"It was toward the end of my career; I knew it was probably my last shot. That set bad with me. It's like, what is life all about?"—
We have not posted in quite a while, due in part to the epic snowstorm that hit the mid-Atlantic
Not surprisingly, the experience provided us with an interesting insight into the absurd.
As you know, we have argued extensively that circumstances are irrelevant, and all experiences equivalent. Thus, our weekend (which consisted mainly of shoveling snow, trying to keep warm (and fed), and searching for flashlights and candles) was no different than that of someone sitting on the beach drinking pina coladas. And yet…
In fact, our early Sunday flight to a hotel was prompted by being awakened at 4:00 by our 4-year old daughter, and our abject pain at watching her sit in the cold, dark bathroom—our protective instincts (which reside in the ancient, reptilian part of the brain) simply overrode any other (i.e., more rational and objective) assessment of the situation.
This was of course obvious in retrospect, as we sat in our warm house this morning and considered that there was no objective difference between Sunday and today; in other words, there was no particular reason to prefer one environment over the other. Yet clearly we did.
This was particularly interesting to us in light of the recent discussion on the blog (and a recurring theme) about the existence (or lack thereof) of meaning. In short, our feelings and actions were certainly consistent with preferring one situation over another. So how can we argue they are the same?
The rub is this: Just because we have a preference for one over the other does not mean it is inherently better. To fully grasp this, consider our weekend experience from the perspective of our dog. Indeed, we joked with our wife several times that the dog seemed to be enjoying the weekend more than usual; she spent the entire time with us (as opposed to being outside or in her crate), and the trip to the hotel was even better—not only was the whole family in two rooms (and thus easily accessible), but she was allowed on the bed!
The message here is pretty simple, of course—the inherent “goodness” of experience is purely subjective.
Now, at this point we are sure some of you (you know who you are…) are chomping at the bit to tell us your version of meaning is subjective—it is, as the Buddha said, your world, and you create it with your thoughts. So let’s explore this.
The view expressed by certain commenters is (as we see it) essentially this: what they refer to as meaning is not some transcendent experience, but rather some sort of personal meaning inherent to them (and them only). Thus, to say a sunset (or anything else) has “meaning” could be true to one person and not to another. The meaningfulness, in other words, is internal rather than external.
However, when looked at through the lens of our recent experience, it strikes us that such beliefs are mere illusions, made possible thanks only to the thin veneer of civilization. Put it this way—the man struggling day and night for survival has no time for thoughts of meaning (internal or external); it is only when he is able to sit and reflect that his actions and desires take on a “significant hue.” What are mere instincts when survival seems to be at stake (protect my offspring!) somehow transform into deep and meaningful statements of “who” we are under less stressful circumstances (I am deeply committed to my family—they matter to me).
The difference, of course, is purely ephemeral—under both circumstances we are merely physical beings playing out ancient scripts hard-wired into our genes—but as the latter feels different, we delude ourselves into believing it has some significance outside our physical (and instinctual) reality.