The Immortality Project Awards First Essay Prize

UC Riverside research project selects article focused on death as motivating influence in life

Immortality project bannerRIVERSIDE, Calif. — The Immortality Project, a research project funded by the John Templeton Foundation at the University of California, Riverside, has awarded its first essay prize to Stephen Cave for “Death: Why We Should Be Grateful For It.”

The essay, which argues that death can be a good thing, was published in the Oct. 17, 2012, issue of New Scientist. Cave is a writer based in Berlin, Germany, and the author of “Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization.”

Cave writes that the proponents of “terror management theory” contend that fear of death motivates most of what we do and believe, propelling us to major accomplishments in science and other intellectual arenas.

“He raises the question of whether we would have civilization at all without death,” explained John Fischer, distinguished professor of philosophy at UC Riverside and the director of The Immortality Project.  “He cites research suggesting that actively attending to one’s mortality can positively influence one’s attitudes and outlook.  His view that the existence of death may actually be a good thing in many respects raises interesting questions about the desirability of immortality.”

Conscious reminders of death lead people “to re-evaluate what really matters,” Cave writes. “The more we actively contemplate mortality, the more we reject socially imposed goals such as wealth or fame and focus instead on personal growth or the cultivation of positive relationships. Which suggests we do not yet think about death enough.”

The article will be available free online to registered readers of New Scientist until the end of August. Registration is free.

One goal of The Immortality Project is to advance discussion of the project themes in popular venues by offering essay prizes. The three-year project is funded by a $5 million grant the John Templeton Foundation awarded in 2012.  A majority of the grant will be awarded to scientists, theologians and philosophers conducting research related to immortality. Winners of the science funding competition will be announced by June 1.

The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. The foundation supports research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. It encourages civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers and theologians, and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights. The foundation’s vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton’s optimism about the possibility of acquiring “new spiritual information” and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship. The foundation’s motto, “How little we know, how eager to learn,” exemplifies its support for open-minded inquiry and its hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.

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