The following text does not necessarily fit into what this blog was supposed to be about, which is, where “the Europeans” came from, the early history of the continent from a classic historical, linguistic and genetic perspective. It is more of a relatively short philosophical article about human existence and it’s meaning and purpose in general and one of the reasons, why I started this blog and really everything I do outside of work in the first place. So I thought I just post it here anyway to see if anyone is interested in this kind of thing.
This article will deal with the dilemma of existence and human existence in particular. Questions about the nature and meaning of existence have occupied humanity for thousands of years, at the latest since the psychological revolution 50000 years ago and since then many great thinkers of human history have dealt with the subject. Of course there must have been individuals before the philosophers known to us who have dealt with the meaning of human existence, but unfortunately, nothing of them has been handed down to us. The reason why I assume this is that every human being can make use of his intellect, just as Kant has already called for (“Have the courage to use your own mind/reason!”). And whilst not everyone is looking for the first and last reasons, most people have probably asked themselves the question why before.
Nowadays we have at least a conditionally satisfactory idea of where we come from, a question that goes hand in hand with the question of the why. To answer this question one can proceed in great detail, or rather roughly, and to keep this article as short as possible, we will choose the latter approach. The most important points to consider here are, in chronological order, the Big Bang, the beginning of life, evolution leading to anatomically modern man, and the supposed psychological revolution for 50000 years. All these points deserve a great deal of attention and to report and inform about them in detail would most likely fill several books. Put simply, the universe began with the Big Bang, nobody knows exactly why stars and planets formed over time. For reasons we don’t fully understand either, life began on at least one planet, Earth, but most likely on several planets spread over the entire universe. Why we have not yet found any signals or evidence of extraterrestrial life is also a mystery, see the Fermi Paradox for more information. Where inanimate things stop and animate things begin is not easy to categorize either. For example, we don’t know whether viruses should be considered alive or dead or something in between. Life evolved through evolution and became more complex, and this is probably the first item on the list that we understood reasonably well, at least on a simpler level. But what we have not yet fully or satisfactorily understood is how the brain, and the human brain in particular, and the psychological phenomena we experience every day, developed, and why. This leads us to the so-called psychological revolution 50000 years ago, at a point where modern, complex human behaviour supposedly had fully developed. It is probably at this point that all of our profound philosophical problems began. Here we find the first definite signs of religion, which presupposes, for example, complex language.
Now the dilemma is that these are all key points in the history of ourselves and the universe as a whole, that we neither fully understand individually nor in relation to each other. Admittedly, here we deal with everything that has ever existed, in simple terms, from our own very limited perspective. These gaps in the theory of our existence leave room for speculation, which many people try to fill with religion or spirituality in general. The problem with religion, however, is that it presupposes belief, which to some extent equals trust in the truth of something or someone, that is not scientifically, empirically, or logically immaculately provable. Now there are believers and non-believers and those who are not sure, or in other words, for whom faith, trust and speculation are not enough. This brings us to an existential problem which cannot be solved according to the current state of knowledge, and this is probably the point at which most people who are seriously concerned with human existence and its meaning despair. This is by no means unfounded or even incomprehensible, since every person, no matter what problem he has to deal with, if this problem proves to be unsolvable, frustration inevitably follows. The difference to other problems is that it this one deals with human existence and the existence of the universe as a whole and as a consequence of the insolubility of this dilemma everything else ultimately loses its meaning as well. Most people would understand a fellow human being who has lost his meaning in life as psychologically disturbed or perhaps expressed in a somewhat milder way, merely as pessimistic. But the only conclusion we can come to at the moment, even have to, is to assume that if something seems to make sense without being provable, will eventually lead to the realization that the picture is incomplete, and that every “meaningful” picture of the existence of man or the universe is at best wishful thinking.
So our first duty in the context of exploring our question about the meaning of existence is to face this dilemma and make friends with the thought that our existence ultimately has no inherent meaning. But at this point, I want to say that not everything is lost. While this realization will be demotivating for most, it is also the liberation from constraints of any kind. Theoretically one does not “have” to achieve anything, one does not “have” to submit or subordinate to any social norms or values, one does not “have” to submit to any pressure from outside or inside. One is free to do what one wants, to create one’s picture of the world and the universe, according to one’s ideas. This newly won freedom may at first be frightening since everything that we as individuals have considered important and valuable must be evaluated again based on a pointless universe and we thus lose our foothold in the world. Religion, sense, meaning, destiny, family, society, friends, all this no longer makes sense. However, we can ask ourselves which of these things we want to take with us into this new, blank world that we have created for ourselves. Of course this world would be more or less an illusion, but strictly speaking, everything we experience is just a projection and therefore an illusion of something that our senses previously perceived and our brain interpreted. And both this sensory perception and its interpretation is different from individual to individual, not only from one species to another, where this becomes even more apparent (see Qualia), but also between members of the same species, and what effects this has on our world view can be very different. Instead of letting this selection take place naturally, we can consciously influence it through our own decisions. Of course, there are also limits to consider here, as we can imagine some things that do not exist in reality. What we should recall in the creation of our new, own world with our value systems are our deepest and innermost feelings and needs. People can change in many ways, but we all seem to have certain needs to satisfy. Ironically, one of these needs is that of the meaning and significance of one’s existence, which brings us back to the beginning.
Some people suppress and repress this need and are surprisingly successful with it, but unfortunately, this is not an option for everyone. For those of us who consider this need fundamental, there are three ways to deal with the supposed meaninglessness of our existence:
1. The Search For Meaning: While no meaning, no point, no plan of human existence or existence, in general, can be identified, there are still gaps in our picture of the history and development of the universe and of humanity which, as described above, leave room for speculation: What happened before the Big Bang? If every effect has a cause, then was there a first cause, and if so, what was that cause? How exactly did life come into being and how does evolution exactly work on a higher level? Is there infinite regress? How can one explain the psychological, one’s own experience with the laws of nature known to us? Although all of these questions would be of great interest and their answers would have far-reaching consequences, there is no guarantee that one of these questions alone or together would lead to the desired result.
2. The Acceptance Of Meaninglessness: The acceptance of the non-existence of some form of greater sense or plan of our existence or the existence of the universe. This decision requires great personal courage as it is tantamount to staring down into an endless black abyss. But, as you know, the best way to overcome your fears, is, to face them and, as mentioned above, this experience can be liberating for some people because laws, rules or norms that can be restrictive completely lose their validity.
3. The Middle Course: This approach may be a solution for all those who cannot suppress the need for meaning, but have realized that the meaninglessness of existence is more likely. It is important to bear in mind that this very senselessness must first be accepted. Those who face their fears and overcome them have nothing more to fear. To become aware of the positive aspects of meaningless existence, like its freedom and unconventionality, can help here. Only when one has accepted this step and the resulting world view, the actual middle way between acceptance of senselessness and the search for meaning can follow. It is impossible for man, at least at this point, to know everything. Until recently we were not aware of the existence of dark matter, which makes up the major part, more than two thirds, of the matter of our entire universe. And about the third, which we were aware of, we also hardly know anything, if we’re really honest. As a consequence, it follows that, as Socrates had already indicated, we know almost nothing with absolute certainty. Our interpretations of the universe are at best piecemeal and at worst flawed. Besides, there is also a realistic possibility of the existence of other universes, with other dimensions and completely different physical laws. And while these and other previously mentioned points might contain an answer to the meaning of existence, there is no guarantee for this. Exactly, for this reason, it is important to accept the meaninglessness of existence as a possible, and at this time most probable alternative, but to keep in mind that to ignore meaning completely is as ignorant as a blind belief in meaningful existence.
So what conclusion do we draw?
The fact that we don’t know enough about our universe and its existence makes it equally impossible to recognize a bigger picture and to completely exclude that there is “more”, even if according to the current state of knowledge the former seems more probable. Since meaning or self-fulfilment, no matter what one might call it, is a basic human need, it is difficult for us to accept that there might be no inherent meaning to existence. For this reason, a middle way has to be found, which takes both possibilities into consideration, the meaningful and the meaningless and is content with both so that we can live happily. Ultimately, it is not within our power to influence the universe as a whole, whether it makes sense or not. What we can do in the meantime, however, is to do everything in our power to close the gaps in our plan of the universe to create a more complete picture of existence as a whole for humanity. Not for the sake of finding meaning, but for the sake of the cause itself. We should, as already mentioned, recall our innermost needs, and curiosity is one of them to live our happiest life. What we must ultimately realize and accept is that we exist, and we are bound to our own inherent needs, shaped by millions of years of evolution, and we cannot simply shake them off. This applies to curiosity and self-fulfilment as well as to the supposedly “lower” needs.
In summary, we must accept what we are and what we want (need-driven creatures in search of meaning), and that there is a discrepancy between us, and our goal (meaning) that may be unsolvable (pointlessness). The resulting conflict is resolved by this acceptance of one’s nature as such a creature, and the likely failure to find the true meaning of existence. Through the realization of this conflict and the necessity and indissolubility of both parties (individual and pointlessness), one accepts one’s existence in a seemingly pointless universe, since one ultimately has no other choice.
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