On Not Dying

Secular Immortality in the Age of Technoscience

2020
Author:

Abou Farman

On Not Dying

An ethnographic exploration of technoscientific immortality

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 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.

If Bruno Latour once argued that we have never been modern, then Abou Farman shows convincingly that we have also never, really, been secular. On Not Dying challenges we secularists to recognize that distinctions between mind and matter, ghost and machine, religion and science have only ever been provisional grounds for a secular world that is increasingly in question.

David Valentine, University of Minnesota

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?
On Not Dying

Abou Farman is assistant professor of anthropology at the New School for Social Research.

On Not Dying

If Bruno Latour once argued that we have never been modern, then Abou Farman shows convincingly that we have also never, really, been secular. On Not Dying challenges we secularists to recognize that distinctions between mind and matter, ghost and machine, religion and science have only ever been provisional grounds for a secular world that is increasingly in question.

David Valentine, University of Minnesota

For atheists, death is the end of the human being, but for religious believers, there is an afterlife in another world. Abou Farman describes the ambition of secular immortalists as abolitioning death (assumed to be an intrinsic fact of life) through means of technoscience. In this brilliant study of the cryonics movement, Farman has taken the anthropology of science in a highly original and mind-widening direction.

Talal Asad, Graduate Center, City University of New York

On Not Dying

Contents

Preface: Realm of the Possible

Acknowledgments

Introduction: The Problems of Discontinuity and Indeterminacy in a Secular World

1. After Life: Varieties of Immortality in the Secular World

2. Immortalism: The History of a Futuristic Movement

3. Suspension: Stretching Time between the Finite and the Infinite

4. Deanimation: Matter, Materialism, and Personhood beyond Death

5. Convergence: Secular Solipsism and the Mind of the Cosmos

6. Progress and Despair: The Perverse Dialectics of Immortality as Techno-Civilizing Mission

Notes

Bibliography

Index