I am reading Stephen Cave's book Immortality, and one of the claims he makes early on is that there is a "mortality paradox." This is the phenomenon that humans know that they will die (based on induction), but that "the one thing that these minds cannot imagine is that very state of nonexistence; it is literally inconceivable." I am interested in the second part of this paradox, that humans cannot conceive of death.
His evidence for this is:
- Introspection: "Try it: you might get as far as an image of your own funeral, or perhaps a dark and empty void, but you are still there—the observer, the envisioning eye."
- Quoting Freud, who said: "It is indeed impossible to imagine our own death; and whenever we attempt to do so we can perceive that we are in fact still present as spectators."
- Appeal to some recent psychology: "Research by the psychologist Jesse Bering has shown that even young children who have not yet been socialized into any particular religion or worldview believe that the mind survives bodily death. He and his colleagues argue that this is because the alternative—that the mind is extinguished—cannot be grasped. He concludes that we have “an innate sense of immortality” that stems from this cognitive quirk—that is, the seeming impossibility of our annihilation is hardwired into our brains."
My question is: Is the idea that death is inconceivable a consensus stance in cognitive psychology?
Surely it depends on how one defines a "conception", but it seems to me like it ought to be possible, at least for some subset of the population.