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Death’s Summer Coat

What the History of Death and Dying Teaches Us About Life and Living

By Brandy Schillace
13-minute read
Audio available
Death’s Summer Coat: What the History of Death and Dying Teaches Us About Life and Living by Brandy Schillace

Death’s Summer Coat (2016) is a peculiar and sometimes gruesome look at the history of a subject we don’t like to think about: death. Learn about how death rituals and the medical profession affect our relationship with the deceased – and that defining death isn’t as easy as one might think.

  • Anyone mourning the loss of a loved one
  • Historians interested in rituals of death and funerals
  • Morticians and medical professionals who have to deal with death on a daily basis

Brandy Schillace is an interdisciplinary scholar specializing in medicine, history and literature. She works for the Dittrick Museum of Medical History and edits a medical anthropology journal. Her other publications include Unnatural Reproductions and Monstrosity and Hauntings: An Anthology.

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Death’s Summer Coat

What the History of Death and Dying Teaches Us About Life and Living

By Brandy Schillace
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
Death’s Summer Coat: What the History of Death and Dying Teaches Us About Life and Living by Brandy Schillace
Synopsis

Death’s Summer Coat (2016) is a peculiar and sometimes gruesome look at the history of a subject we don’t like to think about: death. Learn about how death rituals and the medical profession affect our relationship with the deceased – and that defining death isn’t as easy as one might think.

Key idea 1 of 8

The human mind instinctively creates categories; death causes anxiety since it cannot be categorized.

If you’ve experienced discrimination, you might have imagined how wonderfully different life would be if people didn’t put everything they see into categories like race, age and gender.

But categorizing is something every human does from birth onward – even if born blind!

In 2009, a team of Harvard psychologists led by Alfonso Caramazza discovered that people born blind have the exact same neural pathways for building categories as those born with sight.

For those who can see, the brain’s categorization works like this: upon seeing an object – like a dog or a hammer – different neural connections are formed between the eyes and a specific part of the brain that creates categories. Thus categorized, these objects are now recognizable to us as a friendly animal or a useful tool.

Amazingly, this function is such a basic part of the brain that people who are born blind have the exact same neural connections, despite having never used their eyes. This means our brain’s capacity for category-building is already in place by the time we are born.

And since our brain is so primed for finding categories, things like death, which aren’t easily categorized, can cause us anxiety.

Death is difficult to process; it is both a singular, final event as well as an ongoing process. So, even if we try not to think about death, we still have trouble escaping the knowledge that, as we get older, we are slowly dying.

Reminders abound. For instance, the dust that collects upon surfaces and swirls in the sunlight is primarily made up of dead skin that, but a week ago, was a living part of our body.

This reminds us that death, although an ending, is also part of being alive – a contradiction that is tough to comprehend, and one of the reasons we prefer not thinking about death while we are healthy.

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