A passage from the novel by the contemporary Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1998), is illustrative of the intuitive wisdom shown by many present-day writers in regard to the effects of death anxiety on human adaptability. The central character in the book, a man of twenty or so named Toru Okada and nicknamed “Mr. Wind-Up Bird,” has found a dry well in a closed-off back alley behind his house in Tokyo. He buys a ladder, descends into the well, and spends the night there. When he awakens, in the morning, the ladder is gone. After a while, a teenager named May Kasahara, whom he has befriended, shows up; evidently she is the one who removed the ladder. She checks to see if Toru is alive and after he speaks up she teasingly reassures him that it will take a while before he starves to death.
May then ponders the subject of death, suggesting that if people could live forever and not face dying, they wouldn’t ponder serious matters as she and Toru are now doing. Thoughts about all sorts of serious subjects—philosophy, religion, logic and literature—would never have come into existence. Without knowing that they are going to die some day, people would also have no need to think about what it means to be alive. She then suggests that death makes us evolve and the more intense the image of death seems, the more we’re compelled to drive ourselves crazy thinking about all kinds of things [...]
Murakami intuitively appreciates that the prospect of death engenders the need to acquire knowledge and divine-like wisdom, and that death is the driving force behind human creativity and the evolution of knowledgeable life on earth as well. He also understands that the acquisition of this deeper kind of wisdom is a terrifying experience that can drive a person crazy. These revelations, uplifting and growth-promoting on the one hand and anxiety-provoking on the other, are experienced unconsciously by all who search for this kind of death-related insight.