Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
You are nonchalantly walking down 7th Avenue in New York City passing in front of the Madison Square Garden side of Pennsylvania Station. You glance up to look at the world famous arena, and a man, dressed in an expensive, custom tailored suit punches you directly in the face, shattering your left eye socket. The man continues to walk down the street, southbound, and you decide (without any evidence to substantiate your claim) that he is heading to Nevada Smiths on 3rd Avenue and 11th Street to watch an English Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal. Nobody around you seems to have noticed what has just happened to you, despite it being 5:15 p.m. with the crowd of rush hour commuters scrambling to make their trains. You pick yourself up off the ground, gather your wits about you and board the New Jersey Coast Line 5:26 train heading towards Bayhead, NJ. As you sit down you finally are given the time to reflect back on what your Guinness drinking (speculation) English soccer watching (further speculation) assailant has done to you.
My question: are you more concerned with the manner in which this man came to punching your eye socket into pieces (HOW) or the reason he punched you in the face (WHY)?
If you want to know HOW this man wearing a dark gray, Joseph Aboud suit with a red and white, thatch patterned Burberry tie and Prada shoes came to punch you in the face, that’s easy. Electrical signals traversed the synapses between the billions of neurons his brain, which then travelled down the spinal cord, locating the proper nerve vessels to trigger muscular reaction in a wave-like successive manner producing a fluid movement of the arm in a punching motion. The motion itself created a determinate kinetic force, which was transferred at the moment the business man’s fist made contact with your face, at which point the force generated by his movement was beyond the force that the ocular bones of the skull could absorb and so the bones fractured. Understanding HOW the man punched you is like understanding how two plus two equals four. It’s a matter of INFORMATION only. And it’s about as useful as trying to uncover HOW our lives are lived, whether we are “free” to make choices or the choices have already been made. What are you going to do to change it anyway?
Let’s say when you die, you go up to Heaven and you ask God, “Did I have free will or did you already know everything that was going to happen?” And God responds saying, “You had free will AND I already knew what you were going to do.” Are you going to engage God in a debate about how if He already knew then you were not really FREE to choose? I mean He’s God! Or even if you die and there is no Heaven, but you just die, would you like to die having spent your life worrying about whether you were "free" to make choices or not?
But understanding WHY the man punched you is something altogether different. It’s not about asking “Oh goodness, WHY me? What did I do to deserve this?” That’s cowardly, not to mention, asking why it happened to you is not going to make whatever happened to you UN-happen. Asking WHY is about understanding what can come out of whatever has taken place. Asking WHY is about coming to an UNDERSTANDING. I assure you that nothing that is worth knowing can be attained by acquiring information. It must be understood. It at least must be contemplated, thought about, ingested, digested, excreted and studied.
There's some things that we have talked about a lot. We are all going to die some day. We can't control the things that happen to us, but only our responses to what happens. Life is perhaps meaningless and absurd. Fine... But we are here so... We have already spent so much time asking HOW. Mathematics, physics, quantum physics, Darwin, evolution, natural selection, genetics, surgery, medicine, and on and on and on... We have so many answers to so many questions, but we have only been in the pursuit of INFORMATION. And so all we have is a whole lot of information, but not that much UNDERSTANDING. We know how the seasons change, how weather happens, how obesity causes heart disease, how how how HOW. We think we understand the way the world works, but most scientists will tell you that despite all the things we do know there are an infinite number of things we do not know and may never know. Like how does an otherwise perfectly healthy 21 year old man develop a highly fatal form of cancer with such a bleak prognosis that over 80% of the times affects people between the ages of 55-75... How does that happen? I don't know and neither do any of you, or anyone else... So, why not try to start answering the question of WHY?
God is a choice that some make to answer why. Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Atheism, Satanism, Hedonism, and many other "-isms" all try to answer the question why. Look: sometimes your eye socket gets smashed, sometimes you get into a fender-bender, and sometimes you get cancer. It's hard to anticipate how your life is going to pan out, because that entails having to know the future and unless you are a super-intelligent, perfectly predicting alien then that might be hard. But "why" is about experiencing something and then being asked to look back over it in the hopes of understanding it. Or "why" is about understanding now why you will do something in the future. But it's not about information it's about understanding.
This was long, but I leave you with perhaps one of the most thoughtful quotations I've ever read (and I will try and make this the last Kierkegaard quote for a little while):
"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." - Soren Kierkegaard
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Let’s face it… Taken on its own, the world seems meaningless and absurd. It is devoid of apparent rhyme or reason. This results in the human confusion in the face of said meaninglessness and absurdity. For me, it is the reflection on my own confusion in the face of a meaningless and absurd world that produces some sort of knowledge of the world. I unveil and elaborate on my thoughts below…
Truths for a Confused Human Facing a Meaningless and Absurd Reality
Dying is a part of living. This paradoxical truth is an unavoidable dilemma, and ultimately death is the catalyst that causes us to choose what we have (life) rather than what we do not know of (death). Hamlet’s question “To be, or not to be” was the existential choice we are faced with in our lives. Should we deal with this meaningless and absurd world or should we choose death. The existence of death and the pain we feel in dealing with the existential choice between life and death creates the death-anxiety, or fear of dying. We argue, much like Hamlet, that even though life is often times difficult and unfair and meaningless, that at least we have experienced it and know what it is like, unlike death which we know nothing about. “But that the dread of something after death/… makes us bear those ills we have/ Than fly to others we know not of…” So, we experience anxiety over death and all things associated with death. Senescence – the gradual decay and eventual ceasing of internal processes that sustain life – is the face of impending death. We grow older, our knees creak, our back hurts, high blood pressure forms, heart disease is more prevalent, we become weaker, and so on and so forth. The death-anxiety, conversely, displays within each individual the courage it takes to actually live a life. Each one of you is courageous in that you choose to stare death in the face each day and continue to live your life. You may not see it this way. You may look at me and say I am facing death and my case is tragic, but the truth is my days are very much the same as yours. I contemplate the philosophical implications of imminent death and I have anxiety over it, but ultimately I decide that no matter what obstacle stands in my way I will choose to continue to live. And since neither I nor you can determine when it is we will die our death-anxiety persists, and we live our lives courageously in the face of death for however long it is that we live. But death is unavoidable and when we do inevitably die it will be all by ourselves.
Another part of life is aloneness. We enter and exit this world the same way – alone. Most of what constitutes as our lives takes place in the “inner world” between our ears – our thoughts, our wishes, our emotions, our desires. Yet, in a meaningless and absurd world where each day we live in fear of death, living in an inner world only serves to perpetuate the anxieties in life. Relationships – between lovers, familial relationships, cultural relationships, social relationships – are the foundations for our survival. We experience a catharsis (emotional cleansing) of our existential anxieties by engaging in interpersonal relationships, because in these relationships allow us to escape the seeming futility of life by offering us subjective meaning. In a world that is concluded to be meaningless and absurd, the establishing and nourishing of interpersonal relationship allows us to CREATE meaning. Caring about a fiancée, wife, brother, sister, or friend makes our actions subjectively meaningful. I say subjective because even though our actions will have no universal meaning to the world at large, which has been established as having no meaning, relationships give meaning to our INNER WORLDS. It is the pursuit of interpersonal relationships that establishes intent within our inner worlds, which is where we are free to exercise our option to choose.
I am resolved that the ability to make a choice (even the illusion that we are making a choice) is the vessel through which our confused souls can face such a meaningless and absurd world. The ability for us to determine what makes us more or less happy and then our ability to actually CHOOSE that thing over others is what makes all the difference in the world. If death and aloneness are the downsides of a world of meaninglessness and absurdity, then freedom is the upside. In essence, if life has no required pathway that needs to be travelled, then our choices are really not about where we are going, but are instead about deciding what we want to do between the time we are born and the time we die. Our choices are about how we want to live our lives. Our freedom allows for creativity in an uncontrollable reality. Everything from paper or plastic to selecting a job says less about where you are going and more about how you want to get there. Ultimately, though, the freedom to choose (the way we want to spend our time while alive) takes orders from the fourth truth for a human facing a meaningless and absurd reality:
If the world has no intrinsic meaning, then we are free to give our own meaning to life. If reality is meaningless and subject to change depending on our choices, then it is the meaning that we uncover in our subjective lives that will determine the choices we make (or seem to be making), which will decide how our lives will be lived. It is here, at meaning, that all four truths come together. Confused, we exist in a meaningless and absurd world, but we choose life over death because death is not presented to us as a choice. We WILL die, so we CHOOSE life, even if only because we are afraid to die. Once we make that decision, we are faced with our loneliness in an already scary and confusing reality. So, we resolve to establish interpersonal relationships that attach us to certain things and detach us from others. And through these relationships, we are able to uncover those things that make us happy and those things that are important to us… We are able to uncover individualized meaning in an otherwise meaningless existence. This newly discovered meaning acts as a guide in determining how we will exercise our freedom and choose to live our lives.
There are no other things that we can figure out. In a sense it is our destiny to die. But this is not our purpose. Our purpose is to figure out what is meaningful TO US and then to use our freedom to make choices that satiate that meaning.
“What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know, except in so far as a certain knowledge must precede every action. The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do: the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.” Soren Kierkegaard.