Two Reasons the Fear of Death is Universal
This question touches on one of the most fundamental issues that is addressed by anybody who thinks about mortality, the end of mortality.
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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The Russian-built FEDOR was launched on a mission to help ISS astronauts.
Most people think human extinction would be bad. These people aren't philosophers.
- A new opinion piece in The New York Times argues that humanity is so horrible to other forms of life that our extinction wouldn't be all that bad, morally speaking.
- The author, Dr. Todd May, is a philosopher who is known for advising the writers of The Good Place.
- The idea of human extinction is a big one, with lots of disagreement on its moral value.
Picking up where we left off a year ago, a conversation about the homeostatic imperative as it plays out in everything from bacteria to pharmaceutical companies—and how the marvelous apparatus of the human mind also gets us into all kinds of trouble.
- "Prior to nervous systems: no mind, no consciousness, no intention in the full sense of the term. After nervous systems, gradually we ascend to this possibility of having to this possibility of having minds, having consciousness, and having reasoning that allows us to arrive at some of these very interesting decisions."
- "We are fragile culturally and socially…but life is fragile to begin with. All that it takes is a little bit of bad luck in the management of those supports, and you're cooked…you can actually be cooked—with global warming!"