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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Russian Philosopher Who Sought Immortality in the Cosmos | Atlas Obscura

Photo: Addison Nugent
To create the Kingdom of Heaven, simply reanimate the space-strewn molecules of your ancestors, argues Addison Nugent, Literature, occult, and Victorian technology enthusiast.

The Pashkov House which housed Russia’s first public museum, the Rumyantsev Museum, in the 19th century c. 1890-1905.
Photo: Public Domain

The elderly librarian was a staple at the Rumyantsev Museum and public library in pre-Revolutionary Moscow. With a long white beard growing from his weathered face, he looked almost as old as the ancient artworks and tomes that he shuffled about each day. He was a quiet, humble, and deeply pious man who spoke softly. His demeanor was so unobtrusive that he appeared to seamlessly blend into the Rumyantsev’s austere neoclassical architecture. But like the books he dedicated his life to tending, this man was a silent wealth of knowledge, full of groundbreaking ideas that would influence scientists, philosophers, and writers for years to come.

This librarian’s name was Nikolai Fedorov. He lived from 1829 to 1903 and was one of the most ambitious and quietly influential thinkers in Russian history. His philosophy, which is classified today as “Russian cosmism,” explores ideas of space travel and scientifically-engineered immortality through the lens of Christian mysticism. Though his writings were repressed by Stalin in the 1930s, Federov was highly influential to the Russian space program. One of his students was the astrophysicist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who is widely considered to be the father of spaceflight for the groundbreaking equations he developed.

Federov was the illegitimate child of a prince and a noblewoman. Fedorov, his mother, and his siblings were forced out of his family home after his father’s death when Nikolai was only four. In spite of this embarrassment, the family remained relatively wealthy. In 1868, he became the librarian at the Rumyantsev Museum, the first public museum and library in Russia, where he worked for 25 years. It was during this period that he became the teacher and mentor of Tsiolkovsky. His works were compiled and published posthumously in 1903 under the name The Philosophy of the Common Task. Fedorov never copyrighted his works and insisted that they should be available to the public free of charge.

Fedorov’s insistence that his philosophy be highly accessible to all perhaps owed to the fact that it proposed nothing short of a new phase of human evolution. As a devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church, Fedorov was dismayed by what he saw as a rampant lack of love and compassion amongst human beings. While good will towards man is a familiar and central tenet of Christianity, Fedorov found its focus only on the living to be exclusionary. His proposed cures for the lack of love he saw between the living and the dead were ambitious to say the least: immortality and resurrection.

Using science, art, and technology, Fedorov believed that humanity’s primary goal should be to create the Kingdom of Heaven...

...who were able to save Fedorov’s writings, which finally emerged from Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Transhumanism’s revisitation of Fedorov’s work poetically speaks to his philosophy, mentally reviving him from the dead through a camaraderie that crosses several lifetimes.