Thursday May 19th, 2011

“The transience of our lives is one of the things that makes it valuable.”

Malcolm Jones at Book Beast talks to John Gray about his new book, The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death, which I’m writing about here soon (in relation to a couple of other books). Gray says, “I’m old enough to remember that when photocopiers came along we were told that they would destroy tyranny. I’m sure people said the same thing about radio or the telegraph, just as now they say the same thing about the Internet.” His book, which reads far more smoothly than its inelegant title, is, in part, an argument for being “friendlier to our mortality. The transience of our lives is one of the things that makes it valuable. We might, at least as individuals, actually shake the hold of some of these dreams of technological immortality. Although I don’t think the culture as a whole can be changed, because the culture as a whole is possessed by the idea that science can deliver us from our actual condition.” One more extended quote:

I’m not a believer, but I’m friendly to religion, partly because it goes with being human — it’s an odd kind of humanism which is hostile to something which is so quintessentially human as religion. I’m very opposed to investing science with the needs and requirements of religion. I’m equally opposed to the tendency within religion, which exists in things like creationism and intelligent design, to turn religion into a kind of pseudo-science. If you go back to St. Augustine or before, to the Jewish scholars who talk about these issues, they never regard the Genesis story as a theory. Augustine says explicitly that it should not be interpreted explicitly, that it’s a way of accessing truths which can’t really be formulated by the human mind in any rational way. It’s a way of accessing mysterious features which will remain mysterious. So it was always seen right up to the rise of modern science — as a myth, not a theory. What these creationists are doing is retreating, they’re accepting the view of religion promoted by scientific enemies of religion, and saying, no, we have got science and it’s better than your science. Complete error.

(Via Andrew Sullivan)