Existential Psychology

“We all have an innate goal to not die. But this goal is destined to fail.
This is terrible news. It’s the ultimate goal, and yet it’s guaranteed to fail and there’s no way to disengage from it. We are fucked.
Culture provides us with ways of convincing ourselves that we can live forever (literally or symbolically). These are contingent on good behavior. So culture says “don’t worry, you’ll live forever, as long as you do X.” and we work hard to defend these beliefs. For example…
You’ll live forever if you do great things for society and live on in our collective memory
You’ll live forever if you connect to the sacred something-or-other
You’ll live forever if you have a family
[edit: you’ll live forever if you build successful cryonics or strong AI]
Appropriately, various cues in the environment have been empirically shown to remind us of mortality and to lead us to cling tighter to the above beliefs:
Other people with different worldviews are threatening (because they underscore the fact that one’s worldview isn’t the guaranteed single right answer for living forever)
Cues that remind us of the physicality of our bodies are threatening
bodily wastes
reproductive and child-raising bodily functions
these are disproportionately done by females, which is an explanation for why females are put on a pedestal and their delicacy and ethereal beauty is emphasized across cultures (i.e. to
Cues that remind us of the similarity between animals and ourselves are threatening
Cues that remind us of the wildness and danger of nature are threatening
The article describes the actual empirical research behind these claims. Things like “we subtly reminded people of their mortality in various ways, and they became more interested in punishing outgroups and controlling nature and the female body.” Or “we showed people pictures of a woman breastfeeding, and that made it easier for them to spontaneously access thoughts about death.”

Makes me wonder if radical life extension can solve climate change, sexism, and inter-group conflict all at the same time. Or whether rites of passage that acquaint us with death can also make us more comfortable with the wilder parts of life.” (Dan Greene)

article: “Experimental Existential Psychology Coping With the Facts of Life” (Tom Pyszczynski, Jeff Greenberg, Sander Koole, Sheldon Solomon)


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