John Gray, The Immortalization Commission

Pouring are all too many good things to read online, so I’ve been just dumping them into Pocket when I see one and giving empty promises that I’ll take a look. But I do try read it all every time the New Statesman publishes John Gray’s write-ups. His contemplation has the power to penetrate the surface of what we usually see as being novel to reveal it is also a mere recurrence of things of the past.

It’s been already about five years since The Immortalization Commission came out. The belief that humankind can (and will be able to) extend its life to the level of immortality is way much older: for example, Ray Kurzweil published The Age of Spiritual Machines in 1999.

But it keeps coming back. While I was reading Yuval Harari’s interview as his new book Homo Deus is released in the US, I knew now it’s time to read The Immortalization Commission at last.

The book consist of three parts and, to my surprise, most of the Part I and II were redundant. Even a tenth of the both parts could have been enough to prop up what Gray’s going to say in Part III.

Fortunately the Part II, which describes Soviet Russians’ effort to achieve immortality and god-like quality by technology was much more interesting and enlightening than the Part I, which often left me confounded with too many details of Brits’ experiment on the spiritual communication with the dead.

Bolsheviks’ faith in technology that it will soon make the humankind become gods is now being echoed by the likes of Kurzweil today, with Harari being the latest interlocutor. Gray even points out, interestingly, Kurzweil’s belief that technology will make human consciousness become cosmic consciousness shares its basis with occultist thoughts like Theosophy and ancient Gnosticism.

Gray goes further to argue that there are in fact no difference in essence between science and magic/occultism/religion/myth:

Religion is not a primitive type of scientific theorizing, any more than science is a superior kind of belief-system. Just as rationalists have misunderstood myths as proto-versions of scientific theories, they have made the mistake of believing that scientific theories can be literally true. Both are systems of symbols, metaphors for a reality that cannot be rendered in literal terms. Every spiritual quest concludes in silence, and science also comes to a stop, if by another route.

Is this another post-modernist bullshit? But I sense a difference. While some of the so-called post-modernists attempted to dethrone the idea of one single truth or science, the motive of which is political by nature, Gray’s argument sounds religious to me. We have to realize and accept that there is a certain limit and all we can do, after all, is to contemplate, I think he meant.

Gray certainly learned a lot from the schools of mysticism as well as what we usually call humanities. Which makes him one of the greatest thinkers in our time, I dare to say.

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