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.
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.