Friday, May 05, 2023

Notes from an Existential Realist


I have been considering how I would describe my ever-evolving philosophy regarding life and its meaning. I have been on this wondrous planet for over seventy-eight years as a singular member of the species, Homo sapiens, whose total number is currently about 8,011,000,000 (January,2023). As individuals we may be special, but not that special.

As of this moment in time, I would say that I am an existential realist firmly wedded to the concept I have repeatedly referred to as the Reality Principle. This reality embraces all that is knowable about the multiplicity of the many facets of time and space as ascertained through the medium of the human brain. Within this philosophical perspective, I make a fundamental assumption that we are our brains – the sum total of everything that an individual deduces, concludes, ascertains, surmises, and believes about the meaning and substance of conscious life has its origin within this marvelous organ. There is no other source.

In this universe we inhabit, there is no requirement for the presence of omnipotent superbeings. The panoply of gods and ethereal spirits that is so much a part of religious and spiritual belief systems are nothing more than the constructs created within the confines of the human brain born of a need for conscious beings to invoke some semblance of order and purpose in regard to existence. Such beliefs are elaborate inventions designed to blunt the realization that the termination of the individual at the moment of death is unavoidable, complete, and final without any encore or chance at redemption. Life on planet earth is an accidental evolutionary phenomenon – the result of billions of years of interdependent processes that has brought us to the current moment. Our fate as a species is completely dependent upon the consequences of our individual and collective actions. From reality’s persistence, there is no rescue.

This may seem like a grim outlook, but it is not. As an existentialist, I maintain that there is an exquisite beauty and wonder embedded within every moment of our brief sojourn as sentient beings. Opening ourselves to this reality is the source of a true and inexplicable freedom and joy. Modern human existence has created a habitat that is permeated with continual distractions that blunt this fundamental and essential aspect of living.

Furthermore, the totality of all the material wealth we claim to possess is illusory, for, in fact, we are born with nothing and at life’s end we take nothing with us. Although acquisition is a necessary aspect of survival, it has come to take up a predominant role in the fabric of the modern world; as a result, many individuals have lost sight of their true humanity.

Our individual physical selves are made up of rather short-lived and unique configurations of atomic and sub-atomic particles that will ultimately break apart and rearrange themselves repeatedly within the seemingly limitless expanse of time and space. This intrinsic part of the workings of the material universe is inescapable. Ultimately, our star, the sun, will run out of its fuel as it must, and on that occasion it will consume the solar system that is a product of its own beginnings. At that moment, the entire history and presence of this most precious planet will be lost – a process that repeats itself over and over again throughout the billions of galaxies that inhabit our universe whenever a star no longer burns brightly.

This is all within the nature of things.

Not unlike the brilliance of the cosmos and its absolute enormity as demonstrated by that fabulous machine the Webb Telescope, there is an expansive inner universe in our mind (brain) that encompasses what we refer to as human consciousness.

In my thinking, it is breathtaking to behold when I consider the immense variations that exist between each individual consciousness. In regard to each individual, the mind is like a complex symphonic rendering of the experience of living. The notes are complex; the scale is enormous. It is filled with the textures and the timbre that are the result of a lifetime of experiences.

It is not a singular story that each of us weaves from the ebbs and flows of emotion, of pain and delight; of sadness and elation; of joy and sorrow; of all the variations of tone and circumstance and the twists and turns and convolutions of individual choice and fate and experience. It is like a vast inner collage with boundaries that blur and blend and intermingle.

The totality of this inner-experience is what we refer to as the self. There is no artificial intelligence (AI) that can replicate this, for it is well beyond the limits of the digital universe we so meaningfully adore. There may be artificial intelligence, but nothing akin to artificial consciousness. In my thinking, human endeavor as expressed through the arts and literature and creativity over the eons of human civilization attempts to express some aspect of this “inner life” we all lead.

As much as we attempt to “define” ourselves with some amount of precision, humanity invariably falls down the rabbit hole, for “normalcy” is an illusion. We all occupy some share of a vast spectrum of possibilities; we are all sub-variations of that vast symphony of the living. We struggle to find our place, but, in fact, we already occupy our position within that fleeting dance of life.

It is our task to appreciate and enjoy!

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