Intuitive Conceptions of Dead Agents' Minds: The Natural Foundations of Afterlife Beliefs as Phenomenological Boundary

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture


Little is known about how the minds of dead agents are represented. In the current experiment, individuals with different types of explicit afterlife beliefs were asked in an implicit interview task whether various mental state types, as well as pure biological imperatives, continue after death. The results suggest that, regardless of one's explicit reports about personal consciousness after death, those who believe in some form of life after death (and, to a certain extent, even those who do not) implicitly represent dead agents' minds in the same way: psychobiological and perceptual states cease while emotional, desire, and epistemic states continue. The findings are interpreted according to simulation constraints — because it is epistemologically impossible to know what it is like to be dead, individuals will be most likely to attribute to dead agents those types of mental states that they cannot imagine being without. Such a model argues that it is natural to believe in life after death and social transmission serves principally to conceptually enrich (or degrade) intuitive conceptions of the afterlife.

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