A Driving Force
Humans tend to become very passionate about their beliefs. In Epistemology (a branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of knowledge), philosophers define beliefs as perspectives on reality that can be defined as either “true” or “false”. In this context, to “believe in” something is to take it to be true. A conclusion like “this wall is orange” is, in essence, a belief. The truth of the matter is far more complex – the interpretation of the color orange is relative, and as such, other observers could be colorblind and to them the wall is a different color entirely; or the wall could not be pure “orange” but rather painted a slight variation that could be summarized, to the original observer, as orange; or the wall itself could (and likely does) slightly vary in color in innumerable places due to the fading of paint or other structural abnormalities, thus referring to the wall as “orange” is a sweeping generalization used for convenience; so forth. Thus, deeper inspection reveals even an analytical construct as simplistic as “this wall is orange” is in fact, like all analytical constructs, an approximation, where aspects of the infinite whole are filtered out by cognitive necessity.
But a given human isn’t normally passionate about observations of wall color. The beliefs a person tends to associate with passion and intense emotional response include politics, family, nationalism, and religion – tribalistic concepts. A recently-discovered psychological origin story to the intensity these beliefs and the passion surrounding tribalistic belief structures involves mental processes completely unrelated to what most would presume, and understanding the true root of these passions might be one of the most important evolutionary steps modern society will experience within our lifetime.
Regarding evidence of cognitive capability and emergence, humans are by far the most advanced toolmakers the Earth has ever seen. In comparison with fellow life, humans are remarkably intelligent, with intelligence defined as the process of acquiring, storing, retrieving, combining, comparing, and contextualizing information and conceptual skill. While there are other biological classes and infraorders that show various levels of problem-solving intelligence, such as cephalopods and cetaceans, human consciousness has evolved to another level, made blatantly obvious by their global predatory dominance and tool-based amplification of various naturally occurring behaviors. Humans have transformed simple migration (walking from place to place) to airplane travel that allows them to circumnavigate the globe in less than two days. Humans have escalated the leveraging of vocal cords to manipulate sound waves for basic communication into data transmission from robotic explorers placed on nearby planets. The majority of fellow organisms primarily spend their lives reacting, in real time, to sensory input, or otherwise performing tasks – like ants working within a colony – at the behest of evolved instinct. Most other forms of life get hungry, they eat. They see a threat, they run (or attack). They instinctually protect their young. But across the board, even the most advanced chimpanzees, bonobos, octopi, and dolphins lack a certain level of complexity in cognitive awareness. To date, no other known forms of life develop advanced weapons, systematized agriculture, metal alloys, or microprocessors, and every species on earth is at the predatory mercy of humans – at the mercy of the lone species that enjoys these capabilities.
Humans, with their enlarged prefrontal cortex, do not just react to the present, but can (and do) “think” about the past and the future, often for lengthy periods. Humans can visualize and conceptualize (both individually and in collaboration with others) objects and strategies that do not currently exist, then bring these into the physical world, from the disposable fork to the Apollo missions.
The technological progress of mankind as a result of emerging consciousness has been dramatic, and quite rapid in terms of the one-to-three billion-year timescale of multicellular evolution. Anatomically modern humans are currently estimated to have appeared ~300,000 years ago, which is less than one tenth of one percent of the entire evolutionary timespan of multicellular life on Earth. To put this in perspective, dinosaurs were the dominant land-based species on Earth for roughly 165 million years. Anatomically modern humans have existed for 0.18% of the time dinosaurs dominated the Earth.
Modern human brain structure is currently estimated to have appeared ~100,000 years ago – again, exceptionally recent on the geologic timescale. The mammalian brain outdates the neocortex (the general region of the brain associated with “being human”) by tens of millions of yers. The Neolithic Revolution, the global cultivation of farming and agriculture that led to the food surplus that allowed for transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes to sedentary lifestyles and organized city-states with large populations, was only ~12,000 years ago. Written history is only ~5,000 years old. Hellenistic “ancient” Greece was only ~2500 years ago. The United States (featuring a government designed using principles of the western post-Scientific Revolution “Enlightenment”) is only ~250 years old. The transition from miasma to germ theory in medicine, which led to the creation of antibiotics and a dramatic rise in global population, only occurred ~140 years ago. The personal computer appeared in the late 1970s. The Internet became mainstream in the 1990s. The progress humans have experienced as the result of their unique form of intelligence has been rapid and exponential.
In a universe where naturally-occurring counterbalance has been observed time and again, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what the “antimatter” is to this to rapid expansion. One can theorize about devastating pandemics, thermonuclear war, the destruction of the environment, and various other apocalyptic scenarios to cut the legs out from under this seemingly endless progression, but the truth is, none of these have come to pass (yet), certainly not at a level of scale that undermines continuous forward progress. This swift technological expansion has even gone so far as to flip the sense of taste – humans have generated such a food surplus through advanced farming and agricultural technique that for the developed world, what normally tastes “good” (fats, sugars) is now considered unhealthy, and what tastes “bland” or “bad” to most is now considered healthy. In a few thousand years, humans have progressed from bronze-age axes to thermonuclear weapons so powerful that outright war between major national powers has temporarily ground to a halt due to the threat of mutually assured destruction. From the standpoint of tools and technology, mankind is on an exponential curve, the likes of which has yet to be seen in any other species, past or present.
However, in-regards the mental prowess that allows for such uniquely remarkable progress, there is a heavy price to pay. An invisible price, unknown to most humans, but plaguing each and every one in varying capacities, every moment of every day. This universal penalty is a direct result of the incredible imaginative capabilities that evolved to allow humans to thrive and develop endless objectively-impressive technical achievements, despite being surrounded by species faster, stronger, and vastly superior to them in terms of raw physicality.
Numerous studies indicate that sometime between the ages of 7 and 11 (though the time frame can vary a bit on either end), all humans develop a core, pure, intense anxiety – a “terror” – then instinctually “forget” this anxiety, where it continues to fester in the subconscious. Parents will often recall their children, sometime around this age, verbalizing a sudden realization, followed by sadness and fear. The human mind organically implements a long-term solution, which includes the impacted not consciously thinking about this threat for the overwhelming majority of their remaining lives, but remains regardless, lurking in the subconscious and impacting the entire scope of human behavior. People suffer with this anxiety from that point forward, and there is compelling evidence that nearly all aspects of modern human civilization either in-part, or in-full, stem from this very pain. This anxiety is so powerful it is considered the “wellspring” of nearly all human activity.
And what is this universal anxiety? Why does it appear? To answer this, consider the following – as mentioned, abstract thought allows humans to contemplate the past or the future, not simply react to the present. They can contemplate the lives of historical figures, and they can conceptualize and predict what interstellar space travel will entail in the distant future, going so far as to artificially generate the same sensations that might be experienced during such an event. Due to this, as humans grow into adolescence, they also become acutely aware that members of their species they will never meet existed before them, and many others will exist in the future. They become aware that they themselves, and their loved ones, are here only temporarily. They suddenly realize their own death is certain, unpredictable, and inevitable. They realize one day, each human will no longer exist, and even for the most famous of celebrities and world leaders, in time, it is nearly certain they will all be forgotten and both they and their work will be rendered statistically meaningless.
All species have a naturally-evolved self-preservation instinct, on-par with other fundamental biological processes such as breathing, sleeping, eating and reproduction. Throw a rock near a bird, it flies away. Scare a cat, it runs (or attacks, depending on the size of the cat). Without this underlying, evolved self-preservation instinct, it’s safe to predict that any given species would have naturally vanished from the fossil record long ago. If an organism didn’t instinctively protect itself from threats, it would never live long enough to reproduce and its lineage would become extinct.
So what happens when a form of life enjoys the standard, powerful, naturally-occurring self-preservation instinct, but simultaneously evolves the ability to become abstractly aware it cannot preserve itself? What does it do when it faces the fact that it will inevitably die, death could come at any time, no matter what actions are taken during its lifetime it will almost certainly be forgotten or otherwise have negligible impact, and there is nothing whatsoever it can do about it (other than delay the inevitable via diet, exercise, and “Hail Mary” strategies like cryogenics)?
“Terror Management Theory”, or “TMT”, is based on the Pulitzer prize-winning work of Earnest Becker and codified by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski, It states something very simple but with profound ramifications – all humans are all living, all the time, with a powerful and ever-present sense of thanatophobia, or “death anxiety”. This anxiety exists within the subconscious and rarely is directly contemplated, as per evolutionary design.
To psychologically come to grips with this contradiction, the human mind shifts conscious focus from this core anxiety to the unyielding quest to find solace in various beliefs. Initially as children, this focus in on protection of caregivers, then shortly thereafter moves to belief structures that provide the illusion of heroism, escape, and symbolic immortality.
The link between tribalistic behavior and self-preservation is obvious – consider a herd of deer. Not all deer can listen for threats in the same direction at the same time. Thus, if one deer in a herd jumps out of fear, they all jump out of fear. Like many species, tribalistic behavior is embedded in the biological makeup of humans. Research indicates that a human could be in a burning house – if 9 other people sit there, the subject is over 90% more likely to sit there as well, subconsciously impacted by his or her own evolved tribalistic attributes.
Over twenty years of studies performed by Solomon, Greenberg, Pyszczynski, and a variety of colleagues indicate that Becker’s initial premise appears to be correct – one can trace much of human civilization itself to this powerful, but largely unknown, psychological conflict.
In their 2015 work “The Worm at the Core”, the “TMT Trio” unleash a barrage of studies that demonstrate this phenomenon in action. These studies provide empirical evidence that detail how a given subject’s belief structures can be artificially amplified by simply having them ponder their own inevitable demise. This pattern also works in reverse – when a subject’s belief structures are directly attacked, they are more apt to experience morbid terror, since attacking the belief is attacking the very mental construct the subject clings to feel they tribalistically belong to a structure more everlasting than their own brief existence.
As just one example of this phenomenon in action – a series of municipal court judges in a large Arizona city were placed into a study. The most frequent infraction these judges encountered at the time was prostitution, which was selected for the study due to both frequency and the moral nature of the offense. The theory was that, since the judges deal with law on a daily basis and thus undoubtedly have societal law, order, and morality near the top of their internal value hierarchies and belief structures, a given judge being reminded of his or her own demise would amplify these beliefs due to the subconscious, but ever-present, death anxiety all humans live with moment to moment. All of the judges were provided a questionnaire (obfuscated as a general psychological study) just prior to receiving details of a prostitution case, but for half of these subjects, the questionnaire brought their own mortality to the forefront of their mind by including a series of open-ended questions about the prospect of their own death, what their death will be like, and what they feel will happen after they die. The results were undeniable – for the control group who did not receive the questions about their death prior to setting bond conditions, the average bond amount assigned to the prostitution cases was $50. For the group that was requested to contemplate their own demise, the average bond amount assigned to the prostitution cases skyrocketed 810% to $455. This is but one example of how not just frameworks as obvious as religion, but essentially all internal belief structures are largely driven, at root, by the suppression of morbid terror.
Death anxiety “raised the Twin Towers and the pyramids in Giza”. Becker submits it is the main wellspring of human activity. Humans naturally cling to “heroism” and various belief structures as an escape from this ever-present anxiety, to help themselves feel they are part of a project or quest that will last beyond their own temporary existence. Death anxiety was a key component in every empire and conqueror the world has ever known, from Alexander the Great, to Genghis Kahn, to Napoleon Boneparte. Human self-esteem is derived from how well one is adhering to societal norms and customs, and there is even evidence depression itself is rooted in when a given person feels their “symbolic immortality project” (be it widespread like an empire, or localized like a family) is perceived to be failing.
Regarding symbolic immortality, very few can be a celebrity or world leader – post-Neolithic Revolution, after the development of massive city-states, many were left with a sense of desperation because only a handful could rise to the status of perceived symbolic immortality via fame or power. This dichotomy continues to this day. Religious traditions filled the void, but a strong divide between the clergy and the parishioners persisted. There is evidence that the spiritual traditions of the Paleolithic were far more inclusive. Hunter-gatherer tribes typically consisted of 10 to 100 people, nomadically roaming as they followed the herds of the animals they hunted. Within the “tribe”, there was normally a spiritual inclusion for all those within it. The concept of “accumulating wealth” was absent for a non-sedentary tribe that moved from place to place, as was the level of divide between a given tribal leader and his subjects, a far cry from the relative “serfs and the lords” that the masses currently experience.
Because we live in modern society, and the same great divide in symbolic immortality paradigms remain between the masses and the “one percenters”, most people automatically cling to localized tribalistic activity by necessity. Family, regional political views, even sports teams provide a sense of escape via symbolic immortality, a sense of belonging or contributing to something larger than themselves, something that will continue on beyond the individual’s own inevitable eradication.
Organized religion as a placeholder solution for the masses has obviously fallen by the wayside in recent years, particularly in the west. The Guttenberg printing press > Scientific Revolution > Enlightenment process dissolved for many the stranglehold religion had in Europe, as this period saw a sharp growth in religious skepticism and naturalistic worldviews. This perspective was a direct influence on the Founding Fathers of the United States, and the subsequent French Revolution went to war with the church, taking the process so far as to rename the months in the calendar and extend the week so citizens wouldn’t know which day Sunday was (or so they hoped). The issue of course being – unbeknownst to Robespierre, Marat, Danton and other key figures in the French Revolution – the subversion of Christianity and the church did not get citizens any closer to solving the psychological fears Christianity leveraged to begin with. In fact, thanatophobia, as it does with all human belief structures, played a significant part in the ideals of the revolution, as proponents felt they were creating a new, inclusive political ideology that, subconsciously, they sensed would provide them symbolic immortality. And for the time being, it has succeeded, as people continue to periodically study these key figures of the movement, but this will fade as time passes. Topics like the American and French revolutions are relevant due to their proximity to “now” – in one million years, at best, these topics will likely be an obscure footnote in the extensive history of the distant planet Earth from which our species originated.
In addition to the fact that few humans are consciously aware that their precious belief structures, internal perspectives, and tribalistic tendencies are often driven by subconscious psychological forces, the lack of awareness regarding the prevalence of thanatophobia in moment-to-moment decision making becomes particularly problematic when it involves armed conflict. When one attacks another belief structure – be it political, spiritual, or familial – one is, in essence, attacking that person’s subconscious perception of immortality and the mental framework they use, unbeknownst to themselves, to quell the hopelessness. Armed with this awareness, one can dissect that 9/11 occurred, at root, as a result of the hijacker’s own thanatophobia. Due to their inherent death anxiety, the hijackers joined a political and spiritual ideology that “solved” this issue by providing them a place in a bigger entity, as well as irrational certainty as to what awaits them after death. Thus, they killed themselves, and thousands of others, as a direct result of naturally-occurring psychological processes related to mitigating death anxiety.
People driven to perform great feats often suffer from higher death anxiety than others. People who lead wars, revolutions, political coups, empires, even those who are excessively materialistic have been found to have amplified thanatophobia. Again, one could safely argue that the evidence is strong – nearly all of human civilization is driven, in large part, by the terror that naturally arises as a result of the conflict between powerful self-preservation instinct and abstract awareness of inevitable demise.
So this begs the question – now that the evidence stands before us of the remarkably critical role death anxiety plays in all aspects of human society and individual belief structures, what do we do about it? I am of the opinion that if advanced abstract intellect creates the conundrum, abstract intellect can solve it. It has been noted by various philosophers throughout history that opposites exist within any analytical structure. As such, the mortal terror we live with subconsciously, if brought to the surface and addressed directly, can be subverted with proper understanding as to the true nature of reality as perceived through the lens the same advanced reasoning capabilities that brought the fear to light in the first place.
There was a point in time in the west, quite recently, where most believed the physical universe consisted of absolutes, or concrete building blocks we could succinctly count, measure, manipulate, and otherwise observe. As renowned quantum physicist Frijtof Capra observed, during what he refers to as the Newtonian-Cartesian era (the period of scientist Isaac Newton and philosopher Rene´ Descartes), the universe was thought to consist of idealistic, fundamental building blocks (an evolution on the earlier work of ancient Greek “atomists”), and time itself was a static, absolute entity that existed independent of any one observer. This viewpoint was bolstered by Newtons various laws of motion, which could be independently verified and all of which appeared to be absolute truths.
This concrete worldview was not to last, however, as the early 20th century saw the rise of quantum mechanics, led by Max Planck, Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. Quantum mechanics has revealed that analytical ideals, 100% absolutes, cannot exist by definition. Examples include the dual particle / wave nature of light and the fact that it is impossible to pinpoint the exact location of a given subatomic particle; at the quantum level, the observer directly impacts the observed and we regularly rely on probabilities, not absolute conclusions.
To put this in approximate terms that are easier to digest – classical (Newtonian) mechanics is successful, provided we are observing nature at the standard human scale, but falls apart when observing the exceptionally small (subatomic particles) or exceptionally large (astrophysics). Thus, these laws exist when viewed from a standard human perspective and disintegrate when exploring reality beyond our normal scope, revealing their true nature and limitations.
Quantum mechanics has shown that any observation we perceive as an “absolute truth”, such as the fact that you are not suddenly lifting off into orbit at this moment, is in-essence a probability with an exceptionally high value. Analytical ideals cannot exist – the human mind is faced with infinite perspectives and data when drawing a conclusion on any given topic, and as such is forced to resort to an approximate. While today we have more precise technology with which to measure physics, microscopic organisms, and the like, this fundamental limitation of human consciousness was also known to ancient philosophers. Translations of the Tao Te Ching, a relatively well-known Chinese classical text from the 6th century B.C., include the phrase “The Tao that can be spoken of is not the eternal Tao”. This statement can be interpreted as to the futility of translating the direct experience of the “eternal light”, “infinite oneness”, or “singularity” into the spoken word, but another way to interpret this would simply be – once you speak of something, you have, by definition, quantified it, and as all quantifications are reductions, and thus incomplete aspects of the whole, they cannot be absolute truths. Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates and his famous “Socratic Paradox” also hints at the futile nature of absolute knowledge in-regards any given topic, via the statement “I know that I know nothing” (though the true translation of this statement is in active debate).
This leads us to a clearer view on how to perceive the anxiety-ridden absolutism of death itself – as the latest quantum physics has to offer specifies that analytical ideals cannot exist, it is safe to predict the idea of absolute “nothingness” upon our demise cannot exist either. But this abstract knowledge alone is likely not enough to fully transcend the death anxiety burrowing in the human subconscious. A more powerful, direct solution to solving the problem of ever-present death anxiety, far beyond the naturally-occurring psychological processes that simply bury the fear and lead the conscious mind to attach to a series of belief structures and societal constructs, is often required. I propose that the steps are simple:
- Bring the inevitability of your death to the forefront of conscious awareness through direct examination
- Discover the opposites and outline the benefits to any perceived negativity about this psychological construct
Dr. John Demartini, a personal development coach known for his insights on human behavior, developed a benefits exercise for any given personal experience perceived to be uniformly negative. Normally this type of exercise is associated with a traumatic event. Demartini’s methodology – a relatively lengthy process – leverages the limitations, contradictions, and paradoxical nature of definitive conclusions generated by human intellect. This approach allows for remarkable clarity and fresh perspective on a given traumatic experience. The fundamental workflow of the process is rooted in the teachings of pre-Socratic Greek philosophers Heraclitus and Anaximander. Both Heraclitus and Anaximander were strong proponents of the unity of opposites, a central category of the dialectic method, where “truth” is obtained by comparing two opposing points of view. Anaximander maintained that every physical element had an opposite. The material world is composed of an endless array of opposites – for there to be an “up”, there has to be a “down”. For there to be a “left”, there has to be a “right”. “Hot” has to have a “cold”. “Ugly” has to have a “beautiful”. Within the context of abstract human intelligence, an opposite exists to any given conclusion, and with any given thought or conscious perspective, the opposite feeling, perspective, or result must exist by definition. This is another evolved side-effect of our tendency towards absolute analytical diagnosis, of static cognitive entities and solidified conclusions instead of vague general concepts. When forming a perspective, the human mind reduces reality into precise patterns that eliminate enough of the infinite whole as to be a digestible chunk, but with each of these isolated chunks, aspects of infinite reality are eliminated and the opposite perspective must exist.
Since the current process the human mind uses to handle thanatophobia (repression combined with automatic focus on various societal constructs in a futile attempt to achieve symbolic immortality) is leading to widespread confusion, conflict, and lack of empathy for conflicting belief structures, a critical next step in the evolution of human society should include a dramatic, conscious modification of the naturally-occurring methodology for mitigating this fear. When humans begin to pry the ever-present morbid terror and subsequent perpetual suppressed anxiety from the subconscious and confront it directly, a logical proposal for this critical improvement would be to apply the benefits approach, wholly applicable to other traumatic events, and apply it to this psychological phenomenon.
As a rudimentary example of this technique, consider the following scenario: A person was viciously attacked without provocation, such as in the case of robbery or a schoolyard bullying incident. The gravity of this attack will often weigh heavily on the victim’s mind for years to come, with the assault continually pondered. Initial intellectual analysis of the event would be that the victim experienced no benefits, with the end result of the incident interpreted as uniformly negative. A cacophony of negative sensations – physical injury, psychological trauma, generalized anxiety, and depression – periodically resurface. At some point, the victim is presented with the opportunity to perform a law of opposites “benefits” exercise on the attack. Initial reaction to this proposal is often met with skepticism or outright rebellion, as the idea of pure victimhood has become an impenetrable cognitive construct that provides the subject a subconscious or conscious feeling of comradery, support, and sympathy from others (friends, family, psychotherapists) made aware of the attack. This all negative, no positive perspective prevents internal cognitive resolution – in terms of acquiring psychological solace, the sympathy the victim garners when elucidating the attack is outweighed by the subsequent conclusion that the event involves permanent, irrecoverable damage. The subject remains lost in an illusion – the negative side effects are all that exist. Begrudgingly, the subject will finally submit to the exercise and follow instructions, which involves identifying any and all “positives” in what was, up until that moment, considered an idealistically negative life event. In completing this process, the subject becomes aware of a variety of topics, strategies, and strengths they learned or otherwise acquired from the incident. For example:
- I improved my ability to cope with physical assault
- I improved my ability to help loved ones cope from similar events based on the experience I’ve gained in self-analysis
- I learned to defend myself physically
- I became more cautious when alone or otherwise in a compromising situation
- I launched a support network for other victims of assault and abuse
This list continues for a minimum of 50 entries. The subject will often encounter mental stalls at various stages of the process – difficulty conceptualizing or otherwise discovering further elements that would be objectively considered “positive” – but he or she is encouraged to push through and continue until list is complete. It is important that a minimum of 50 is reached to ensure the proper level of personal insight is achieved, including new opportunities for progress and growth previously unrealized.
The fundamental laws of nature and physics dictates these “positive” components of the traumatic event must exist – idealistically negative analytical conclusions are, by law, approximations, and opposites for any static viewpoint must exist. As such, developmental aspects of the incident are revealed to the subject, and the past trauma, no matter how egregious, psychologically transforms into an educational exercise, leading to personal development instead of permanent interpretation as a physical or mental handicap.
I’ve personally witnessed several people from various backgrounds, suffering from a variety of psychological conditions resulting from past incidents ranging in scope and severity, apply this simplified “locate the benefits” methodology to great subconscious maturation and enlightenment. Due to the current level of societal development and trends in-regards psychological analysis and standardized response, the typical behavioral sequence from the subject implementing this strategy is to elicit anger or rebellion at the outset of the process as they inherently defend their identity as an objective “victim”, and appreciation or gratitude at the end of the process.
As applied to the continual death anxiety near-universally plaguing and confusing humanity, an identical approach should be considered as an alternative to the aforementioned naturally-occurring cognitive processes, addressing the following three primary topics:
- Your own inevitable, unpredictable demise
- The fact that it is a near certainty that no matter what level of notoriety you achieve or what reproductive patterns you prescribe to, the biological organism that is “you” will eventually be forgotten by subsequent members of the species and human society at-large
- The measurable fact that nearly all major activity within modern society is heavily rooted in and driven by these very fears
We know from the law of opposites, as well as the approximate nature of analytical conclusions and the fallacy of ideals, these benefits must exist, but we must allow ourselves to discover and contemplate them. As an example, regarding mortality itself, five example responses to the “death is inevitable and unpredictable” category might be as follows:
- Many of the various things I worry about day-to-day are ultimately meaningless long-term, so the vast majority of my worry is unnecessary
- Once I no longer exist, I will no longer consume natural resources
- Once I no longer exist, the psychological weight of adhering to societal belief structures will cease to exist
- The fact this mortality is inevitable leads to the conclusion I should enjoy my experience here and follow my true passion(s)
- I will no longer be a burden to those who sacrifice to support me
As stated, the first few items often proverbially “roll off the tongue”, but achieving 50 valid entries produces far more powerful results. Once the list is complete, the answers can be referenced as often as needed for reinforcement purposes.
Leveraging the same abstract intelligence that creates the conflict between instinctual self-preservation and knowledge of our own unpredictable demise can be used to perceive reality in a manner that disintegrates the default psychological response to mortal terror. It also provides remarkable insight as to the true origin of internal belief structures, which will lead to far greater compassion and empathy to other members of the species.
Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time. emotional sensation of stress from our first.