Death is Stupid talks straight to kids about a topic most grown-ups struggle with


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/07/14/death-is-stupid-talks-straight.html


#2

“Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die”

Author unknown…


#3

This is ridiculous. It hardly takes a whole book to tell the kids it’s their fault.


#4

What about the afterlife?

That is a question that will come up in most cultural contexts; not addressing the subject leaves a huge hole in such a book, but I guess it’s really hard to address the subject without taking some kind of position.


#5

Author known…


#6

I always tell kids that being dead is the same as not being alive and that we were all not alive once.


#7

“Many people believe that consciousness continues in some way after death. However, there is no evidence to support the claim that it actually happens, and our current understanding of the physical universe does not provide any plausible mechanism for it to do so. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but it seems to be an unlikely hypothesis. However, unlikely hypotheses do occasionally turn out to be correct.”

You could probably put that into a kid-appropriate format, but it’s unlikely to mollify the folks who take the possibility seriously.


#8

Exactly. How dare we discount the evidence of His Miracles and the Revealed Word of the Bible? And how dare we demand a physical mechanism for Divine Acts?

But I’m not happy with it either, because Absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

The kid-appropriate translation might end up being something like “people don’t agree on whether we live on after we die”. Which, basically, leaves the huge hole I was talking about.


#9

Frankly that’s not what the book is about. It’s not about after.

If you see the need for that book you want, rather than berating an author (leaves the huge hole) for writing their book, how about you just write your book?

It’s nobodies responsibility to meet your expectations with their creativity. That’s what your creativity is for.


#10

I don’t think that person was berating the author. He/she simply brought up the thought that this book may not address questions of death that are common in many cultures. Are you having a bad day? If so, I hope it gets better and that you have an enjoyable weekend.


#11

I’m going to guess you couldn’t. It’s not just the words, it’s ideas behind the words. You are using concepts way beyond a four-, five- or six-year-old there.

Well, sort of. But that leaves out a very big question, which is the odds of either thing being true to begin with. If we know A causes B and we know ~B, then in most real life scenarios that should to some degree or other shift our belief about the probability of A a little bit. But if you don’t know P(A) then what is it shifting it from and what is it shifting it to? In reality, if we could do the math, maybe it would change P(A) from 0.05 to 0.04. Maybe it would change it from 0.999999 to 0.999998. In common usage, “evidence of something” means it makes a significant shift in our reason to believe that thing. Fingerprints on a murder weapon is evidence of murder. Having been in the same city a week before the murder is not, even though in a Bayesian sense I’m 100% sure it increases the likelihood of having committed the murder. Absence of evidence is rarely evidence of absence in that sense.


My big question about the book is what it says about the *kid* dying. My four-year-old hasn't had anyone she knows die, but she worries about dying a lot. We straight up lie and say that she isn't going to die for a very long time and point to her nonagenarian great grandmother as evidence that you get to live to be very old. The reality that she could die any day but that it isn't very likely seems beyond her grasp.

I’ve never worried that much about explaining the death of an elderly person to her, or talking to her about how it makes her feel. It’s really her fear of death that seems like a big problem.


#12

Am I having a bad day? It was slight worse after the comment I was responding to! How condescending!


#13

Oh man, the thought of a four year old worrying about death troubles me. I wish there was a guarantee that kids would outlive their parents. I work with a lady whose son is in med school with a focus on pediatric oncology. I give him a ton of credit. I don’t think I have the emotional composition to deal with kids with cancer on a daily basis. The victories would be incredible but the defeats would never go away.


#14

I have no memory of ever being unaware of the concept of death (keeping large numbers of budgies helps with that; deceased birds were routine), or of ever being at all bothered by the idea. Everything dies, water is wet, fire is hot.

Never considered the afterlife to be a realistic possibility, either; atheist parents, secular country.

I do have a clear memory of being six years old and considering how I would like to die when the time came. “Fall from a great height” was the winner at the time. It seemed to be both quick and scenic.

However, I was a pretty weird kid.


#15

Well thank you for being such a friendly and cheery person and berating me for things I didn’t do - nowhere was I berating the author. Please stop to think whether that makes my day any better.

Just to be clear: I was not berating the author, I was pointing out that the author had a choice here where she won’t be able to make everybody happy at the same time, and I was wondering which way she chose.

The mourners’ beliefs about the afterlife have a significant impact on how they deal with the death of a loved one.


True; I was using the term in a more scientific sense. There are pretty blatant examples of absence of evidence being rather strong evidence which usually don’t end up being referred to as “evidence” in common usage. Imagine:

Prosecution: The defendant murdered the victim by stabbing him into the heart.
Defense: The body shows no evidence of a stab wound.

In reality, that case would just never go to court.


Humans are well known to be mostly unable to intuitively understand probabilities. And four-year-olds tend to be slightly worse at understanding things than the average of the human population.

But that’s another interesting challenge for the book. And of course there are two parts to the answer - “Don’t worry, it won’t happen [any time soon, at least probably not]”, and “Don’t be afraid of death when it comes, because [well… good luck with that one]”.


Weird is good. Stay weird.


#16

Yeah, straight up lying that it won’t happen soon seems fine to me right now. I mean, we tell kids that electrons orbit nuclei - a straight up lie that’s a building block for the truth. As for not being afraid when death comes, I don’t know, I almost want to say, “Why not?” I guess it comes down to which is going to be greater suffering - fear of death or trying to force yourself not to fear death if fear of death seems natural to you. Plus, fear of death is not such a bad thing when you are thinking about day-to-day stuff like whether to wander out into traffic or play near a high ledge.


#17

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