The latest edition of Scientific American Mind has just arrived on the shelves and the online articles are one of the best selections I’ve seen in a very long time – with pieces on brain-computer interfaces, five ways in which brain scans mislead us, toddlers and their temper tantrums, the science of gossip, why we can’t imagine death and why metaphors are shaping the ‘war on terror’.
The article on the psychology of death is from the always interesting Jesse Bering and has been inspired by an evolutionary view of death concepts:
The common view of death as a great mystery usually is brushed aside as an emotionally fueled desire to believe that death isn‚Äôt the end of the road. And indeed, a prominent school of research in social psychology called terror management theory contends that afterlife beliefs, as well as less obvious beliefs, behaviors and attitudes, exist to assuage what would otherwise be crippling anxiety about the ego‚Äôs inexistence…
Yet a small number of researchers, including me, are increasingly arguing that the evolution of self-consciousness has posed a different kind of problem altogether. This position holds that our ancestors suffered the unshakable illusion that their minds were immortal, and it‚Äôs this hiccup of gross irrationality that we have unmistakably inherited from them. Individual human beings, by virtue of their evolved cognitive architecture, had trouble conceptualizing their own psychological inexistence from the start.
This is reflected in the many studies which have show that we reason what might be thought as rather oddly about death – we have a tendency to attribute mental states to dead people.
Even if you believe in an immortal soul, it is unlikely that the mind continues in any way which we could conceive, and yet we tend to implicitly assume that certain abilities and attributes continue after death.
The other freely available articles are also fantastic. It’s one of the best issues in ages, so well worth having a look at.
Link to October SciAmMind.