Death and the Magus



“Man is the only animal who knows he must die” is Aristotle’s famous statement about human mortality. Certainly without death in the organic world there could be no life. But with this fundamental belief comes a desperate irrational quest to avoid death through many forms of immortality. What drives this amazing human inability to face reality?


                                         Themes covered in this essay

Part One. Short survey of changing interpretations of immortality and the soul or mind.

Immortality in the Ancient World and in Polytheistic Societies. Jewish monotheism. The Axial Age as cultural evolution, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Zoroaster and universal religions. The immortal soul and St Paul’s revolutionary version of spiritual individualism. The transition in Europe during the Middle Ages to economically based bourgeois individualism. The separation of religion from Nature. Reductionist Science and materialistic egalitarianism. The Enlightenment rejection of the soul as a meaningful concept. The Goddess Reason. Rousseau, the General Will and the Peoples’ Mandate. The French Revolution and popular dictatorships. Darwin, genetic determinism and the final Death of God. Social Darwinism leading to International Capitalism and various forms of National Socialism. The Welfare-warfare State and the corruption of democracy. Computers and artificial intelligence to replace human creativity. The triumph of the irresponsible managers of the “Matrix”.

Part Two. Is human death inevitable in an evolving universe?

Believing in Nothing. Universal human desire to go beyond the world through belief in levitation, ascension, flying, (and space travel for men who believe they are soulless machines). Are universal dreams of flying built into the brain as some form of pre-adaptation? Fear of death may produce fantasy immortality such as living through offspring, and fame after death. Analogy with the chrysalis of an insect and the dragonfly’s ascent into the air. Shaw’s “Back to Methuselah”. The unsuccessful attempt to carry out my Imaginary Experiment of 1974.