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The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life
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Random House Publishing Group 2015
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A transformative, fascinating theory—based on robust and groundbreaking experimental research—reveals how our unconscious fear of death powers almost everything we do, shining a light on the hidden motives that drive human behavior
 
More than one hundred years ago, the American philosopher William James dubbed the knowledge that we must die “the worm at the core” of the human condition. In 1974, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Denial of Death, arguing that the terror of death has a pervasive effect on human affairs. Now authors Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski clarify with wide-ranging evidence the many ways the worm at the core guides our thoughts and actions, from the great art we create to the devastating wars we wage.
 
The Worm at the Core is the product of twenty-five years of in-depth research. Drawing from innovative experiments conducted around the globe, Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski show conclusively that the fear of death and the desire to transcend it inspire us to buy expensive cars, crave fame, put our health at risk, and disguise our animal nature. The fear of death can also prompt judges to dole out harsher punishments, make children react negatively to people different from themselves, and inflame intolerance and violence.
 
But the worm at the core need not consume us. Emerging from their research is a unique and compelling approach to these deeply existential issues: terror management theory. TMT proposes that human culture infuses our lives with order, stability, significance, and purpose, and these anchors enable us to function moment to moment without becoming overwhelmed by the knowledge of our ultimate fate. The authors immerse us in a new way of understanding human evolution, child development, history, religion, art, science, mental health, war, and politics in the twenty-first century. In so doing, they also reveal how we can better come to terms with death and learn to lead lives of courage, creativity, and compassion.
 
Written in an accessible, jargon-free style, The Worm at the Core offers a compelling new paradigm for understanding the choices we make in life—and a pathway toward divesting ourselves of the cultural and personal illusions that keep us from accepting the end that awaits us all.

Praise for The Worm at the Core
 
“The idea that nearly all human individual and cultural activity is a response to death sounds far-fetched. But the evidence the authors present is compelling and does a great deal to address many otherwise intractable mysteries of human behaviour. This is an important, superbly readable and potentially life-changing book.”The Guardian (U.K.)

“A neat fusion of ideas borrowed from sociology, anthropology, existential philosophy and psychoanalysis.”The Herald (U.K.)

“Deep, important, and beautifully written, The Worm at the Core describes a brilliant and utterly original program of scientific research on a force so powerful that it drives our lives.”—Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Stumbling on Happiness
 
“As psychology becomes increasingly trivial, devolving into the promotion of positive-thinking platitudes, The Worm at the Core bucks the trend. The authors present—and provide robust evidence for—a psychological thesis with disturbing personal as well as political...
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Street Date:
05/12/2015
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780679604884
ASIN:
B00N6PELWO
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APA Citation (style guide)

Sheldon Solomon. (2015). The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life. Random House Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Sheldon Solomon. 2015. The Worm At the Core: On the Role of Death in Life. Random House Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Sheldon Solomon, The Worm At the Core: On the Role of Death in Life. Random House Publishing Group, 2015.

MLA Citation (style guide)

Sheldon Solomon. The Worm At the Core: On the Role of Death in Life. Random House Publishing Group, 2015. Web.

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      • bioText: Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski are professors of psychology at Skidmore College, the University of Arizona, and the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, respectively. They have been collaborating on research and writing projects for more than thirty years. Their award-winning and National Science Foundation–funded work has infused existential thought into modern psychological science, using state-of-the-art methods to explore terrain long thought to be beyond the scope of scientific scrutiny. This integration of different approaches has led to new ways of thinking about culture, self-esteem, and the factors that steer people toward their most noble and ignoble actions.
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title
The Worm at the Core
fullDescription
A transformative, fascinating theory—based on robust and groundbreaking experimental research—reveals how our unconscious fear of death powers almost everything we do, shining a light on the hidden motives that drive human behavior
 
More than one hundred years ago, the American philosopher William James dubbed the knowledge that we must die “the worm at the core” of the human condition. In 1974, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Denial of Death, arguing that the terror of death has a pervasive effect on human affairs. Now authors Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski clarify with wide-ranging evidence the many ways the worm at the core guides our thoughts and actions, from the great art we create to the devastating wars we wage.
 
The Worm at the Core is the product of twenty-five years of in-depth research. Drawing from innovative experiments conducted around the globe, Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski show conclusively that the fear of death and the desire to transcend it inspire us to buy expensive cars, crave fame, put our health at risk, and disguise our animal nature. The fear of death can also prompt judges to dole out harsher punishments, make children react negatively to people different from themselves, and inflame intolerance and violence.
 
But the worm at the core need not consume us. Emerging from their research is a unique and compelling approach to these deeply existential issues: terror management theory. TMT proposes that human culture infuses our lives with order, stability, significance, and purpose, and these anchors enable us to function moment to moment without becoming overwhelmed by the knowledge of our ultimate fate. The authors immerse us in a new way of understanding human evolution, child development, history, religion, art, science, mental health, war, and politics in the twenty-first century. In so doing, they also reveal how we can better come to terms with death and learn to lead lives of courage, creativity, and compassion.
 
Written in an accessible, jargon-free style, The Worm at the Core offers a compelling new paradigm for understanding the choices we make in life—and a pathway toward divesting ourselves of the cultural and personal illusions that keep us from accepting the end that awaits us all.

Praise for The Worm at the Core
 
“The idea that nearly all human individual and cultural activity is a response to death sounds far-fetched. But the evidence the authors present is compelling and does a great deal to address many otherwise intractable mysteries of human behaviour. This is an important, superbly readable and potentially life-changing book.”The Guardian (U.K.)

“A neat fusion of ideas borrowed from sociology, anthropology, existential philosophy and psychoanalysis.”The Herald (U.K.)

“Deep, important, and beautifully written, The Worm at the Core describes a brilliant and utterly original program of scientific research on a force so powerful that it drives our lives.”—Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Stumbling on Happiness
 
“As psychology becomes increasingly trivial, devolving into the promotion of positive-thinking platitudes, The Worm at the Core bucks the trend. The authors present—and provide robust evidence for—a psychological thesis with disturbing personal as well as political...
reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: The Guardian (U.K.)
      • content: "The idea that nearly all human individual and cultural activity is a response to death sounds far-fetched. But the evidence the authors present is compelling and does a great deal to address many otherwise intractable mysteries of human behaviour. This is an important, superbly readable and potentially life-changing book. . . . The lesson contained within The Worm at the Core suggests one should confront mortality in order to live an authentic life, as the Epicureans and the Stoics suggested many centuries ago."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Herald (U.K.)
      • content: "A neat fusion of ideas borrowed from sociology, anthropology, existential philosophy and psychoanalysis . . . [The] sweep-it-under-the-carpet approach to death is facile and muddle-headed. More than that, it has consequences more far-reaching than we could possibly imagine because, as [the authors] see it, death informs practically every aspect of human existence. From the way we organise our societies to the moral codes we live by, even down to how we have sex and what rituals and emotions we ascribe to it, death is the bedrock."
      • premium: False
      • source: Sam Keen, author of Faces of the Enemy
      • content: "Deep, important, and beautifully written, The Worm at the Core describes a brilliant and utterly original program of scientific research on a force so powerful that it drives our lives, but so frightening that we cannot think clearly about it. This book asks us to, compels us to, and then shows us how--by shining the light of reason on the heart of human darkness."--Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Stumbling on Happiness "As psychology becomes increasingly trivial, devolving into the promotion of positive-thinking platitudes, The Worm at the Core bucks the trend. The authors present--and provide robust evidence for--a psychological thesis with disturbing personal as well as political implications. This is an important book."--John Horgan, author of The End of War and director of the Center for Science Writings, Stevens Institute of Technology "This is a wonderfully (terrifyingly) broad and deep study of most everything we know or have thought about death. It carries Ernest Becker's work a long way further down the road."
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        March 2, 2015
        Social psychologists Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski provide an intriguing but uneven volume aimed at lay readers that attempts to show that humanity’s unique awareness of death “has a profound and pervasive effect on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in almost every domain of human life—whether we are conscious of it or not.” They cite a number of interesting experiments that contrast the behavior of subjects made more aware of mortality with those who are not. Readers might be surprised to learn that judges belonging to the first category sentenced prostitutes more harshly than their colleagues in the second. The authors explain that those forced to think “about their own mortality by trying to do the right thing as prescribed by their culture.” The language sometimes lapses into cliché (“We have a lot to learn from the ancients”) or overstatement. For all the book’s arguments, some readers will arrive at the end unconvinced that every instance of human cruelty to other humans “stems from humankind’s fundamental intolerance of... those who subscribe to different cultural worldviews.”

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        January 1, 2015
        Psychology professors Solomon (Skidmore Coll.), Greenberg (Univ. of Arizona) and Pyszczynski (Univ. of Colorado, Colorado Springs) follow up their study of the psychological effects of 9/11 on the American population (In the Wake of 9-11: the Psychology of Terror, 2003) with a look at how the knowledge of mortality impacts human culture.The authors' contention that fear of death has been a primary driving force of human culture is controversial, but its relevance in incontestable. They began working together on the elaboration of what they now call "Terror Management Theory" in the 1970s when they were doctoral candidates in experimental social psychology. Although other species appear to mourn their dead, only humans are aware of their own mortality and terrified by this knowledge. "The awareness of death," write the authors, "arose as a byproduct of early humans' burgeoning self-awareness...hurling our terrified and demoralized ancestors into the psychological abyss." This inspired their creation of "a supernatural universe that afforded a sense of control over life and death" and the possibility of immortality. In the authors' view, it was the practice of religious rituals associated with these beliefs that spurred the development of social organization and technology, as well as medical advances. The authors offer accounts of their experiments as evidence to buttress their contention that under stress, we look for social stability. In one, subjects were asked to evaluate candidates' statements in a hypothetical gubernatorial election. After subjects were given a reminder of death, their choices switched dramatically to favor a charismatic leader. Conversely, challenges to the accepted social order were shown to evoke thoughts of death. The authors also examine how we are motivated by conscious thoughts of death, subliminal reminders of which we are consciously unaware can elicit more powerful, potentially destructive defenses responses. Insightful but not entirely convincing.

        COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        February 15, 2015

        Rather than confronting the issue of death itself, this book analyzes how human affairs are affected by anxiety about it. Drawing from the work of Ernest Becker (The Denial of Death), authors Solomon (psychology, Skidmore Coll.), Jeff Greenberg (psychology, Univ. of Arizona), and Tom Pyszczynski (psychology, Univ. of Colorado-Colorado Springs), all of whom previously collaborated on In the Wake of 9/11 have reportedly spent the last quarter century investigating this topic. The first section outlines their "terror management theory" and discusses coping mechanisms for dealing with this universal fear, including cultural/religious supports and self-esteem. The early history of death awareness and immortality beliefs is then discussed. Contemporary research findings are reviewed, revealing the negative effects of death-dread on specific attitudes and behavior including feelings towards outsiders, bodily distaste, psychological disorders, smoking, and attitudes toward domestic violence. The final chapter considers nondestructive ways of dealing with the reality of the end of life. This tightly argued, wide-ranging work summarizes a large body of social science research in a readable manner. Although the discussion of religion and supernatural constructs may be controversial and the focus on existential psychotherapy as treatment for mental illness ignores the reality of more popular evidence-based therapies, this book could complement less-theoretical volumes on the subject, such as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's On Death and Dying. VERDICT An intriguing and impressive summary of terror management theory and research suited to intellectually inclined general readers and students.--Antoinette Brinkman, formerly with Southwest Indiana Mental Health Ctr. Lib., Evansville

        Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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A transformative, fascinating theory—based on robust and groundbreaking experimental research—reveals how our unconscious fear of death powers almost everything we do, shining a light on the hidden motives that drive human behavior
 
More than one hundred years ago, the American philosopher William James dubbed the knowledge that we must die “the worm at the core” of the human condition. In 1974, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Denial of Death, arguing that the terror of death has a pervasive effect on human affairs. Now authors Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski clarify with wide-ranging evidence the many ways the worm at the core guides our thoughts and actions, from the great art we create to the devastating wars we wage.
 
The Worm at the Core is the product of twenty-five years of in-depth research. Drawing from innovative...
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