To the best of our current knowledge, in a few billion years the sun will expand to a red giant, and all life here on Earth will be burnt away. The entire universe will either expand to an entropic “heat death,” or collapse into a new Big Bang. Or to nothingness?
Or maybe there is a god just waiting to take his chosen ones away. Maybe there’ll turn out to be a soul and a state beyond the material. Technology might yet expand and develop to the Omega Point.
Or maybe an asteroid will hit Earth, and that was that.
Of course, for the life of you and me, a flower pot falling from a window sill would be quite enough. So, these grand visions of doom don’t matter much, nor figure prominently, in our everyday lives.
All we can know for sure, right now, is that we currently seem to be alive. So, we try to make the best of it, whichever way we decide is best.
Often enough, it is not so much a conscious decision as it is just our having been thrown into this existence, and therefore looking to get by, and find a little bit of happiness. As our environments allow, our societies and cultures shape, we ourselves do, decide, and have happen to us.
To get personal also on these pages, one more time (normally, the ways I personally live – or try to live, anyways – the ecology of happiness, along with wider themes of living “at home in…” are on my blog at www.zhangschmidt.com):
I also just try to make the best of this life. There has always been a philosophical and self-observing streak to me, though, which makes for a strong awareness of connections, a deep questioning of the sense of it all, and a near impossibility of enjoying pleasures without any purpose other than their enjoyment.
Try going on a party and just having fun when there is that little, but very persistent, voice telling you that it’s nothing but an attempt at drowning out the difficult question of what sense it all makes.
Whether the existentialist view given so far, or the view from ecology, they both give basically the same “answer”: There doesn’t seem to be any sense. Life just somehow got started, and life’s Rule Nr. 1 has to be to try and continue.
There may be a deep meaning in that lack of morality, the inexistence of a purpose other than life itself, though. After all, we don’t know more than our current state of knowledge, but neither do we know what the future will bring. There are sure to be surprises – and it opens possibilities.
We do know two things, however.
- Life lives to live. The “purpose” we know it has is to continue. Furthermore, we know that Earth is the only place we can currently live, a fascinating cornucopia of life forms, and a home world providing decent living conditions not just through physical characteristics, but also through its ecological workings. No nature we oftentimes don’t quite see ourselves as a part of, no us.
- We – you and I – are here, now. We are conscious of that; we – humanity – have this very strange potential for reflection, rationality, invention, technology and culture. No other known life form is like that. There are lots of species in competition, and there are many examples of cooperation – but with consciousness, there is only us.
So, there may not be any deeper sense – but we are the species that makes sense.
Bringing the two together, though… well, I get angry.
Angry because we are the only species on Earth that can learn and think rationally, that is deeply moved by its unconscious desires and its emotions, but also able to learn to control them. We are the species that has even been finding ways to leave this planet, to take to outer space – but we don’t seem to take this fact very seriously.
In fact, we use this fascinating world as if we could leave it any time.
We claim to be inventive and thinking. Especially now that fear of a collapse, maybe just of “the economy”, maybe of civilization, is widespread, there are constant appeals to our ability to invent new solutions when and if the trouble should hit – but they are just used as excuses for doing nothing really different now.
Even as we question the present state of affairs, we fail to get seriously innovative right now and to create ways of living that would be better for us and better for the world, better now and better for the future.
We know so much, we have so many opportunities – and then we let ourselves get caught up in consumption. We try hard to have ever more comfort, convenience, and enjoyment, even as we clearly see that we are not deriving any more happiness from them.
We just squander our potential, get into constant squabbles about each other’s ways of life, never looking much at our own. We live as if there were no tomorrow – and seemingly work hard to make that prediction become self-fulfilling.
It’s about time we had better opinions of ourselves again, and did our best to live up to them. Living and letting live; learning; failing and succeeding in ways that are not catastrophic; creating ways forward and good lives, localized and back-to-the-land, and on to Mars and farther as well.
Initiatives for all that and more are all around, and just about everyone of us has the potential to work towards that better – and what we need to find is not “the” solution, but are a hundred different attempts at solutions that can coexist and open new opportunities.
So, no more “Said one planet to another, ‘I think I’ve got humans'”-jokes anymore.
We are not at the end of this story yet…