connected to a cosmic unfolding.On Not Dying interrogates the social implications of technoscientific immortalism and raises important political questions. Whose life will be extended? Will these technologies be available to all, or will they reproduce racial and geopolitical hierarchies? As human life on earth is threatened in the Anthropocene, why should life be extended, and what will that prolonged existence look like?
- rightsParts of chapter 3 were originally published as “Death and the Infinite: Cryonics as Secular Eschatology,” in The Wiley Companion to the Anthropology of Death, ed. ACGM Robben (New York: Wiley, 2018). Portions of chapter 4 were originally published as “Speculative Matter: Secular Bodies, Minds, and Persons,” Cultural Anthropology 28, no. 4 (2013): 737–59. Parts of chapter 5 were originally published as “Re-Enchantment Cosmologies: Mastery and Obsolescence in an Intelligent Universe,” Anthropological Quarterly, special issue on Extreme: Humans at Home in the Cosmos, ed. D. Battaglia, D. Valentine, and V. Olson, 85, no. 4 (2012): 1069–88, and as “Mind out of Place: Transhuman Spirituality,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 87, no. 1 (March 2019): 57–80.
Copyright 2020 by Abou Farman
- publisherUniversity of Minnesota Press
- publisher placeMinneapolis, MN
- restrictionsAll rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
- rights holderAbou Farman