Why are we mortal

Only others are mortal

Scientists believe they have found the neural trick with which we can suppress the knowledge of our finitude so as not to panic

People know that they will or must die. This awareness of finitude should distinguish them from all other living beings, which also includes the fear of aging and dying and attempts to prolong life by all means and delay the end, but also to say goodbye to the dead on their last journey and to to bury.

If it is true that only people are aware of their finiteness, then the question arises why this run-up to death has only developed in a single way and what evolutionary "advantage" this could have, especially as the fear that arises from it can lead an intensive and productive life (carpe diam) in order to live on in the memory of others despite death, but can also lead to a blocking despression / melancholy.

Evolution theorists such as Danny Brower have speculated that evolution may have blocked the further development of self-awareness that is present in any form in mammals such as great apes, dolphins or elephants or even in birds. In other words, until a neural mechanism has developed at the same time, through which the knowledge of mortality in everyday life can be hidden or suppressed.

How can we fool ourselves?

The molecular medicine specialist Ajit Varki from the University of California commented in Nature that one could also use it to open the discussion about other humanly unique "universals" such as existential fear, theories about the afterlife, religiosity, the meaning of death rituals, panic attacks, suicide, risky behavior or link martyrdom. It is possible that other species would have already developed full self-awareness with the knowledge of death, but then would not have been unable to survive because of the extremely negative consequences: "Perhaps we should look for the mechanisms (or the loss of mechanisms) that make it possible for us to deceive ourselves and others about reality, even if we know that we and the others are capable of such deceptions and false beliefs. "

That sounds interesting, you would also be quick with the current desire to spread disinformation or fake news, to live in world view bubbles or the reality, e.g. B. to suppress the consequences of global warming or the risks of the arms race. But the fact is that we are of course mostly very successful, we can forget or repress the fact that we are mortal and the irreversible end can come at any time and, above all, will come with advancing age.

Now, Yair Dor-Ziderman and Avi Goldstein from Bar Ilan University and Arnaud Wisman from the University of Kent have found the neuronal mechanisms of death repression, as they report in NeuroImage. The neural trick for them is to ward off the thought that death has to do with you. If that happens, we would not trust it and would consider it fake news, at least as long as circumstances permit. It primarily only affects the others, why the confrontation with death, as one could deduce from it, happens above all about seeing it with others and indulging in death orgies, i.e. in games, in literature, in films, etc.

In order to confirm the hypothesis of the displacement mechanism, or rather the displacement mechanism, the brains of test subjects were scanned with MRI while they were looking at images of themselves or others on a screen with words above them. Half of the words were associated with death, such as "burial" or "burial". After that, the prospect of the future seems to have been shut down when combining words that refer to death with oneself through self-centered predictive processes, while this automatic predictive process remains when the words appear together with the face of a stranger.

When death is associated with one's own face, fear of death arises, which is blocked and the brain refuses to take notice, according to the scientists. This also works when words associated with death shape the perception of videos in which the subject's face is morphed with that of other people. Here death is actively associated with the other.

Dor Ziderman told the Guardian that we cannot rationally deny that we are dying, "but we tend to think that it affects other people." It is possible that the neural defense against death was balanced earlier by the ubiquity of death. Today, however, the fear of death is more pronounced because it is hardly seen in real life, the sick come to hospitals, the elderly to nursing homes. And when you learn less about the end of life, you may fear death more. Similar fear mechanisms are known when people are more afraid of foreigners where there are fewer than where they are commonplace (Florian Rötzer)

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