India Uncut

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Gotta go to the gym

In an interesting paper titled "Fear of Death and Muddled Thinking – It Is So Much Worse Than You Think," (pdf file) Robin Hanson writes:
The fear of death is a powerful influence on our thinking, even if we are not often conscious of it. Our society, like all others before it, has a strong need to feel in control of death, even if we must embrace fairy tales and quack cures to gain that sense of control. The idea that we mostly do not understand and cannot control death is just not a message that people want to hear. The message that medical miracles can control death, in contrast, is a message that people do want to hear.

So we now spend 15% of our national income on medicine [US figures], even though half of that spending has been clearly demonstrated to be on average useless, and even though we have good reasons to doubt the value of most of the other half. Furthermore, we seem relatively uninterested in living longer by trying the things that our evidence suggests do work, like gaining high social status, exercising more, smoking less, and living in rural areas. Such apparently effective approaches to increasing lifespan just do not have the magic allure of conquering death via medical miracles.
It's actually almost reflexive on the part of humans to go into denial about whatever seems too horrible to contemplate, and which we are helpless to do anything about. When the West first heard about the kind of things Hitler was up to, they seemed too horrifying to be true. Much of the world was in similar denial about the brutalities of the Soviet Union, especially under Stalin. Our minds simply cannot handle certain thoughts: best ignore them altogether.

(Link via Marginal Revolution.)
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