Stephen Cave talks about Immortality at the School of life

By Jo Phillips

Stephen Cave Poster by Atelier DeuxMille

The School of Life Sunday Sermon series has been up and running for a few years now. In a small, church-hall like building in Red Lion Square of Holborn, curious, healthy, un-hungover people gather to have their minds expanded on a Sunday morning. I’ve been a few times and I always come away energised and optimistic. The atmosphere is reliably friendly, alert and inclusive -the very apotheosis of civilisation.

According to Stephen Cave, such cultural flowerings are the result of a collective determination to prolong our lives. Civilisation itself, so his theory goes, has its origins in our desire to defeat death.

In his book ‘Immortality: the quest to live for ever and how it drives civilisation’ he outlines the four forms this impulse takes and how their expression has moulded our beliefs, bodies and cities.

1. Life extension through health and the pursuit of an immortal body. (Magical elixirs, better hygiene, improved food production and physical fitness)
2. The belief in bodily resurrection- of life being restored after death. (from Mummification up to Cryogenics)
3. A conviction that we all possess an undying, unchanging Soul that will be released by death ( held by the Theist religions, along with Hinduism, Buddhism and modern ill-defined ‘Spiritualism’)
4. The desire to leave a Legacy, whether that be in the form of offspring or monumental achievements for which one will be eternally remembered.

Cave argues that these concepts are behind human activities such as religion, medicine, agriculture, architecture and above all our relentless attempts to achieve technological domination over nature. Each in its own way has brought a mixture of good and bad, improving people’s material lives while often warping their psychologies. Despite the Utopianism that binds them together, none of these approaches has proved successful – as far as we know..

Were mankind to achieve this goal however, we would then face the issue of what to do with ourselves as eternity drags on.

In such a miraculous new world the meeting of like-minded individuals in a leafy square off Holborn will no doubt become increasingly popular as the aeons unfold.