Nothing Focuses The Mind Like The Ultimate Deadline: Death

February 13, 2014
TDF Guest Jim Lieberman

TDF Guest Jim Lieberman

The “Deadline Watch” was a recent topic on National Public Radio. You put in data about yourself and the ticker on your wrist continuously estimates your time left on Earth. Its inventor, Fredrik Colting, a 37-year-old Swedish former grave-digger, then publisher, calls it “Tikker, the happiness watch” because it helps focus on the worthwhile and enjoyable use of time remaining.

Ernest Becker was present in spirit:  psychologist Sheldon Solomon cogently handled questions, emphasizing that death awareness can make us more appreciative of life, but also hostile and xenophobic: “intolerance against people who are different is the result of a psychological inability to tolerate death.”
Colting agreed that wearing it could push one in either direction. A live example came from a couple who tried out the device. Theresa experienced brighter colors around her, while a chore–making the bed–seemed senseless. Jeff was impatient, resenting time wasted with junk mail; he couldn’t wait to end the experiment. For Theresa the world was “sharpened” and she wants to get the Tikker for herself.

The media constantly remind us of death, loss and grief affecting someone else–a form of reassurance. Most Americans are believers who count on a glorious afterlife, but want to take their good time getting there. The grateful owner of two artificial hips at 79, I don’t need a countdown watch to appreciate a little more time. We do need a watch that tells us when Mother Earth will likely die, to raise anxiety constructively. Disease, famine and war are crude yet insufficient remedies for overpopulation. Human life is choking the planet to death and the powers-that-be are in denial.



  1. As an oncologist, it seems to me that when people are given a terminal diagnosis they tend to react with either a heightened awareness of the importance of each day or depression (or often a fluid combination). Families are more likely to react with prolonged anger, than the patient. I wonder if this has to do with finally knowing how and relatively when you will die, verses the unknown hypothetical that you are able to deny and defend with aggression? Death closure, if you will. Might this be a clue towards a solution to Becker’s analysis of man’s pathology?

  2. Oncologist Jim Salwitz coins a good phrase: “death closure.” In Belgium a new law allows terminally ill children to choose death. Death deniers are a minority! Representatives of some “higher power” protest that this humane option is not compatible with eternal life. Is being helpless at life’s end the only path to an afterlife? Is there no death closure for the faithful? Even US football coaches don’t make players waste themselves in the last few minutes of a lost game trying to score meaningless points.

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