musings on the human condition
It is not weird that various religions have gained a foothold in the minds of man when we realize that each and every one of us comes into being by some very improbable means. You are a descendant from a very long lineage of happenstances. Long ago, somehow, something came into being. We do not exactly know how or why, but it evidently did happen. Maybe it was always there. Who knows? It is a mystery. And it has perplexed and fascinated anyone who dared to look at it. Your pattern-seeking noggin is craving an answer on how and why it all happens.
Please keep in mind that no matter how improbable all of this may seem, you are, in fact, here. And you seem to be able to have some say in what is going on. Wow! Isn’t that marvelous‽
The way things manifested over eons past tells us a tale.
A tale of stumbling and fumbling in the dark. Cold and hard survival. Uncaring environments. Brutal slaughter. Parasitic behavior. Push and pull and scream and shout.
Chaos, sprinkled with small clumps of coherence. Some did so well that they even managed to duplicate themselves. Others congregated and started conversing among themselves in esoteric ways, frantically swapping out atoms and molecules in exchange for feedback. Was there conscious intent by these agents of happenstance? Were they just pieces in a predetermined game? Did some god set it up in advance, neatly planned out, or did he wildly trigger an avalanche of possibilities so complex even he could not foresee all possibilities? Some Penrosian retro-causality scheme to induce a sense of free will? No one really knows. But don’t worry. It is okay not to know. Perhaps it is sufficient or even better to rely on probability alone. That leaves a lot of room for creativity, doesn’t it? And I don’t know about you, but I see a lot of creative stories about why we are here and what it is we are supposed to do being passed around.
Reading a book is like reading somebody’s mind. You open the page, and you travel in time and imagination to what that person thought. They took the time and effort to jot down these weird symbols on whatever medium they had available at the time. I find it strange. But it is also quite wonderful. Wouldn’t you agree?
Maybe you think it is irrelevant. Perhaps you are right. Maybe not. Consider that there need not be a universal answer to some questions. Maybe, just maybe, it is the mystery that keeps things interesting.
Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine knowing everything. Every detail about everything that has ever happened and will happen. Scary, isn’t it?
The thought makes me shiver.
Next, try imagining nothing. Nothing at all. No sound, no word, no color, not even being able to come up with a concept of that weird word – nothing. Impossible.
We can only imagine it as we compare it to something that is. As such, nothing is a logical impossibility. It cannot exist.
So there we are. Without shelter or warmth. Only the vastness of the universe to consider.
What is that sound? Is it a venomous snake in the shrubbery? Some unholy monster to strike you dead? Maybe it is your stomach, craving some grub. This is how it was for a lot of living things. And how it still is, for plenty. Albeit less so than it was, or so it seems, at this time of writing, block height #816333, in the year of our Lord (sorry) of Satoshi, no, no… Let me try again… I think block height will do. For old times’ sake, let’s also include the Gregorian calendar. It is the 11th of November, 2023, and things are confusing AF. (AF does not stand for Ass-Fuck, you dirty mind, you!)
Not to say things haven’t always been confusing. I mean, they probably have been. I certainly would be weirded out if a flood suddenly drowned my entire village, without any warning or apparent reason, while some other guy had the foresight to build a bloody ark! Unbelievable! That bastard left me stranded on the shores of seeming Armageddon, while I — just moments before — started to eat that fish I had caught by aiming my spear at the exact spot where the fish wasn’t optically residing. Anyone would lose their appetite!
The pace at which you are struck by the new would probably boggle anyone’s mind. The sheer amount of information available to us at any given time is blinding. If you feel info-stress, please don’t be burdened by it. This is normal. Everyone is allowed to be confused at times. As far as I can tell, we are all figuring it out as we go. And some fumbling about while we get our bearings does not seem unreasonable, to me at least.
Sometimes, you may be inclined to convince yourself that one story is more relevant than another. And I must admit, it is tempting to do so. It may be a welcome relief to not have to worry about such fundamental questions for a time. Questions like: Am I a black hole, observing the world from her event horizon? Maybe I am a Boltzmann Brain, only just sprung into existence in this fleeting yet forever sliver of the now with all my memories of a life that never really was intact? Is it just a dream? Or some construct emerging from a Brownian blob of pure randomness? Is it a simulation? Perhaps a game? A puzzle box? Are you a pilot wave in the expanding realm of possibilities surrounded by collapsing wave-functions functions? Ouroboros? Maybe the answer is found in a book after all? Who has heard the word of God? I suspect that a creative cookie such as you can find all manner of explanations in the patterns it perceives. Good for you. What story will you tell yourself next?
Now, where were we? Ah, yes. Religion. Or the emergent phenomenon of a mass of conscious entities adhering to a certain belief they hold to be true. Some even go as far as to posit they hold the keys to absolute truth! And if you don’t believe them, just look, it says it right there, in that ancient text! How could it be wrong‽
I understand it is easy to shift the blame or just shout, “God DID * it!” But that may be an easy cop-out. Please understand that I am not saying that you should not be able to explore whatever beliefs pique your interest. I’m all for that. However, I do wonder if you’ve considered where they may blind you.
Maybe what you read in some ancient text is incomplete, damaged, lost, or intentionally misleading. Maybe it was designed to grab power over others. Or, with good intent, worded poorly, lost in translation, forgotten or imagined. I don’t know about you, but I can distinctly recall false memories. Times wherein I remembered quite a few things that I thought had happened, which actually did not happen at all. Moments like:
“Hey, I remember you. You were in Paris, at that thing with the teargas, where the atmosphere was turning grim. Standing defiantly upon some barricade. You remember?”
“No man… I was in Thailand at that time. So I definitely couldn’t have been at whatever riot you are talking about.”
“Are you sure? I thought we talked about that story I was writing?”
As an aside, I’m thinking about writing a book — knock on wood — about my side of the story. I have the means to do so, no matter what that guy from Thailand thinks.
I’m not yet sure what it will be about. Although it will probably be pretty wild and fantastical. You know, way out there! With lots of twists and turns, sneakily linking back to previous happenings. Something that will scare you shitless, but with a good ending. Those stories are the best. That would be nice. We could try that.
If you are anything like me, you’ve always been fascinated by such tales. From a young age, I wanted to know how things work and why they work in that particular way. I still remember when I was a 5 or 6-year-old, lying in bed next to my parents and asking why the little lamp on the ceiling turns on when you press the button. It seemed like magic. My father explained that it is because of electricity flowing through the wires in the walls, and when you flip the switch, the flow of electrons lights up the lamp. But he couldn’t tell me why it worked that way.
My parents are treasures, real sweethearts. They gave me everything they could, and for that, I’m very grateful. My continuous questioning was often met with the unsatisfying yet practical response, “Why? Because!”
Or at school, where it was said, “Children who ask questions are skipped.” In my home country’s language, this phrase rhymes. Maybe that is why it was used as much as it was, which, in hindsight, is an absurd conversation-stopper. A creativity killer. So, I quickly transitioned from asking questions to quietly observing and accepting what I was told, as that seemed to be the way things worked best. Of course, this didn’t diminish the questions. My hunger for new information was, and still is, insatiable. A better answer could have been, “I don’t know. Some things, no one knows. How strange is that?”
I understand that relentless questions, especially when they are very hard or impossible to answer, become annoying after a while. But how we deal with those questions can be improved. Not that I blame anyone. I genuinely believe that almost everyone is trying to make the best of it. Besides, why waste time second-guessing everything others say, think, or believe? Not that you should presume what folks spout is gospel. Plus, your interpretation of what you think you were told might be more often wrong than right. Doing your own research, especially on things that might greatly affect you and yours, seems prudent.
It seems that nobody has a choice in “being.” You’re thrown into the world, and you must make do with what you get. With a bit of luck, you win the situational lottery. Loving parents, good friends, and people who wish the best for you, all striving to be their best whilst also contributing to a better world for those beyond their immediate clique with the time and energy that remains. Because when everyone does well, you do well too. There are plenty of examples of this. I don’t think “selfish altruism” is bad when taken to the extreme. Although maybe it might be when half-assed.
Another strange realization I’ve had is that when we try to look at the world objectively, we realize that we are not separate from the broader universe. Alan Watts once beautifully described it by comparing the experience to a whirlpool in a river. Our bodies renew themselves. We eat, drink, breathe, urinate, and shit, and our substance, the body from which the source of this experience seems to spring, is replaced with new cells, molecules, atoms, and other elementary particles. We try to make sense of the world around us by naming and categorizing things. I know what black is because I can distinguish it from white. The more colors I can perceive and differentiate in the spectrum, the more information I have to assign a probability to what is actually happening and what is not. But it’s still part of the same spectrum. These thoughts can feel incredibly unifying. There’s a miraculous harmony in this idea. The flip side is that it can be incredibly solipsistic at the same time, and that is a sad and lonely idea.
Additionally, if everything is just one thing, could you argue that anything goes? Why not indulge in all the dark desires that can go through a mind? Why restrain yourself? Does it really matter if, after all, you’re “only doing it to yourself?”
That thought is tempting. And therein lies one of the banalities of evil. And it makes this life, as miraculous as it may be, sometimes unbearable. We need only look around or into history, and we can point to a multitude of times and places where people believed in a certain idea so strongly that it led to unimaginable suffering. Think of wars over ownership or which beliefs are best to lead or end our lives by.
I must admit that it’s not always fun or easy. Somewhere, I wish I could believe that one of the many possible answers to these questions could realistically be answered. On the other hand, it seems terribly lonely and dangerously delusional to think you’ve found some ultimate truth.
I shudder at the imaginary day the questions cease, when humanity, or collective consciousness, or whatever it is that does the thinking around here, convinces itself that it has discovered the true nature of the universe. I genuinely hope we can never know or find out. It seems like the perfect description of hell to be certain about anything except doubt itself. Maybe it will all become crystal clear at the heat death of the universe if that is where we are heading…
I’ve thought about ending it.
Sometimes, that seems like the only logical solution. And I don’t see any ethical obligation against that action. We don’t seem to have a choice in becoming, but the thought that there is the freedom to end it feels kind of nice. The problem with that idea is as follows: if there’s nothing after death, no God, no other configuration in which I can experience this same state, then it can never last long, by definition. That seems logical to me.
Will I live this same life again? Is it a loop? Will I reincarnate into something or someone else after death? Another substrate of sufficient complexity to serve as a spring of consciousness without awareness of what came before. A clean slate? What if the idea of a multiverse is real? Imagine trying to end your own life, and in one of the many slightly different versions of this existence, it fails. And then, when you try again, you fail again, and again, and again, until the end of time. Looking around, it looks like this state of being, this decaying body, will end eventually anyway, so why hurry it along? Why not try and enjoy the ride? Horrifyingly interesting! Would you be willing to risk not seeing it through till the end, if there ever is such a thing?
These are examples of the many cosmic horrors one could think of. Even though highly improbable, I don’t see how they could entirely be outside the realm of possibilities.
Few seem to notice, let alone think about, such things, even though many religions, philosophies, countless writers, artists, heck, even some scientists hint at such weirdness in their work.
This leaves me with the realization that it seems we might be doomed to search for answers to unanswerable questions. While this may sound terrifying, and you may at times think you are some character in an H.P. Lovecraft story, consider that it may be a blessing instead of a curse, after all.
As much as I consider the probability of almost anything being permissible in this world to be non-zero, there remains that infinitesimal doubt that I might be wrong. And there are countless infinities hidden in even the smallest infinitesimal.
Not knowing and the many paradoxes inherent in existence, oddly, seem to provide the most stable foundation for my reasoning and, therefore, my ethics and actions. I think it is wise to remain pragmatic. Stoic.
While you devise how you should act in the world, here are things, in no particular order, that may be worth considering:
- Feel free to question everything and do not fear reflecting on the self and your place within the whole;
- Beware the many biases that may lead you astray;
- Like me, you have blind spots, that is normal, try and become aware of them;
- It is okay to not be good at something. You may practice becoming better or, at the very least, try and tell others where you think your blindspots are, so they may help you navigate;
- Think before you act, for what you think may not harm, but how you act perhaps could;
- Be wary of convictions and folks who hold them strongly;
- You need not convince anyone that what you think is true;
- Heed your words, yet do not be afraid to use them and ask for feedback, for they have the power to influence others in various ways, some neutral, some good, some bad;
- Try not to lie, yet be kind. An innocent lie to ease suffering might be permissible, yet beware the house of cards it could form for it might bury you and yours;
- Harden your soul ** against words, for when a word offends thee, lest you confuse it with physical damage, and repay in kind;
- Praise discourse and ridicule violence, unless the latter is in timely and direct self-defense or consensual agreement;
- Should discourse not result in a satisfying resolve, accept that your experience may differ from another’s, and that is okay. Try not to turn angry, take a break, touch grass, and avoid becoming aggressive or violent. It is not worth the misery;
- You may have a dark side. Shun it at your own AND other’s peril. Left unattended, it may lash out in unexpected ways. Beware the banality of evil;
- Fear, like certainty, may be a bad advisor at times. Don’t panic, calm down, think, then act;
- Made a mistake? It happens. Acknowledge it, fess up, and move on. Remember, yet try not to dwell on it too much;
- You will probably forget stuff. Don’t worry too much about that;
- It is okay to be confused at times or not to know something. We are all figuring it out as we go;
- Suffering may be unavoidable. Acknowledge it. Alleviate it carefully;
- Provide sense, reason, and perhaps, with a bit of luck, even happiness;
- You may believe you know stuff that others may not. Absolutes seem to kill creativity;
- Acknowledge the noise, yet be hesitant to amplify the signal, for amplifying the signal may not clarify the message. Again, beware the banality of evil;
- Be polite; say thank you; say please, even better if you can do it all in the language of the other. These efforts contribute to good vibes all around;
- Don’t be too serious. Try to spark joy in yourself and others;
- Breathe, go out into the world, live life
It is up to you, dear reader, to form your own opinion. You are your own responsibility.
Thank you for taking the time and effort to read my thoughts, out here, somewhere in the great maelström of existence, where our minds and combined imagination just met. A happenstance that just might make a positive difference.
As I watch the world and see the misery caused by people acting out their desire to convince others of their convictions, I think that is a fool’s game. This is me, hinting at that playfully, in the hopes of getting a laugh and a wink from the folks that grok this. I am trying to be the change I want to see in the world.
Let me conclude with a small poem.
I have seen where the one mad God lives
Far from here, yet, just an heir’s breadth away
I saw him whisper into his own ear
‘The world is not made,’
‘It is Mad’
– Bit of a weird fellow…
If you enjoyed this short essay, please consider buying: 21 Futures, Tales from the Timechain, the first-ever bitcoin fiction anthology. It is a collection of 21 short sci-fi stories by 21 different authors, including me! Look forward to high-stakes human interest stories, dystopias, mystery, intergalactic affairs, and much more!
Thanks to Mel, Niko, the Upright One, H. Lempens, Jonas Hellman, Soul Exporter, Ben Gunn, Hodlnaut, Mr Crown, and the various Mehstadalians and Noderunners for providing feedback on my thoughts. You have been invaluable to me, refining my writing on some of the conundrums that seem inherent in existence.
*: Dissociative Identity Disorder?
**: If you don’t know how to get some calluses on your soul, do something hard and uncomfortable. Let go of your preconceptions and try something new. Take a hike. Ask a friend to verbally, or maybe even physically, degrade you, so that you may wear the experience like a suit of armor after the ordeal. Maybe you’d rather be on the giving than receiving end? Whatever the case, give that dark side of yours a healthy outlet. Find others who will indulge whatever your crazy rationality may come up with. Please try and go into it with a full understanding of the risks involved and make sure there is consent all around. Play!