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The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death

Forum For European Philosophy Literary Festival lecture

During the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century science became the vehicle for an assault on death. The power of knowledge was summoned to free humans of their mortality. Science was used against science and became a channel for faith.

Science had disclosed a world in which humans were no different from other animals in facing final oblivion when they died and eventual extinction as a species. That was the message of Darwinism, not fully accepted even by Darwin himself. For nearly everyone it was an intolerable vision, and since most had given up religion they turned to science for escape from the world that science had revealed.

In Britain a powerful and well-connected movement sprang up aiming to find scientific evidence that human personality survived bodily death. Psychical researchers, supported by some of the leading figures of the day, believed immortality might be a demonstrable fact. At the same time that sections of the English elite were being drawn into psychical research another anti-death movement was emerging in Russia. As in England science and the paranormal were not separate, but mingled in a current of thought that aimed to create a substitute for religion.

Science and faith have interacted at many points. They came together in two revolts against death, each claiming that science could give humanity what religion had promised – immortal life.

John Gray is most recently the acclaimed author of Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, and Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals. Having been Professor of Politics at Oxford, Visiting Professor at Harvard and Yale and Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, he now writes full time. His selected writings, Gray’s Anatomy, were published by Penguin in 2009. The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death is published in February 2011.


Professor John Gray | talks
Dr Simon Glendinning | talks | www


Date and Time:

19 February 2011 at 5:00 pm


1 hour 30 minutes



Sheikh Zayed Theatre
New Academic Building
London School of Economics and Political Science

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Organised by:

London School of Economics & Political Science
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