ELBOD: It also now seems obvious to me why humans believe in a life after this life, heaven and hell, life hereafter.
TALBOT: This seems like a strange topic for you to think about.
ELBOD: We are surrounded by these visions of everlasting bliss or damnation just about everyday. People mention them in passing, or when they swear, or you might see a quote on one of those new signs in front of a church.
Certainly all of us are afraid of death. We are programmed to be afraid so that we will survive and help our children to survive.
TALBOT: So what is the reason?
ELBOD: About 50,000 years ago, about the time that language was developed, people started burying their dead with ceremonial jewelry and other items to help them in the next life.
I imagine before language and symbols people lived completely in the present. But with language they could imagine all sorts of things. For example they could imagine the future birth of a child. They could carefully plan the building of a shelter or a boat. This ability of humans to think about future and past time is perhaps the greatest strength of civilization. We use time like a resource, like a commodity, we slice it and dice it and chop it up into hours and minutes. And we plan our lives around it.
TALBOT: You've said much of this before. What's new.
ELBOD: I think that when humans realized they could imagine the future, they also knew that they could imagine their own death, or a time beyond their lifetime. While humans can do wondrous things, they simply could not accept the reality of their death that lay in their future imagining. Death is like a blank wall.
To soften the blow, to console the survivors, to give the rest of the tribe strength to carry on, the concept of a life beyond this life came into being.
TALBOT: So what is there after death, according to you?
ELBOD: There is nothing, simply nothing. We might think of it as silence, or quiet, or peace, or rest. But it is nothing, absolutely nothing. The silence of a stone.
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