SU professor takes on the topic of death in new study

Jun 23, 2014

A Syracuse University professor will be spending the next several months thinking about death, as part of a grant by the Immortality Project at the University of California, Riverside.

SU's Philosophy Department Chairman Ben Bradley will lead the research into a topic not many people want to talk about - death. He says the focus will be on the emotions and attitudes people have about their own death.

“How should you feel about the fact that you are going to die?" Bradley said. "People tend to be afraid or upset about the fact that they are going to die, and the question is does that make sense.”

He says most people fear death.

"People who think it’s bad to die point out that well, when you die you are deprived of the good things in life," Bradley explained. "So think of all the things you’re not going to be able to do if you die. You don’t exist. You have to exist in order to do things. And so since you want to do these things you don’t want to die. So that’s the standard answer to why death is bad for people.”

His study will also look at whether that fear is rational.

"If you think that you are going to just stop existing, then the question is how should you feel about not existing. If you’re not existing, you’re not going to be in pain, you’re just not going to be there, so is that something that is upsetting to you?”

Bradley says people’s opinions are shaped by what they feel happens after death. For purposes of his research, he’ll focus on attitudes of people who believe death is simply the end of life, and will also look at the attitudes of extended or immortal life. He says these attitudes can determine whether researchers should, for example, spend more time looking for ways to extend life for older people, as opposed to looking for cures of particular diseases.