Embrace Your Eminently Sensible Fear of Death

Coming to terms with a personal future of disability, pain, and then death due to aging is very human. But coming to terms is one step removed from complacency, and the world is complacent about aging and the staggering toll of death and suffering it causes. Thus research into prevention of aging and treatments that might remove this death and suffering languish with little funding and interest, and the populace go about their days doing their best to ignore the fact that they are corroding away inside. If aging were treatable, no-one would want to go back to when it was not - that would be a nonsensical proposition, like restoring smallpox and famine. Yet all too few people today care to help us move forward into a better world.

Is there a person alive today who does not fear dying? Well yes, if they are asleep or in a coma. But most of us, while we are awake and going about our business, harbour a deep-seated fear of dying. ("Thanatophobia", in case anyone was wondering, being Greek for "fear of death".) . Now the question is what to do about it, the two opposing extremes being: try to repress it as much as possible, or embrace it with all your being. Repressing it was my first strategy. I had no idea what to do with this fear, except that I wanted it to go away. And my strategy for making it go away was essentially to not think about it. And that worked, most of the time.

One very good reason for repressing thanatophobia is that if we don't it can drive us nuts. Nobody can tolerate being scared the whole time, and the risk - even, arguably, the certainty - of dying is always there. So we must suppress it. We wouldn't have it, however, if it wasn't serving a useful purpose, and it is also thanatophobia that makes us look before we cross the road. So while there are times when we must suppress it, there are other times when we do and must embrace it.

So far this is nothing that should be particularly shocking for anyone. What is shocking for many people, however, is the possibility that we might develop technology that extends life well beyond our current life-spans. And the reason it is shocking, in my view, is that it interferes with people's delicate strategies for managing their thanatophobia. Anything that reminds people that they are not only likely (perhaps even certain) to die, but that they are terrified of this prospect, tends to horrify them. So they enter what Aubrey de Grey has described as the "pro-aging trance", in which they convince themselves that since aging (and eventual death) is inevitable it must be desirable, and that because it is desirable it must also be inevitable.

What this means, in my view, is that whatever we think of the pros and cons of radical life extension, if we are to steer ourselves as individuals and as a species through the "bottleneck" of the next few decades, we need to make greater efforts to embrace our fear of death. We need to allow ourselves to be aware of that fear, and allow it to motivate us, without completely taking over.

Link: http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/wicks20131222


Life may be a burden and lots of people might choose death eventually because they resent life more. It's a bit of an assumption to think a modified fear of death is what makes people not like the idea of living a long time.

Posted by: Michael at December 25th, 2013 1:40 AM

Admittedly I'm guilty of this: I'm a fan of rejuvenation therapies, but I'm "working without a net", you could say. Meaning, if I die today there is no plan for anyone to keep me from decaying...this will be the end of me.

However, the only real option (which excludes giving to SENS, hoping really hard for successful clinical trials, being an advocate, learning all I can about rejuvenation, changing my career so that I can contribute directly to research and medicine)....is, Cryonic Suspension.

As far as I can see, there is Nothing Else. Being that I'm a newbie in this field, can anyone tell me otherwise? Plus, even when the therapies become available, and we're healthy as a 40-year-old but chronologically 150, I would think that the Bus can still run us over.

So, a fear of death could be alleviated by getting the plan together for Cryonic Suspension...the Safety Net...true?


Posted by: Eugene at December 28th, 2013 7:57 AM

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