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TEDMED: Mortality gives life meaning
October 28th, 2011
05:04 PM ET

TEDMED: Mortality gives life meaning

Humans have a self-preservation instinct, a natural drive to survive. But we also have an awareness that there will come a day when all of those efforts will fail, and we will die.

"Death looms somewhere in the distance," said Dr. John Wynn, medical director for Cancer Psychiatry at the Swedish Cancer Institute of Seattle, Washington. "It pushes us to ask: What am I doing with my time?"

Wynn's talk on what death means for us was one of the last at TEDMED 2011. It forced sobering reflection on mortality at the end of a week of many enthusiastic presentations demonstrating technologies aimed at fighting diseases and thus prolonging life.

"Life is built around avoiding the simple, inevitable truth that you’re going to die," he said.

Children tend to become aware of death around age 7, Wynn said. With luck, their parents will teach them how to be safe and cooperate with others. These are skills they will carry with them throughout their lives, and will help them continue on their own even after their parents pass away.

We have to ask ourselves how and where will we spend our time and our energy, and carefully calculate sacrifices we make, Wynn said.

This isn't entirely a bad thing, he said. Our society thrives because we have found ways to cope with the awareness that we won't live forever: We are driven to be creative, collaborate with others and be masters of our environment. Fear of death can push us to build things, connect with others and create beauty.

"To ignore mortality puts the meaning of our lives in jeopardy," he said.


soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Jen

    Nothing profound here.

    The shrink is just spouting common sense.

    Please share some new ideas, which is what the TED talks are supposed to be about (most of the TED talks/lectures are interesting, but this talk may be more for the middle schoolers to young college demographic.)

    October 28, 2011 at 21:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Garrett

    I can't find any meaning of life because of society. They make you want death to come sooner rather than later.

    October 28, 2011 at 22:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Portland tony

    Kinda silly stuff! Everyone knows you are immortal til you are 21. Invincible til at least 30 something. Why do you suppose young men fight our wars. I think most of us realize our mortality is real through the lives of our own growing children.

    October 29, 2011 at 11:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Bri

    Life should never be meaningless to anyone in this world!that knd of talk is Devilment! God created us to reproduce and take care of the earth and do anything that is meant to make us a better person! He also wants us to prepare for Heaven on Earth! All of the things happening will soon past! We should worry about where we want to spend eternity!God Bless!

    October 30, 2011 at 18:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Tina

    YIKES, Avser! ...and this relates to our realization of our mortality, how? Except to say I just spent 3 min. of my all too limited lifespan reading this crap.

    October 30, 2011 at 18:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Pete

    If there is one meme I hate is the one about life sucking if you are immortal. I want to live forever and I don't feel bad about it. Life has no meaning anyway and my being dead sure isn't going to give it one.

    October 30, 2011 at 21:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. quicktojudge45

    Wow, someone needs to get laid

    October 31, 2011 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Christopher Dycha

    We all want to leave our mark and be remembered; ideally for a benevolent purpose that was a direct result of what we contributed or did. Explains the classic "mid life crisis" where our lives reach the point of self evaluation. Never too late or too early to make that positive contribution. Christopher Dycha

    November 11, 2011 at 07:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. saveyourfeet

    Interesting. What I care about is this:I am a type 1 diabetic. My feet were going to be amputated. until I found a simple way to stop that from happening. if you are a diabetic you need to read saveyourfeetDOTwordpressDOTcom

    November 2, 2012 at 23:25 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.