Memento mori is Latin for “Remember that you must die.” The phrase is believed to originate from an ancient Roman tradition in which a servant would be tasked with standing behind a victorious general as he paraded though town. As the general basked in the glory of the cheering crowds, the servant would whisper in the general’s ear: “Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!” This loosely translates to “Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you will die!”
This is a genre that draws upon the melancholic character of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. Eat, drink, and be merry if you must, the objects suggest, because death is right around the corner. Memento mori paintings, drawings, and sculptures can range from blunt depictions of skulls, decaying food, and broken objects to subtler examples whose symbolism is easy to miss. A basic memento mori painting would be a portrait with a skull but other symbols commonly found are hour glasses or clocks, extinguished or guttering candles, fruit, and flowers.
A nice little essay which includes the general practice among several schools of thought and cultures. Reminds me about some of the practices I’ve read about masons practicing.
I have no singular destiny, no one true passion, no goal. I flutter from one thing to the next. I want to be a physicist and a mathematician and a novelist and write a sitcom and write a symphony and design buildings and be a mother. I want to run a magazine and understand the lives of ants and be a philosopher and be a computer scientist and write an epic poem and understand every ancient language. I don't just want one thing. I want it all.
“My vision of life is that everything extends from replicators, which are in practice DNA molecules on this planet. The replicators reach out into the world to influence their own probability of being passed on. Mostly they don’t reach further than the individual body in which they sit, but that’s a matter of practice, not a matter of principle. The individual organism can be defined as that set of phenotypic products which have a single route of exit of the genes into the future. That’s not true of the cuckoo/reed warbler case, but it is true of ordinary animal bodies. So the organism, the individual organism, is a deeply salient unit. It’s a unit of selection in the sense that I call a “vehicle”. There are two kinds of unit of selection. The difference is a semantic one. They’re both units of selection, but one is the replicator, and what it does is get itself copied. So more and more copies of itself go into the world. The other kind of unit is the vehicle. It doesn’t get itself copied. What it does is work to copy the replicators which have come down to it through the generations, and which it’s going to pass on to future generations. So we have this individual replicator dichotomy. They’re both units of selection, but in different senses. It’s important to understand that they are different senses.”
RICHARD DAWKINS is an evolutionary biologist; Emeritus Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford; Author, The Selfish Gene; The Extended Phenotype; Climbing Mount Improbable; The God Delusion; An Appetite For Wonder; and (forthcoming) A Brief Candle In The Dark.
Watch the entire video interview and read the transcript at Edge.org.
Adami’s work is along similar lines to some of my own research. This short video gives an intriguing look into some of the basics of how to define life so that one can recognize it when one sees it.
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