The Sunday Magazine

We're all going to die — and that's a good thing

In his book, The Consolations of Mortality: Making Sense of Death, Andrew Stark explains why mortality is a gift to humanity. He says we would become terminally nostalgic — or bored — if we could live forever.
Headstones are surrounded by dead grass at the Presidio National Cemetery on July 15, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The thought of death can paralyze us in unexpected moments. 

Our thoughts, our memories, our most private and precious desires...all extinguished. The places and people we love...carrying on without us. No more chances to make amends...or to give our lives the weight and meaning we thought we would someday find. 

In the face of the raw horror of death, philosophy feels like cold comfort. What argument, whether it comes from existentialism or from relentless optimism, can prepare us for the fact that someday — perhaps very soon — we will kiss the people we love for the last time? 

But if we don't confront our fear of death, it can consume us. And so we keep trying to find some way to reconcile ourselves to the end. 

In The Consolations of Mortality: Making Sense of Death, University of Toronto political science and management professor Andrew Stark examines four secular consolations offered to us by some of history's greatest thinkers and writers, and tests them to see whether they can genuinely bring comfort. He concludes that though our mortality can be awful to contemplate, the alternative — immortality — would be far worse.

Andrew Stark talks to Michael about trying to come to terms with his own mortality, and about why he believes we would end up terminally nostalgic or terminally bored if we could live forever. 

Click the button above to hear Michael's interview with Andrew Stark. 

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