Overthinking the Big "Why"

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Why am I here? I've been trying to answer this question for a long time. It's the BIG "why". Why was I born? What am I supposed to do? I know the answer is hidden in the walls of reality. A buried body you can't smell. It could just be that there isn't an answer, that we're here for no reason, but it's impossible for me to know if that's true. Time has shown me that no one is more right than anyone else - only occasionally more correct. Religion, atheism, and everything in between all derive from positions that we make or take from life. An emotional identity, a proclamation of "I am this" or "I need this" or "I want this". That's the issue: every idea enters our mind through a flawed body, impacted by life's unexpected lessons and the lessons those around us took.

I stopped trying to find the "why". Currently, my only vaguely satisfying why leads straight to a hill above the clouds somewhere in Tibet, and quite frankly, I like my consumptive American experience too much to quit. That's what my greedy body tells me. That's the whole point though, isn't it? The body, vessel of life and the container for the mind. It tells me what I like and what is good, along with what I don't like and what is bad. A part of me is aspirational: surely, I know better than my body, right? Eat well, work out, cultivate a career, don't drink ALL of the alcohol tonight. But these desires are driven by egoistic self-preservation - obviously, I want to stay alive, because dying will probably hurt a lot and that's not good and also not being alive is existentially terrifying. The body drives the discussion and the mind follows the logical yet completely unfathomable conclusion.

Occasionally I wonder about transcendence. Can you move beyond the body and primal mind's basic sensibilities? Community, entertainment, sex, love. Y'know--human stuff. Maybe the mind can grow until it becomes something new. I'm fairly certain that's not possible, but even if it is... what is that thing? Is it human anymore? Is that a future worth pursuing? Would that future be enjoyable? Being not human sounds pretty lame and boring. That I question the concept's enjoyableness is more proof of my body's self-loving tyranny. A future that isn't pleasing is emotionally and logically absurd. What's the point in pursuing it if it won't make me feel good? You'll notice that all forms of transcendence are designed to make us feel good, smart, spiritual, or make us feel not shitty:

  • Be a good, religious person and go to heaven forever
  • Meditate and cease striving to stop suffering
  • Understand the empiric truth of the universe and bask in the resplendence of your intelligence
  • Human sacrifice for incredible feats of strength or eternal beauty or something

"Duh, Way, we do weird stuff to feel good and not feel not good," you're probably thinking. But the essence of that idea is important. After all, the truth of an absolute "why" is unknowable: we might be locked in the Matrix, chained to the walls of Plato's cave, and the instruments we use to examine the universe are inherently part of the universe we're trying to examine. Our perspective is inherently subjective--even if we happened to be right about something (heaven existing, no afterlife, being put on earth by aliens), it's impossible to say we are objectively correct about something metaphysical. That's the tricky thing about metaphysics, being all metaphysical and not literally physical. We can (and do) choose pretty much any old thing that makes us happy, even if it's weird, to feel good and not feel not good.

xkcd: nihilism

So why not do that? The only trap I've found is when I fall into the quandary of wondering why I'm here and what I'm supposed to do, and that's paralyzing. After all - if you really think about it, my entire existence is an infinitesimally small fleck of insignificant dust in the massive cosmos of an ever-expanding universe that we can only even approach comprehending with abstract theoretical physics that gets turned into mind-numbingly awe-inspiring Flash applets showing the size of the universe. So really, the only perfectly logical thing to do, is to sit here and let death take me because I'm literally insignificant. That sounds sort of boring and stressful, though.

Asking the big "why" is a dead end. It's better to choose one, make one up, or just put it out of your mind altogether because the problem will never get solved. I'm pretty sure that's a major component of growing up, too--getting past the staring-at-the-ceiling-in-the-dark-with-your-friends-asking-"why am I here?"-questions stage. Instead, doesn't living a life where I surround myself with people I enjoy, help others, eat a lot of good food, and have as much fun as I possibly can sound a lot better? Hm, yeah. I'm going to do that instead.