Awareness of Death and Personal Mortality: Implications for Anthropogeny

Event Dates: 
Mar 3, 2017 -
1:00pm to 5:30pm
Event Chairs:

Nicholas Humphrey, Senior Member, Darwin College, University of Cambridge
Ajit Varki, UC San Diego School of Medicine

While certain warm-blooded social animals and birds appear to react selectively and specifically to the death of other members of their group, humans seem to be very unusual in the quality and extent of our responses, and in the ability to translate these experiences into an understanding of our personal mortality. When during childhood do these levels of understanding emerge?  What is the underlying neurobiological basis for fears of death and mortality?   When during human evolution did these fears emerge, and how did our ancestors tolerate them without sinking into an evolutionary dead end of depression or hopelessness? Assuming we found a solution to this dilemma, why are we still the only mammals that commit suicide? What does the archaeological, historical and cross-cultural record tell us about these matters? And what are the consequences for our current human condition, ranging from self-esteem to social organization, to political leanings? This symposium will bring together expert speakers from a wide range of different disciplines that are relevant to seeking answers to these questions. In the process we will gain a better understanding of how increasing awareness of death and personal mortality shaped the origin of humans.

Examples of Organizations Relevant to Death Awareness and Mortality:

Academic/Research Organizations General/Public Outreach Organizations

Event Sessions

Media for each talk can be played by clicking on icons in the "Media" column, or by clicking on the individual talk titles below and then the attachment file at the bottom of the page.

Date Media Session Title Speakers
Fri 3/3 File Welcome Fred Gage, Salk Institute
Fri 3/3 File Opening Remarks Nicholas Humphrey, Senior Member, Darwin College, University of Cambridge
Fri 3/3 File Responses to Death in Chimpanzees and Other Mammals Dora Biro, University of Oxford
Fri 3/3 File Why do Corvid Birds Gather Around Their Dead? John Marzluff, University of Washington
Fri 3/3 File Understanding of Death and Mortality by Children Paul Harris, Harvard University
Fri 3/3 File What is Fear? And Is Fear of Death Really a “Fear”? Joseph LeDoux, New York University
Fri 3/3 File "Mind Over Reality Transition": The Evolution of Human Mortality Denial Ajit Varki, UC San Diego School of Medicine
Fri 3/3 File The Archaeology of Immortality in the Ancient World Colin Renfrew, University of Cambridge
Fri 3/3 File Death as Celebration: Cross-Cultural Perspectives Rita Astuti, London School of Economics & Political Science
Fri 3/3 File Human Mortality Denial and Terror Management Theory Sheldon Solomon, Skidmore College
Fri 3/3 File The Lure of Death: Suicide as a Uniquely Human Phenomenon Nicholas Humphrey, Senior Member, Darwin College, University of Cambridge
Fri 3/3 File Wrap-up, Question and Answer Session, Closing Remarks Ajit Varki, UC San Diego School of Medicine
All Speakers
Pascal Gagneux, University of California, San Diego

Event Glossary

A glossary for this event is available as a Searchable List and a PDF icon PDF.