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'The Worm At The Core': Death's Role In Life

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Penguin Random House

It's the time of year when many of us look to relax with a good book in a pleasant spot, away from the usual chatter of life, a time when Town Hall takes a month off for goodness sake, for a well-earned break and to avoid overheating its guests. It's usually not a time we're thinking about death.

Last year at this time, Speakers Forum was offered a copy of a presentation given at something called the Smoke Farm Symposium.

A young man named Blaise Agüera y Arcas, a software designer working on machine intelligence, spoke fascinatingly about the future of artificial intelligence. We were hooked.

Smoke Farm is a program center and events venue run by the Seattle-based nonprofit Rubicon Foundation. The 365-acre farm is north of Arlington on the banks of the Stillaguamish River.

The symposium brings together an eclectic group of speakers for a day of presentations and discussion. It is curated by Stuart Smithers, a professor at the University of Puget Sound and Brendan Kiley, a staff writer and editor at The Stranger.

This year we ventured north ourselves to record a whole day of talks at the Seventh Annual Smoke Farm Symposium. The talks take place in an open-air barn. Lunch and dinner are served, this year by Seattle chef Monica Dimas and her mom.

In the next few weeks we’ll present more talks, but one that stood out was given by Sheldon Solomon, a professor of social psychology at Skidmore College in upstate New York. Solomon is the co-author, with Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski, of “The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life.”

Based on experimental research, the authors explore how the fear of death, conscious and unconscious, affects human behavior. Their work sheds light on how our understanding of our mortality has impacted human evolution and history, from religion and art to science and politics.

Sheldon Solomon spoke at the Smoke Farm Symposium 7 on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015.

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