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The One Drive: Immortality, Part 1

I’m a big fan of inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is where you begin with specific observations, try to detect common patterns and irregularities in those observations, and explore theories until you can come up with an all-encompassing general theory that can explain said patterns and irregularities. This is sometimes informally called the “bottoms up” approach, and the following illustration shows why.
Inductive Reasoning

Inductive Reasoning

One example of inductive reasoning is this post I did, where I came to the conclusion that all the problems that plague people invariably fall into the categories of either a deficiency in vision or a deficiency in discipline.

Another example is this post where I talk about how all of our motivations and actions boil down to trying to satisfy two drives, the for survival and the drive to reproduce. Survival and reproduction directly and indirectly explain our motivations for doing just about everything we’re driven to do. I was satisfied with this for a while, but something felt incomplete about this analysis, and it gnawed at me. I felt the analysis could be taken one step further to create a single, broad umbrella category, one all-encompassing drive of which the drives to survive and reproduce were just subcategories.

And then it hit me: immortality. The drives to survive and reproduce are subcategories of the drive for immortality. Everything we do, including the drives to survive and reproduce, is to satisfy our drive for immortality.

The beauty of the broader Immortality Model is that it helps explain some aspects of human nature that don’t neatly fit into the survival and reproduction catergories, such as the need for religion and the drive to be famous. Religion offers immortality in the form of an afterlife. Fame offers immortality in the form of having your name and image and exploits live on long after your physical body expires. This is why all the logic and reasoning in the world will never be able to eliminate organized religion from humanity. It’s humanity’s last ditch-effort to achieve immortality, especially the closer one gets to the expiration of their physical body as they age.

The Immortality Drive plays itself out through three urges: (1) the urge to achieve literal immortality by extending your physical life and its impact on the world as much as you can, (2) the urge to distract yourself from thinking about the fact you are physically going to die and may not have a spiritual afterlife or reincarnation awaiting you, and (3) the urge to ensure figurative immortality after physical expiration through religion or fame.

People usually exercise these three urges as follows:

(1) distracting themselves from thinking about the inevitable reality of physical death with the possibility of no afterlife while

(2) maximizing their physical impact on the world by trying to keep their bodies alive as long as possible while spreading their genes into the next generation and chasing status, power and fame, all to ensure that their name and genes survive their physical expiration, and finally

(3) engaging in some sort of religious belief to hedge their bets just in case and to give themselves hope that spiritual immortality actually is achievable or becoming so famous that your name and reputation continue to live even after you’re long gone from the physical plane.

An excess of one urge in a person or society though can lead to a deficit of the other urges, or vice versa. For example, secular and athiestic people and societies have little to no faith in the existence of immortality through an afterlife or reincarnation, so instead they channel all their energy into the urge to distract themselves from death with no afterlife, often through excessive hedonism, substance abuse or chasing as much power, status, sex and fame as they can during their lifetimes. Since religion is a lie and this physical life is all they have, they need to maximize it. At the other end of the spectrum, the extremely religious are so confident of the existence of an afterlife that they don’t feel the same need to engage in hedonism, substance abuse and materialism as others. For these people, there is no possibility of no afterlife, so these distractions are unnecessary.

Look at suicide bombers to see this dynamic taken to even scarier extremes. Suicide bombers have so satisfied the immortality drive through religion and are so sure that a spiritual afterlife is achievable that they are able to totally disregard the first urge of physical self-preservation and largely disregard the second urge of status-seeking.

To Be Continued…

19 Responses to “The One Drive: Immortality, Part 1”

  1. Brilliant!

    As a question, though, where does that leave us if things like the Methuselah project actually begin to bear fruit?

  2. T.

    I assume you are already aware of this, but the Buddhist understanding is similar. Is this simply a coincidence or have you done some study of Buddhist psychological theory?


  3. Awaiting part 2.

  4. It’s coming.

  5. Laikastes – I’m not very well acquainted with Buddhist beliefs. Feel free to elaborate.

  6. KennyC – Good question. Honestly, no idea. I need to learn more about the Methuselah project, but I assume it’s a life-extending initiative?

  7. T – Nothing to disagree with here; your reasoning is sound as always. Question: What can we do with this knowledge? Also, I’m interested in the most useful books you’ve read on human nature, not counting Robert Greene. I know you’ve posted reading lists in the past. If you want to just link those, I’ll be grateful.

  8. I spent some time over the weekend thinking about what you wrote. Specifically, I was looking for a counter-example. Your theory is pretty good, I had a hard time finding one.

    How do you explain altruism? Obviously not the Bill-Gates or Warren-Buffet kind, because they’re looking for fame, rather nameless charity. Anything from an anonymous donation to some cancer research team to dropping a fiver in a homeless guy’s cap.

  9. random passerby on December 21st, 2008 at 5:39 AM

    I fully expect to die without ever achieving anything that anyone would care about after I’m gone, I have no desire to reproduce and whether or not there is an afterlife is of no consequence to me. Your immortality theory probably doesn’t explain my life.

  10. some individuals’ drive for status or fame nearly equals the suicide bombers’ urge for immortality.

    at one point (i can’t recall the particulars of the study), a large sample of olympic hopefuls was asked whether they would become the world champion of their sport in exchange for the loss of their life at age 35, a question to which the huge majority of those polled responded in the affirmative.

    the study was meant to be a veiled (and overly melodramatic) proxy for the athletes’ willingness to use performance-enhancing drugs with completely unknown side effects.


    secular and athiestic people and societies have little to no faith in the existence of immortality through an afterlife or reincarnation, so instead they channel all their energy into the urge to distract themselves from death with no afterlife, often through excessive hedonism, substance abuse or chasing as much power, status, sex and fame as they can during their lifetimes.

    you’re ignoring some extremely influential confounding variables.

    specifically, while i agree that an individual’s “urge to distract [him/herself] … through excessive hedonism … or chasing … power, status, sex, and fame” is doubtless fomented by a society that itself encourages such primitive instincts, we would be remiss to forget that those instincts are … primitive. they are present in abundance in the psyche of any normal human – a fact that you’ve adumbrated numerous times on this very blog – and it would be foolish to ignore their influence.

    indeed, those instincts are regulated more by innate limiting factors, such as an individual’s looks, game, wealth, build, social status, intelligence, and the like, than by society per se.

    for instance, extremely religious societies generally forbid the sort of hedonism you’ve described. most of those societies’ members will toe the line, living austere lives without cavil, but only because they are not good-looking, wealthy, intelligent, socially adept, or high-status enough to do otherwise without great effort and peril.

    show me a society in which the great majority refrains from hedonism of any sort, and i’ll show you a society in which the ?lites do exactly the opposite.
    to argue that the strictures of society can actually snuff out hedonistic desires, especially in those individuals best equipped to realize those desires, would be akin to arguing that a sufficient degree of feminism will cause men to start finding ball-busting career women more attractive than young nubiles.

  11. Altruism creates immortality through the memory of you that the person you helped will carry on with them long after you die. They tell their kids, friends, etc. Maybe you get a plaque on a wall somewhere, a statue, a scholarship named after you, and so on.

  12. T,
    Immortality seems a little dramatic — I prefer to use the word “relevant”. People want to matter, even if it’s something paltry or horrendous. No one wants to be irrelevant. Even a suicide bomber is relevant in their own way — the promise of an afterlife isnt enough, because s/he knows they can go there without blowing themself up. However, they know they will be exhaulted in their community and enshrined, etc, where before they were poor with no prospects in life. Hell, the internet is a nice method for people to maintain the delusion of relevance — myspace anyone?

    When I look at some of the weird things people do, looking at it in terms of an attempt to be relevant sometimes explains a lot.

  13. I’m going to make a post specifically about reading material. It’ll link to the older reading lists as well.

  14. random passerby – It affects different people to different degrees. But even just mere survival falls under the immortality theory. The fact that you are still alive today means you consciously and subconsciously try to avoid death every day. If you avoid oncoming cars when you cross the street, the immortality theory still applies to you.

  15. J5, what you are saying is true but it can still fit into the immortality theory. I believe that people settle for whatever form of immortality and distraction from death they can get. People who aren’t good looking, wealthy, intelligent, socially adept or high status enough to engage in hedonism tend to channel their immortality urges and distractions from death into different directions, like extra focus on religion and lots of time watching mind-numbing TV, one of the best death distractors around. Since elites have more options for exercising their immortality urges and distracting themselves from death, the elites as you point out will not settle for nonhedonistic ways satisfy their drives for immortality.

  16. Simply avoiding death doesn’t mean you’re trying to achieve immortality.

  17. T.
    I’m not a practicing Buddhist, but the Buddhist view of things tends to correspond pretty closely to my own perceptions. Any knowledgeable Buddhists out there should feel free to correct me if I misspeak below.

    In Christianity, one?s current personality is permanent, will survive death, and will exist eternally. This is basically what Christians understand by the word ?soul?.

    But Buddhism states that there is no ?soul? in the Christian sense. Buddhists state that there is some small, indestructible bit that survives death and gets reincarnated, but that bit does NOT include the ego-construct (personality). Instead, a new ego-construct is created at each rebirth. So, when the bit reincarnates, it forgets itself, so to speak, as well as its previous incarnations. The current ego-construct then sees itself as the thing that is or should be permanent.

    This obvious error leads to ?grasping? ? fleeing its own finiteness, the ego-construct seeks something to which it can attach itself in order to assure its continued existence, even though that is not truly possible. This leads to suffering, and thus, to the basic Buddhist statement that life is suffering. The process of meditation and enlightenment is the conscious, long-term effort to overcome this grasping and to ?wake up? the indestructible bit.

    This idea of grasping is what ties in with this post and the follow-up one as well. The ego-construct seeks some way to perpetuate its own existence through things such as religion, children, fame, wealth, or political power.

    One of my favorite writers, Ken Wilber, addresses this issue in one of his earlier books called ?The Atman Project?. He has refined some of his methodological approaches since this book came out, so those unfamiliar with Wilber shouldn?t use this as a general introduction to his work.


  18. T -

    This is revolutionary stuff.