Friday, 1 December 2006

Meaningless?

So, the universe is huge, random and arbitrary. Our place in it is completely insignificant if you think about it. The planets will keep orbiting, and the stars will continue to shine irrespective of whether we're here or not. Inevitably we'll die, hopefully we'll be mourned and missed briefly by a few, but ultimately, our legacies will fade into nothing at all.

Christ, Existentialism is bleak. But no matter how hard I try, I keep returning to it as the only valid way to understand our world. Deep thought was wrong when it worked out the 'Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything'. It's not 42. It's 0, zero, nothing, nada.

So why doesn't the human race collectively lie down in the foetal position and gently wink out of existence, unnoticed by the universe spinning on by?

When I think about it, I guess this is what this blog is all about; Answering the impossible questions like - Why do we still struggle for purpose and meaning in a world that, when deconstructed is ultimately arbitrary and pointless?

I'm pretty confident that my thinking is flawed and imperfect but, for what its worth here are some of my thoughts about why this might be the case.

This 'struggle' is an inheritance from our evolutionary history that goes all the way back to the first single cell organisms. Life for these creatures was simple. Stay alive, reproduce. A clear purpose then, and one that is all consuming. Take your eye (if you've evolved one) off the ball for a second and you're eaten or destroyed. The notion of "why" didn't exist, if it did, then the answer would be 'because'.

Four billion years later this is still the case for all life on the planet. Except for us humans.

We transcended these immediate and violent needs when we started to form complex society. In doing so we had some time to sit and use our newly developed languages to explore abstract ideas with one and other. We started to ask "why?" For the whole of our evolutionary history we'd had one, simple "why"; Stay alive, reproduce. Now, the true nature of this bleak universe was revealed to us. Bewildered and terrified by this existential insight we filled this "void of meaning" with Gods. Vengeful Gods probably, who reflected the cruel and random world we'd been used to living in. But at least these gods gave us our purpose.

Over millenia these spiritual ideas were developed and woven into the very fabric of our society. We grew benevolent Gods who reflected the softer life we had made for ourselves. They continued to give us purpose, codes to live by and answers to our fundamental questions.

Socrates buggered it all up for us. What with his critical thinking and all.

The problem we have now is that we've grown beyond the need for Gods. With the advance of the scientific critical thinking (thanks to Socrates), we can find no evidence of God. We cannot reproduce God in randomised control trials.

In a cruel twist of irony however, those of us in the developed world have never been in more need of a God. For the vast majority of us life is no real struggle. Calories come cheap, and we need to burn very few of them to get more. A drive to the supermarket is all that's required. Our established democracies tax us heavily, but they provide all the infrastructure we need to give only a passing thought to drinking freshwater, staying warm, clean and dry and being entertained.

In reality we don't need to try hard for anything at all. Our well developed social security systems will take care of our basic needs for us if we can't be bothered to meet them ourselves.

The last time we had to live without a god we had a purpose; Stay alive, Reproduce. This time however we have no god, and no real purpose.

I'm going to leave it here, on this optimistic point, for tonight. Tomorrow I'll try to build on these ideas a little more, and explain why ultimately they lifts my spirits.

Update: Link to second post mentioned above.

2 comments:

Murph said...

The question you seek isn't, "Why are we here?" Perhaps it is, "What is consciousness?"

jamon said...

Perhaps it is. I'll give it some thought and get tied up in knots again :-)

Thanks