X-Message-Number: 11990
Date: Tue, 22 Jun 1999 16:09:25 -0700
From: Richard Gillmann <>
Subject: Ernest Becker "The Denial of Death" and Alan Harrington

Thanks to Thomas Donaldson for mentioning Alan Harrington.  I wasn't aware
of him before.

I read Alan Harrington's "The Immortalist" - the 1969 original edition that
I got from
the library, not the 1977 revised edition that apparently exists.  This Alan
Harrington was an interesting fellow.  He appears as the minor character
Hingham in the
middle of Jack Kerouac's famous novel "On The Road". He was one of original
of Timothy Leary's LSD experiments at Harvard in the 1960s.  He wrote
novels and
worked as a journalist and ad man.  There is an interesting tribute to him
that appeared
in the Tucson Weekly after his death.  The tribute is online at:


He is buried near Tucson, AZ and was not suspended.  I'm glad to have
learned about
him. I'll bet he would have been a great guy to have a drink with.  What
stories he
must have had!

I found The Immortalist to be a combination of immortalist manifesto,
journalism and
psychological theory.  The psychology part is what overlaps some of Ernest
book "The Denial of Death".  Harrington's views are mostly personal, though
he does
cite quite a few sources (people have been writing on this topic since the
I liked his "double entry bookkeeping" theory of personal honor and his
ideas in
general are interesting and presented in a witty fashion.  But he doesn't
what Becker does, namely to recast all of mainstream psychology in terms of
denial of
death.  The main parts of Becker's book, regarding Kierkegaard, Freud and
Rank, are
what interests me about his book, and these have no parallel in
Harrington's book.
(There is a little about Freud, but not much.)

The really puzzling thing about cryonics is why more people are not
interested in it.
We need a lot more people interested in cryonics to support research,
provide emergency
response teams everywhere and so on.  We need to understand how people are
in denial
about death, so that we can better understand how to persuade them to
support cyronics.
That's why I think Becker's book is important.  Becker does not promote or
even mention
cyronics as Harrington does, but his insights into death denial are much
Harrington's views are kind of flip, in effect dismissing those in denial
as fools.
Fools they may be, but dismissing them won't help - we need to persuade them.

Becker makes the point that we are all terribly vulnerable creatures.
Death could
strike at any time from a sudden heart attack, an auto accident, etc.
Anxiety about
death is something that each of us must learn to deal with from childhood
when we
first realize that we too are to die.  But here's the tricky part:  our
minds don't
have to solve the problem of death, they only have to solve the problem of
about death.  It reminds me of the joke about two hikers who are chased by a
bear in the woods.  One of the hikers says to the other "Stop - why are we
We can't outrun a bear."  The other replies "I don't have to outrun the
bear.  I only
have to outrun you!"

Robert Ettinger, in Chapter 10 of "Man Into Superman" spends a few pages
Harrington as a dilettante, summarizing him as "someone who enjoys mental
talking about the future with no intention of participating.  He shares, in
the end,
the common paralysis of will."  This seems to have been prescient.  IMHO
books about cryonics are still the best, even after so many years.  I'm
planning to
read Norman O. Brown's "Life Against Death" next, a source important to both
Harrington and Becker.

While I'm writing, let me say how much I enjoyed reading Robin Hanson's
about why cryonics isn't popular.  Medicine as a luxury good - yikes!
stuff.  I like the idea of viewing cryonics from the standpoint of economics.
We may learn something new.

And also let me give another link:


This is a form online (better than the Deathclock) which when filled out
will tell
you how long you can expect to live.  
Richard Gillmann                    http://www.nwlink.com/~rxg
Issaquah, WA (USA)                  

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