Thursday, October 30, 2008

We Can't Imagine Death

One of my favorite former professors sent me this article from Scientific American in which Jesse Bering discusses the phenomenon that most of us, atheists included, have a hard time not imagining our conscious minds going on after death.

Bering points out "you" will cease to exist after death. There will be no recognition of death. You won't know you have died.

To take a reference from pop-culture, if you believe the last episode of The Sopranos shows Tony Soprano's death, a visual representation of this idea might look something like this ...

But somehow, even though we know this in fact, many of us still imagine deceased beings with feelings, needs, wants, drives. There is a psychological disconnect; Bering seems to argue that it comes from culture and an idea he calls "person permanence," an notion that people we care about always exist in some way:

"And so person permanence may be the final cognitive hurdle that gets in the way of our effectively realizing the dead as they truly are—infinitely in situ, inanimate carbon residue. Instead it’s much more 'natural' to imagine them as existing in some vague, unobservable locale, very much living their dead lives.

It's a fascinating read.


dethmama said...

Great article! I gave this post a little shout out on my blog today.

Jessica Knapp said...

Thanks dethmama!

I thought it was a great article, too. Such interesting research.