Scire mori sors prima viris, sed proxima cogi (Lucan)

01/09/2014 03:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017


Winston: Lucan was a Roman poet who lived 2,000 years ago. He was tutored by his uncle, Seneca, the famous Stoic philosopher. As for the quote...


Vic: Yes, perhaps you could, Winston! Why should death make me happy?

Winston: Lucan is saying that knowledge of our own mortality gives us the greatest motivation to value our lives.

Vic: I'm sensing a scientific study in my near future.

Winston: Ah, you know me too well. As a matter of fact, Professor Laura King, of the University of Missouri, and her colleagues gave students reminders of death.

Vic: And?

Winston: And they started valuing life more.

Vic: Reminds me of this wristwatch I heard about last week. Tikker estimates how long you're going to live, then counts it down -- right in front of your eyes! Isn't that a little morbid?

Winston: Not necessarily. Imagine the ultimate quantified self device. A device that stimulates motivation to live a more purposeful life! Too often we just live as if we're going to be around forever. Result? Hours, days, even years, wasted --

Vic: Watching moronic beer commercials?

Winston: Precisely. With Tikker on your wrist, you might start giving greater value to the time you have on this earth.

Vic: You hear more and more about medical science extending our lifespan. Even talking about living hundreds of years --

Winston: To spend watching moronic beer commercials?

Vic: Maybe Lucan was onto something.

Winston: It's Economics 101, isn't it? Scarcity enhances value.


Vic: Marcus Aurelius?

Winston: Like Lucan, a Stoic.

Vic: I always thought Stoics were boring and grumpy.

Winston: Au contraire my friend. Marcus Aurelius was one of ancient Rome's greatest emperors. Stoics would say goodbye to their friends as if it were the last time they'd see them. They'd even kiss their children goodnight, whispering to themselves that their child would never wake up.

Vic: You're joking!

Winston: Remember, Vic. I'm a dung beetle. I never joke. They found that this practice enhanced the love they had for their friends and children. So being "forced to die" may not be quite the curse that it seems. Death throws life into vivid contrast. It brings a sense of urgency to life ... inducing the urgency to change. After Marcus Aurelius said that "death hangs over you" he said "While you live, while it is in your power, be good."

Vic: It's like when Steve Jobs, at his 2005 commencement address to Stanford University graduates, talked about the motivation his own illness gave him. His motivation to "put a ding in the universe."


Winston: He was referring, of course, to having a strong purpose in his life.

Vic: So contemplating death, as morbid as that may seem, may stimulate a stronger purpose in our lives?

Winston: In another study, people asked to contemplate their death become more generous, more likely to donate blood.

Vic: This sure puts a new light on death.

Winston: As Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said: "If all of us would make an all-out effort to contemplate our own death, to deal with our anxieties surrounding the concept of our death, and to help others familiarize themselves with these thoughts, perhaps there could be less destructiveness around us."

Vic: Or, as Blue ᅢヨyster Cult sang, "Don't fear the reaper."

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