An hour into my conversation with Peter Thiel the conversation turns, as it seems conversations with Thiel often do, to the question of death. 'Basically,' Thiel says earnestly, 'I'm against it.'
Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and was the first outside investor in Facebook, is probably the most successful – and certainly the most interesting – venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. He lists among his passions chess, the works of Tolkien and 'intellectual conversations with friends'. And what he calls 'the problem of death' is a topic that he returns to often. 'I think there are probably three main modes of approaching it,' he says. 'You can accept it, you can deny it or you can fight it. I think our society is dominated by people who are into denial or acceptance, and I prefer to fight it.'
The long history of mankind, I say, suggests this might be a losing battle.
'But I still think we should not go gently into that good night…'
Thiel is an amiable, softly spoken man who gives the impression of thinking out loud. Questions are frequently greeted with a series of 'ums… aahs… I think… let me put it this way…', beginning a thought, stopping, trying another, and then another, as if he is testing the best way to be as precise as he can possibly be.