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Accepted Paper:

The Fountain of Perpetual Youth is Within: The Metaphysical Origins of Contemporary Immortality Narratives  
Jeremy Cohen (McMaster University)

Paper short abstract:

The history of transhumanism is often situated in the computer sciences and science-fiction. I compare 19th and early 20th century metaphysical traditions to contemporary immortalist movements, revealing similar techno-scientific narratives and practices, including a telos of human perfectibility.

Paper long abstract:

The histories of transhumanism and adjacent techno-cultures are typically situated in the computer sciences and the realm of science-fiction. I argue that contemporary techno-cultural imaginaries reflect similar techno-scientific narratives and practices as those found within 19th and early 20th century Christian metaphysical traditions in North America and Europe. Scientific and technological progress in the 19th and early 20th centuries produced a telos of human progression towards godhood, while discoveries about the functioning of the brain, alongside growing societal reform movements and changing conceptions of the body and health, fuelled speculation about the inevitability of physical immortality. Christian tracts, New Thought health manuals, and physical culture magazines attest to the popularity of physical immortality within the metaphysical milieu. This genealogy of immortality focuses on shifting conceptions of the mind and body, the moral necessity of human progress, and the effects of new materialist foci. Combining ethnographic research and primary source analysis, I trace various continuities from metaphysical traditions, through to my research communities, and to the Silicon Valley start-ups focused on vitality and aging. While their future imaginaries are varied, movements of the past, present, and future are linked by the promissory discourses of techno-science, the desire for radically extended futures, and by narratives of potential and perfectibility.

Panel P30a
Becoming Gods: Techno-scientific and Other Deifications
  Session 1 Thursday 9 June, 2022, -