Friday, July 27, 2018

"What's the Significance of Life? Who Are We?"

"What's the Significance of Life? Who Are We?"
"What's the significance of life? Who are we? Is human life just a dream, from which we never really awake, as some great thinkers claim? Are we submerged by our feelings, by our loves and hates, by our ideas of good, bad, beautiful, awful? Are we incapable of knowing beyond those ideas and feelings?  Listen to Shakespeare and Joseph Conrad:

"We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep…"
- William Shakespeare, "The Tempest"

"A man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea."
Joseph Conrad, "Lord Jim"
"All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there. Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul? I cannot stop asking. If I could taste one sip of an answer, I could break out of this prison for drunks. I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way. Whoever brought me here, will have to take me home."
- Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi, "The Tavern" (Excerpt)
Is the reality we know a reality imposed to us by nature? Is the reality and the meaning of life a creation of men, such as music, or love or colors (science tells us that there isn't such things as music, harmony or colors in the physic world. Just traveling molecules: "There is not, external to us, hot or cold, but only different velocities of molecules; there aren’t sounds, callings, harmonies, but just variations in the pressure of the air; there aren’t colors, or light, just electro-magnetic waves," said H. Von Foerster.

Are we - and all living beings - just "survival machines, blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes," as Richard Dawkins states? Are we incapable of knowing beyond the frames imposed to us by nature? Is there any significance for life in a Universe of billions of stars that ignore us? Is there any significance for life in an Universe whose dimensions and nature overcome our understanding?

Listen to the words of Pascal, in the seventeenth century: "When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity that lies before and after it, when I consider the little space I fill and I see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I rest frightened, and astonished, for there is no reason why I should be here rather than there. Why now rather than then? Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time have been ascribed to me?"

We can’t avoid thinking of our existential condition, of the shortness of our lives, of the transitory nature of everything. We do it all the time we exist, in all societies. The brevity of life torments the human spirit. The proximity of death is "a source of grief during all our life," - Edgar Morin.

Love gives meaning to our lives – as do friendship, or art, or faith in God. These are factors of true happiness, of inner peace, of feelings of harmony, allowing meaning to our existence. But there is the other side. There is the cruelty of life, the pain, the evil, not to talk of death. They are the hidden tigers, ambushed and ready to attack the imprudent, to use an image present in the Buddhist Scriptures. It is between these pendulums- the positive, the one that gives happiness and meaning, and the negative- that our lives are lived. And when we meditate about all that, we arrive at a diverse and disagreeing set of thoughts about the meaning and purpose of life.

Let us meditate on the superior way with which Homer expressed our condition as human beings: "Insignificant mortals, who are as leaves are, and now flourish and grow warm with life, and feed on what the ground gives, but soon fade away and are dead."

Let us list the sad music springing out of the words of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, who was also a philosopher, reflecting on the shortness of our lives: "Life is a campaign, a brief stay in a strange region." "Time is a violent torrent; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by, and another takes its place, before this too will be swept away."

These thoughts reach beyond epochs and frontiers, they plunge into the depths of our soul; they are imbued with a serene controlled sadness, associated with the awareness of our inability to overcome the brutal force of an unjust reality that crushes. In them lives the dignity of our conscience, our capacity of seeing beyond the present, of overcoming our humble origins, of assuming ourselves as the conscience of the living universe.

In them is also consubstantiated the strength of human art, of poetry, of beauty. They are a way of nullifying the smallness and insignificance of human beings, of raising us to a much higher level. They are well above the world that condemns human beings to death. In them we claim against the injustice present in the heart of life. In their way, they immortalize us."


"The unexamined life is not worth living."
- Socrates

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