Why Brain Can't Handle the Inevitability of Death

A dying neuroscientist identifies three lessons from neuroscience. All are important, but the last one is really profound.

Lesson #1

It is possible, even easy, to occupy two seemingly contradictory mental states at the same time.

You can know that some food is unhealthy for you and still eat it.

You can be a scientist and still believe in numerology.

Lesson #2

The deep truth of being human is that there is no objective experience.

One thing may completely change its meaning to us in a different settings, different time, different context.

One more year is something completely different for a young person and for a terminally ill patient.

Lesson #3

The brain spends much of its time and energy actively making predictions about the future—mostly the next few moments.

The last paragraph of the article is worth quoting in full:

Nearly every religion has the concept of an afterlife (or its cognitive cousin, reincarnation). Why are afterlife/reincarnation stories found all over the world? For the same reason we can’t truly imagine our own deaths: because our brains are built on the faulty premise that there will always be that next moment to predict. We cannot help but imagine that our own consciousness endures.

I can smell an opportunity here to discover a better way of coping with death of our beloved ones and ultimately with death of our own.

published: 2022-01-06
last modified: 2023-01-21