Illusions of Immortality

  • Jonardon Ganeri


This essay argues that a special type of illusion is what explains the grip of the idea of immortality. Throughout one’s lifetime one is aware of being alive, and so it seems as if one is always alive, even when, at the moment of death, the door of life is closed. You think the light of life is always shining; i.e., that you are immortal. Yet this is to forget that it is living which turns on the light of life. From the fact that for as long as we are alive we are conscious of being so, it does not follow that there is a similar consciousness even when we are no longer alive. This essay looks at responses to the illusion of immortality in two thinkers widely separated in time and space: the fifth century Theravāda Buddhist philosopher, Buddhaghosa, and the twentieth century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. It discovers some profound and surprising affinities between these two thinkers, and suggests that each can be read in a way that helps to illuminate the thought of the other.


Immortality Illusion Mental time travel Buddhaghosa Fernando Pessoa 


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New YorkUSA

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