is eternal life, being exempt from death, unending
existence. Some modern species may possess biological immortality.
Certain scientists, futurists, and philosophers have theorized about
the immortality of the human body, with some suggesting that human
immortality may be achievable in the first few decades of the 21st
century. Other advocates believe that life extension is a more
achievable goal in the short term, with immortality awaiting further
research breakthroughs. The absence of aging would provide humans with
biological immortality, but not invulnerability to death by disease or
physical trauma; although mind uploading could solve that issue if it
proved possible. Whether the process of internal endoimmortality is
delivered within the upcoming years depends chiefly on research (and
in neuron research in the case of endoimmortality through an
immortalized cell line) in the former view and perhaps is an awaited
goal in the latter case.
In religious contexts, immortality is often stated to be one of the
(or other deities) to human beings who show goodness
or else follow divine law. What form an unending human life would
take, or whether an immaterial soul exists and possesses immortality,
has been a major point of focus of religion, as well as the subject of
speculation, fantasy, and debate.
3 Physical immortality
3.1 Causes of death
3.1.4 Environmental change
3.2 Biological immortality
3.2.1 Biologically immortal species
Evolution of aging
3.3 Prospects for human biological immortality
3.3.1 Life-extending substances
3.3.2 Technological immortality, biological machines, and "swallowing
3.3.4 Mind-to-computer uploading
3.3.6 Evolutionary immortality
4 Religious views
4.1 Ancient Greek religion
5 Philosophical Arguments for the
Immortality of the Soul
5.1 Alcmaeon of Croton
5.9 Moses Mendelssohn
6 Ethics of immortality
6.1 Undesirability of Immortality
7 Sociology of Immortality
11 See also
13 Further reading
14 External links
14.1 Religious and spiritual prospects for immortality
14.2 In literature
Main article: Anti-aging movement
Life extension technologies promise a path to complete rejuvenation.
Cryonics holds out the hope that the dead can be revived in the
future, following sufficient medical advancements. While, as shown
with creatures such as hydra and planarian worms, it is indeed
possible for a creature to be biologically immortal, it is not known
if it is possible for humans.
Mind uploading is the transference of brain states from a human brain
to an alternative medium providing similar functionality. Assuming the
process to be possible and repeatable, this would provide immortality
to the computation of the original brain, as predicted by futurists
such as Ray Kurzweil.
See also: Soul
The belief in an afterlife is a fundamental tenet of most religions,
including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Christianity,
Zoroastrianism, Islam, Judaism, and the Bahá'í Faith; however, the
concept of an immortal soul is not. The "soul" itself has different
meanings and is not used in the same way in different religions and
different denominations of a religion. For example, various branches
Christianity have disagreeing views on the soul's immortality and
its relation to the body.
Main article: Alchemy
Elixir of life
Elixir of life and Philosopher's stone
Physical immortality is a state of life that allows a person to avoid
death and maintain conscious thought. It can mean the unending
existence of a person from a physical source other than organic life,
such as a computer. Active pursuit of physical immortality can either
be based on scientific trends, such as cryonics, digital immortality,
breakthroughs in rejuvenation or predictions of an impending
technological singularity, or because of a spiritual belief, such as
those held by Rastafarians or Rebirthers.
Causes of death
Main article: Death
There are three main causes of death: aging, disease and physical
trauma. Such issues can be resolved with the solutions provided in
research to any end providing such alternate theories at present that
Aubrey de Grey, a leading researcher in the field, defines aging as
"a collection of cumulative changes to the molecular and cellular
structure of an adult organism, which result in essential metabolic
processes, but which also, once they progress far enough, increasingly
disrupt metabolism, resulting in pathology and death." The current
causes of aging in humans are cell loss (without replacement), DNA
damage, oncogenic nuclear mutations and epimutations, cell senescence,
mitochondrial mutations, lysosomal aggregates, extracellular
aggregates, random extracellular cross-linking, immune system decline,
and endocrine changes. Eliminating aging would require finding a
solution to each of these causes, a program de Grey calls engineered
negligible senescence. There is also a huge body of knowledge
indicating that change is characterized by the loss of molecular
Disease is theoretically surmountable via technology. In short, it is
an abnormal condition affecting the body of an organism, something the
body shouldn't typically have to deal with its natural make up.
Human understanding of genetics is leading to cures and treatments for
a myriad of previously incurable diseases. The mechanisms by which
other diseases do damage are becoming better understood. Sophisticated
methods of detecting diseases early are being developed. Preventative
medicine is becoming better understood. Neurodegenerative diseases
like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's may soon be curable with the use of
stem cells. Breakthroughs in cell biology and telomere research are
leading to treatments for cancer. Vaccines are being researched for
AIDS and tuberculosis. Genes associated with type 1 diabetes and
certain types of cancer have been discovered, allowing for new
therapies to be developed. Artificial devices attached directly to the
nervous system may restore sight to the blind. Drugs are being
developed to treat a myriad of other diseases and ailments.
Physical trauma would remain as a threat to perpetual physical life,
as an otherwise immortal person would still be subject to unforeseen
accidents or catastrophes. The speed and quality of paramedic response
remains a determining factor in surviving severe trauma. A body
that could automatically repair itself from severe trauma, such as
speculated uses for nanotechnology, would mitigate this factor. Being
the seat of consciousness, the brain cannot be risked to trauma if a
continuous physical life is to be maintained. This aversion to trauma
risk to the brain would naturally result in significant behavioral
changes that would render physical immortality undesirable for some
Organisms otherwise unaffected by these causes of death would still
face the problem of obtaining sustenance (whether from currently
available agricultural processes or from hypothetical future
technological processes) in the face of changing availability of
suitable resources as environmental conditions change. After avoiding
aging, disease, and trauma, you could still starve to death.
If there is no limitation on the degree of gradual mitigation of risk
then it is possible that the cumulative probability of death over an
infinite horizon is less than certainty, even when the risk of fatal
trauma in any finite period is greater than zero. Mathematically, this
is an aspect of achieving "actuarial escape velocity"
Human chromosomes (grey) capped by telomeres (white)
Main article: Biological immortality
Biological immortality is an absence of aging. Specifically it's the
absence of a sustained increase in rate of mortality as a function of
chronological age. A cell or organism that does not experience aging,
or ceases to age at some point, is biologically immortal.
Biologists have chosen the word immortal to designate cells that are
not limited by the Hayflick limit, where cells no longer divide
DNA damage or shortened telomeres. The first and still most
widely used immortal cell line is HeLa, developed from cells taken
from the malignant cervical tumor of
Henrietta Lacks without her
consent in 1951. Prior to the 1961 work of Leonard Hayflick, there was
the erroneous belief fostered by
Alexis Carrel that all normal somatic
cells are immortal. By preventing cells from reaching senescence one
can achieve biological immortality; telomeres, a "cap" at the end of
DNA, are thought to be the cause of cell aging. Every time a cell
divides the telomere becomes a bit shorter; when it is finally worn
down, the cell is unable to split and dies.
Telomerase is an enzyme
which rebuilds the telomeres in stem cells and cancer cells, allowing
them to replicate an infinite number of times. No definitive work
has yet demonstrated that telomerase can be used in human somatic
cells to prevent healthy tissues from aging. On the other hand,
scientists hope to be able to grow organs with the help of stem cells,
allowing organ transplants without the risk of rejection, another step
in extending human life expectancy. These technologies are the subject
of ongoing research, and are not yet realized.
Biologically immortal species
See also: List of long-living organisms
Life defined as biologically immortal is still susceptible to causes
of death besides aging, including disease and trauma, as defined
above. Notable immortal species include:
Bacteria reproduce through binary fission. A parent
bacterium splits itself into two identical daughter cells which
eventually then split themselves in half. This process repeats, thus
making the bacterium essentially immortal. A 2005 PLoS Biology
paper suggests that after each division the daughter cells can be
identified as the older and the younger, and the older is slightly
smaller, weaker, and more likely to die than the younger.
Turritopsis dohrnii, a jellyfish (phylum Cnidaria, class Hydrozoa,
order Anthoathecata), after becoming a sexually mature adult, can
transform itself back into a polyp using the cell conversion process
Turritopsis dohrnii repeats this cycle,
meaning that it may have an indefinite lifespan. Its immortal
adaptation has allowed it to spread from its original habitat in the
Caribbean to "all over the world".
Hydra is a genus belonging to the phylum Cnidaria, the class Hydrozoa
and the order Anthomedusae. They are simple fresh-water predatory
animals possessing radial symmetry.
Bristlecone pines are speculated to be potentially immortal;[citation
needed] the oldest known living specimen is over 5,000 years old.
Evolution of aging
Evolution of aging
As the existence of biologically immortal species demonstrates, there
is no thermodynamic necessity for senescence: a defining feature of
life is that it takes in free energy from the environment and unloads
its entropy as waste. Living systems can even build themselves up from
seed, and routinely repair themselves.
Aging is therefore presumed to
be a byproduct of evolution, but why mortality should be selected for
remains a subject of research and debate.
Programmed cell death
Programmed cell death and
the telomere "end replication problem" are found even in the earliest
and simplest of organisms. This may be a tradeoff between
selecting for cancer and selecting for aging.
Modern theories on the evolution of aging include the following:
Mutation accumulation is a theory formulated by
Peter Medawar in 1952
to explain how evolution would select for aging. Essentially, aging is
never selected against, as organisms have offspring before the mortal
mutations surface in an individual.
Antagonistic pleiotropy is a theory proposed as an alternative by
George C. Williams, a critic of Medawar, in 1957. In antagonistic
pleiotropy, genes carry effects that are both beneficial and
detrimental. In essence this refers to genes that offer benefits early
in life, but exact a cost later on, i.e. decline and death.
The disposable soma theory was proposed in 1977 by Thomas Kirkwood,
which states that an individual body must allocate energy for
metabolism, reproduction, and maintenance, and must compromise when
there is food scarcity. Compromise in allocating energy to the repair
function is what causes the body gradually to deteriorate with age,
according to Kirkwood.
Prospects for human biological immortality
There are some known naturally occurring and artificially produced
chemicals that may increase the lifetime or life-expectancy of a
person or organism, such as resveratrol.
Some scientists believe that boosting the amount or proportion of
telomerase in the body, a naturally forming enzyme that helps maintain
the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes, could prevent cells
from dying and so may ultimately lead to extended, healthier
lifespans. A team of researchers at the Spanish National
(Madrid) tested the hypothesis on mice. It was found that those mice
which were genetically engineered to produce 10 times the normal
levels of telomerase lived 50% longer than normal mice.
In normal circumstances, without the presence of telomerase, if a cell
divides repeatedly, at some point all the progeny will reach their
Hayflick limit. With the presence of telomerase, each dividing cell
can replace the lost bit of DNA, and any single cell can then divide
unbounded. While this unbounded growth property has excited many
researchers, caution is warranted in exploiting this property, as
exactly this same unbounded growth is a crucial step in enabling
cancerous growth. If an organism can replicate its body cells faster,
then it would theoretically stop aging.
Embryonic stem cells
Embryonic stem cells express telomerase, which allows them to divide
repeatedly and form the individual. In adults, telomerase is highly
expressed in cells that need to divide regularly (e.g., in the immune
system), whereas most somatic cells express it only at very low levels
in a cell-cycle dependent manner.
Technological immortality, biological machines, and "swallowing the
Main article: Transhumanism
Technological immortality is the prospect for much longer life spans
made possible by scientific advances in a variety of fields:
nanotechnology, emergency room procedures, genetics, biological
engineering, regenerative medicine, microbiology, and others.
Contemporary life spans in the advanced industrial societies are
already markedly longer than those of the past because of better
nutrition, availability of health care, standard of living and
bio-medical scientific advances. Technological immortality predicts
further progress for the same reasons over the near term. An important
aspect of current scientific thinking about immortality is that some
combination of human cloning, cryonics or nanotechnology will play an
essential role in extreme life extension. Robert Freitas, a
nanorobotics theorist, suggests tiny medical nanorobots could be
created to go through human bloodstreams, find dangerous things like
cancer cells and bacteria, and destroy them. Freitas anticipates
that gene-therapies and nanotechnology will eventually make the human
body effectively self-sustainable and capable of living indefinitely
in empty space, short of severe brain trauma. This supports the theory
that we will be able to continually create biological or synthetic
replacement parts to replace damaged or dying ones.
Future advances in
nanomedicine could give rise to life extension through the repair of
many processes thought to be responsible for aging. K. Eric Drexler,
one of the founders of nanotechnology, postulated cell repair devices,
including ones operating within cells and utilizing as yet
hypothetical biological machines, in his 1986 book Engines of
Creation. Raymond Kurzweil, a futurist and transhumanist, stated in
The Singularity Is Near
The Singularity Is Near that he believes that advanced
medical nanorobotics could completely remedy the effects of aging by
2030. According to Richard Feynman, it was his former graduate
student and collaborator
Albert Hibbs who originally suggested to him
(circa 1959) the idea of a medical use for Feynman's theoretical
micromachines (see nanobiotechnology). Hibbs suggested that certain
repair machines might one day be reduced in size to the point that it
would, in theory, be possible to (as Feynman put it) "swallow the
doctor". The idea was incorporated into Feynman's 1959 essay There's
Plenty of Room at the Bottom.
Main article: Cryonics
Cryonics, the practice of preserving organisms (either intact
specimens or only their brains) for possible future revival by storing
them at cryogenic temperatures where metabolism and decay are almost
completely stopped, can be used to 'pause' for those who believe that
life extension technologies will not develop sufficiently within their
lifetime. Ideally, cryonics would allow clinically dead people to be
brought back in the future after cures to the patients' diseases have
been discovered and aging is reversible. Modern cryonics procedures
use a process called vitrification which creates a glass-like state
rather than freezing as the body is brought to low temperatures. This
process reduces the risk of ice crystals damaging the cell-structure,
which would be especially detrimental to cell structures in the brain,
as their minute adjustment evokes the individual's mind.
Main article: Mind uploading
One idea that has been advanced involves uploading an individual's
habits and memories via direct mind-computer interface. The
individual's memory may be loaded to a computer or to a new organic
Extropian futurists like Moravec and Kurzweil have proposed
that, thanks to exponentially growing computing power, it will someday
be possible to upload human consciousness onto a computer system, and
exist indefinitely in a virtual environment. This could be
accomplished via advanced cybernetics, where computer hardware would
initially be installed in the brain to help sort memory or accelerate
thought processes. Components would be added gradually until the
person's entire brain functions were handled by artificial devices,
avoiding sharp transitions that would lead to issues of identity, thus
running the risk of the person to be declared dead and thus not be a
legitimate owner of his or her property. After this point, the human
body could be treated as an optional accessory and the program
implementing the person could be transferred to any sufficiently
powerful computer. Another possible mechanism for mind upload is to
perform a detailed scan of an individual's original, organic brain and
simulate the entire structure in a computer. What level of detail such
scans and simulations would need to achieve to emulate awareness, and
whether the scanning process would destroy the brain, is still to be
determined. Whatever the route to mind upload, persons in this
state could then be considered essentially immortal, short of loss or
traumatic destruction of the machines that maintained
Main article: Cyborg
Transforming a human into a cyborg can include brain implants or
extracting a human processing unit and placing it in a robotic
life-support system. Even replacing biological organs with robotic
ones could increase life span (e.g. pace makers) and depending on the
definition, many technological upgrades to the body, like genetic
modifications or the addition of nanobots would qualify an individual
as a cyborg. Some people believe that such modifications would make
one impervious to aging and disease and theoretically immortal unless
killed or destroyed.
Joseph Wright of Derby, The Alchymist, In Search of the Philosopher's
Another approach, developed by biogerontologist Marios Kyriazis, holds
that human biological immortality is an inevitable consequence of
evolution. As the natural tendency is to create progressively more
complex structures, there will be a time (Kyriazis claims this
time is now), when evolution of a more complex human brain will be
faster via a process of developmental singularity rather than
through Darwinian evolution. In other words, the evolution of the
human brain as we know it will cease and there will be no need for
individuals to procreate and then die. Instead, a new type of
development will take over, in the same individual who will have to
live for many centuries in order for the development to take place.
This intellectual development will be facilitated by technology such
as synthetic biology, artificial intelligence and a technological
Afterlife and Soul
As late as 1952, the editorial staff of the
Syntopicon found in their
compilation of the Great Books of the Western World, that "The
philosophical issue concerning immortality cannot be separated from
issues concerning the existence and nature of man's soul." Thus,
the vast majority of speculation regarding immortality before the 21st
century was regarding the nature of the afterlife.
Ancient Greek religion
Immortality in ancient Greek religion originally always included an
eternal union of body and soul as can be seen in Homer, Hesiod, and
various other ancient texts. The soul was considered to have an
eternal existence in Hades, but without the body the soul was
considered dead. Although almost everybody had nothing to look forward
to but an eternal existence as a disembodied dead soul, a number of
men and women were considered to have gained physical immortality and
been brought to live forever in either Elysium, the Islands of the
Blessed, heaven, the ocean or literally right under the ground. Among
these were Amphiaraus, Ganymede, Ino, Iphigenia, Menelaus, Peleus, and
a great part of those who fought in the Trojan and Theban wars. Some
were considered to have died and been resurrected before they achieved
Asclepius was killed by Zeus only to be
resurrected and transformed into a major deity. In some versions of
the Trojan War myth, Achilles, after being killed, was snatched from
his funeral pyre by his divine mother Thetis, resurrected, and brought
to an immortal existence in either Leuce, the Elysian plains, or the
Islands of the Blessed. Memnon, who was killed by Achilles, seems to
have received a similar fate. Alcmene, Castor, Heracles, and
Melicertes were also among the figures sometimes considered to have
been resurrected to physical immortality. According to Herodotus'
Histories, the 7th century BC sage
Aristeas of Proconnesus was first
found dead, after which his body disappeared from a locked room. Later
he was found not only to have been resurrected but to have gained
The philosophical idea of an immortal soul was a belief first
appearing with either Pherecydes or the Orphics, and most importantly
Plato and his followers. This, however, never became the
general norm in Hellenistic thought. As may be witnessed even into the
Christian era, not least by the complaints of various philosophers
over popular beliefs, many or perhaps most traditional Greeks
maintained the conviction that certain individuals were resurrected
from the dead and made physically immortal and that others could only
look forward to an existence as disembodied and dead, though
everlasting, souls. The parallel between these traditional beliefs and
the later resurrection of
Jesus was not lost on the early Christians,
Justin Martyr argued: "when we say ...
Jesus Christ, our
teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into
heaven, we propose nothing different from what you believe regarding
those whom you consider sons of Zeus." (1 Apol. 21).
The goal of
Arhatship and Nirvana. By contrast, the goal
Mahayana is Buddhahood.
According to one
Tibetan Buddhist teaching, Dzogchen, individuals can
transform the physical body into an immortal body of light called the
Main articles: Eternal life (Christianity), Christian conditionalism,
and Christian mortalism
Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve condemned to mortality. Hans Holbein the Younger, Danse
Macabre, 16th century
Christian theology holds that
Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve lost physical immortality
for themselves and all their descendants in the Fall of Man, although
this initial "imperishability of the bodily frame of man" was "a
preternatural condition". Christians who profess the Nicene Creed
believe that every dead person (whether they believed in Christ or
not) will be resurrected from the dead at the
Second Coming, and this
belief is known as Universal resurrection.
N.T. Wright, a theologian and former Bishop of Durham, has said many
people forget the physical aspect of what
Jesus promised. He told
Time: "Jesus' resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that
he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the
resurrection of all the dead, who will 'awake', be embodied and
participate in the renewal. Wright says John Polkinghorne, a physicist
and a priest, has put it this way: '
God will download our software
onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the
software again for ourselves.' That gets to two things nicely: that
the period after death (the Intermediate state) is a period when we
are in God's presence but not active in our own bodies, and also that
the more important transformation will be when we are again embodied
and administering Christ's kingdom." This kingdom will consist of
Heaven and Earth "joined together in a new creation", he said.
See also: Chiranjivi
Representation of a soul undergoing punarjanma. Illustration from
Hinduism Today, 2004
Hindus believe in an immortal soul which is reincarnated after death.
According to Hinduism, people repeat a process of life, death, and
rebirth in a cycle called samsara. If they live their life well, their
karma improves and their station in the next life will be higher, and
conversely lower if they live their life poorly. After many life times
of perfecting its karma, the soul is freed from the cycle and lives in
perpetual bliss. There is no place of eternal torment in Hinduism,
although if a soul consistently lives very evil lives, it could work
its way down to the very bottom of the cycle.
There are explicit renderings in the Upanishads alluding to a
physically immortal state brought about by purification, and
sublimation of the 5 elements that make up the body. For example, in
Upanishad (Chapter 2, Verse 12), it is stated "When
earth, water fire, air and akasa arise, that is to say, when the five
attributes of the elements, mentioned in the books on yoga, become
manifest then the yogi's body becomes purified by the fire of yoga and
he is free from illness, old age and death." This phenomenon is
possible when the soul reaches enlightenment while the body and mind
are still intact, an extreme rarity, and can only be achieved upon the
highest most dedication, meditation and consciousness.[citation
Another view of immortality is traced to the Vedic tradition by the
interpretation of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi:
That man indeed whom these (contacts)
do not disturb, who is even-minded in
pleasure and pain, steadfast, he is fit
for immortality, O best of men.
To Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the verse means, "Once a man has become
established in the understanding of the permanent reality of life, his
mind rises above the influence of pleasure and pain. Such an
unshakable man passes beyond the influence of death and in the
permanent phase of life: he attains eternal life ... A man
established in the understanding of the unlimited abundance of
absolute existence is naturally free from existence of the relative
order. This is what gives him the status of immortal life."
An Indian Tamil saint known as
Vallalar claimed to have achieved
immortality before disappearing forever from a locked room in
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The traditional concept of an immaterial and immortal soul distinct
from the body was not found in
Judaism before the Babylonian Exile,
but developed as a result of interaction with Persian and Hellenistic
philosophies. Accordingly, the Hebrew word nephesh, although
translated as "soul" in some older English Bibles, actually has a
meaning closer to "living being".
rendered in the
Septuagint as ψυχή (psūchê), the Greek word for
The only Hebrew word traditionally translated "soul" (nephesh) in
English language Bibles refers to a living, breathing conscious body,
rather than to an immortal soul. In the New Testament, the Greek
word traditionally translated "soul" (ψυχή) has substantially the
same meaning as the Hebrew, without reference to an immortal soul.
‘Soul’ may refer to the whole person, the self: ‘three thousand
souls’ were converted in Acts 2:41 (see Acts 3:23).
Hebrew Bible speaks about
Sheol (שאול), originally a synonym
of the grave-the repository of the dead or the cessation of existence
until the Resurrection. This doctrine of resurrection is mentioned
explicitly only in Daniel 12:1–4 although it may be implied in
several other texts. New theories arose concerning
Sheol during the
The views about immortality in
Judaism is perhaps best exemplified by
the various references to this in
Second Temple Period. The concept of
resurrection of the physical body is found in 2 Maccabees, according
to which it will happen through recreation of the flesh.
Resurrection of the dead also appears in detail in the extra-canonical
books of Enoch, and in Apocalypse of Baruch. According to the
British scholar in ancient
Judaism Philip R. Davies, there is
“little or no clear reference … either to immortality or to
resurrection from the dead” in the
Dead Sea scrolls
Dead Sea scrolls texts. Both
Josephus and the New Testament record that the
Sadducees did not
believe in an afterlife, but the sources vary on the beliefs of
the Pharisees. The New Testament claims that the
Pharisees believed in
the resurrection, but does not specify whether this included the flesh
or not. According to Josephus, who himself was a Pharisee, the
Pharisees held that only the soul was immortal and the souls of good
people will be reincarnated and “pass into other bodies,” while
“the souls of the wicked will suffer eternal punishment.” 
Jubilees seems to refer to the resurrection of the soul only, or to a
more general idea of an immortal soul.
Judaism claims that the righteous dead will be resurrected in
Messianic age with the coming of the messiah. They will then be
granted immortality in a perfect world. The wicked dead, on the other
hand, will not be resurrected at all. This is not the only Jewish
belief about the afterlife. The
Tanakh is not specific about the
afterlife, so there are wide differences in views and explanations
among believers.
See also: Chinese alchemy, Taoism and death, and Xian (Taoism)
It is repeatedly stated in
Lüshi Chunqiu that death is
Henri Maspero noted that many scholarly works frame
Taoism as a school of thought focused on the quest for
immortality. Isabelle Robinet asserts that Taoism is better
understood as a way of life than as a religion, and that its adherents
do not approach or view Taoism the way non-Taoist historians have
done. In the Tractate of Actions and their Retributions, a
traditional teaching, spiritual immortality can be rewarded to people
who do a certain amount of good deeds and live a simple, pure life. A
list of good deeds and sins are tallied to determine whether or not a
mortal is worthy. Spiritual immortality in this definition allows the
soul to leave the earthly realms of afterlife and go to pure realms in
the Taoist cosmology.
Zoroastrians believe that on the fourth day after death, the human
soul leaves the body and the body remains as an empty shell. Souls
would go to either heaven or hell; these concepts of the afterlife in
Zoroastrianism may have influenced Abrahamic religions. The Persian
word for "immortal" is associated with the month "Amurdad", meaning
"deathless" in Persian, in the
Iranian calendar (near the end of
July). The month of Amurdad or
Ameretat is celebrated in Persian
culture as ancient Persians believed the "Angel of Immortality" won
over the "Angel of Death" in this month.
Philosophical Arguments for the
Immortality of the Soul
Alcmaeon of Croton
Alcmaeon of Croton
Alcmaeon of Croton argued that the soul is continuously and
ceaselessly in motion. The exact form of his argument is unclear, but
it appears to have influenced Plato, Aristotle, and other later
Phaedo advances four arguments for the soul's immortality: The
Cyclical Argument, or Opposites Argument explains that Forms are
eternal and unchanging, and as the soul always brings life, then it
must not die, and is necessarily "imperishable". As the body is mortal
and is subject to physical death, the soul must be its indestructible
Plato then suggests the analogy of fire and cold. If the
form of cold is imperishable, and fire, its opposite, was within close
proximity, it would have to withdraw intact as does the soul during
death. This could be likened to the idea of the opposite charges of
The Theory of Recollection explains that we possess some non-empirical
knowledge (e.g. The Form of Equality) at birth, implying the soul
existed before birth to carry that knowledge. Another account of the
theory is found in Plato's Meno, although in that case Socrates
implies anamnesis (previous knowledge of everything) whereas he is not
so bold in Phaedo.
The Affinity Argument, explains that invisible, immortal, and
incorporeal things are different from visible, mortal, and corporeal
things. Our soul is of the former, while our body is of the latter, so
when our bodies die and decay, our soul will continue to live.
The Argument from Form of Life, or The Final Argument explains that
the Forms, incorporeal and static entities, are the cause of all
things in the world, and all things participate in Forms. For example,
beautiful things participate in the Form of Beauty; the number four
participates in the Form of the Even, etc. The soul, by its very
nature, participates in the Form of Life, which means the soul can
Plotinus offers a version of the argument that Kant calls "The
Achilles of Rationalist Psychology".
Plotinus first argues that the
soul is simple, then notes that a simple being cannot decompose. Many
subsequent philosophers have argued both that the soul is simple and
that it must be immortal. The tradition arguably culminates with Moses
Metochites argues that part of the soul's nature is to move itself,
but that a given movement will cease only if what causes the movement
is separated from the thing moved – an impossibility if they are one
and the same.
Avicenna argued for the distinctness of the soul and the body, and the
incorruptibility of the former.
The full argument for the immortality of the soul and Aquinas'
elaboration of Aristotelian theory is found in Question 75 of the
First Part of the Summa Theologica.
Descartes endorses the claim that the soul is simple, and also that
this entails that it cannot decompose.
Descartes does not address the
possibility that the soul might suddenly disappear.
In early work, Leibniz endorses a version of the argument from the
simplicity of the soul to its immortality, but like his predecessors,
he does not address the possibility that the soul might suddenly
disappear. In his monadology he advances a sophisticated novel
argument for the immortality of monads.
Phaedon is a defense of the simplicity and
immortality of the soul. It is a series of three dialogues, revisiting
the Platonic dialogue Phaedo, in which
Socrates argues for the
immortality of the soul, in preparation for his own death. Many
philosophers, including Plotinus, Descartes, and Leibniz, argue that
the soul is simple, and that because simples cannot decompose they
must be immortal. In the Phaedon, Mendelssohn addresses gaps in
earlier versions of this argument (an argument that Kant calls the
Achilles of Rationalist Psychology). The
Phaedon contains an original
argument for the simplicity of the soul, and also an original argument
that simples cannot suddenly disappear. It contains further original
arguments that the soul must retain its rational capacities as long as
Ethics of immortality
Life extension – Ethics and politics of life extension
The possibility of clinical immortality raises a host of medical,
philosophical, and religious issues and ethical questions. These
include persistent vegetative states, the nature of personality over
time, technology to mimic or copy the mind or its processes, social
and economic disparities created by longevity, and survival of the
heat death of the universe.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the first literary works, is primarily a
quest of a hero seeking to become immortal.
Undesirability of Immortality
Physical immortality has also been imagined as a form of eternal
torment, as in Mary Shelley's short story "The Mortal Immortal", the
protagonist of which witnesses everyone he cares about dying around
Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges explored the idea that life gets its meaning
from death in the short story "The Immortal"; an entire society having
achieved immortality, they found time becoming infinite, and so found
no motivation for any action. In his book "Thursday's Fictions", and
the stage and film adaptations of it,
Richard James Allen tells the
story of a woman named Thursday who tries to cheat the cycle of
reincarnation to get a form of eternal life. At the end of this
fantastical tale, her son, Wednesday, who has witnessed the havoc his
mother's quest has caused, forgoes the opportunity for immortality
when it is offered to him. Likewise, the novel Tuck Everlasting
depicts immortality as "falling off the wheel of life" and is viewed
as a curse as opposed to a blessing. In the anime Casshern Sins
humanity achieves immortality due to advances in medical technology,
however the inability of the human race to die causes Luna, a
Messianic figure, to come forth and offer normal lifespans because she
had believed that without death, humans could not live. Ultimately,
Casshern takes up the cause of death for humanity when Luna begins to
restore humanity's immortality. In Anne Rice's book series "The
Vampire Chronicles", vampires are portrayed as immortal and ageless,
but their inability to cope with the changes in the world around them
means that few vampires live for much more than a century, and those
who do often view their changeless form as a curse.
In his book Death, Yale philosopher
Shelly Kagan argues that any form
of human immortality would be undesirable. Kagan’s argument takes
the form of a dilemma. Either our characters remain essentially the
same in an immortal afterlife, or they do not. If our characters
remain basically the same—that is, if we retain more or less the
desires, interests, and goals that we have now—then eventually, over
an infinite stretch of time, we will get bored and find eternal life
unbearably tedious. If, on the other hand, our characters are
radically changed—e.g., by
God periodically erasing our memories or
giving us rat-like brains that never tire of certain simple
pleasures—then such a person would be too different from our current
self for us to care much what happens to them. Either way, Kagan
argues, immortality is unattractive. The best outcome, Kagan argues,
would be for humans to live as long as they desired and then to accept
death gratefully as rescuing us from the unbearable tedium of
Sociology of Immortality
If human beings were to achieve immortality, there would most likely
be a change in the worlds' social structures. Sociologist argue that
human beings' awareness of their own mortality shapes their behavior
 With the advancements in medical technology in extending human
life, there may need to be serious considerations made about future
social structures. We are already experiencing a global demographic
shift of increasingly ageing populations with lower replacement
rates. The social changes that are made to accommodate this new
population shift may offer valuable insight on the possibility of an
Although some scientists state that radical life extension, delaying
and stopping aging are achievable, there are no international or
national programs focused on stopping aging or on radical life
extension. In 2012 in Russia, and then in the United States, Israel
and the Netherlands, pro-immortality political parties were launched.
They aimed to provide political support to anti-aging and radical life
extension research and technologies and at the same time transition to
the next step, radical life extension, life without aging, and
finally, immortality and aim to make possible access to such
technologies to most currently living people.
There are numerous symbols representing immortality. The ankh is an
Egyptian symbol of life that holds connotations of immortality when
depicted in the hands of the gods and pharaohs, who were seen as
having control over the journey of life. The
Möbius strip in the
shape of a trefoil knot is another symbol of immortality. Most
symbolic representations of infinity or the life cycle are often used
to represent immortality depending on the context they are placed in.
Other examples include the Ouroboros, the Chinese fungus of longevity,
the ten kanji, the phoenix, the peacock in Christianity, and the
colors amaranth (in Western culture) and peach (in Chinese culture).
Immortality in fiction
Immortality is a popular subject in fiction, as it explores humanity's
deep-seated fears and comprehension of its own mortality. Immortal
beings and species abound in fiction, especially fantasy fiction, and
the meaning of "immortal" tends to vary.
Some fictional beings are completely immortal (or very nearly so) in
that they are immune to death by injury, disease and age. Sometimes
such powerful immortals can only be killed by each other, as is the
case with the Q from the
Star Trek series. Even if something can't be
killed, a common plot device involves putting an immortal being into a
slumber or limbo, as is done with
Morgoth in J. R. R. Tolkien's The
Silmarillion and the Dreaming
God of Pathways Into Darkness.
Storytellers often make it a point to give weaknesses to even the most
indestructible of beings. For instance,
Superman is supposed to be
invulnerable, yet his enemies were able to exploit his now-infamous
weakness: Kryptonite. (See also Achilles' heel.)
Many fictitious species are said to be immortal if they cannot die of
old age, even though they can be killed through other means, such as
injury. Modern fantasy elves often exhibit this form of immortality.
Other creatures, such as vampires and the immortals in the film
Highlander, can only die from beheading. The classic and stereotypical
vampire is typically slain by one of several very specific means,
including a silver bullet (or piercing with other silver weapons), a
stake through the heart (perhaps made of consecrated wood), or by
exposing them to sunlight.
Crown of Immortality
Dyson's eternal intelligence
DNA strand hypothesis
List of people claimed to be immortal in myth and legend
Methuselah Mouse Prize
Tipler's Omega Point
Queen Mother of the West
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