Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Search for Meaning

Over the years, I have actively been engaged in a personal search for meaning. The extraordinarily bizarre beliefs of most formal religions has never really passed muster from the framework of my essentially empiricist viewpoint. I am a staunch believer in reality and the physical and biological laws that we are inextricably tied to. In spite of this, I have a thirst for finding meaning and purpose in my life. My experience has taught me that this hunger is bound up in all of humanity. I have asked myself where this need comes from. I can only conclude that it is a fundamental aspect of consciousness. Once the human brain had reached a certain level of complexity, ideas were spontaneously generated. An idea represents the process of combining two or more elements from memory or experience in a novel way. Ideas are the necessary components of the creative process. Curiosity about the natural world would be a logical outgrowth of the evolving intellect of the early humans as observers of the rich environment that surrounded them. In addition to the ordinary inquisitiveness about how things worked, the fundamental question that plagues us all must have arisen, namely, “What is life all about?” and “Why am I here?” The “I” word - that simple word that embodies the essence of consciousness. When humans began to see themselves as I and as separate from We, then is when the comic/tragic aspect of human existence and the human journey began in complete earnestness.

The human mind possesses a wondrous capacity to explore the many facets of existence. It is a great tragedy that collectively we have failed to live up to this awesome potential. Religious Fundamentalists, a classic example of True Believers, focus their attention not on the many man-made problems that confront humanity, but rather on a completely fabricated set of principles for which they are willing to give up their lives to protect, or at least that is what they propose. These principles vary among the various theological constructs, but what they share in common is a fervent belief in a magnificent Savior, imbued with all manner of supernatural powers, who will come to earth at some future time to rescue humans from their tragic choices. This is patent nonsense. Problems that have been created by human activity can only be solved by humans committed to reasoned judgment and not held hostage to crazed thinking.

The idea and reality of death is often is the motivational center of belief and belief systems. It is difficult for the human brain, blessed and cursed as it is with self-consciousness, to conceive of the reality of the termination of the personality. Death is, after all, the natural conclusion of life. It is an integral part of the cycle that delivers individuals back into the chaos of atoms from which we were all constructed. Humans are members of a distinct species on a planet that possesses many distinct species, all with a rightful place in the biosphere. Death cannot be avoided by the notion of an afterlife, or the idea that we have been specially crafted to possess immortal souls that will somehow shatter the barriers of space and time. Hope and imagine as we will, this will not change the ultimate truth of our individual demise. Demise means termination and not some brilliantly concocted and patently fabricated notion about a hereafter. We are transient creatures impaled on the irrepressible arrow of time. Eventually, the sun itself will suffer its own end and take the solar system with it. At that point in time, all life in the solar system will cease. That’s it. There is nothing terribly obscure or abstract about this ultimate truth.

It is within the providence of theology to employ abstraction and all manner of bizarre and circuitous logic in order to avoid this apparent reality. It is the claim of many religious precepts that individuals can conquer death and achieve eternal life if only they conform to the appropriate set of beliefs no matter how fictitious. “Join us and be Saved!” this is but one manifestation of the many artifacts of self delusion that permeate human conceptions of reality.

I have come to the conclusion that, for me, the meaning of life is quite simple; it is, in fact, life itself. Life is a brief and chaotic sojourn on a magnificent planet circling around a rather magnanimous star. We are made of the stuff of stars and it is to the joy molecular that we return. There is no grand repository where our individual consciousnesses are miraculously stored. There is no afterlife in which we are guaranteed an eternal residence. As members of a species and as individuals we are not that important. The laws of reality do not stop at our deathbed and make a grand exception for the sake of our own feelings of security and well being. Death delivers us from the world of the living; it is a molecular dance. Life is a continuum that involves the relentless assembling of the complex from the simple and the chaotic reversal of the process only to begin again. The measure of a successful life is the degree to which we surrender to it. It needs to be a joyous surrender not reluctant, half-hearted or nihilistic. Experiencing life is very much like the act of love; one cannot love without giving in completely to it. The same is true of living.

No comments: