What explains the seemingly universal human fear of dying? It’s a mixture of two things, which could be separated.  One is we know that other people die. And when other people die, particularly people who have a close role in our lives, we experience it as a potentially final loss. And from that potentially final loss comes not only the experience of bereavement, but also the interest in the survival of death.  

Many people are interested in the possibility of the human mind or the human personality surviving death, not because they want to survive, but because they can’t endure the otherwise the final loss of loved ones. But the other side is that we’re afraid of dying because there may be an instinctual basis to it, something which evolution has given us.

Beyond that, death is the supreme form of transiency, that everything passes, that everything fades away and disappears and a part of all human beings wants to immortalize beautiful moments, wants to immortalize the meaning in their lives. And if death is final, if death is final oblivion, then that meaning disappears completely. And that I think can only be frightening because it’s the slide from meaning to, in a sense, the disappearance or even the absence of meaning.  So this question touches on one of the most fundamental issues that is addressed by anybody who thinks about mortality, the end of mortality.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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