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  1. West Across the Pacific: American Involvement in East Asia from 1898 to the Vietnam War.
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Paul Wilson is via a parasitic alien that drops on the protagonist in a cave and alters his body so it will not die. The Healer is able to cure people with a laying on of hands that seems straight out of the Bible, but has strayed out of the realm of the supernatural and into that of parasite biology. Parasites can do a lot to their hosts and usually it is unpleasant.

But while occupying a body, it does not want to be eaten by anything but its next host. There is one that occupies a snail, for example, and causes it to grow a more protective shell. It is not a stretch to imagine extended life resulting from parasitism because there is biological reasoning behind it. I do this myself in The Skinner whereby humans are transformed into tough immortals by a virus imparted by the bite of a leech.

Those humans become an undying reusable food source for the leeches, which makes sense in the utterly pragmatic and ruthless natural world. A further biological twist arises in Protector by Larry Niven. We were never meant to die because we are of another race, the Pak, but missing an essential food item that switches us to a stage of immortal existence. All the negative characteristics of aging are in fact the failure of a breeder one of us to turn into the super strong and intelligent fighting machine that is a Protector: the toughening skin, enlarged joints, loss of our teeth, dietary changes.

This book follows a biological logic with a large injection of imagination. The story itself concerns the journey of a Pak to a lost colony of breeders and what ensues when he arrives. That colony is Earth and we are those breeders. Finally, we have the contemporary Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. Like computer programs we can be recorded to cortical stacks planted in our skulls. I could have chosen any of a number of books including my own to illustrate this but I selected Altered Carbon simply because it is a honking good read and a blast.

Interestingly, even here, ideas of Heaven and Hell arise.

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It is everywhere and limitless and will survive forever. As an example, following the atomic bomb explosions in Japan in the trees appeared dead, but in the springtime, the cherry blossoms came back, reflecting the ability of nature to regenerate. In a sense, we participate in eternity through our appreciation and understanding of the persistent life and death cycles of nature. Expressions of the first three of the four symbolic immortality domains were evident in Life Tape interviews we conducted.

Participants in the Legacy Project appreciated the psychological and emotional value of symbolic immortality, which helped promote their feelings of their continuity with the future by identifying their ties to the family, and through their biologic, religious, spiritual and creative acts in art, science or benevolent support.

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Focusing on the ideas of symbolic immortality helps many participants deal with death by reducing their anxiety about their death, as well as promoting their feeling of well- being and appreciation of their life. It also promotes better interfamily relationships through improved communication and emotional support, and decreased isolation and anxiety. In addition, participants can have a better sense of self-worth and improved understanding of their life experience.

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And, finally, it also promotes dignity and closure, helping support palliative care, if needed, for a better quality of life at the end of life. Symbolic Immortality: Thoughts About the Future.

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The yearning for immortality dates back at least to ancient times.

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As human brain size increased rapidly over the past million years, our ancestors began to think increasingly about the inevitability of death and the redemptive possibility of everlasting life. Ancient pharaohs, queens, and kings used every means to ensure their vestigial persistence through future ages. They had themselves enshrined in legends, songs, and poems; they had their remains preserved in vast pyramids. Part of the reason for that yearning may lie in the fact that people already live so long and with such self-awareness.

Our species is distinctive in its ability to remember and to predict future events based upon past experience. Before the invention of writing, and even afterward, reliable predictions required the presence of memories in a living person.

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People well past their reproductive years could add value to their tribe by remembering early warning signs of rare phenomena, such as drought, locusts, and disease. In modern times our learning extends even further. It includes postdoctoral studies and on-the-job training that may continue well into our 60s.

Like our ancient predecessors, we enshrine the most important bits of our collective knowledge, only in more sophisticated embodiments: scientific publications, books, music, video, websites. Nevertheless, when people die, their wisdom—the memories and mental processes that produced that knowledge—dies too.


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  • Throughout history, death was associated with assaults, sickness, and privation. Now an increasingly common cause of death is aging. As the wealth of nations increases and exposure to toxins and infectious agents drops, aging will become the cause of most disease, debility, and death.

    Symbolic Immortality: Thoughts About the Future

    At the same time, many more people will remain active beyond the age of So, beyond the fear of death, there are practical reasons to explore extending our healthy years. Scientists have much to learn from the longest-lived humans, many of whom will have their DNA sequenced in the next two years. We can scour the best of the biosphere for ideas.