Don’t worry, this is not a cry for help; I’m not suicidal. This is merely an honest reflection on life, and the very state of existence.
From the moment we were born, we were thrust into a world devoid of answers. Why are we here? What are we here to do? I believe these two questions have crossed every sane person’s mind at some point in time. The problem – no one has the answers. The philosopher Albert Camus describes this condition as the Absurd. The inherent conflict between man’s unrelenting search for purpose, and the inability to find any, dooms us to a life of meaningless pursuits. However, Camus is not so pessimistic. He encourages us to accept the idea that the meaning behind life, the universe, and everything may be too vast for us to understand, but at the same time we should continue to explore and search for meaning.
Origins of the Universe
The first question that we must answer is how the universe came about. There are numerous theories explaining the creation of the universe, some scientific, some religious, and others a mix of both. In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking shares an amusing story in which a famous philosopher gives a lecture on astronomy and how the Earth orbits the Sun, only to have an old lady discount it by claiming that the Earth is actually a flat plate, supported on the back of a giant turtle. When asked what the turtle is standing on, she replies - “it’s turtles all the way down!” Silly as it may sound, there is no actual way we can disprove her theory and prove our own. The most widely accepted explanation right now would be that of the Big Bang. The theory postulates that the universe began as a singularity – a single point of infinite density and temperature – 13.8 billion years ago. It then quickly inflated and cooled, and clouds of matter congregated to form stars and planets. Of course, this begs the question – if the universe started as a singularity, then where did the singularity come from? The best answer to this is that no one knows, since time and space only began when the singularity occurred. The question of what came before the Big Bang is null, as there is no notion of time prior to the Big Bang. Trying to calculate the probability of the singularity itself is a futile effort as well, since probability asserts that we must either have a discrete or non-discrete frame over which an event may occur, and in this case we have neither.
Does this mean that the universe inevitably exists? The Principle of Sufficient Reason claims that if something can happen in more than one way, then there must be a reason for it happening one way rather than the other. If the universe inevitably exists, then there need not be an explanation for its existence, and our search for answers will come to a dead end. This sounds a little self-defeating, and I would like to believe that this is not the case. Even if the universe inevitably exists, the reason for its existence is unknown to us because we are trapped in four-dimensional space-time, and whatever that is outside is unknown to us.
This brings us to another question – if the universe is inevitable, are all of time and space pre-determined as well? More importantly, can it be that for all our notions of personal choice and free will, the state of human affairs today has already been determined 13.8 billion years ago? It feels strange and frankly, a little disconcerting, to think that none of the great men and women of the ages past mattered at all.
Further, if determinism is true, then fluid concepts, such as morality, have already been defined as static functions over time, and nothing that we do will ever change that. Slavery was inevitable; oppression was inevitable, even the future of our race is beyond our control. Again, this is a depressing thought, and I believe that we can only claim pre-determinism from the point of view of an entity outside space-time. This may be God; this may be something else altogether; it doesn’t matter. A comforting thought is that if this is true, then whatever this entity is capable of is irrelevant to us. I have a very succinct analogy explaining the reason behind this assertion, and I will write about it some other time.
In the end, everyone finds meaning in their lives in different ways. For some it is religion, for others it is family, and perhaps for the select few it is simply 42. Since there is no absolute definition, one man’s meaning is as good as another. Those who can find no meaning will be tempted to give up and seek the easy way out. Suicide, I believe, is never a valid option. Even for those who have found meaning, we cannot give up the continual pursuit of truth and the thirst for knowledge. If we let ourselves go, how would we find the answers to our questions? Sometimes, when the banality of everyday life takes over, we tend to forget that we are actually living life; that consciousness is a miracle unto itself. Conversely, death is always looming at the door, and the best thing we can do for ourselves is to find meaning in the things we enjoy and enjoy the things we find meaning in.