【媒库文选】大脑如何让我们逃避人终有一死的真相

2019-11-06 14:46   参考消息网  

How Our Brains Shield Us from Mortal Truth 大脑如何让我们逃避人终有一死的真相

Ian Sample 伊恩·桑普尔

Warning: this story is about death. You might want to click away now.

That's because, researchers say, our brains do their best to keep us from dwelling on our inevitable demise. A study found that the brain shields us from existential fear by categorising death as an unfortunate event that only befalls other people.

“The brain does not accept that death is related to us,” said Yair Dor-Ziderman, at Bar Ilan University in Israel. “We have this primal mechanism that means when the brain gets information that links self to death, something tells us it's not reliable, so we shouldn't believe it.”

Being shielded from thoughts of our future death could be crucial for us to live in the present. The protection may switch on in early life as our minds develop and we realise death comes to us all.

“The moment you have this ability to look into your own future, you realise that at some point you're going to die and there's nothing you can do about it,” said Dor-Ziderman. “That goes against the grain of our whole biology, which is helping us to stay alive.”

To investigate how the brain handles thoughts of death, Dor-Ziderman and colleagues developed a test that involved producing signals of surprise in the brain.

They asked volunteers to watch faces flash up on a screen while their brain activity was monitored. The person's own face or that of a stranger flashed up on screen several times, followed by a different face. On seeing the final face, the brain flickered with surprise because the image clashed with what it had predicted.

Various words appeared above the faces on screen. Half of the time these were death-related words such as “funeral” or “burial”. The scientists found that if a person's own face flashed up next to deathly words, their brain shut down its prediction system. It refused to link the self with death and no surprise signals were recorded.

Avi Goldstein, a senior author on the paper, said: “This suggests that we shield ourselves from existential threats, or consciously thinking about the idea that we are going to die,by shutting down predictions about the self, or categorising the information as being about other people rather than ourselves.”

Dor-Ziderman added: “We cannot rationally deny that we will die, but we think of it more as something that happens to other people.” The study will be published in NeuroImage next month.

In the not-so-distant past, Zor-Diderman pointed out, our brain's defences against thoughts of death were balanced out by the reality of death around us. Today, he believes, society is more death-phobic, with sick people confined to hospitals and elderly people to care homes. As a result, he suspects, people know far less about the end of life and perhaps come to fear it more.

Arnaud Wisman, a psychologist at the University of Kent, said people put up numerous defences to stave off thoughts of death. The young in particular may see it as a problem for other people, he said.

His own work had found that in modern societies people embraced what he called the “escape treadmill”, where hard work, pub sessions, checking mobile phones and buying more stuff meant people were simply too busy to worry about death.

“However, it is not a solution to the problem itself,” he said. “So we need to keep escaping.”

警告:这篇报道讲的是死亡话题。你现在也许应该点击关闭键退出。

研究人员说,这是因为,我们的大脑竭尽全力不让我们老去想那不可避免的死亡。一项研究发现,大脑将死亡归类为一个只会降临于他人的不幸事件,借此使我们免于产生存在恐惧。

以色列巴尔伊兰大学的亚伊尔·多尔-齐德曼说:“大脑不承认死亡与我们有关。我们有这种原始机制,它意味着,当大脑收到将自我与死亡联系起来的信息时,某个声音就告诉我们,它不可靠,因此我们不应该相信它。”

免于去想未来终有一死对我们活在当下至关重要。这种保护可能在我们生命的早期就开启了,随着心智发育,我们渐渐认识到人人都终有一死。

多尔-齐德曼说:“一旦你有了这种展望自己未来的能力,你就意识到,你到某一时刻会死,而你对此无能为力。这违背了帮助我们活下去的整个生物学常理。”

为了研究大脑如何应对关于死亡的思考,多尔-齐德曼及其同事设计了一项涉及在大脑中产生惊讶信号的试验。

他们要求志愿者观看在屏幕上闪现的面孔,同时对其大脑活动进行监测。志愿者本人的面孔或陌生人的面孔在屏幕上闪现数次,随后是一张不同的面孔。当看到最后一张面孔时,大脑闪现出惊讶,因为图像与它的预测相冲突。

屏幕上的面孔上方配有各种单词,一半时候与死亡有关,比如“葬礼”或“埋葬”。科学家发现,如果一个人自己的面孔配上与死亡相关的字眼闪现,他们的大脑就会关闭预测系统。它拒绝将自我与死亡联系起来,不发出惊讶信号。

论文通讯作者阿维·戈德斯坦说:“这表明,我们通过停止做出关于自我的预测或把死亡信息归类为事关他人而非我们自己来保护自己免于面对生存威胁,或者说,免于有意识地思考我们终会死亡的念头。”

多尔-齐德曼还说:“我们在理智上无法否认我们会死亡,但我们更多地把它看作发生在他人身上的事。”研究论文将于下月发表在《神经影像学》杂志上。

多尔-齐德曼指出,在不太遥远的过去,我们大脑对死亡思考的防御被周围有人死亡的现实抵消。他认为,当今社会对死亡的恐惧更甚,病人被关进医院,老人被送进养老院。他怀疑,因此,人们对生命之终结的了解少了许多,也许结果更加害怕死亡。

肯特大学的心理学家阿诺德·威斯曼说,人们想方设法抵御对死亡的思考。他说,年轻人尤其可能会把死亡看成是别人的事。

他自己的研究发现,在现代社会,人们欣然接受他所谓的“逃避性劳动”,即辛苦工作、酒吧聚会、查看手机和购买更多东西,忙得无暇担心死亡。

他说:“然而,这不是解决问题本身的办法。所以我们需要不停地逃避。”(裘芳译自英国《卫报》网站10月19日文章)

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