ScienceDaily on a study suggesting that the conviction that our souls will survive beyond death is a feeling that emerges intuitively:
Most people believe they are immortal. That is, that part of themselves-some indelible core, soul or essence-will transcend the body’s death and live forever. But why? And why is this belief so unshakable?
A new Boston University study published in Child Development suggests that our bias toward immortality is a part of human intuition that naturally emerges early in life. And the part of us that is eternal, we believe, is our hopes, desires and emotions.
Researchers have long suspected that people develop ideas about the afterlife through cultural exposure, like television or movies, or through religious instruction. But perhaps, thought Emmons, these ideas of immortality actually emerge from our intuition. Just as children learn to talk without formal instruction, maybe they also intuit that part of their mind could exist apart from their body.
Emmons tackled this question by focusing on “prelife,” the period before conception, since few cultures have beliefs or views on the subject. Emmons interviewed children from an indigenous Shuar village in the Amazon Basin of Ecuador. She chose the group because they have no cultural prelife beliefs. For comparison, she also interviewed children from an urban area near Quito, Ecuador. Both groups gave remarkably similar answers, despite their radically different cultures.
Both groups also said that their emotions and desires existed before they were born. Why would humans have evolved this seemingly universal belief in the eternal existence of our emotions? We tend to see people as the sum of their mental states, and desires and emotions may be particularly helpful when predicting their behavior. Because this ability is so useful and so powerful, it flows over into other parts of our thinking. We sometimes see connections where potentially none exist, we hope there’s a master plan for the universe, and we imagine that a soul survives without a body.