Life, Death, and Everything In Between: Science, Mortality, and Meaning Across Cultures - Endless Discoveries (2023)

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The United Nations World Happiness Ranking is always an interesting starting point for making cross-cultural comparisons between societies that embody commercial/secular/materialistic values ​​on the one hand, and societies that embody more traditional values ​​on the other. /spiritual. / Interpersonal values. Three characteristics that the repeat winners in these rankings (mainly northern European countries and Australia/New Zealand) seem to share are 1) high politico-financial investments in their public institutions such as education, health care and family support (the call is 'democratic socialism', if you will) in addition to the vitality of the (capitalist) private sector, 2) a strong sense of community in addition to individualistic independence and 3) the emphasis on the importance of family-family-social quality of life in addition to professional success. The most successful nations do not allow the last aspect of each of these qualities to undermine the integrity of the first. On the other hand, American society often seems to emphasize the latter traits over the former, as the article on the Good page"Why Denmark tops the world rankings for happiness year after year"suggests, this may explain why his place in the rankings (despite the well-known strength of American optimism) has never been at the top and now seems to be falling. One explanation for this difference might lie in a long-standing concept known as "hygge" in Denmark, which has no equivalent in American culture:

"Hygge is sometimestranslatedlike "cozy," but a better definition of hygge is "deliberate intimacy," which can occur when sharing safe, balanced, and harmonious experiences. A cup of coffee with a friend in front of a fireplace might be an option, as might a summer picnic in the park. In the US, which also values ​​individualism, there is no real cultural equivalent to hygge. Income is generally associated with happiness; Yet even as the country's GDP has risen and the unemployment rate has fallen, happiness levels in the US have remained constant.decreasing. What's up? Income inequality remains a problem. But there was also a markreducein interpersonal trust and trust towards institutions such as the government, as well as themedia. Ultimately, having more disposable income isn't enough to have someone to rely on in times of need (something that95 percentof Danes think so). At its core, hygge is about building intimacy and trust with others. Americans could probably use a little more in their lives."

From modern America halfway around the world and at the other end of the pre-industrial/post-industrial spectrum,Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli shares his thoughts in Aeon magazine, sitting by firelight with the Hazda (a hunter-gatherer people of the East African desert). Rovelli (whose relational interpretation of quantum physics has become very popular recently) considers the differences between pre-industrial, pre-agricultural primary cultures and our modern, scientific, commercial culture. All the benefits of the post-Neolithic era of material wealth, technocratic sophistication, and intellectual innovation that have expanded our civilization's freedoms and potentials, he observed, have simultaneously produced the socioeconomic stratification, economic exploitation, impersonal dehumanization, and political inequality that plague us, have made us so miserable . While humanity may have acquired incredible skills and technical knowledge since the dawn of Neolithic civilizations, we may also have lost the simple capacity for peace and equanimity that comes with primal life (with its calm, uncomplicated ways of conscience), friendship, and spirituality . ... This, he concludes, is the paradoxically miraculous and tragic state of humanity in the 21st century.

All of these examples shed light on why, in contemporary American society, the stage of life we ​​call "old age" (or perhaps more accurately, if less euphemistically, "end of life") is again becoming increasingly, albeit unintentionally, devalued and psychologically impoverished by its treatment as a disease rather than a developmental process, as an individual problem rather than an aspect of community and family life, and as an opportunity for exploitation, business rather than human concern and compassion.For University of Virginia sociologist Joseph DavisBehind this American attitude towards the end of life hides in our scientifically understood world view the greatest devaluation of human existence itself: life simply understood as a mechanistic function of biochemically driven organisms, to survive briefly in a meaningless material through its unconscious neurology in the universe and then at some point have no other function more. With the decline of cultural traditions, religious beliefs, communal identities, or connection to something deeper than what a scientifically engineered capitalist commercial culture can sell us, this impoverished worldview is the unspoken creed of contemporary western civilization...and as it lends an outside value to everything survival value and monetary value have become obsolete, values ​​based on tradition and social or spiritual ties have dissolved... and "old age" has become nothing more than the final stage on the road to biological oblivion.

Socrates said the goal of philosophy is to prepare us for death and investigation.Psychiatrist Warren Ward views the ideas of some of the leading thinkers in this Socratic direction.– from Socrates to Heidegger and the Buddha – in this direction. He points out how they remind us that because of the apparent meaninglessness and hopelessness that mortality seems to impose on human existence, many—perhaps most—of our life projects are designed to distract us from our own mortality, and therefore in general We live in constant distraction and self-deception: immersed in idle pastimes and futile pursuits. Wordsworth wrote: "The world is too much with us sooner or later. Buy and spend, we waste our energies,” while Sartre simply proclaimed that the life most of us live without authenticity is simply the pursuit of one “useless passion” after another. Foreshadowing Sartre's existential angst, Thomas Hobbes, always the cynical realist, declared: "I assert as the general tendency of all mankind, a perpetual and restless craving for power, ending only in death," and that intuition (especially when it replacing the word "power" with, say, "money" or "fleeting pleasure") seems to describe the state of postmodern life for most people in American society.

However, Ward concludes that we are not bound by this condition. Like the Hazda, we have the ability to let go of our mind-numbing distractions, face our mortality, and face the ultimate reckoning that it represents. Indeed, this is essential to turning life projects into constructive engagements with mortality and meaning rather than escaping them. Facing the inevitability of death revitalizes life and fills our life goals with enduring meaning and purpose.

I tend to agree with Ward, but I would add that this also depends on how we conceive of life, death and the human condition... If only, as the contemporary Western scientific-naturalistic paradigm seems to suggest, we consider mere biological ones Organisms are doomed to perpetual competition with others for material possessions and fleeting pleasures in a meaningless physical universe destined, as contemporary cosmology tells us, to eventually resolve into a state of 'heat death' and oblivion of eternal entropy, then neither life nor death (or anything else) seems to have any meaning. Our death is final and our life is useless and fleeting. However, if there is an ultimate design, grand and eternal cosmic meaning, design, or purpose that transcends and embraces our mortal human existence, then life, with all its hopes, dreams, triumphs, tragedies, and wonders (so brief and... fleeting as it is) . seems) maybe it could have an enduring meaning that lasts forever...or at least resonates through eternity in some meaningful way...

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