Life Extension, Meaning and Spiritual Experience
In the now classic “Why Immortality Is Not So Bad,” John Martin Fischer appeals to spiritual experience to support the desirability of radically extended life, remarking that “surely, the deep and resonant rewards of spiritual and religious experience would not somehow become wooden or etiolated, if part of an endless life.” Fischer speaks of this in passing, in an effort to build his overall case that there are indefinitely repeatable pleasures such as “the pleasures of sex, of eating fine meals and drinking fine wines, of listening to beautiful music, of seeing great art, and so forth.” Adding spiritual experiences to the list presumably helps to infuse his depiction of an immortal life with more depth. But there may be a fatal flaw in this appeal to spiritual experience, if the meaning of spiritual experiences involves the resignation of ego. Such experiences themselves can certainly be very rewarding and life affirming, opening one’s spirit to wonder, awe, vitality, peace, sacrality, fostering a greater connection with self, others, and the world. But one does not become authentically oriented to spiritual experience as an aesthete does to pleasure. Even while it grounds, enlivens, and invigorates, spiritual experience can also gradually erode the appetite for one’s own existence, which would help to explain how intense devotion to spirituality can be coupled with an ego-nihilistic cosmic pessimism like the Buddha’s. Yet at no point is this loss of existential motivation a clear indictment of life’s meaningfulness – it’s only a lessening of interest in oneself brought on by spirituality.
Drew Chastain received his Ph.D. from Tulane University and has published a number of articles on spirituality and meaning in life, some forthcoming, appearing in journals such as The Journal of the Philosophy of Life, Sophia, Philosophia, Ethical Perspectives and Overheard in Seville, and also in The Philosophy of Spirituality: Analytic, Continental and Multicultural Approaches and Deep Space Nine: Essays. His work explores what it means to be spiritual but not religious and also how to better understand the subjective, experiential aspect of meaning in life.