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Dallas, Texas, United States

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Worm at the Core

A few months ago I was in a conversation in which someone asked what happened to the soul when someone went into cryonic suspension.  I remember having a conversation with my Christian father some decades ago that touched on something like this.  He had replied that God knows when you are really dead.

I think this is a good response for those who believe in the supernatural soul.  You could try to tell them that there is no such thing as the supernatural but that would just trigger their defenses against mortal terror.  It is probably best to just get them signed up for cryonics with their current worldview intact and then maybe only later try to persuade them otherwise when they emerge from their baptism in liquid nitrogen.

Recently I finished listening for a second time to an audiobook on the subject of Terror Management Theory entitled The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death.  It explains how our Denial of Death drives many of our defensive behaviors including religion and war.  It makes me wonder how human culture might change for the better when future medical technology makes us effectively immortal.

The Worm at the Core helped me make yet another connection between an Old Testament story and an earlier Sumerian myth.  In the Epic of Gilgamesh, after Gilgamesh acquired a plant that would make old men young, a serpent stole the plant and consumed it.  The serpent then shed its old skin, becoming young again, leaving Gilgamesh to realize the inevitable.

The serpent from the Epic of Gilgamesh reappears in the Garden of Eden to teach Eve the same lesson.  The authors of The Worm at the Core assert that one of the ways we attempt to distinguish ourselves from animals without immortal souls is to clothe and decorate our bodies.  When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, they became aware that they were naked.

The consequence of their eating from the Tree of Knowledge was not their deaths but rather the knowledge of their deaths.  Before the serpent tempted Eve with the gift of foresight, Adam and Eve could simply gather fruit from the trees of the Garden whenever they were hungry, blissfully ignorant of what would happen when the fruit went out of season.  Afterwards, they became aware of their fate in a way that non-human animals cannot.

The curse laid upon Eve for her transgression was the knowledge that the only existing route to immortality is through the pain of childbirth.  The curse for Adam was the knowledge that only through the pain of his labors to till the soil in the present could they reap a potential harvest to permit them to survive in the future.  The same foresight that pushes us into denial and paralysis can also drive us to labor today to conquer death tomorrow.