On Existence

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Ever since I was a child, I always felt a need to find a meaning to my existence. This of course does not make me special in any way, the need for meaning seems to be a shared need amongst all of humanity. Each of us making our own lonely journey through life feel the need to question “What is all this about?”.

When I was younger, the idea that I exist as a conscious individual capable of contemplating my place in the universe seemed to me to indicate that there had to be a deeper meaning to it all. After all, as a human not only am I conscious of the vibrant deep blue of the clear sky on a sunny day, the bitter yet invitingly warm smell of fresh coffee, or the crisp sweetness of an apple, I am also meta-conscious; conscious of being conscious. Our uniquely human meta-consciousness gives us the ability to not just exist as sentient beings, but to also contemplate our sentience.

It is only a matter of a minor amount of the aforementioned contemplation for us to apprehend some key facts about our existence

  1. We did not choose to exist, but yet we exist.
  2. We do not choose to die, but yet we must.
  3. The length of our existence is infinitesimally small, given the larger scheme of things.

I will leave the last fact for discussion a bit later, as it impinges significantly on the meaning we can derive from life, but from the first two facts we can conclude that two of the most important events in our lives, i.e. our birth and death are completely out of our control.

On the topic of birth, certainly one could not possibly have any choice in the matter, when one is not around to make the choice in the first place. Rather we must regard birth as a fortuitous occurrence, visited upon us by our parents succumbing to the natural desire to procreate, familial and societal pressure to produce progeny, or both.

On the topic of death, I think we can all concur that our termination is inevitable. While one can say that we have some limited control in postponing death; exercising, eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep etc., you still cannot be absolutely sure that a rash bus driver doesn’t run you over, or a neurological defect doesn’t blow a fuse in your brain, or any of the other multitude of ways in which people can and do die. So I think it reasonable to state that we have no control over our death. I will leave questions on the existence of an afterlife for another day. At this point I will limit our discussion to what is topical, i.e. the facts of life, specifically the life we are certain of, the one we are living.

At the risk of sounding histrionic, it is important to set some context here. Between the vast chasm of infinity before and after our existence, is a period of eighty to ninety years of life. It is to this period of time that we hope ascribe some form of meaning. It should be painfully obvious that even though our lives are timebound and limited, what the human heart craves is a timeless, possibly cosmic significance as its reason for being.

We as humans are deep down always looking for a transcendental purpose of some sort, a reason to be. All religious and spiritual traditions aim to cater to this need, as do various activities of a decidedly secular nature, for e.g. participation in charitable causes, adopting a child, lobbying for human rights, pursuing a career etc.

Why are we as humans driven to find a purpose to life? I can adduce this to the fact that humans are by nature goal seeking creatures. It is to be expected that our goals are often achieved only after much difficulty, a fact that most of us can attest to. Achieving the goal is the reward that makes us feel like our efforts have been validated, and we have a purpose to our efforts. However when it comes to human existence, to our utter consternation though our lives are fraught with much by way of tribulation the end goal is nowhere in sight.

Indeed this quandary also lays bare every single undertaking of any worth in human life, for what is one to make of the purpose of any of our worldly striving, when we are completely lacking in any notion of an ultimate goal for our existence itself? Ergo all of our worldly efforts, while having relative meaning, lack any ultimate meaning or purpose.

If one ascribes to a theistic world view, then statements such as, “God works in mysterious ways” are quoted as means of assuring us that there is a purpose to our existence, it’s just that He has not revealed it to us yet (hence the mystery). To this all that can be said is, given the short time He has given each of us on this Earth, it would be proper if He would let us know his desired purpose more plainly, lest we give up the ghost before any such illumining clarity is bestowed.

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The glass isn’t half full, it’s fully empty.

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