Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Does it make sense to fear death?

From New Scientist:

Fear of death is inappropriate because death is certain. But what is not at all certain is when you are going to die. Perhaps, then, what we should be afraid of is not loss of life per se, but rather the possibility that we will die sooner rather than later.
Consider an analogy. Suppose you're at a party. It's great, and you wish you could stay, but this is taking place in high school, and your mother is going to call and tell you it's time to go home. Now, there's nothing bad about being at home; it's intrinsically neutral. You just wish you could stay at the party.
Suppose you know that the call is going to come at midnight, guaranteed. Then, I think, there isn't anything to be afraid of. But if all you know is that your mother is going to call some time between 11 pm and 1 am, the conditions for appropriate fear have been met. There is something bad, there is a non-negligible chance of it happening, and yet there is also a lack of certainty that it will happen. Now some degree of fear makes sense. Perhaps we have something similar with regard to death. Perhaps it makes sense to be afraid given the unpredictability of death.

As one grows older, the chance of dying within a given period increases. But even here, fear that one will die soon can easily be out of proportion. Even an 80-year-old has a more than 90 per cent chance of living at least another year.
Obviously, fear that death may come soon can make sense among the very sick or the very aged. But for the rest of us, I think, it is typically misplaced. - Shelly kagan, Yale University.

Read more.

SHOOT: It is worth considering that the idea of living forever is actually a lot worse.  Imagine being trapped in a jail cell and living forever.  Or stuck underwater in a shipwreck.  In this and many other sense, living forever would be a punishment. 

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