Illusions of Immortality

Chapter

Abstract

This essay argues that a special type of illusion is what explains the grip of the idea of immortality. Throughout one’s lifetime one is aware of being alive, and so it seems as if one is always alive, even when, at the moment of death, the door of life is closed. You think the light of life is always shining; i.e., that you are immortal. Yet this is to forget that it is living which turns on the light of life. From the fact that for as long as we are alive we are conscious of being so, it does not follow that there is a similar consciousness even when we are no longer alive. This essay looks at responses to the illusion of immortality in two thinkers widely separated in time and space: the fifth century Theravāda Buddhist philosopher, Buddhaghosa, and the twentieth century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. It discovers some profound and surprising affinities between these two thinkers, and suggests that each can be read in a way that helps to illuminate the thought of the other.

Keywords

Immortality Illusion Mental time travel Buddhaghosa Fernando Pessoa 

References

  1. Gethin, R. (2005). Bhavaṅga and rebirth according to the Abhidhamma. In P. Williams (Ed.), Buddhism: critical concepts in religious studies: Abhidharma and madhyamaka (Vol. IV, pp. 159–181). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Greyson, B. (1983). The near-death experience scale: Construction, reliability, and validity. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 171, 369–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Heidegger, M. (1996). Being and time (J. Stambaugh, Trans.). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  4. James, W. (1890). Principles of psychology. New York: Henry Holt.Google Scholar
  5. Jaynes, J. (1976). The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind. Mifflin: Houghton.Google Scholar
  6. Nagel, T. (1986). The view from nowhere. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Pessoa, F. (2001). The book of disquiet (Ed. and Trans. R. Zenith). London: Penguin. (First published in Portuguese as Livro do Desassossego, Assírio & Alvim, 1998.)Google Scholar
  8. Pm. = Paramattha-mañjūsā, Dhammapāla’s “Great Commentary” on Vism. See Vism. for details.Google Scholar
  9. Ring, K. (1980). Life at death: a scientific investigation of near-death experience. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan.Google Scholar
  10. Scheffler, S. (2013). In N. Kodolny (Ed.), Death and the after-life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Tulving, E. (1985). Memory and consciousness. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 26(1), 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Tulving, E. (1993). Varieties of consciousness and levels of awareness in memory. In A. Baddeley & L. Weiskrantz (Eds.), Attention: Selection, awareness, and control—A tribute to Donald Broadbent (pp. 283–299). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Tulving, E. (2005). Episodic memory and autonoesis: uniquely human? In H. S. Terrace & J. Metcalfe (Eds.), The missing link in cognition: Origins of self-reflective consciousness (pp. 3–56). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Vibh-a. (1996). The dispeller of delusion (Sammohavinodanī), 2 vols [Sammoha-vinodanī (Vibhaṅga[Vibh]-aṭṭhakathā)] (Ed. and Rev. L. S. Cousins, N. Mahāthera, and C. M. M. Shaw, Trans. B. Ñāṇamoli). Oxford: Pali Text Society.Google Scholar
  15. Vism. (1991). The path of purification: Visuddhimagga by Bhadantācariya Buddhaghosa [Visuddhi-magga], 5th ed. (B. Ñāṇamoli, Trans.). Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society.Google Scholar
  16. Weil, S. (1970). First and last notebooks (R. Rees, Trans.). London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Wheeler, M. A., Stuss, D. T., & Tulving, E. (1997). Toward a theory of episodic memory: The frontal lobes and autonoetic consciousness. Psychological Bulletin, 121(3), 331–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations