College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Carey Lecture: "Afraid of the Dark: Humanity at the Crossroads"

Date: September 17, 2014
Time: 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Location: Loosemore Auditorium

Join Us!  for the 4th Annual James W. Carey Memorial Lecture


Dr. Sheldon Solomon, Skidmore College

"Afraid of the Dark: Humanity at the Crossroads"

The Communication Studies Major Program, the Psychology Department, the School of Communications, the Institute of General Semantics, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Provost’s Office proudly present an evening of thought-provoking inquiry

When: Wednesday, September 17, 2014. 7:00

Where: Loosemore Auditorium (GVSU Downtown Campus)


Civilization originates in delayed infancy and its function is security.  It is a huge network of more or less successful attempts to protect mankind against the danger of object-loss, the colossal efforts made by a baby who is afraid of being left alone in the dark. . . . Geza Roheim, The Origin and Function of Culture



Humanity today is like a waking dreamer, caught between the fantasies of sleep and the chaos of the real world. The mind seeks but cannot find the precise place and hour. We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life. . . . Edward O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth



According to cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, the uniquely human fear of death has a pervasive effect on human beings' thoughts, feelings, and behavior. 

Humans manage the terror of death by adhering to culturally constructed beliefs about reality that provide a sense that one is a person of value in a world of meaning, and thus eligible for either literal or symbolic immortality.  The quest for immortality underlies some of humankind’s most noble achievements.  However, it also engenders some of our most ignominious affectations, including: hostility and disdain for people with different beliefs; indifference to, or contempt for, the natural environment; and, the mindless pursuit of material possessions—which, if unchecked, may render humans the first form of life responsible for their own extinction.  Dr. Solomon will provide an overview of Becker's ideas and empirical work, and conclude by pondering the implications of these ideas for individual and social behavior.