Yesterday I listened to a talk from Sam Harris on the subject of free will. It was a brilliant speech, one that I definitely feel is worth watching and may clarify some elements of my last post. What he is addressing is that not only does free will not exist but that it could not exist, that the concept itself is impossible, that to imagine free will is muddled and intangible. Harris spent a large portion of his speech outlining the benefits to knowing that we do not have free will, how an acknowledgement of this reality could help retain fear but abolish hatred, how it could help inspire a reconstructing of our justice system, and many other reasons for adopting an awareness of our true freedom. I was challenged the other day on my analysis of life and my inspiration in life coming almost purely from a cosmological perspective. While Harris supplied us with an adequate and logical reason for understanding that our thoughts are not our own, I wondered about the benefit of analyzing everything from a cosmological perspective. In the light of the universe, all our earthly sorrows and troubles become insignificant. The question is whether this universal analysis is destructive or could instead provide for a happiness that a naive outlook may not provide. I believe that the latter is true, that from a cosmological perspective, life is enhanced in worth and meaning and enjoyment, not the opposite. With our realization of the insignificance of our self-defined purpose and unimportance of global suffering and the recognition of the value of life, a cosmological perspective on life is overwhelmingly more attractive than a life concerned with the mundane concerns of average life.
First, an awareness of our purposelessness, a realization that there is no meaning to us being here, other than simply as a playground for us to observe and enjoy, provides us with a freedom to choose what we want to do. I have acknowledged before that not only do I think that selfishness is more productive to ourselves and humanity, but the concept of selflessness actually does not and cannot exist so long as the self continues to exist. With the realization that we have no divine purpose, we are free to redefine the light in which we see that purpose. While we all truly do create our own purpose, without the ignorance of an anthropocentric world view, we can see that purpose for what it really is, a self made construct, not something created by a supernatural being. In that light, we are more capable of manipulating our response to the inhibition or realization of those goals. We are more free to choose what our response will be. In the light of a divine purpose, failure is destructive and horrific, involving fear of punishments such as an eternity of suffering. In a cosmological light, failures can be seen in the insignificance they truly are.
Additionally, all troubles and sorrows, independent of our own control, can be seen in their true light. If, in the end, we all die, our earth is absorbed into the outer layer of the sun, and the universe collapses on itself, all unavoidable eventualities, what does another crime, terrorist attack, or any act of seeming malevolence matter? Truly it only matters in our own self-defined light. And if our self-defined purpose involves being horrifically depressed, then accepting the impact of these events on our emotions would be sound logic. But if we want to enjoy our finite time, then we truly can choose to not let these struggles negatively affect us. Future possibilities can supply is with inspiration to change, and past realities could be decidedly inspiring as well. But an unfavorable or an undesirable feeling can logically be easily swept away. Understandably many of these responses are tied to our biology but these ties are not without fragility and capacity to be broken. The only thing keeping people from breaking them is a belief that they are of cosmological or metaphysical significance. Instead, we can recognize that we have the ability to define our responses to these stimuli.
With the recognition of life as our sole ability to observe, our one chance at existence, life becomes incredibly more precious. With the acknowledgement that there is no five star resort and spa waiting for us after that frightening barrier, we are more inclined not only to protect against that inevitable barrier, but also live our lives more purposefully with more inspiration for exploration. There are some fairly obvious changes and some more subtle impacts that a universal understanding of our true place would hold. Human life would be considered much more precious than it currently is. I imagine suicide bombings and war in the name of religion or political priorities would be a thing of the past. In reality, when life is seen in the light that it truly is, there aren’t many, if any, things worth dying for. This is an incredible realization and one that I imagine relegates murder and other acts of harm to psychopathy and other mental disorders.
While superficially it seems overwhelmingly destructive to adopt a cosmological perspective, I think it can be enlightening and our ticket to simultaneous peace and happiness. In this case and many others I see that ignorance is not bliss. Having just recently moved into the center of a large city and making an appearance in the working world, I am not attracted to whatever the average life holds. Complacency with that life does not lure me in. If a cosmological viewpoint allows me to separate from that, I am unsure. But these propositions for it as the way to separate from the mundane existence of everyday human routine life seem logical and true. If I can be a piece of anecdotal evidence myself, a realization of our insignificance has certainly helped me. While I may seem to be just another pawn, the significant alteration in my life was not what I do, but why I do them and the happiness that each movement brings me.
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