More than one hundred years ago, the American philosopher William James dubbed the knowledge that we must die “the worm at the core” of the human condition. In 1974, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Denial of Death, arguing that the terror of death has a pervasive effect on human affairs. In The Worm at the Core, Sheldon Solomon shows that this knowledge of our own death guides our thoughts and actions from the creation of our greatest works of art, to the devastating wars we wage. He hows conclusively that the fear of death and the desire to transcend it inspire us to buy expensive cars, crave fame, put our health at risk, and disguise our animal nature. Through his research, he and his colleagues also developed terror management theory- which proposes that human culture infuses our lives with order, stability, significance, and purpose, and these anchors enable us to function moment to moment without becoming overwhelmed by the knowledge of our ultimate fate. In this exclusive interview, I speak to Professor Sheldon Solomon about the role of death in life and how we must reconsider and rethink our lives in the face of the inevitable.
On the Role of Death in Life: A Conversation with Sheldon Solomon