John Danaher: “…I do believe that death is the single most important element in life, that gives value to our days…ultimately you know your life is finite, and actually very finite, and could be even more so if fate plays its hand and you die an early death or what have you, we never know what’s going to happen tomorrow…as you extend artificially a human life, the motivation to get things done here and now and work industriously and excel fades away because you can always come back to the idea that you can do this in the future. And so what gives value to our days is ultimately death…it’s not the only form of value, but a huge part of what we consider value is scarcity, and death gives us scarcity of days and is probably the single greatest motivator for almost every action we partake in.”
Lex Fridman: “It’s kind of tragic and beautiful that what makes things amazing is that they end.”
John Danaher: “People talk about death taking away the meaning of life but I think immortality would have a very similar effect, in a different direction.”
The above is a snippet from a recent interview by artificial intelligence (A.I) researcher, Lex Fridman, with John Danaher. John Danaher is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest coaches and experts in the martial arts world. He is a coach, scholar, and educator of jiu jitsu, submission grappling, judo, MMA, and the martial arts. John is also deeply interested in topics such as history, psychology, philosophy, and A.I.
This mediation on whether death adds meaning to life isn’t unique to Danaher, or even to the Stoics. The impermanence of life and its meaning, is also featured in slightly different ways in the Buddhist texts.
I wanted to share this snippet of the full interview because this is an uncommon view to come across from someone at this level in the martial arts world. While martial arts involves a lot of philosophical lessons that apply on the mat as well as outside our daily lives, not many martial artists at the highest levels delve into philosophy outside of the martial arts.
***A memento mori is a reminder of death. It is a key practice in Stoicism but is not unique to it. It can be a simple visual reminder or quote or a more serious meditation on death. Stoics use it to remind themselves of how short and fragile life is and therefore how much we have to be grateful for, to live virtuous lives, and not to waste our time.
In this series, each Monday, I will post a memento mori from various sources, either from the primary Stoic texts themselves or other sources.