Belief in immortality hard-wired? Study examines development of children’s ‘prelife’ reasoning — ScienceDaily

By examining children’s ideas about “prelife,” the time before conception, researchers found results which suggest that our bias toward immortality is a part of human intuition that naturally emerges early in life. And the part of us that is eternal, we believe, is not our skills or ability to reason, but rather our hopes, desires and emotions.

via Belief in immortality hard-wired? Study examines development of children’s ‘prelife’ reasoning — ScienceDaily.

A clever study.  Instead of asking people about their belief in an afterlife, which is too polluted with cultural influences, they asked children about their beliefs in a life before they were born, in cultures that explicitly ruled that out.  Of course, the children were very young and hadn’t picked up yet on that particular part of their culture.

The study seems to show that a belief in an immortal soul is hardwired into us.  I’m not surprised.  Religion is too pervasive in human cultures not to result from some core mechanism in the human condition.  This study seems to show that it isn’t culture specific.

It also makes sense that, as organisms which have evolved to prefer our own survival, that we intuitively feel that we’ve always existed and will always exist.  It’s why the idea of our existence ending is so counter-intuitive.

Of course, this results in us fearing death.  We have no choice; we’re programmed for it.  And religion offers solace in that fear.  But for those who can’t believe in that solace, applying some reason can mitigate that fear.

6 thoughts on “Belief in immortality hard-wired? Study examines development of children’s ‘prelife’ reasoning — ScienceDaily

  1. Interesting study, and interesting conclusions. I’m not afraid of death, but I am afraid of dying – I’m more afraid of having time to process that things are going to end, to feel pain, to feel powerless. It’s the dying process that scares me, far more than the potential nothingness that might follow.


    1. I have to admit that I do fear death, but that fear is mitigated by the Epicurean insights.

      I very much agree about the dying part. It’s not acceptable in our society to end things early, no matter how much you’re suffering, and the idea of a long wretched decline is scary. I hope that’s changed when my time comes.


    1. Some cultures, most notably eastern ones, do accept it. According to them, we’ve all lived past lives, and will live future ones.

      But I’d imagine it’s much easier to dismiss a prelife than it is an afterlife. One has no real implications for our personal future, the other does.


  2. Thanks ‘SAP’, I hadn’t seen that yet. I have to agree with Bloom, “a brilliant idea” – nice to see Jesse Bering’s work supported too.

    “… cognitive tendency to view emotions and desires as the eternal core of personhood.”

    ‘The Development of Children’s Prelife Reasoning: Evidence From Two Cultures’, Emmons & Kelemen 2014

    Click to access EmmonsKelemen_prelife_withsuppmat.pdf

    I don’t think Hume would be surprised in the least 🙂


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