The Immortality Project Awards New Essay Prizes

Philosophers from California and Connecticut honored for articles about the meaning of life, mind uploading

immortality project banner

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — The Immortality Project, a research project funded by the John Templeton Foundation at the University of California, Riverside, has awarded essay prizes to two philosophers whose writings were published in The New York Times.

Rivka Weinberg, associate professor of philosophy at Scripps College, was recognized for her essay about the meaning of life, “Why Life is Absurd: A Consideration of Time, Space, Relativity, Meaning, and Absurdity (Yep, All of It).” Susan Schneider, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, was honored for her essay about mind uploading and the 2013 movie “Her,” “The Philosophy of Her.

The $3,000 prizes are the sixth and seventh awarded by The Immortality Project. One goal of the project is to advance discussion of themes related to immortality 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 was awarded to scientists, theologians and philosophers conducting research related to immortality. A conference during which scholars funded by the project will present the results of their research is scheduled May 27-30, with a public forum planned on Friday, May 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Culver Center, 3824 Main St., in downtown Riverside.

Weinberg’s essay asserts that human life is absurd because it is too short relative to reasonable human purposes.  In contrast to our absurd relationship to time, our relationship to space is not absurd. We are adapted to our size and the space we have to live in relative to the space of the universe and relative to reasonable human purposes. Because the human lifespan is so short as to render human life absurd, human life is also meaningless because absurdity presents an obstacle to meaningfulness.

John Martin Fischer, principal investigator on The Immortality Project and distinguished professor of philosophy, said the project team “really liked how Weinberg developed the question of life’s absurdity, which can be traced back to Tolstoy and Nagel. She presents a new challenge to those who have argued that life would be meaningful if it were not absurd.”

Schneider’s essay uses the film “Her” as a springboard into the metaphysics of personal identity, arguing that even if cognitive science is correct that the brain is computational, humans cannot really upload their minds, transferring their consciousness to a computer. At best they will create computational copies of themselves, which may be conscious beings.

“Even though Schneider thinks that actual human minds can’t be uploaded, she concludes that uploading technology should continue to be explored,” Fischer explained. “It’s a novel essay that helps clarify a subject which is fast gaining steam, both in philosophy and in technology.”

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.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-7847
Twitter: bettyemiller

Archived under: Arts/Culture, Politics/Society, , , , ,

Top of Page