Fear of Death: Motivator For Living and Judging

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This was a question that researchers asked several research participants in order to study the Terror Management Theory.

This theory was based off of a cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker's works, and was made into an empirical analytical theory in the late 1970's by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski. Terror Management Theory(TMT) is a theory that looks into how humans react to the concept of death. "Man has an inherent tendency for self-preservation and has cognitive capabilities in awknowledging life's impermanence." This self-preservation underlies mankind's existence, and is supported by what the theory believes to be culture and beliefs. Death correlates with cultural values and beliefs, and the people who are exposed more to the idea of mortality are more likely to hold strong cultural values and beliefs to give them a reason to live, and judge views different from their own to protect their own ideals. Culture ends up "[serving] as a death-denying function", making the nature of reality more "meaningful, orderly, and stable and that provisions for immortality."

An example that many of us students may have had is right before (or sometimes during) taking an exam. You think of the death you face by your parents if you fail this exam, class, and school. Fear of this death immediately gives rise to a short prayer to God to help you ace this test. This is an example of using our faith as an escape from the thought of death. Another example would be cases of cancer victims who hold on to their last breath of life until they are certain that a priest has blessed and forgiven them before they enter Heaven. The reassurance of their continuity after death is enough let them leave the world in peace.
Some criticisms to this theory is that these motivators can also be due to a controlling or social factor.
I wonder if key historical figures were influenced to hold stonger to their passions and leave a mark on history because of their fear of mortality as well.
Whether you are afraid of dying, or are conditioned to the idea, a comment I remembered reading summed up the theory well: "when you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice."

(clip from the Hitchkiker's Guide to Galaxy)


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