The Four Stories We Tell Ourselves About Death (YouTube)

This is a lucid TedTalk from philosopher Stephen Cave. He makes the case, albeit with TedTalk brevity, that humanity has developed many specific immortality stories based on four simple plotlines. Such stories are intended to mitigate our innate fears about death, by which people have always convinced themselves that death is not real or final. Since we can see thematic recurrences serving the same bias and human desires, it is reasonable to question the validity of any specific immortality story (i.e., Hindu, Christian, Modern, etc.). We believe such stories because we want them to be true, and not on the weight of the evidence that such stories actually are true. Historically, we have proven willing to believe pretty much anything that promises an escape hatch.

My thoughts: why do we regard faith as a virtue? Why do we condemn those that lack faith, or at least look on them as sad figures?

  1. There is no confirmable evidence that any immortality tale is true.
  2. Belief in immortality must be on faith.
  3. Those that murmur against faith are implicitly shouting that the death proposition is true.
  4. People do not want to be reminded, and they do not want to be awakened to their wishthinking. The point of faith is to forget. It is to forget our smallness and our mortality. And if faith is delegitimized, we will all have to remember.

Hence religion. So many immortality stories. So varied and creative and beautiful. So many beautiful lies, conceived in terror, and bourn by happy wishing. But lies, such as they are, prove damaging, of a squandering influence, and ultimately – entirely unnecessary.

Michael Seidel, writer

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