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An undying belief in cheating death

david wilson

Immortality has a long literary history — from the Greek gods to Dracula to those thoroughly modern undying icons, the vampires of the Twilight series. Most of us understand the idea of immortality in the context of fiction, but in his new book journalist Adam Leith Gollner spends time with people for whom death is, at most, an irritating way station along the road to reanimation.

One of the dispatches that make up Gollner’s “The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever” recounts the author’s visit to a cryonics facility — sadly for Boston fans, not the same one that currently stores the remains of Red Sox great Ted Williams. At Detroit’s Cryonics Institute, Gollner says, the method is to freeze the entire bodies, after which they are suspended head-down in a fiberglass canister in groups of six. Death is not part of the discussion, Gollner says. “They’re not referred to as corpses. They’re referred to as patients.”

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Gollner, who spoke with the Globe by phone from Canada, where he lives, says that although the cryonics folks seem almost quaint compared with those who believe in a future populated by immortal human cyborgs, all of the people he talked to “take it very seriously.”

The idea of living forever, no matter how thoroughly debunked by legitimate science (which is, he points out, working hard to solve the mysteries of aging — though not mortality), is so persistent, Gollner believes, because it’s so human. “What we all have in common is this real inability to understand death,” Gollner says. “And we need to tell stories to make sense of it.”

While the stories religions tell may be different, the author points out, “even at the cryonics institute I felt like, ‘Oh, this is their belief system. This is what makes the world make sense to them.’ ”

Gollner reads at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at GrandTen Distilling, 383 Dorchester Ave., South Boston. Tickets are $20, and may be purchased at www.mos.org or at the Museum of Science.

Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.

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