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Thursday, 3 August 2017

Fear of death

Each day people die. Most of them, we have never known. We read it, move on, and have no emotions. Disasters, whether near or far, often feel different and generate empathy with the victims. People, whom we have known well, may stir up lots of emotions. Mourning may take years. Their death may bring fear of our own death, or at least question our life expectancy.

My blog of August 1 separates artificial (eg, race, religion) from genuine fears (air-earth-fire-water). I wondered if fear of death is artificial, genuine, or a mix of both.

A 1981 study, The Child and the Fear of Death, features the interesting (i) hypothesis "that the innate fear of death in the human being is universal" and (ii) conclusion: "and (3) that repression of the fear of death is an evolutionary process which has its origin in childhood." The word innate implies that something is present at birth but isn't necessarily passed on to future generations.

A 2007 study, Death Understanding and Fear of Death in Young Children, found that The earliest documentation of the fear of death has been found in children as young as age 5" (eg, Telegraph, Wiki). Clearly, death anxiety starts at the stage of human consciousness rather than awareness.

The separation between awareness and consciousness may explain why mourning is common amongst animals while fear of death is not. African elephants even have well-documented funeral rites (Wiki). Burial rites are also known to some ancient hominids (eg, NeanderthalHomo naledi).

The evolutionary sequence in Life seems to be: awareness (all), external curiosity (many animals, all humans), consciousness including self-awareness (certain animals, all humans), internal curiosity (humans), thinking (humans), beliefs (humans), and the 7 Belief systems (eg, Religion). Note: the above sequence is a slight adjustment to my 18 May 2017 blog.

Fear of death is likely as old als human consciousness. The behavioral modern humans only "arrived" some 40,000 to 50,000 years ago. Wiki: "Organized religion traces its roots to the neolithic revolution that began 11,000 years ago in the Near East." The ancient Sumerian religious beliefs date back to about 5,000 BC. Also see my 3 January 2017 blog.

Hence, it seems safe to say that the conscious human fear of death is older than Religion. Wiki: "Existential death anxiety is the basic knowledge and awareness that life must end. It is said that existential death anxiety directly correlates to language; that is, language has created the basis for this type of death anxiety through communicative and behavioral changes." Perhaps fear of death is artificial after all which also explains why not all people know this fear.

Blaise Pascal, a 17th century French philosopher, mathematician and physicist, had an intriguing gambling view, which is known as Pascal's Wager. Wiki: "Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas they stand to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell)."

“I'm not afraid of death; I just don't want to be there when it happens.” Quote by Woody Allen

Ashes to Ashes (1980) by David Bowie - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2