Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What if we are nothing?

Photo by Damian Gadal via Flickr

I go through some very dark moods. Apparently, we can't escape the evils of the world. They're all over the place now--on Facebook and Twitter, on my Google news homepage. Lots of people relish in posting pictures that I suppose are intended as calls to arms, but for me...on some days...are kicks in the chest.

Most days I'm okay. I can see a headline, or a picture, and move past it. I might even read a news story and be just fine. Other days, a glimpse of something awful and a headline that tells me more than I want to know send me into a dark, deep hell. I think I don't want to be here. I don't like this place.

And I wonder what's wrong with me. Why can't I see this stuff, know it's happening, and not let it affect me like this? And then I think, wait a minute, this seems normal. Shouldn't this be the normal reaction to such things? What's wrong with everybody else? I think, sometimes, that I don't belong here.

No worries. I muddle through those days and when they're done, I just pop a dose of ZzzQuil, have a good night's knock-out, and wake up feeling much better, ready to be like everybody else.

I've been trying to tell myself that, while it's all very terrible, it's not all that bad. Everybody dies, after all. Some people die earlier than others. I don't mind that, really. But I mind that other people, sick people, murder some of us. It's disgusting. Anyway, I just keep trying to remind myself that death is part of life and let it go and all that.

And lately I've been thinking that it matters even less than that.

All this horror comes from sentience, you know. From the awareness that we are finite and that what we have here will end. We will cease to be.

And sure, I've never had much problem with that. I wasn't particularly upset when I didn't exist before. Why should I be so upset about not existing in the future? I was reminded of this in an essay I read today by Adam Frank over at NPR--What if Heaven is not for real? His has always been my attitude toward my own death, at least.

But then I mulled it over a bit more and realized that it's not only sentience that makes us fearful of death. It's this idea that we mean something--that we are special. Look at how wonderful we are! We write, and paint, and chisel stuff out of rocks. We love and we laugh and we care for our children. Death is so much more meaningful for us than it is for, say, a butterfly. Right?

I am reminded of a study done some time ago that showed us we really do not have any kind of free will. Before we think consciously of an action, we've already begun the action. I remember laughing when I read about it--shocked and pleased with the idea that humans are animals, no different from the birds, really. And I remember telling my brother about the study and his reaction: alarm, denial, anger. The very idea that we have no will, that everything we do might be nothing more than instinct, like the cat pouncing on the wriggling piece of yarn, appalled him.

But this idea helps me. Calms me.

What if, in the grand scheme of things (I do not believe there is a grand scheme of things, but you know what I mean) our pursuits are no more meaningful than the rolling of dung by the beetle, than the cutting of leaves by the ant? What if, to an outside observer...a superior race of beings...dare I say...a god? What if we are merely creatures, doing instinctively what creatures do? The murders, the wars and slaughters, death, love, art--what if human life itself is no more grand or terrible than the lion taking down the gazelle, the eagle soaring above the clouds, the robber fly liquefying the innards of its prey, the purr of a house cat, or the Japanese hornet decapitating its victims?

What if we are nothing more than the rocks and the dust? What if we are nothing...







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