I have always been very far removed from my peers, hovering in the periphery of their world, never quite understanding.
Like any other young person has done – and will always do – during this tumultuous period of life, I question what it means to live without context. Oftentimes I feel that I am alone in this search for context, because even the justifications that my peers offer me, I am confused by.
I do not equate context with “meaning”. The search for the meaning of life is a clichéd, endless question whose answer will lose all meaning if it is ever found. I leave such a vague quest to the philosophers who are only too aware that their search is self-perpetuating.
Individuals situate themselves in different contexts. They will then judge their behaviors and decisions by this context. The contextual scope of life is different for everyone. Some people situate themselves within a circle of friends and loved ones, and they proceed to live their life for these people. This context is by far the most common, and certainly the most pervasive. But what about those of us who do not live for others?
I find it difficult to understand this concept of living for others. It is inscrutable to me because life is entered and departed alone. Why leave, then, an enduring mark on a world you will leave behind? I am familiar with the notion that individuals experience positive emotions when living for others. However, roughly translated, this would equate to living your life in the pursuit of pleasure.
This Pleasure Principle is not a novel idea, but to me it seems as if this context is much to narrow to adequately be considered a context for existence.
By existential context I refer to the idea of placing oneself within the larger system of which we currently perceive to be the universe. Stop now, to contemplate what the world may be like in 800,000 years. Once one begins to engage in this sort of abstract thought, one realizes that the only certainty he has is that 800,000 years from now, he will no longer exist. What he may do in this lifetime will not be remembered. He thus has no permanence in time; no place in time.
It is not the grief or desperation that one may experience upon knowing that generations of human beings will not know of him. There is less significance in that thought, because such a thought is arrogant and proud. The salient and pressing matter here, is when you situate yourself within this timeline itself, armed with the knowledge that time will go on and on into possible infinity. It is difficult to reconcile myself with the fact that I arose into conscious existence out of mere chance, and the universe would have probably been little different had I not been here to think this thought.
The reality is that our species is nowhere near to discovering our origin. The kinder, commonly religious perspective is that we are the centre of the universe. God created us in his image, and once our species is ended, time is ended. But the probability of this being true is so infinitesimally small, myself being an atheist notwithstanding. How many species have come before us, who thought that they themselves were all that ever have and would exist? How many species will come after us?
To cope with such an idea, I distract myself. I comfort myself with material success and learning, taking comfort in my achievements and the events of the present. This is a very common approach – to situate ourselves with the known world alone and thereby be content with where we are at the present.
I find the very thought of the existence of existence to be obscure at best. There is no way to reconcile oneself with the notion that the existence of anything is unnecessary. Everything we can ever conjure – time, space, matter, energy – exists unnecessarily. This may be, however, a product of our limited understanding of causality.
I do believe that, as a member of the human species, I will cease to exist once death has occurred. It may be that I still exist, but I will have no knowledge of this. I do not believe in a heaven or hell. I believe that upon death, I will simply become unaware of everything that ever was and ever will be.
Even if I was religious however, all conundrums I have now would remain. Consider that I, hypothetically, am a devout Christian. The apocalypse has come, and humanity is destroyed. Naturally I would find myself in heaven, a place of eternal happiness. I find it difficult to understand how my soul could last for eternity. The idea of perpetuality is not something that the human species was built to understand. Perhaps if I was there, in heaven, such concerns would no longer exist. However as a living person, now, I struggle with the idea of heaven or hell where essentially time no longer exists.
And this is what I refer to when I remark upon how my existence lacks context. I am not only insignificant, I am non-existent when one considers the possibility of infinity.
The layperson considers himself to have the authority of permanence. He sires children whom will carry on his genetic material and lifelong ideals, he interacts with people whom will remember him. In every abstract way he will have left his mark on the human species.
I have no doubt of this mark. I am aware that regardless of what I do, I have changed this world in some way. If I had not existed, the universe would be different than it is now. I see no theoretical puzzle in this. What I struggle with is the notion of where my place in the universe is, after the human species has vanished; when every subsequent species that had some memory of humanity has been rendered extinct. The last shard of our mark upon the universe – within the memory of others – has now vanished. In this void of existence, we are no longer merely insignificant. We do not exist enough to even be considered, to even be known.
This perhaps, is the primary reason for which I have yet to discover a context that will make me content for the duration of my life. Once an individual places himself against this backdrop of infinity, every single coping mechanism he has ever conjured is now meaningless. I attempt to construct context within my social circle, but I fail to derive any genuine wisdom from those around me. I suppose it is somewhat self-contradictory, given my opinion of human relations.
I have attempted to construct context out of learning and knowledge. I have always been a scholar at heart, and my immense curiosity affords me some temporary goal; temporary comfort. Nevertheless, the quest for intellectual purity still falls short.
I have attempted to construct context out of some supernatural deity that would offer me absolution. I have toiled endless at my spirituality since I was a child, but still faith eludes me. I find it difficult to hold aloft an ideal against which every shred of my rationality rebels.
The individuals with whom I interact consider me a stable, impressive character. To this fact I am not naive. They consider me a high-functioning, self-actualized, and compassionate individual. Little do they know of my existential rage and apathy. I am not the ideal human specimen that I seem.
That being said, I am above all else persistent. My search will continue.