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.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

American education: It’s colleges, not college students, that are failing

Who is to blame for the U.S.'s dismal college graduation rate? "Radical" educator Dennis Littky has a hunch.

Percentage of college student dropouts by age at enrollment: 2-year and 4-year institutions

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • COVID-19 has magnified the challenges that underserved communities face with regard to higher education, such as widening social inequality and sky-high tuition.
  • At College Unbound, where I am president, we get to know students individually to understand what motivates them, so they can build a curriculum based on goals they want to achieve.
  • My teaching mantra: Everything is permitted during COVID-19. Everything is permitted during COVID-19. Everything is permitted during COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

The mystery of the Bermuda Triangle may finally be solved

Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.

Surprising Science

One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.

Keep reading Show less

LIVE AT 2 PM ET | Lead your team toward collaborative problem solving

What does it mean to "lead without authority"?

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

Keep reading Show less

Planet Nine will be discovered in the next decade. Here’s why.

The planet that we are searching for is a little bit smaller and closer than we originally thought.

Planet Nine will be discovered in the next decade. Here’s why. | ...
Videos
  • Years ago, California Institute of Technology professor Konstantin Batygin was inspired to embark on a journey of discovering what lurked beyond Neptune. What he and his collaborator discovered was a strange field of debris.
  • This field of debris exhibited a clustering of orbits, and something was keeping these orbits confined. The only plausible source would be the gravitational pull of an extra planet—Planet Nine.
  • While Planet Nine hasn't been found directly, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. And Batygin is confident we'll return to a nine-planet solar system within the next decade.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…