Let’s talk about death | Stephen Cave | TEDxBratislava

Let’s talk about death | Stephen Cave | TEDxBratislava

Translator: Jenny Lam-Chowdhury
Reviewer: Filipe Malafaia Good evening ladies and gentlemen. So I have a question: who here remembers when they first
realised they were going to die? I do. I was a young boy and
my Grandfather had just died. and I remember, a few days later, lying in bed at night trying to make
sense of what had happened. What did it mean that he was dead? Where had he gone? It was like a hole in reality
had opened up and swallowed him. But then the really shocking question
occured to me, if he could die, could it happen to me to? Could that hole in reality
open up and swallow me? Would it open up beneath my bed
and swallow me as I slept? Well, at some point all children
become aware of death. It can happen in different ways, of course
and usually comes in stages. Our idea of death develops
as we grow older, And if you reach back into
the dark corners of your memory, you might remember something
like what I felt when my grandfather died and when I realized it could happen to me too. That sense that behind all of this,
the void is waiting. And this development in childhood reflects
the development of our species. Just as there was a point
in your development as a child, when you sense of self and of time
became sophisticated enough for you to realize you were mortal. So at some point
in the evolution of our species some early humans’ sense of self
and of time became sophisticated enough for them to become the first humans
to realize: “I’m going to die”. This is, if you like, our curse: it’s the price we pay
for being so damn clever. We have to live in the knowledge that the worst thing that can
possibly happen, one day surely will. The end of all our projects, our hopes,
our dreams, of our individual world. We each live in the shadow
of a personal apocalypse. And that’s frightening! It’s terrifying,
and so we look for a way out. And in my case,
as I was about five years old, this meant asking my Mum. Now when I first started asking,
“what happens when we die?”, the grown-ups around me at the time
answered with a typical English mix of awkwardness and
half-hearted christianity. And the phrase I heard most often
was that Grandad was now ‘up there looking down on us’. And if I should die too,
which wouldn’t happen of course, then I too would go up there. Which made death sound a lot
like an existential elevator. Now this didn’t sound very plausible. I used to watch a children’s
news programme at the time and this was the era
of space exploration. There were always rockets
going up into the sky, up into space, going ‘up there’. But none of the astronauts
when they came back ever mentioned having met my grandad. Or any other dead people.
But I was scared. And the idea of taking
the existential elevator to see my Grandad sounded a lot better than being swallowed
by the void while I slept. And so I believed it anyway,
even though it didn’t make much sense. And this thought process
that I went through as a child, and have been through many times
since including as a grown-up, is a product of what
psychologists call a ‘bias’. Now a bias is a way in which
we systematically get things wrong, ways in which we miscalculate,
misjudge, distort reality or see what we want to see. And the bias I am talking about
works like this: confront someone with the fact that
they are going to die and they will believe just about any story
that tells them it isn’t true and then can instead live for ever. Even if it means taking
the existential elevator. Now, we can see this
as the biggest bias of all. It has been demonstrated in over
400 empirical studies. Now these studies are ingenious but
they’re simple, they work like this: you take two groups of people who are
similar in all relevant respects and you remind one group that
they’re going to die but not the other; and then you compare their behaviour. So you’re observing how it biases behaviour when people become aware
of their mortality. And every time, you get the same result: people who are made aware
of their mortality are more willing to believe stories
that tell then that they came escape death and live forever. So here’s an example: one recent study
took two groups of agnostics, that is people who are undecided
in their religious beliefs. Now one group was asked
to think about being dead, the other group was asked
to think about being lonely. They were then again asked
about their religious beliefs: those who had been asked
to think about being dead were afterwards twice as likely
to express faith in God and Jesus. Twice as likely. Even though before they were
equally agnostic. But put the fear of death
in them and they run to Jesus. Now, this shows that reminding people
of death biases them to believe, regardless of the evidence. And it works not just for religion
but for any kind of belief system that promises immortality in some form, whether it’s becoming famous,
or having children, or even nationalism which promises you can live on
as part of a greater whole. This is a bias that has shaped
the course of human history. Now the theory behind this bias
in nearly 400 studies is called terror management theory.
And the idea is simple, it’s just this: we develop our world views, that is
the stories we tell ourselves about the world and our place in it, in order to help us manage
the terror of death. And these immortality stories have
thousands of different manifestations. But I believe that behind
the apparent diversity, there are actually just four basic forms that
these immortality stories can take. And we can see them repeating
themselves throughout history. Just with slight variations to reflect
the vocabulary of the day. Now I am going to briefly introduce
these four basic forms of immortality story and I want to try to give you some sense
of the way in which they’re retold by each culture or generation, using the vocabulary of their day. Now, the first story is the simplest:
we want to avoid death. And the dream of doing that in this body,
in this world, forever, is the first and simplest kind
of immortality story. And it might at first sound implausible, but actually almost every culture
in human history has had some myth or legend
of a elixir of life, or a fountain of youth or
something that promises to keep us going forever. Ancient Egypt had such myths,
ancient Babylon, ancient India, throughout European history,
we find them in the work of the alchemists and of course
we still believe this today. Only we tell this story using
the vocabulary of science. So a hundred years ago, hormones
had just been discovered, and people hoped that hormone treatments
were going to cure aging and disease. And now instead we set our hopes
on stem cells, genetic engineering and nanotechnology. But the idea that science can cure death is just one more chapter
in the story of the magical elixir, a story that is as old as civilization. But betting everything on the idea
of finding the elixir and staying alive forever
is a risky strategy. When we look back through history at all those who have sought
an elixir in the past, the one thing that they now have
in common is that they’re all dead. (Laughter) So we need a back up plan,
and exactly this type of plan B is what the second kind of
immortality story offers, and that’s resurrection. And it’s staged with the idea that
I am this body, I am this physical organism, it accepts that I am going to have to die, but says despite that, I can rise up
and I can live again. In other words, I can do what Jesus did. Jesus died, he was three days in the tomb
and he rose up and lived again. And the idea that we can all be resurrected
to live again is orthodox belief, not just for Christians
but also Jews and Muslims. But our desire to believe this story
is so deeply embedded that we are reinventing it again
for the scientific age. For example with the idea of cryonics. That’s the idea that when you die,
you can have yourself frozen, and then at some point
when technology is advanced enough, you can be thawed out and repaired
and revived and so ressurrected. So some people believe an omnipotent God
will ressurect them to live again and other people believe
an omnipotent scientist will do it. But for others, the whole idea
of ressurection, of climbing out of the grave,
is just too much like a bad zombie movie. They find the body too messy,
too unreliable to guarantee eternal life. And so they set their hopes on the third
more spiritual immortality story, the idea we can leave our body behind
and live on as a soul. Now the majority of people on Earth
believe they have a soul and the idea is central to many religions. But even though in its current form
and its traditional form, the idea of the soul is still hugely popular, nonetheless we are again reinventing it
for the digital age. For example, with the idea
that you can leave your body behind by uploading your mind, your essence,
the real you, onto a computer. and so live on as an avatar in the ether. But of course there are skeptics who say
if we look at the evidence of science, particularly neuroscience, it suggests
that your mind, your essence, the real you, is very much dependant
on a particular part of your body that is your brain. And such skeptics can find comfort
in the fourth kind of immortality story, and that is legacy. The idea that you can live on
through the echo you leave in the world. Like the great Greek warrior Achilies,
who sacrificed his life fighting at Troy so that he might win immortal fame. And the pursuit of fame is
as widespread and popular now as it ever was. And in our digital age,
it’s even easier to achieve. You don’t need to be a great warrior
like Achilies or a great king or hero, all you need is an internet connection
and a funny cat. (Laughter) But some people prefer to leave
a more tangible, biological legacy, children for example. Or they like, they hope, to live on
as part of some greater whole a nation, or family, or tribe,
their gene pool. But again there are skeptics, who doubt
whether legacy really is immortality. Woody Allen for example, who said, “I dont want to live on
in the hearts of my countrymen, I want to live on in my apartment”. (Laughter) And if you want to live on
in your apartment you need a elixir of course. Which was our first kind
of immortality story. So those are the four basic kinds
of immortality stories and I’ve tried to give just some sense
of how they’re retold by each generation, with just slight variations
to fit the fashions of the day. And the fact that they reccur in this way,
in such a similar form but in such different belief systems,
suggests I think that we should be skeptical of the truth of any particular version
of these stories. The fact that some people believe an omnipotent God
will ressurrect them to live again, and others believe
an omnipotent scientist will do it, suggests that neither are really believing
this on the strength of the evidence. Rather we believe these stories because
we are biased to believe them, and we are bias to believe them because
we are so afraid of death. So the question is, are we doomed
to lead the one life we have in a way that is shaped
by fear and denial? Or can we overcome this bias? Well the Greek philosopher Epicurus
thought we could. He argued that the fear of death
is natural but it is not rational. Death, he said, is nothing to us, because when we are here, death is not, and when death is here, we are gone. Now this is often quoted but it’s difficult
to really grasp, to really internalise, because exactly this idea of being gone
is so difficult to imagine. So two thousand years later
another philosopher, Ludovic Wittgenstein, put it like this: death is not an event in life, we do not live
to experience death. And so he added, in this sense
life has no end. So it was natural for me as a child
to fear being swallowed by the void, but it wasn’t rational, because
being swallowed by the void is not something that any of us
will ever live to experience. Now overcoming this bias is not easy because the fear of death is
so deeply embedded in us. Yet when we see that
the fear itself is not rational and when we bring out into the open the ways in which
it can unconsciously bias us, then we can at least start to try to minimize the influence
it has on our lives. Now, I find it helps to see life
as being like a book. Just as a book is bounded by its covers,
by beginning and end, so our lives are bounded
by birth and death. And even though a book
is limited by beginning and end, it can encompass distant landscapes,
exotic figures, fantastic adventures. And even though a book is limited
by beginning and end, the characters within it
know no horizons. They only know the moments
that make up their story, even when the book is closed. And so the characters of the book
are not afraid of reaching the last page. Long John Silver is not afraid of you
finishing your copy of Treasure Island. And so it should be with us. Imagine the book of your life, its covers, its beginning and end
are your birth and your death. You can only know
the moments in between, the moments that make up your life. It makes no sense for you to fear
what is outside of those covers, whether before your birth,
or after your death. And you needn’t worry
how long the book is, or whether it’s a comic strip or an epic. The only thing that matters is
that you make it a good story. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Let’s talk about death | Stephen Cave | TEDxBratislava

  1. "We do not live to experience death" Isn't this just a "biased" play on words to attempt to escape reality? I think I'll stay with my Creator 🙂

  2. Fear is useless, what is needed is trust. Trust in the Lord.     Love, forgive, and fear not.  Live, learn and love your life. It is a gift.

  3. Heb 9:27 And just as it is destined that each person dies only once and after that comes judgment,
    Heb 9:28 so also Christ died only once as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again but not to deal with our sins again. This time he will bring salvation to all those who are eagerly waiting for him.
    Joh 14:6 Jesus told him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

  4. This is a bad story told by an idiot full of unsound advice and BIAS!  He thinks he is without bias and all of humankind, with their visions of death and the afterlife, is surrounded by bias and untruth.  All that remains to be seen but there are good rational arguments for the afterlife if he took the time to understand his own biases.

  5. Rubbish…don't waste 5 minutes of your life listening to this closed minded atheist. ANYTHING else would be time well spent.

  6. I remember going to see my grandfather at the Hospital when he died.. .  . The only thing he said was : "My Mother is Here." .  …I looked around the room and couldn't see anybody.  . .. But she was there nevertheless made of just Two positive and negative electromagnetic Spherical Sine Wavefronts Compressing 3D Wave Centres of Energy +1=0 now -1 de-compressing Two Opposing Spiral Vortices in the form of electrical activity.. .  . Tap the side of a round bucket of water.  . ..Because everything is made of just Two Spherical Sine Wavefronts Compressing 3D Wave Centres of Energy +1=0 now -1 de-compressing Two Opposing Spiral Vortices.. .  .From Virtual Pair's of Plasma, to Gases, Liquid's, and Solid Fibonacci Fractals.. .  .Only difference is their 3D Wave Centres Time Dilating Rate of Vibration, or Volume now at the centre of their Own 3D centred ref-frames within the One Infinite Universe.. .  .Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me… (Albert Einstein.).  . ..Tap the side of a round bucket of water.  . ..Because what seems to be a conversion is the ratio between opposite vectors interpreted as distance and time, physical reality and spiritual reality , annihilation and creation, matter and antimatter, mass and energy, or interference and resonance within an abstract arrow of time, of Cnow=0's forming a Vortex in Space Time at the same rate that time flows.. .  .

  7. His closing argument about the fictional characters only experiencing the story that has been written reminds me of "stranger than fiction" ……oh wait will Ferrell gets resurrected in that 🤔

  8. He does not get all of it. It is not just about fear of death. All traditional societies have a way of teaching a pragmatic way of accepting death. There is a quest in human heart about the meaning of existence which drives us to explore an extended existence, which does not have anything to do with the fear of ones own death

  9. Did you actually say 'regardless of the evidence'? (lack thereof, insofar as there being a possible creator).
    One could likewise say that you're being 'biased' in light of the evidence which demonstrates that there could be a creator.
    Furthermore, it sounds as if you've never heard of quantum physics or any number of scientific discoveries.
    Because if you had, your theory
    is ridiculous. (This coming from a non-religious person by the way). You donot have to be religious
    or even spiritual for that matter, in order to see that science is so utterly FANTASTIC, that the only conclusion that one could possibly make, would be to acknowledge a mind behind the science
    -which is equally & utterly fantastic!
    (your logic is sorely lacking. forgive me, but I'm not surprised). And yet, I thank you for your opinion.

  10. "Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble."
    -Albert Einstein

  11. So as expected all sucks and people try, believe and do everything to try to avoid the undenieable fact that each of us will die. All we can do is surpress and deny the reality as hard as possible and build our castle in the air till the moment before death, when that castle will implode into absolutely nothing. It means the end of each story is given.
    So there is one conclusion left. We have to work in the most rational mathematical scientific way to create those elexirs of life. We haven't found them and all we can do is beeing in fear and pushing the possibilities of human age. Rationally the chances of beeing in that group will go up the longer we life. Also it will never protect us from death through pure randomness like an astroid. So lets fight death where we know it happens and push the boundaries. Maybe we can push life expectency faster further than we get old in the same time. Everything else is self-manipulation.

  12. There is a big difference between the hope that religion will provide immortality and science taking steps towards find ways to extend life. In my opinion they do not deserve to be in the same talk.

  13. Most who see this won’t read it. Most that read this will reject it; thinking it ridiculous. Those who see it as ridiculous do so because it is contrary to the reality model they already embrace; which itself may appear ridiculous to others. This is as it should be. I (speaking, not as Bob Rowland but as his personal conception of The Creator) haven’t revealed myself directly to the world, as I actually am, for good reason. I’m working for effect here and people knowing what’s really going on is not in my, and that is also to say your, best interest. Simply put, I need for all but a few of you to be misinformed. What good is the magic show if you know how the tricks are accomplished? I need some of you to see me as one thing, while it's important for others to see me as something else and for the atheists, to see me as nothing at all. It would be counterproductive for me to do it any other way. I need you to be what you are and to do what you're doing; as painful and unfair as that may seem for those of you who are suffering your life and as irrelevant as it may seem for those of you who are enjoying it. I promise you this: As far as possible, within the realm of my powers, which are considerable, things are as good as can be. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is arbitrary. Everything works to your advantage; if not in the amnesiac state of incognito you’re in now, then once you experience death's awakening.

    Contrary to what I have most believe, I’m not omnipotent. Though astronomically powerful, I am still subject to boredom and eternity. If I weren't, I would exist in a constant state of bliss, in solitary repose and there would be no need for me to dream of myself as you in your differentiated world. However, such is not the case. As wonderful as my experience is, I eventually become bored with it, as unlikely or ironic as that may seem. Pure pleasure is indescribably wonderful and seems eternal initially but does not endure. I can, and do regain my bliss but the price is high. At least it feels that way while in the process of paying it. Afterwards, it seems a bargain, but during the experience it is hellish, seemingly without end. I must suffer for my pleasure, it is the nature of my being.

    Perhaps you’ve already done this as a kid; if not, try it now. Use a doorway to restrict the sideways and upward motion of your arms. Using all your strength, suffer in vain while trying to overcome the resistance of the door frame in an effort to lift your arms to shoulder level. Done correctly, your effort will be prolonged and painful, even agonizing. When you can’t bare it another second, step free of the doorway, relax your arms completely and observe. That is but a poor metaphor; yet it should give you some idea of the pleasure/pain cycle of my existence.

    The truth is, a life of suffering is a necessary means to a valuable end. It both empowers and renews me. It would seem, I’m being cruel to those who suffer except for this: there is only me! I know of no other. You are not suffering in vain, you are actually me, greatly diminished, either paying the Piper or enjoying the music. You are me dreaming this scenario that is your life. You and I are different phases of the same thing. It's as if I were h2o and you are either steam, water or ice. Or, looked at another way, I am the power stroke of a petrol engine; a truly magnificent state of being, which I experience, not in my dreams as a creature but as my true self: pure consciousness. If you are happy with your life, you are me dreaming the "intake stroke" of that engine. If you are suffering your life, you are me dreaming the compression stroke of that engine. That phase is essential to my well being. If your life is so-so, you are me dreaming the exhaust stroke of that engine. Any way you look at it, you are me in a self imposed state of limitation, dreaming either a necessarily painful or relatively pleasant experience.

    I know of nothing other than me; I don’t know how I got here, I simply find that I am. However, I do know this: you are not a separate and autonomous being; you are not what you think you are. You are not just a protagonist in one of my many dreams. You are actually me, “in waiting”, as it were.

  14. I don't think you've made the case that people who believe any sort of life-after-death means that your world view is affected. That's a "leap". There are liberals, /conservatives, Independents & Community-service-thinking people who have many members who believe in afterlife. That's not bias; it's just evidence of many views.
    In fact, people who have near-death experiences no longer hate a fear of death & tend to spend their lives being non-judgmental & accepting of others. (just as you say at the end of your talk.)

  15. Typical Atheist.
    Yes, this is what they do, folks.
    They lambast you for your faith because they think they know things you don't
    and then they proceed to tell you that you should concentrate on 'living'.
    All in the name of their "common sense".
    There's nothing wrong with wanting to live forever. It has created beauty and art.
    These people run toward faith in that, whereas Atheists run towards nothingness,
    which has been pointed out impossible to imagine. There is no nothingness.
    Why don't you put up another hate filled billboard, Atheist.
    Or read up on how quantum physics studies are dragging science and faith closer together?

  16. every soul will die. after death u will raised by god. will be asked about your deeds. next life is eternal. God is supreme just.

  17. You cannot make fear disappear by rationalizing it any more then you can make pain disappear by rationalizing it. Both fear and pain are parts of the limbic system, which has a much higher priority then your neocortex that you use to rationalize it.

  18. Okay so you made some people fear death less and convincing the suicidal that death isn’t a life event and you don’t have to experience it wow thanks (not against this though still okay speech)

  19. Don't die before you look for the truth. Quran is the final revelation from God to us.

    ( 2 )   [This is] the revelation of the Book about which there is no doubt from the Lord of the worlds. (Sura As-Sajda)

    ( 1 )   Ta, Ha.

    ( 2 )   We have not sent down to you the Qur'an that you be distressed

    ( 3 )   But only as a reminder for those who fear [Allah] –

    ( 4 )   A revelation from He who created the earth and highest heavens,

    ( 5 )   The Most Merciful [who is] above the Throne established.

    ( 6 )   To Him belongs what is in the heavens and what is on the earth and what is between them and what is under the soil. (Sura Taa-Haa)

    ( 185 )   Every soul will taste death, and you will only be given your [full] compensation on the Day of Resurrection.

    So he who is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has indeed been successful.

    And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion. (Sura Aal-Imran)

  20. I wish they would just deliver their message without trying g to be funny 🤦🏻‍♀️

  21. There exist millions of wise women and men, who teach us, how we should behabe in our life in a nice way and that we exist further after our death. The probabality is very low, that they all war wrong. Natural sciences cannot yet investigate the question, if there exists life after death or if there exist an intelligent beiing like God. Therefore belief is needed, to be bold and take a big step, from scepticism to belief. I trust, that Jesus was an honest man and therefore believe in his teachings. And if his teachings would have been accepted, mankind would have avoided many wars.

  22. "The worst thing that could possibly happen"

    Nah, there are things I'd rather not experience that require me to be alive.

  23. "Behind all of this — the void is waiting … the end of all our projects …" Is the end of your life a natural process that recurs every 81.6 ± 1.7 billion years? Google "fqxi mond", "kroupa milgrom", "mcgaugh milgrom", "sanders milgrom", and "scarpa milgrom".

  24. Also we always distract yourself with some stuff to forget about the death. I think we should accept it and embrace it and do not invent things to go away from it.

  25. If this was on cinema this a five bagger
    Young turkington working it you just the actor
    But since you the opposite you are now obligated
    To ride out this unfortunate consequence

  26. full of arrogance at the back of his head.. you can either do good story and believe of life after death. in fact when you believe someone will save us in our life after death we have more potential of creating good story when we still alive.. and the when you attempt to believe of this guy and what if Jesus was true? and I believe its true. then its going to be your big mistake of believing this guy… For me, this is none sense..

  27. At nearly 87 I have, for the very first time heard what I have thought is likely to be the truth about death. It is only after a long and satisfying working life and an equally lengthy and happy retirement that a person feels fulfilled and and full of gratitude for the great privilege of having been born and quite ready to take leave of this beautiful planet. Why would any person wish to live forever?!

  28. When someone close to me has died, I continue to feel heir presence. It is like they have moved to another country, or they are AWOL or missing in action. So even though they're gone, it feels like they are still alive. I usually dream about them, experience their articular fragrance now and then, I might hear their voice in dreams or when I'm thinking about them. My deceased mother called me on the phone once when I was half asleep, lol. Her voice was so vivid it scared me out of my witts . I experience her when I read her handwritten recipes and taste the results. The spirit of the dead continues to live all around us, imo. Likewise, we can have bad experiences with the dead nightmares or anxious thoughts.
    In life they shared their consciousness with us and they became part of ours.

  29. This guy makes sense to me. He's saying exactly what I have believed for many many years now. This is going to sound trite and meaningless to many but what he is saying is, "don't fear death because once you're dead, you're dead."

  30. When we die no god will come to wipe the tears of our parents and loved ones even though we believe god and pray every day . People will either burn or bury us no one will keep us and pray . Any living being is valued only until it has life and human is the only exceptional . Only our love , goodness , memories nd values lives forever .

  31. I went into Coma for 30 days
    There was nothing!
    Infact I didn't even know I had been in Coma until I woke up in hospital and was was greated with a WELCOME BARK, with a smile..
    Then was told I had been in a truck wreck bumped my head
    Feel asleep at home.
    Damn ..
    What does this mean?
    No NDE? JUST A lights out!
    No scence of time passing, didn't hear my family talking to me not anyone else…
    Until LIGHTS ON..
    Or.. Maybe I'm just not worthy?!
    Oh well
    Never the less..
    I to Bell believe in the CHRIST
    ,, LOVE NOT WAR.
    I read in the Bible
    We die, and will be taken UP
    I'm the end. When the CHRIST comes back.
    So… Not having an NDE for me makes a lots of scence.
    At least I hope so
    I'm going on 70 I guess I'll find out for sure pretty soon

  32. someone should tell this guy there is a difference between belief and faith.And oh BTW there is no realm of nothing, which is kind of funny seeing as science puts so much weight in the empiric method yet they choose a leap of faith in believing in the existence of nothing…everything is something. even his reference of " the void " isn't nothing, it's a void and to move from here and now ( something ) then into death ( the void ) disqualifies it as nothing by association with something.

  33. I find it funny really, because there is no secret that I somewhat fear one day being dead, but I don't want to be immortal either. In fact, the thought of living forever terrifies me even more.

  34. If you are positive about Christian resurrection fine. I am not. I am sort of a Deist, yet Deism doesn't satisfy. So, why not be frozen. What difference would it make, if you had the money honey. You're going to be dead anyway. A shot in the dark is better than nothing the way I see it.

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