The harshness of the existential void
Meaning and purpose are important aspects of human life. I don’t think many will disagree. It becomes intolerable for many people when these two things are absent. Meaninglessness and purposelessness are very difficult to cope with. I’m a bit afraid to alert anyone reading this that there is a YouTube vid down below, because I expect based on patterns in human nature that they’ll go for that first – thereby missing some important context.
In the universe
The universe is there, rolling on as it has done for about 14 billion years – if you don’t believe that everything was created about 6000 years ago. But if you believe it was only 6000 years, then this post is not for you. Kindly depart to avoid causing yourself suffering.
The core features of that universe are:
- It is very old, vast beyond our comprehension and expanding.
- It is composed of matter in various forms and other strange things that need not necessarily be ‘matter’ as we normally perceive it.
- It holds a large amount of energy.
- There is no evidence that the universe cares about human life, in any protective sort of way.
- It is ruled by mathematics.
- It is ruled by 5 forces (so far as we can discern).
Us in the universe
I am assuming that all who I have advised (above) to clear off, have done so.
We are undoubtedly made of matter. Anyone who disagrees, is invited to pinch themselves at their own risk. The matter we are composed of uses electrochemical and electromechanical wizardry to keep us alive. There is hard data and evidence for an evolution of life and then sentient life, which we are.
What that means is that we emerged from inanimate matter. There are two levels to this:
The act of procreation means that a developing foetus extracts matter via its mothers placenta and adds to its own developing body by another set of amazing electro-chemical-mechanical wizardry. Let’s be real about this – some foetuses die in utero when that wizardry fails. Some foetuses emerge with malformations e.g. club foot or cleft palate (and there is a much longer list). And then we could wonder about a vast number of genetic conditions that cause all sort of biochemical/physiological/anatomical problems. [There is an amazing thing called ‘The Internet’. Some should try it out.]
From an evolutionary perspective the complex biochemistry that currently supports life is the result of an amazing accident! Oooh.. what’s that? When next you look at the moon – know (and find out) that it was the result of an accidental collision of some other celestial body with what we might think of as the earth. The two blobs melded together for a bit, then one bounced off and went into orbit around us – and that’s what we call the moon. No moon means that we would have had no tidal currents which is absolutely essential for the evolution of life as we currently see it.
But then there is Saturn and Jupiter. These two massive planets protected ‘us’ from repeated asteroid bombardment, just to the right degree. The two largest planets basically ‘hoovered up’ most of the asteroids that would have disrupted ‘evolution’ from the inanimate matter that we could find in our back yards. It was a delicate process that needed 4.5 billion years. That’s what Saturn and Jupiter gave us. Did I say an asteroid has never hit the earth? I did NOT! in fact one or two major asteroid collisions were probably faciliatory for our evolution, to where we are. But this is not a lecture on evolution, so I’ll pause there.
Meaning and purpose
I return to where I started off. Where is our meaning and purpose in such a mechanical state of affairs? Does the universe have a grand meaning and purpose for itself, and where do we fit in – if at all? We cannot just ‘ask the universe’ and expect a text message response – obviously!
We need meaning and purpose but that does not automatically mean that the universe has ‘a meaning and purpose’. Hold on – I’m talking about objective meaning and purpose – the one that is outside of our heads. So, I’m not talking about ascribing or inferring meaning and purpose to the universe. Any fool could blurt out, “Well it’s purpose was to create us – what’s your problem?!” – and I would avoid having a discussion with such a fool. Why? Because – whilst I like an alternative perspective, fools like that demonstrate no thinking skills and it would end up as a shouting match is instead of scouting for hard facts that we could agree on. That’s my attitude and belief based on a whole lot of experience.
The point is that we can create our own meaning and purpose even if the universe is without. I certainly do not require an answer from the universe on its ‘intentions’ in order to live my life and find my own purposes.
The universe’s purpose
But.. but..there is a scientific fact – based in hard evidence available to everybody – that the universe’s big purpose is to increase its own entropy.
So what does that mean for us? We’re on average 70kg of matter; the elements of which are valued at a total of around £100 on the open market. If that matter was left in the earth for 80 years nothing much would happen in terms of increasing entropy. But bring it alive – from birth – and via the evolutionary process; then we have an entity that burns up a load of energy, distributes matter, causes global warming, creates engines that burn more energy, and may set off a few nukes. All that causes more entropy – and there is a longer list of all sorts of things that the universe would ‘enjoy’. In a generous life span a human will burn around 562,500 kWh (according to ‘Signature Electric‘). I’m not interested with a wider variation because the point is to compare inanimate matter against ‘animated’ sentient matter – there is a vast difference. 70 kg of your matter lying stuck in the earth does rather little for the universe!
So – we’re an orchestration of the universe for its own mega-purpose. Within the time we are allowed we can create our own purposes and meaning.
And what if the universe is a cold, calculating, mathematical entity that doesn’t even know about us? Well, to some that’s just intolerable. For me, I just say ‘Thank you universe for the time and experience you have afforded me – although I know you cannot possibly hear me.” I shall savour every microsecond – and sleep becomes my enemy – as do fools who wish to waste my time!
I happened across the video below from Anastasia, totally by chance – or maybe the ‘universe of Google’ orchestrated it for me to see. Just to be clear, I have never met this person – and I don’t know her from ‘Eve’ – and I’m not travelling to Russia!! FFS! I start the video at around 2:42 but full viewing is recommended.
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This is a transcript of the relevant part.
I didn’t know what to do, what’s next. It was hard for me to to experience this; it was so new for me. Nobody was waiting for me and was like, what’s the sense of life?
When you don’t have anything distracting you and I was spending lots of time in the farm with goats alone thinking and wouldn’t you.
When you don’t have anything distracting you start to question yourself these questions, like, ‘What is life about?’, ‘What’s the sense of life?’, ‘What can I do here on the farm?’
Like is there any hope for me, what I can do here.
It was very complicated time for me, and you know I don’t believe that I came out from monkeys because if you do if somebody does then..then.. that means that there is no sense in life.
You are just a bunch of energy that one day will disappear, and I didn’t believe it and still don’t and there is no sense whatever you do because anyway it will be forgotten.
I had a hope that I can do something because I am created by God, and he never does anything without any purpose and that I still have a purpose for my life.
I have to say, that I was where she was at around that age. The thought of ‘nothingness’ and meaninglessness was intolerable. I vacillated between ‘God’ and ‘the universe’, in the ways I outlined nearer the top of this post.
So – I felt a need to look through her eyes again, with my different lenses. Just to be clear, I am not criticising the girl nor am I trying to tell her what to think! And furthermore I’m not psychoanalysing her! Chyrsst – this social media thing is dangerous!!
No – I’m not contacting her to tell her what I think about what she thinks. She is on the right path. She’s thinking. Possibly in time she may change her mind or maybe she won’t – it doesn’t bother me.
When one approaches the existential void, there is a feeling of emptiness – nothingness – purposelessness. Nature did not design us for that stuff. What nature wanted as part of our evolutionary history was us reproducing, farming the land, using tools, consuming energy and increasing the overall entropy within the universe’s ‘walls’. Grappling with the existential void is a recipe for depression – read(or not) what happened to Roquentin. Depression of any sort is not great for the major purpose of the universe.
- The universe has a purpose that can be discovered through scientific inquiry.
- The universe is cold and calculating in its mathematics and laws.
- It demonstrates no care for human life i.e. it would send tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanoes to take us out, without breaking a sweat. Who knows, even a massive asteroid may come our way to destroy us all.
- Regardless of the ‘mechanical’ nature of the universe, humankind has a choice – to create its own purposes as groups or as individuals.
- We came from inanimate matter and we shall return to that state, when the gift of time is up.
- We came with no memories and we shall depart with none.
- Our purposes if noble enough may live on in the memories of others.