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Stephen Cave 談四個我們對自己訴說的死亡故事

Stephen Cave: The 4 stories we tell ourselves about death

 

Photo of three lions hunting on the Serengeti.

講者:Stephen Cave

2013年7月演講,2013年12月在TEDxBratislava上線

 

翻譯:洪曉慧

編輯:朱學恆

簡繁轉換:洪曉慧

後製:洪曉慧

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關於這場演講

哲學家Stephen Cave以一個黑暗但引人入勝的問題開場:你何時首次意識到自己終將死亡?更令人感興趣的是:為何人類總是抗拒死亡的必然性?在這場精彩的演講中,Cave探索四個跨文明的共同敘述-那是我們「為了幫助自己處理對死亡的恐懼」而自我訴說的故事。

 

關於Stephen Cave

哲學家Stephen Cave想知道:為何人類如此沉迷於永生?

 

為什麼要聽他演講

Stephen Cave是作家及哲學家,對人類沉迷於永生的特質十分感興趣。2012年,他出版《長生不死:對永生的追求及其如何推動文明發展》(Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization),探索人類對死亡必然性的不理性抗拒。Cave跨越時間、歷史上主要文明及宗教,探索驅動這種本能的原因-以及這對未來的意義。Cave替《金融時報》、《紐約時報》、《衛報》及《連線雜誌》等刊物撰稿。

 

Stephen Cave的英語網上資料

Home: StephenCave.com

Twitter: @stephenjcave

 

[TED科技‧娛樂‧設計]

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Stephen Cave 談四個我們對自己訴說的死亡故事

 

我有個問題:在座有誰記得你何時首次意識到自己終將死亡?

 

我記得。當時我是個小男孩,我祖父剛過世。我記得幾天後的夜晚,我躺在床上,試著理解發生了什麼事。死亡是什麼意思?他去了哪裡?這就像現實中有個洞開啟,將他吞噬。但當時我想到的、令我震驚不已的問題是:如果他會死去,同樣的事也會發生在我身上嗎?現實中的那個洞會突然開啟、將我吞噬嗎?它會在我床底下打開、趁我睡覺時將我吞噬嗎?好,就某方面而言,所有孩子都逐漸意識到死亡。當然,它以不同方式發生,通常是階段性的。我們對死亡的認知隨年齡增長。如果你回到記憶中那個黑暗的角落,或許記得某些和我相同的感受。當祖父過世時,我意識到這也可能發生在我身上。

 

這一切背後的感受是空虛的等待。孩童時期的這種發展反應了人類的發展,就像在生命發展過程中某一刻,身為孩子的你對自我和時間的認知,逐漸深刻到足以使你意識到自己終將死去。因此在人類演化的某一時刻,某些早期人類對自我和時間的認知,逐漸深刻到足以使他們成為第一批意識到「我終將死去」的人類。如果你願意這麼想,這是我們的詛咒,這是我們過於聰明的代價,我們必須活在最壞情況可能發生的認知中。這天必定會到來,終結我們所有的計畫、我們的希望、我們的夢想。每個人都活在各自的末日陰影中。

 

這令人驚懼、令人惶恐,因此我們試著尋找出路。以我為例,當我大約五歲時,我的做法是詢問母親。當我開始詢問死後的情形時,當時周遭的成人以混合尷尬及敷衍的典型基督教用語回答。我最常聽見的說法是:祖父現在「在天上看顧我們」。如果我也死去,當然尚未發生,我也會到天上去,這讓死亡聽起來像是一座存在主義電梯。好,這聽起來似乎不太合理。當時我習慣觀賞兒童新聞節目,當時是太空探索時代,內容總是關於火箭升空、飛向太空、飛上高空,但沒有任何太空人返回時提到見過我去世的祖父,或任何其它死去的人。但當時我很害怕,搭乘那座存在主義電梯去見祖父的想法,似乎比在睡夢中被虛無吞噬好多了。因此我選擇相信,即使聽起來不太合理。

 

我幼年時經歷過的思考過程,往後也經常發生,甚至成年後,這是心理學家稱之為偏誤(bias)的產物。偏誤是指蓄意地誤解,包括錯誤估算、錯誤判斷、扭曲現實,或只看見想看到的。我所說的偏誤情況如下:使某人正視自己終將死去的事實,他們會相信任何持否定看法的故事,告訴他們可永生不死,即使方法是搭上那座存在主義電梯。我們可將這視為最大的偏誤,這經過400多個實證研究證實。這些研究十分巧妙,但簡單易懂,像這樣。你找兩組各方面都很相似的人,提醒其中一組人他們終將死去,但不提醒另一組,然後比較他們的行為。因此你觀察到,當人們意識到自己終將死去時,如何使行為產生偏誤。每次試驗都得到相同結果:被提醒終究不免一死的人,較願意相信他們能逃脫死亡、得到永生的故事,因此這裡有一個例子。一項近期研究中,找來兩組不可知論者,這些人沒有特定宗教信仰。其中一組被要求思考「死亡」,另一組被要求思考「孤獨」,然後再次詢問他們的宗教信仰。被要求思考死亡的人,有兩倍的可能性表示他們信仰上帝和耶穌。兩倍的可能性,即使之前他們同樣是不可知論者,但當他們意識到死亡的恐懼後,隨即向耶穌靠攏。

 

好,這顯示提醒人們死亡的事實,將使他們的信念產生偏誤,無視於證據。這不僅適用於宗教,也適用於任何以某種形式提供永生承諾的信仰系統。無論是變得有名、或生孩子、甚至是民族主義,承諾你能藉由成為整體的一部分得到永生。這種偏誤塑造了人類歷史進程。

 

在400多項研究中,這種偏誤背後的理論稱之為「恐懼管理理論」。其中的想法相當簡單,如下所述。我們發展出我們的世界觀,就是告訴自己關於世界和我們在其中扮演之角色的故事,以協助我們處理對死亡的恐懼。這些永生故事有上千種不同形式,但我認為在多樣的表面下,這些永生故事事實上只包含四種基本型式。我們可看見它們在歷史中不斷重複,僅存在些微變化,反映當時的用語。我想簡介一下永生故事的四種基本型式,我想試著讓各位有些概念,它們如何在各種文化和世代中,藉由當時的用語不斷流傳。

 

好,第一個故事是最簡單的。我們想避免死亡,夢想使這副軀體永存於世,這是第一個,也是最簡單的永生故事。乍聽之下或許令人難以置信,但事實上人類歷史中,幾乎所有文化都有關於不老藥或青春泉的神話或傳說,或某種保證可使我們長生不死的東西。古埃及有這樣的神話,古巴比倫、古印度亦然。綜觀歐洲史,可在鍊金術士的工作中發現。當然,現今我們依舊相信這一點,只是我們以科學用語描述這個故事。因此一百年前,人們發現荷爾蒙。人們希望荷爾蒙能治療老化和疾病,現在我們則將希望寄託於幹細胞、遺傳工程及奈米科技。但以科學對抗死亡的想法只是神奇不老藥故事的另一篇章,如文明般古老的故事。但把所有賭注下在發現不老藥及長生不死的想法上太過冒險。當我們回顧歷史,過去尋找不老藥的人都有一個共同點,就是他們都已死去。

 

因此我們需要一個備用計畫。這個B計畫就是第二種永生故事提供的想法:復活。其中的概念是:我擁有肉身,我是有機體,我接受不免一死的想法,儘管如此,我能再次復活。換句話說,我能跟耶穌一樣。耶穌死後,在墓穴中待了三天,然後復活。能再次復活的觀念是正教信仰,不僅基督徒相信,猶太人和穆斯林亦深信不疑。但相信這個故事的渴望深植我們心中,我們在科學時代再次將它發揚光大,例如人體冷凍的想法。這個想法是,當你死亡時,可將自己冷凍,等科技足夠先進時,你可被解凍、修復、獲得新生,因此達成復活的目標。因此有些人相信,有一位全能的神將使他們再次復活;有些人相信,萬能的科學將達成這個目標。

 

但對某些人來說,整個復活的概念-從墳墓中爬出-簡直像噁心的僵屍電影。他們認為肉體太污穢、太不可靠,無法保證永恆的生命,因此他們將希望寄託於第三種故事,更加精神層面的永生故事。其中的想法是,我們可拋棄肉體,以靈魂型式生存。好,世上大多數人相信靈魂的存在,這個概念是許多宗教的核心。但無論是現代或傳統型式,靈魂的概念依然大為風行,我們在數位時代將它再次發揚光大,例如這個概念:你可以拋棄肉體,將心智、本質、真正的你上傳到電腦中,以化身型式活在以太世界。

 

但當然,懷疑論者說,如果我們檢視科學證據,尤其是神經學,他們認為心智、本質、真正的你相當依賴身體某個部分,即大腦。這類懷疑論者可在第四種永生故事中得到安慰,那就是流傳於後世的事蹟。這個概念是,你可藉由流傳於後世的事蹟存在。例如偉大的希臘戰士阿基里斯,他在特洛依戰爭中犧牲生命,使他贏得不朽的名聲。名聲的追求古今同樣風行,在現今數位時代更容易達成。你不必成為像阿基里斯一樣偉大的戰士,或偉大的國王和英雄,你只需要網路連結和一隻有趣的貓。(笑聲)但有些人傾向於留下較有形的生物遺產-例如孩子,或他們希望、傾向於以整體的一部分傳承下去:國家、家庭、種族或他們的基因庫。但同樣地,依然存在懷疑論者,他們懷疑這種遺產是否真能永垂不朽。例如伍迪.艾倫曾說:「我不想活在同胞的心裡,我想活在我的公寓裡。」

 

因此這就是四種基本的永生故事。我試著提供一些概念,說明這些故事如何代代相傳,僅有些微變化,以迎合時代潮流。鑒於它們以這種方式一再傳頌的事實,在如此不同的信仰系統中、以如此相似的形式存在,我認為我們應該對這些故事的任何版本有所質疑。有些人相信一位全能的神將使他們再次復活,有些人相信萬能的科學將達成這個目標,顯示人們並非因為證據的力量而相信這些故事。我們相信這些故事,只因偏誤的存在。我們因偏誤而相信這些故事,只因我們太過恐懼死亡。

 

因此問題在於,我們是否註定讓自己的人生被恐懼和否定支配,或我們是否能克服這種偏誤?好,希臘哲學家Epicurus認為我們可以。他主張對死亡的恐懼是天性,但並不理性。他說:「死亡對我們來說無關痛癢,因為當我們存在,死亡就不存在;當死亡存在,我們就不存在。」這句話經常被引用,但很難真正抓住其中精髓、將它內化,因為很難想像「不存在」的概念。因此兩千年後,另一位哲學家Ludwig Wittgenstein這麼說:「死亡並非生命中的事件,我們活著並非為了體驗死亡,因此,」他補充,「以這個觀點來說,生命沒有終點。」

 

因此對身為孩子的我來說,恐懼被虛無吞噬是自然的,但並非理性的,因為被虛無吞沒並非任何人活著時會經歷的事。

 

好,克服偏誤並非易事,因為對死亡的恐懼深植在我們心中。然而,當我們瞭解這種恐懼本身是不理性的,當我們不諱言地提出這種方式,使我們無意識地產生偏誤,我們至少已經開始嘗試減少它對我們生命的影響。

 

好,我發現將生命視為一本書有所幫助。如同書本被外皮包覆、被開頭和結尾包覆,我們的生命也被出生和死亡包覆。即使書本受限於開頭和結尾,它可包含遠處的景觀、異國人物、奇幻冒險。即使書本受限於開頭和結尾,其中的人物不知邊界的存在,只知道他們創造故事的當下,即使書本闔起時,因此書中的人物不會害怕抵達最後一頁。獨腳海盜Long John Silver不會害怕你讀完《金銀島》,因此我們也該如此。想像你生命的書本,它的封面、開頭和結尾,出生和死亡。你只知道其中的時刻,塑造你生命的時刻。對書皮之外的事感到恐懼毫無道理,無論是出生前或死亡後。你不必擔心書有多厚、它是連環漫畫或史詩巨著,唯一重要的是,你使它成為一個好故事。

 

謝謝。

 

(掌聲)

    

以下為系統擷取之英文原文

About the talk

Philosopher Stephen Cave begins with a dark but compelling question: When did you first realize you were going to die? And even more interestingly: Why do we humans so often resist the inevitability of death? In a fascinating talk Cave explores four narratives -- common across civilizations -- that we tell ourselves "in order to help us manage the terror of death."
 
About Stephen Cave
Philosopher Stephen Cave wants to know: Why is humanity so obsessed with living forever?
 
About the transcript
I have a question: Who here remembers when they first realized they were going to die?
 
I do. I was a young boy, and my grandfather had just died, and I remember a few days later lying in bed at night trying to make sense of what had happened. What did it mean that he was dead? Where had he gone? It was like a hole in reality had opened up and swallowed him. But then the really shocking question occurred to me: If he could die, could it happen to me too? Could that hole in reality open up and swallow me? Would it open up beneath my bed and swallow me as I slept? Well, at some point, all children become aware of death. It can happen in different ways, of course, and usually comes in stages. Our idea of death develops as we grow older. And if you reach back into the dark corners of your memory, you might remember something like what I felt when my grandfather died and when I realized it could happen to me too, that sense that behind all of this the void is waiting.
 
And this development in childhood reflects the development of our species. Just as there was a point in your development as a child when your sense of self and of time became sophisticated enough for you to realize you were mortal, so at some point in the evolution of our species, some early human's sense of self and of time became sophisticated enough for them to become the first human to realize, "I'm going to die." This is, if you like, our curse. It's the price we pay for being so damn clever. We have to live in the knowledge that the worst thing that can possibly happen one day surely will, the end of all our projects, our hopes, our dreams, of our individual world. We each live in the shadow of a personal apocalypse.
 
And that's frightening. It's terrifying. And so we look for a way out. And in my case, as I was about five years old, this meant asking my mum. Now when I first started asking what happens when we die, the grown-ups around me at the time answered with a typical English mix of awkwardness and half-hearted Christianity, and the phrase I heard most often was that granddad was now "up there looking down on us," and if I should die too, which wouldn't happen of course, then I too would go up there, which made death sound a lot like an existential elevator. Now this didn't sound very plausible. I used to watch a children's news program at the time, and this was the era of space exploration. There were always rockets going up into the sky, up into space, going up there. But none of the astronauts when they came back ever mentioned having met my granddad or any other dead people. But I was scared, and the idea of taking the existential elevator to see my granddad sounded a lot better than being swallowed by the void while I slept. And so I believed it anyway, even though it didn't make much sense.
 
And this thought process that I went through as a child, and have been through many times since, including as a grown-up, is a product of what psychologists call a bias. Now a bias is a way in which we systematically get things wrong, ways in which we miscalculate, misjudge, distort reality, or see what we want to see, and the bias I'm talking about works like this: Confront someone with the fact that they are going to die and they will believe just about any story that tells them it isn't true and they can, instead, live forever, even if it means taking the existential elevator. Now we can see this as the biggest bias of all. It has been demonstrated in over 400 empirical studies. Now these studies are ingenious, but they're simple. They work like this. You take two groups of people who are similar in all relevant respects, and you remind one group that they're going to die but not the other, then you compare their behavior. So you're observing how it biases behavior when people become aware of their mortality. And every time, you get the same result: People who are made aware of their mortality are more willing to believe stories that tell them they can escape death and live forever. So here's an example: One recent study took two groups of agnostics, that is people who are undecided in their religious beliefs. Now, one group was asked to think about being dead. The other group was asked to think about being lonely. They were then asked again about their religious beliefs. Those who had been asked to think about being dead were afterwards twice as likely to express faith in God and Jesus. Twice as likely. Even though the before they were all equally agnostic. But put the fear of death in them, and they run to Jesus.
 
Now, this shows that reminding people of death biases them to believe, regardless of the evidence, and it works not just for religion, but for any kind of belief system that promises immortality in some form, whether it's becoming famous or having children or even nationalism, which promises you can live on as part of a greater whole. This is a bias that has shaped the course of human history.
 
Now, the theory behind this bias in the over 400 studies is called terror management theory, and the idea is simple. It's just this. We develop our worldviews, that is, the stories we tell ourselves about the world and our place in it, in order to help us manage the terror of death. And these immortality stories have thousands of different manifestations, but I believe that behind the apparent diversity there are actually just four basic forms that these immortality stories can take. And we can see them repeating themselves throughout history, just with slight variations to reflect the vocabulary of the day. Now I'm going to briefly introduce these four basic forms of immortality story, and I want to try to give you some sense of the way in which they're retold by each culture or generation using the vocabulary of their day.
 
Now, the first story is the simplest. We want to avoid death, and the dream of doing that in this body in this world forever is the first and simplest kind of immortality story, and it might at first sound implausible, but actually, almost every culture in human history has had some myth or legend of an elixir of life or a fountain of youth or something that promises to keep us going forever. Ancient Egypt had such myths, ancient Babylon, ancient India. Throughout European history, we find them in the work of the alchemists, and of course we still believe this today, only we tell this story using the vocabulary of science. So 100 years ago, hormones had just been discovered, and people hoped that hormone treatments were going to cure aging and disease, and now instead we set our hopes on stem cells, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology. But the idea that science can cure death is just one more chapter in the story of the magical elixir, a story that is as old as civilization. But betting everything on the idea of finding the elixir and staying alive forever is a risky strategy. When we look back through history at all those who have sought an elixir in the past, the one thing they now have in common is that they're all dead.
 
So we need a backup plan, and exactly this kind of plan B is what the second kind of immortality story offers, and that's resurrection. And it stays with the idea that I am this body, I am this physical organism. It accepts that I'm going to have to die but says, despite that, I can rise up and I can live again. In other words, I can do what Jesus did. Jesus died, he was three days in the [tomb], and then he rose up and lived again. And the idea that we can all be resurrected to live again is orthodox believe, not just for Christians but also Jews and Muslims. But our desire to believe this story is so deeply embedded that we are reinventing it again for the scientific age, for example, with the idea of cryonics. That's the idea that when you die, you can have yourself frozen, and then, at some point when technology has advanced enough, you can be thawed out and repaired and revived and so resurrected. And so some people believe an omnipotent god will resurrect them to live again, and other people believe an omnipotent scientist will do it.
 
But for others, the whole idea of resurrection, of climbing out of the grave, it's just too much like a bad zombie movie. They find the body too messy, too unreliable to guarantee eternal life, and so they set their hopes on the third, more spiritual immortality story, the idea that we can leave our body behind and live on as a soul. Now, the majority of people on Earth believe they have a soul, and the idea is central to many religions. But even though, in its current form, in its traditional form, the idea of the soul is still hugely popular, nonetheless we are again reinventing it for the digital age, for example with the idea that you can leave your body behind by uploading your mind, your essence, the real you, onto a computer, and so live on as an avatar in the ether.
 
But of course there are skeptics who say if we look at the evidence of science, particularly neuroscience, it suggests that your mind, your essence, the real you, is very much dependent on a particular part of your body, that is, your brain. And such skeptics can find comfort in the fourth kind of immortality story, and that is legacy, the idea that you can live on through the echo you leave in the world, like the great Greek warrior Achilles, who sacrificed his life fighting at Troy so that he might win immortal fame. And the pursuit of fame is as widespread and popular now as it ever was, and in our digital age, it's even easier to achieve. You don't need to be a great warrior like Achilles or a great king or hero. All you need is an Internet connection and a funny cat. (Laughter) But some people prefer to leave a more tangible, biological legacy -- children, for example. Or they like, they hope, to live on as part of some greater whole, a nation or a family or a tribe, their gene pool. But again, there are skeptics who doubt whether legacy really is immortality. Woody Allen, for example, who said, "I don't want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen. I want to live on in my apartment."
 
So those are the four basic kinds of immortality stories, and I've tried to give just some sense of how they're retold by each generation with just slight variations to fit the fashions of the day. And the fact that they recur in this way, in such a similar form but in such different belief systems, suggests, I think, that we should be skeptical of the truth of any particular version of these stories. The fact that some people believe an omnipotent god will resurrect them to live again and others believe an omnipotent scientist will do it suggests that neither are really believing this on the strength of the evidence. Rather, we believe these stories because we are biased to believe them, and we are biased to believe them because we are so afraid of death.
 
So the question is, are we doomed to lead the one life we have in a way that is shaped by fear and denial, or can we overcome this bias? Well the Greek philosopher Epicurus thought we could. He argued that the fear of death is natural, but it is not rational. "Death," he said, "is nothing to us, because when we are here, death is not, and when death is here, we are gone." Now this is often quoted, but it's difficult to really grasp, to really internalize, because exactly this idea of being gone is so difficult to imagine. So 2,000 years later, another philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, put it like this: "Death is not an event in life: We do not live to experience death. And so," he added, "in this sense, life has no end."
 
So it was natural for me as a child to fear being swallowed by the void, but it wasn't rational, because being swallowed by the void is not something that any of us will ever live to experience.
 
Now, overcoming this bias is not easy because the fear of death is so deeply embedded in us, yet when we see that the fear itself is not rational, and when we bring out into the open the ways in which it can unconsciously bias us, then we can at least start to try to minimize the influence it has on our lives.
 
Now, I find it helps to see life as being like a book: Just as a book is bounded by its covers, by beginning and end, so our lives are bounded by birth and death, and even though a book is limited by beginning and end, it can encompass distant landscapes, exotic figures, fantastic adventures. And even though a book is limited by beginning and end, the characters within it know no horizons. They only know the moments that make up their story, even when the book is closed. And so the characters of a book are not afraid of reaching the last page. Long John Silver is not afraid of you finishing your copy of "Treasure Island." And so it should be with us. Imagine the book of your life, its covers, its beginning and end, and your birth and your death. You can only know the moments in between, the moments that make up your life. It makes no sense for you to fear what is outside of those covers, whether before your birth or after your death. And you needn't worry how long the book is, or whether it's a comic strip or an epic. The only thing that matters is that you make it a good story.
 
Thank you.
 
(Applause)

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