The past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about transience. Things come and they go, and one of those thing is me. The mystics say that when you get a glimpse of the truth, stuff like this happens. Visions of paradise or hell on earth. The brittle, unreality of things which seemed solid before. Personally, I start to see everyone as little GI Joe sized figures scurrying over a scale-model of a city, endless changing, but always the same. But what is that truth? All things die? Or all things are reborn? Which one gives me the most comfort?
Neither is an easy answer for me. Do I really want to live if it means irresistible suffering? Or is freedom from suffering really a thing? Unfortunately, everyone who might knows seems to be founding a religion or selling a book. Camus said the only real philosophical question is whether to commit suicide or not. Suicide only requires a moment’s decision but life is a series of of them. Simplistically, one seems easy and the other seems hard, a distinction in which my Protestant work ethic comes down decisively in favor of the latter. Surely if a thing is difficult it is worthwhile. Well, I’m not so sure what makes a while worth it. And life can take quite a while.
Life is difficult. Let’s be plain. It exists because it works to exists. It works really hard. It runs, climbs, burrows, clings, slithers, fucks and more. It resists decomposition into its base elements like a consuming fire refusing to extinguish. It changes and reproduces to avoid the toll of entropy, but is ultimately dependent on those greater forces, energy and entropy, for its being.
My point is that I don’t think our lives are the center of the universe. It seems to me all earthlings are essentially the same kind of thing, from fungus to financial analysts, just different versions of the same process of resisting entropy, reproduction and ultimately cessation. Perhaps the universe itself is in a similar process. We have no means as yet to determine the boundaries of the universe or its uniqueness. Perhaps it is not infinite. Perhaps all its vast components are more like organelles in a tiny cell. I’m certainly not the first to observe this, I simply agree with the impression that humans are incredibly small, our impact on the cosmos so vastly inconsequential as to be nothing. But why should this inspire despair?
Did our ancestors despair at a world they understood even less than ourselves? They grappled with it, surviving long enough to eek out practical truths which in turn revealed grander ones. Our ancestors created myths to represent the encircling unknown. Some of those myths persist to this day, marking the boundaries of our knowledge. Perhaps the grandest being our primacy in cosmos, the idea we possess unique souls. We tell ourselves that evolution is a linear upgrade from basic to progressively higher, more complex forms of life. Could the universe want this? Perhaps. It’s not inconceivable the universe exists for the sole purpose of birthing a species capable of cosmic interaction. Maybe it’s how universes reproduce. How tempting a worldview. How it comforts. But even if you buy this hypothesis, it doesn’t mean humans are the chosen ones.
Further, just as we found the earth and, subsequently, the sun to be simply characters in a vast panoply of stars, planets and countless other celestial bodies, it seems reasonable to me the tiny carbon-based organisms that sprung from them are equally non-central, perhaps moreso. Perhaps, like a cell, there is a nucleus of the universe, but we have yet to find it, much less comprehend its implications. For me, I find peace in realizing what I do not know. I cannot imagine how any practical progress could occur without a willing embrace of the unknown.