“My Dead Mother, the Tree That Never Was: The Psychology of ‘Green Burial’ Practices”

Jesse Bering writes for the Scientific American on the psychology of green burial practices, especially regarding the psychological mechanism of essentialism:

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that even if one doesn’t believe in some ethereal or religious version of the afterlife, it’s rather difficult to escape the cognitive illusion that the unobservable essence of each person has been somehow gradually transmuted into his or her individual tree. Two massive walnut trees growing side-by-side with interlocking branches seem somehow more than mere trees when we learn that they’re actually growing upon what was once a husband and wife who lived centuries ago. There’s no shortage of idyllic essentialist images like this—grandchildren climbing up their great-grandfather’s limbs, children who’d been sickly in life now bursting with the blazing colors of autumn, beauty queens forever fragrant with immaculate cherry blossoms, stillborn infants now magnificent oaks. It would take some time, of course, for this human arboretum to fully mature. But what’s the rush?

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