We are disgusted by many different things: from rotting flesh to excrement to warts to rats. What do these things have in common? A first thought might be that what disgusts us is what is potentially poisonous or germ-laden. But we can be disgusted by quite harmless things, such as sagging flesh or internal organs; and many harmful things don't disgust us, such as arsenic or weapons. We get closer to the truth when we note the link to death: what disgusts are the things in which death is immanent--corpses, digested organisms, ripped flesh. But this is not quite right, since the skeleton is not disgusting. What seems to provoke disgust is the co-presence of death with pulsing life: the corpse being consumed by bacteria and worms, living things turned to dead pulp in digestion, bleeding wounds, scurrying rats in graveyards. My new book, "The Meaning of Disgust" [$35, Oxford University Press] demonstrates that it is the intersection of the living and the dead that turns the stomach, their terrible proximity.
Here are the things we find most disgusting: