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Help me with my "research" on the fear of death?

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I'm gathering info for an essay I intend to write in the future, so any assistance anyone could grant would be fantastic. Please answer some or all of the following questions:

1. Have you ever, in your life, experienced a kind of "existential" fear of death?

2. What do you think was the cause of said fear?

3. What did you do about it? Do you still experience it?

4. My personal thinking, based on my own experiences, is that fear of death is actually the result of an unhappy, unproductive life; one filled with endless, repetitive, pointless activities leading nowhere. Does this gel with your experience? Why or why not?

Edit: There's been a bit of confusion on this, so I just wanted to clarify. An "existential" dread or fear is an all-consuming or all-permeating fear without specific object, it is literally fear of nothing, which is what fear of death is, the fear of the NOTHING. As an aside, I noticed that at those times when I was experiencing my worst fear of death, I also had a punishing anxiety of wide-open spaces, of empty expanses of blue sky, of heights, of falling, and of being sucked into a void. I wonder what the connection is?--Jennifer

Edited by JMeganSnow
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Just to clarify, are you speaking of circumstances when there was no real risk of unexpected death? I mean, things like: "I was once in a plane and the engine caught on fire...we were over the Atlantic" or "There was this time when the eprson I had pulled over, wrestled my weapon away from me..." or "There was this time when the doctor misdiagnosed my test and said I had only 2 months...".

Are you speaking of people who have no reason to think they will have an "untimely" death and yet fear it? Also, those who fear death even at (say) 90.

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Are you speaking of people who have no reason to think they will have an "untimely" death and yet fear it? Also, those who fear death even at (say) 90.

Yes, that's exactly what I'm talking about, as particularly characterized by the type of religionist that asks atheists "but, what happens to you when you die?" as if that's somehow important. It's specifically an existential kind of dread.

I don't expect many people at this forum experience this NOW, but they may have in the PAST, and that's what I'm specifically looking for.

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1. Have you ever, in your life, experienced a kind of "existential" fear of death?

When I was younger, in my teens, I did have a fear of dying because I felt I hadn't yet experienced enough of life and thought it would be sad to go without having experienced my first kiss, falling in love, graduating, traveling, motherhood, etc..

2. What do you think was the cause of said fear?

Watching too many news stories of car accidents and murders probably.

3. What did you do about it? Do you still experience it?

No, I don't experience it anymore. Even before I discovered Objectivism I decided to live everyday to the fullest and not do anything I would regret.

4. My personal thinking, based on my own experiences, is that fear of death is actually the result of an unhappy, unproductive life; one filled with endless, repetitive, pointless activities leading nowhere. Does this gel with your experience? Why or why not?

No because (as a young teen) school, family and friends are pretty much the repetitive cycle you go through every day- you don't have much of a choice. You can't really be as productive as you'd want to be because you're still learning and acquiring the skills. If you're an adult and you feel this way then I would agree with your theory.

Hope I helped some. :thumbsup:

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No because (as a young teen) school, family and friends are pretty much the repetitive cycle you go through every day- you don't have much of a choice. You can't really be as productive as you'd want to be because you're still learning and acquiring the skills. If you're an adult and you feel this way then I would agree with your theory.

Thanks for the reply.

Doesn't this observation tend to support my theory? I mean, you said that you experienced fear of death more when you were a teenager, bound to that repetitive life you had no control over, yes? And you don't experience it any more now that you aren't stuck, correct? I, too, have experienced this, as my fear has significantly decreased over time as I gained more control over my life.

It raises serious doubts in my mind as to the way teenagers are treated, if this is a frequent phenomenon.

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You're right...it does support your theory. I just thought it was unfair to call teens unproductive when they had no choice. Your comments have made me wonder if this is what's behind all that teen angst and depression that is often reported.

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I think it's a derivative of it, yes, but while I think unhappiness/unproductiveness is the source of the fear of death, I think the primary source of the unhappiness is that teenagers especially aren't allowed to be productive in a manner they actually want.

Having never been taught any method for discovering rational long-term values, all they have for a guide is the vague feeling that they "enjoy" some particular pursuit. They cannot validate their pursuit of it, so doing so makes them feel vaguely guilty, and they also cannot pursue it in any kind of systematic manner.

In my particular case, any attempt to devote myself to a particular occupation (fiction writing and art, in particular) was denounced as "stupid", "pie in the sky" etc. by my parents. I recieved a tremendous load of mixed messages, too, in the form of my mother encouraging my "creativity" while damning the TIME I spent engaging in creative activity instead of doing things that I hated and thought were pointless.

Note that I'm not saying all teenagers go through this. In fact, if you didn't, I'd love to hear from you also, because more info helps build a better picture.

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Actually as a teen I wanted to be a fiction writer because of my love of books. When I told my parents though they said that was not a suitable career because it wouldn't pay the bills. They kept trying to convince me that a doctor was the best career in the world for intelligent people.

My poor brother's talent also got stunted this way. He was a great little artist since he could hold a crayon (about 2 years old) but was again told about "starving artists" and in high school he gave it up completely. It's quite sad to see how many parents do this to their kids.

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You're absolutely right, and the sad part is that there is nothing like being told that you can't "make it" as a writer, painter, whatever to turn you against developing your skills properly so that you CAN.

Ayn Rand talks about this a bit in The Romantic Manifesto: people imagine that being a successful composer, painter, or what-have-you requires some sort of mystical, unexplainable "talent" that you either possess or you don't. They ask "Can I do this?" instead of "what is required to do it?", they spend all their time when they should be looking outwards, at reality, learning about the concrete expressions that they wish to create instead in fruitless introspection, searching their soul for that artistic "spark" that the believe will make all the difference.

No wonder artists are frequently characterized as being manic-depressive.

Sorry, I know that was a bit aside. I have no doubt that people who wanted to go into other fields but were stymied because it was "impractical" experienced the same things.

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Well good luck with the essay...I'm sure you'll get more replies. You definitely know what you're talking about. At least from our experiences and with Objectivism we'll be able to be better parents. I know I'm just going to encourage my children to pursue whatever makes them happiest (as long as its not illegal).

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1. Have you ever, in your life, experienced a kind of "existential" fear of death?

Yes. I used to think about it more, but not as much anymore.

2.  What do you think was the cause of said fear?
I was considering joining the Marines. Combat and the possiblity of death was a serious thing to consider.

3.  What did you do about it?  Do you still experience it?

Yes, on occasion. Actually I've been searching for an answer from Objectivism on this, but have yet to find one. Since I don't have the comfort of believing in an afterlife, death is an especially scary idea for me. The way I've dealt with it thus far is to do what I can to stay healthy (and live a long life), and make sure the time I have in this world has had some meaning.

It raises serious doubts in my mind as to the way teenagers are treated, if this is a frequent phenomenon.

I disagree with that. I don't think it has to do with how teenagers are treated, but more to do with the nature of being a teenager. When you are that age you question various aspects of life. Death is a part of life, and it is a very scary thought. When I was a teenager, I sometimes (but rarely; I thought about it much more when I was considering the Marines) thought about death, and my logic went something like this: "What if my Catholic parents are wrong about heaven? What if this is the only time I have"? It is very typical of a teenager to question what his parents say, and that's all I was doing back then. At that time in my life I was "on the fence" with Atheism, but now I am an atheist. I've thoroughly questioned the things people have told me (death in particular) and have realized that I have a limited time to live. No matter what it will always be a scary thing, but I find it best to focus on the time I do have instead of thinking about the time when I will no longer exist.

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When I was younger, in my teens, I did have a fear of dying because I felt I hadn't yet experienced enough of life and thought it would be sad to go without having experienced my first kiss, falling in love, graduating, traveling, motherhood, etc..

No because (as a young teen) school, family and friends are pretty much the repetitive cycle you go through every day- you don't have much of a choice. You can't really be as productive as you'd want to be because you're still learning and acquiring the skills. If you're an adult and you feel this way then I would agree with your theory.

This seems to portray my recent/current situation, I am eighteen and have been experiencing this defeatist dread of action for fear of dieing before I could do anything about it. Something I am only now starting to see for what it is and properly introspect on it for once, thus eliminating it.

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Yeah, it is tough being a teen. Parents and older adults are often saying to you ..."what's your rush?...you have your whole life ahead of you..etc" but what's going through your mind is "I could die tomorrow and I still haven't ....(insert whatever)".

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Yes, on occasion.  Actually I've been searching for an answer from Objectivism on this, but have yet to find one.  Since I don't have the comfort of believing in an afterlife, death is an especially scary idea for me.  The way I've dealt with it thus far is to do what I can to stay healthy (and live a long life), and make sure the time I have in this world has had some meaning.

This is precisely why I want to write this essay; I haven't seen an Objectivist intellectual really deal with the issue, and I think this may be specifically because being fully into and involved in the pursuit of your life's work precludes experiencing this sort of fear entirely.

One of the realizations that really helped me get my head in the right place (and BOY did it ever take me forever to understand it) was the fact that without death, life has no meaning and no possibility of meaning. Without a fundmental alternative, there can be no values, no reason to want anything, no reason to act, and no purpose for action, because nothing you do will make any difference one way or the other.

Now, fearing the possibility of, say, getting shot in the Marines is perfectly rational; that's not a generalized existential fear of death, that's fear of a specific increase in the likelyhood of your death in the near future. Depending on how much you value what you would accomplish by joining the Marines, this increased likelyhood of death may or may not be desirable. It's certainly something to take into account.

Belief in an afterlife, as an escape from having to worry about death, actually makes your life meaningless. (This is why, btw, there has to be a "good afterlife" and a "bad afterlife".) If, no matter what you do, you're immortal, then what difference does it make what you do? Oh, if you're bad you get . . . eternal boredom, whereas if you're good, you get . . . a different kind of eternal boredom. Wow, what a draw. I'm so motivated. ::sarcasm::

Isaac Asimov addressed this in one of his nonfiction essays: have you noticed that no one has ever really come up with an idea for a really enjoyable eternity? I mean, no matter what went on, eventually you'd get bored, and there'd be NO ESCAPE. Even excruciating torture would eventually pall.

Morgan Freeman's character also says something interesting about the issue in "Million Dollar Baby", a movie I saw recently. "People die every day, doing the dishes, mopping floors, walking around . . . and you know what they all think right there at that last second? I never got my shot . . ."

If you do what's necessary to make your own shot, death ceases to have metaphysical importance. Weird, but true.

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Thanks, Student.

We're talking about a psychological error here, after all, an end result of bad premises or something like that . . . it's hardly surprising that Kellyites would be more likely to experience such a phenomenon, and thus to devote more time to considering it. They may even have reached some interesting and useful conclusions about it.

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I am a teenager (17) and I agree for the most part with the above posts. Normally I don't fear death when I'm engaged with other activity - it never crosses my mind. It's when I'm not doing something productive (eg. laying awake in bed) that those fears creep up on me. When that happens I sort of visualize the rest of my life in fast forward - not enough to see the details, only to see the end. Then I begin to worry that I won't find a carrer doing what I love, and that even if I do eventually I will die, my very being sent into oblivion and that I will never again see my loved ones. It feels as though there is a gaping hole just around the corner, that death isn't far away, and life is too short to accomplish the things that I want to do. Speaking of Asimov, he once wrote that he didn't mind dying so much as the fact that he would have to stop writing. And then miraculously all of the fears will stop and I get on with me life. <_<

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I'm gathering info for an essay I intend to write in the future, so any assistance anyone could grant would be fantastic.  Please answer some or all of the following questions:

1. Have you ever, in your life, experienced a kind of "existential" fear of death?

2.  What do you think was the cause of said fear?

3.  What did you do about it?  Do you still experience it?

4.  My personal thinking, based on my own experiences, is that fear of death is actually the result of an unhappy, unproductive life; one filled with endless, repetitive, pointless activities leading nowhere.  Does this gel with your experience?  Why or why not?

1) When I was younger, and had less sound philosophies, I had what one might call a "fear that I was wasting my time". but never a fear of death.

2) n/a in my case. But if I had have had one, I would think that it would have been because I feared that I was wasting my ability, failing to acheive according to my potential,. that i was going nowhere as you put it. That I was not living life to the greatest extent possible... something like that.

3) n/a

4) I would agree with your way of thinking on this. As I see it, if one was that unproductive, then they might well fear death, because part of them would realise that such inactivity would speed the coming of death. If not physical death, then the death of the human 'spirit', of the death of that in man which makes them great. Their mind and thirst for life. Perhaps part of them realises the alternative to life, which I would think would be a prompt to pay attention to what they are wasting...

(Fixed quotation block-sNerd)

Edited by softwareNerd
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1) When I was younger, and had less sound philosophies,  I had what one might call a "fear that I was wasting my time".  but never a fear of death.

Thanks, Dwayne. I do think that it's a specifically delimited phenomenon; perhaps caused not only by the fact that you believe you're wasting your time, but that you think it's never going to change, either.

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Well, thank you, Hal, that's really helpful.

Heh. Well I'm not sure what else I could have said - you cant really tell an interesting story about not having a fear. And from your original post I thought you were interested in some sort of statistical survey as well as detailed personal experiences.

But to make an actual contribution, its wrong to say that a fear of death is "literally a fear of nothing". A 'fear of nothing' implies an undirected fear - not being scared of anything in particular, but just having the raw sensation of being afraid, without knowing either why or of what. This can happen during anxiety attacks. A fear of death is quite different from this, since this fear is actually directed (towards death and the the thought of dying). I have experienced anxiety attacks in the past so yes, I suppose I have had an existential fear of nothing (although perhaps not in the way you mean).

Edited by Hal
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