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An essay for the middle of the night. This is a chapter from the (as yet) unfinished book The Emergence and Nature of Human History, Volume Five. This essay is best read in conjunction with the essay I posted in the middle of last night, which is located here.

In my 61st year, I can say that this is the deepest core of what I believe.


Alone and isolated, for all intents and purposes, in the cosmos, and alone in the uniqueness of their own conscious minds, humans find themselves in an existential dilemma that appears from my vantage point to be inescapable. Their minds are connected to each other only by tenuous threads of  communication, and they cannot be certain that any other human truly understands them, or that they even understand themselves. And despite our ardent wish to be of significance in the context of reality, on the scale of having an impact on the Universe itself, we are just too small to matter. That may seem inelegant, even vulgar, to you, shockingly simplistic, or coarse. But I see no other way I can state it.

We are lost in the immensity of space-time, more isolated and cut-off than we typically dare to imagine, the consequences of which we have not yet fully confronted. And we are lost in another sense, as well: we exist in a mental world that we do not yet fully understand, consciousness, the most extraordinarily difficult phenomenon with which we have ever had to contend. It was consciousness that gave us the ability to not only build our unique ways of life, but the ability to record at least a portion of our efforts outside of our own heads. But consciousness, in allowing for the rise of interpersonal and social complexity, proved itself to be so overwhelmingly complex in nature that we have struggled since the earliest days of our awareness to grasp it. The history we humans have experienced can be thought of, in a very real sense, as the story of consciousness—the powers it gave us, the limitations it set on us, the problems it confronted us with, the ways in which we have used it and responded to it, the unexpected consequences and possibilities it presented us with, and the struggles we have had among ourselves (and within our selves) that were caused by its mysterious nature.  Indeed, the very existence of consciousness was only discovered over a very long period of time, and we still do not understand this most essential characteristic of our own lives. If we want to understand the human past, our challenge, as I see it, is to try to understand how consciousness came about, how it has manifested itself in human life, and how and why it has caused human history to be the messy, confusing, fantastically complicated, blindingly complex series of interrelated events that it is.

Consciousness has convinced many humans that they must find some broad, universal meaning in their existence. But in my view, humans can find meaning only in the extremely limited context of the Earth and any place in the Universe where human intelligence might spread. The Universe is, as we discussed in the previous chapter, in all likelihood completely indifferent to us. We must confine our search for meaning to our own insignificant world. In fact, in order to maintain human moral conduct, we have to ignore the fact that what we do means nothing in a universal context and focus ourselves strictly and entirely on our own little community. The adoption of a “universal view” could prove disastrous, for then, any brutality could be excused by saying, “Well, in the whole scheme of things, what does it matter?” In a very real sense, it is vital that our conception of the moral universe be confined to the Earth and its consciousness-possessing inhabitants (and, more broadly, all of its sentient beings). Since humans cannot truly conceive of the Universe’s immensity, we generally limit our thinking to this planet, anyway, and mentally it constitutes our total existential universe.


How can a human hold up his or her head with any dignity, if humanity occupies no special place in creation, and knowing that life’s “purpose” was simply to make more of itself? In all honesty, it seems to me that there is a great deal to marvel at and celebrate in our existence, no matter what is ultimately real. And we can rest our claim to dignity on grounds other than metaphysical ones. We have only to open our eyes to do so.

The world may be headed for chaos and entropy, but it is possible to create havens of sanity, security, and even regular joy in the face of it, just as life emerged as a temporary, swirling pattern of reality in the face of the Universe’s unstoppable journey to stasis. Even in the worst circumstances, there are humans who stand for decency, who exhibit unshakeable courage, who find a way to preserve some semblance of a life worth living, if only as an act of defiance to reality.

It needs to be remembered that many people on this planet are, at this moment, living lives that are secure, satisfying, and happy, even if they are not particularly blessed by material wealth. Sometimes these are people who have organized their own lives with superb rationality and tremendous self-discipline. Others are just letting life happen to them, floating happily on the chaos of large, tumultuous, and loving families and networks of friends. Still others are so flexible and gifted with fluid intelligence that they are able to handle the vagaries of existence with impressive calm and equilibrium. Among the most fortunate of all humans are the ones who have found in the people they love, and by whom they are loved in return, realms of meaning made all the more precious by their intimacy and mystery. There are more of these fortunate humans than we might think. Further, there are many humans who exhibit tremendous courage in the face of daunting challenges and hardships, pulling themselves painfully from one day to the next without complaint, doing their utmost to make of their lives what they can, however limited they might be. And of course the great mass of humans can be said, on the whole, to be reasonably decent people, not without their flaws and limitations, naturally, but nonetheless individuals who work hard, behave reasonably, respect others, and do their best for their families and their communities. None of these people has been untouched by suffering and sorrow, living as they do in a reality which is at the constant edge of disaster. But all of them would rather have lived than not lived, and in that there is a very real triumph.

The human race might ultimately not survive. The Earth will definitely not survive. But tremendous numbers of humans are doing what they can here and now, in the present reality, to stand for humane values, and that is the best we can hope to do. Such people are not trying to remake the whole world, and they have no illusions that the Universe will bend to their will, or acknowledge them in any way. But they carry on, and they are the advocates of what Russian novelist Vasily Grossman called The Absurd Kindness—the expression of human love and dignity even in the most desperate and hopeless of circumstances.

And there is more.

Imagine an individual standing shoulder to shoulder in a tremendously long line of humans. On one side, stretching into the mists of an obscure past, are those who came before him or her. On the other, even more indistinct and hazy in form, are those living in a future the outlines of which cannot be discerned. Our individual is part of an unbroken line of humans stretching back perhaps 25,000 centuries and some 125,000 biological generations (if we arbitrarily count a generation as being 20 years in length). He or she is part of a gigantic family the first members of which felt the east African wind in their faces 2,500,000 years ago, and the last members of which, changed beyond recognition and living inconceivably far from their ancestral home, might bear witness to the death of the Universe itself. Not a bad group of which to be a member.

The family of humans of which our individual is a part has made every mistake and committed every sin, and yet it has also counted among its numbers a multitude of individuals whose lives have exemplified all that is best in us. No human has ever combined all virtues in himself or herself. No human has ever been without faults and problems, and no human has ever lived a “perfect” life, however that meaningless term might be defined. And yet, the humans have spread out over the face of this tiny world, keeping this blind expedition going on sheer faith and inertia, fighting with each other incessantly for the control of small pieces of the planet’s crust, and yet retaining within themselves the capacity to be something more, and something better, than just survivors. They may never achieve Utopia, paradise-on-Earth, or the Kingdom of God. But in their aspirations to do so, they may yet cause a positive verdict about the value of the human enterprise to be rendered by our ultimate descendants.


All of our drama, all of our achievements, all of our suffering, all of our workday toil, all of our ordinary experience, all of our tragedy, all of our squalor, all of our evil, all of our nobility, all of our joys, all of our selfless love, and all of our dreams will, in all probability, never be known outside the confines of the humblingly tiny world we inhabit. We have made no visible impression on the Universe whatsoever. Nothing we have done or gone through has meant anything to anyone outside of this fortuitously placed rocky little speck of dust. Many believe that we occupy a special place in a divinely ordained plan, but nothing can show us whether these hopes have any basis in fact. And there is no prospect whatsoever that we will ever be some sort of “shining city on a hill” for the cosmos.

However, none of this means that the human species cannot take an absurdly heroic stand in the face of the blind enormity of reality. Just because something is meaningful only to us, it is not any less real for that. We mentally don’t live in the whole of reality. We live here and now. The human enterprise has meaning for us. It is real to us, and that is sufficient. We in turn are just as much a part of reality as anything, anywhere, in any dimension or any frame of reference. We carry the nature of the Universe within us. We follow its rules; we are its creation. The energy-matter out of which we are composed became aware of itself, and we became the only life form in our world that knew, at least in part, that we were part of something perhaps infinitely larger and longer in duration. If we can only set down our arrogance, our obsession with being the “center of creation”, our astonishing hubris, and our grossly inflated sense of our own significance and surrender ourselves to the knowledge of our actual place, then perhaps we can turn with renewed energy to the true business of humanity: making this world a truly decent place for the first time.

Perhaps we need to “un-anchor” ourselves from the loftier pretensions of our kind. We must stop seeing the Universe as “ours” in the sense of being made for us, and start to see it as “ours” in the sense of being our home. We will never “conquer it” or “own it” but we will always be a part of its history, even if that history is forever unread. And we can make of ourselves and of our world something better than it has been, and that is a worthy and noble undertaking on which to embark.

Too often we have seen others as objects or caricatures rather than flesh-and-blood fellow humans. Too often we have let tribal loyalty and pride blind us to the intrinsic worth of those not in our tribe. Too many of us have had will without wisdom, confidence in our rightness when we had no right to it, and the desire for power or wealth or position for their own sake, even at the cost of everything we claimed to hold dear. Too often our actions have been driven by false conclusions, wrong evidence, ancient prejudices, deliberate falsehoods, wishful thinking, delusions, and the necessity of submitting to an overwhelming power over us. There has been far too much confusion, far too much myth-making, far too much unnecessary separation between humans, and above all—absolutely above all—far too much needless suffering. Any improvement in the condition of humanity will, in my opinion, require that we confront these realities directly and honestly. Whether we will, however, no one can say.


Ultimately, we are left with our individual lives, and the undeniable reality of death. But in the face of this inevitability, this inescapable finality, we can state an essential truth: in the end, it’s what we experienced and did with the only life we are ever likely to have in the history of the Universe that matters, not our death. In using our brief time as well as we can, living lives of integrity, and above all, treating our fellow humans as people just as real as ourselves, we can face the prospect of our death with equanimity, and trust, perhaps, that others will see in our life one worthy of respect, or even emulation. And in comforting the afflicted among us and fighting to give to as many humans as possible the opportunity to make of their own lives what they choose, we are engaged in what is perhaps our greatest work.

At the hour of our deaths, a great deal will die along with us. Everything we will have ever experienced, in all its uniqueness, all we will have ever learned, every passion we will have ever felt, every image and sound we will have preserved within us, will vanish forever. We will have been able to express some of our life experience to others, but most of it never will have been. And yet, as death looms over us, we will perhaps be able to take some solace in the fact that we changed the very nature of our little corner of the Universe by being in it. The life story of every human we ever encountered will have been altered permanently by us. In moving through space-time, we will have caused chains of consequences to be initiated that will play out for more centuries and in more ways than we could ever imagine. We will know, perhaps, if we are still sufficiently lucid as the end of our consciousness approaches, that we were the product of billions of years of sweeping events and the uncounted actions and imaginings of innumerable other minds. We will not have understood all of what we lived, maybe not even most of it. But we may know this: we were here; we existed, despite the incredible odds against our particular life having come into being, and the future will forever be different because of that. We may know this as well: that in the whole of the multiverse, and in every parallel iteration of this one, there was no story that played out exactly as ours did, and there was no person anywhere, at any time, in any circumstance, that was an exact replica of us. In all the enormity of existence, our lives were unique in the profoundest sense of that word. As all of our moments are about to be lost, we may at last say that we were the child of the very fabric of reality itself, and if the whole story of existence is ever pieced together by an emergent super consciousness, we may yet live on after all.

So yes, let us give up our arrogance and our pretenses. Let us stop seeing ourselves as the reason for the Universe’s existence. But let us never forget that we are just as much a part of the Universe as anything. I may be tiny, and my effect on the rest of reality may be utterly negligible, but I am real! I may count for next to nothing, but I will never be nothing. However many zeroes there may be to the right of the decimal point in calculating the percentage of the time I lived in the Universe’s existence, or the amount of space I occupied while I was here, there will always be that 1 at the end of that chain of zeroes. I am that 1, and I am content to be so.

Originally posted to Yosef 52 on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 12:32 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  There is also the infinitely small. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52, zenox, linkage

    Why do you you leave that out?

    Boehner Just Wants Wife To Listen, Not Come Up With Alternative Debt-Reduction Ideas

    by dov12348 on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 01:13:01 AM PST

    •  I'm not sure exactly what you mean by (0+ / 0-)

      infinitely small. There are subatomic particles so tiny that they are merely geometric points, completely devoid of internal structure. They are as small in relation to us as we are to a galaxy. There appears to be nothing smaller (at least in the human frame of reference). I'm not sure that a thing/dimension/reality can be infinitely small. The early Greek philosophers may have believed that it was possible to subdivide objects infinitely, but in (our) reality it doesn't appear to be the case.

      In any event, discussing infinity of scale wasn't my objective.

      Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

      by Yosef 52 on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 01:39:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You equate size with significance. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Do you not?

        Boehner Just Wants Wife To Listen, Not Come Up With Alternative Debt-Reduction Ideas

        by dov12348 on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 02:00:02 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  There is no such thing as an infinitely small (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, side pocket

          entity. An entity by definition occupies some space/time. As I tried to explain, our species has had no effect on the Universe as a whole because of our comparatively tiny size, so we mentally and morally must confine ourselves to this world. I also said just because we were tiny, we were still real and just as much a part of the Universe as anything. As I said, I may be next to nothing, but I will never be nothing.

          Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

          by Yosef 52 on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 02:07:14 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I should clarify by saying "despite the fact" (0+ / 0-)

            that we are tiny.

            Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

            by Yosef 52 on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 02:10:28 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  yosef.. (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Yosef 52, dov12348, SethRightmer, native

            "size" is an illusion observed by a time-space bound mind. It is linear. Yet there is a reality that is not linear. " Size" is only relevant by comparison and contrast which again arise from cause and effect.

            Infinity however unfolds and it has nothing to do with size. Meaning the infinitely small and the infinitely large are both one and the same. The sun sets and rises simultaneously. There is no either, or logic and the linear reality you have put your eggs in is a mind created fallacy.

            I think the ancient Greek philosophers knew what they were talking about. They make sense to me. "Size" is a literal concept lacking depth. I would not base my philosophy on that.

            Does infinitely small exist? That depends on what you see as existence. According to the linear mind, existence has frames and borders thus is not infinite. According to the circular mind that is free from borders and frames however, infinity is all there is, not the small  or the large.

            "Corruptio Optimi Pessima" (Corruption of the best is the worst)

            by zenox on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 04:04:30 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  "Yosef" :) (0+ / 0-)

              "Corruptio Optimi Pessima" (Corruption of the best is the worst)

              by zenox on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 04:05:32 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  My perspective is grounded in the only one (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              side pocket, RiveroftheWest

              which I am truly capable of comprehending, if only in part: the human frame of reference. Elsewhere (in things I haven't posted here) I state that reality is the sum of all possible perspectives. But we have only ours, and we cannot escape it in any genuine way. (Try to imagine being a dog and hearing frequencies that humans cannot detect and you'll see the paradox involved in trying to escape the human frame of reference.)

              We may postulate such a thing as infinity, by the way, but in my view infinity is quite possibly simply another human construct.

              I should emphasize that one of the objectives of the huge project I am working on (one that will amount to more than 2,500 pages when I'm finished) is to grapple with the implications of the cosmic insignificance of the human race. Six hundred years ago the sharpest minds on the planet (with some exceptions) assured us that the Earth and its people were the center of physical reality and were in fact the reason for existence itself. Our religions are grounded in the assumption that God/the Universe/the One/the Divine has a special relationship with us. I argue that our physical and temporal insignificance has destroyed such notions. Yet, in the essay above, I argue that even in such a situation, it is possible for a person to find both joy and meaning in life.

              Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

              by Yosef 52 on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 04:20:54 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Ok, so you're just answering the Christian... (0+ / 0-)

                ...and other religious viewpoint that the earth is the center of everything.  But all secular people and many religious people already know that.  Seems very obvious to me.

                Boehner Just Wants Wife To Listen, Not Come Up With Alternative Debt-Reduction Ideas

                by dov12348 on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 05:30:27 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  I congratulate you for taking on a project of (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                SethRightmer, native, marina

                such magnitude, especially on a topic so difficult to put into words. If I may continue, " the human frame of reference" has no real "frame" to it thus "escaping" from a non-existing prison makes no sense. The "frames" are cognitive constructions. Have you tried to solve the famous " 9 dot problem?" In other words, I do not need to escape myself to have more evolved comprehension. To give an example, "change of altitude changes the "frame of reference." How? By distancing one's self from the local point of view, one gets to gain a much larger " frame of reference." What I can "observe" for example from sitting in a bus is far more limited than the frame if reference available to a news reporter who is reporting on traffic from a flying helicopter.

                So the physical experience is not only relative but also it has no fixed frame or point.

                Infinity : Anywhere you overcome the tyranny of totality,you arrive at infinity. It is not this far away incomprehensible distance but it is in the moment. Think of two unique individuals. Bring them side by side. It is a given that they are infinitely different, right? Because, if not then we would have to give up on the theory of " unique individuality." Right? Without infinity, there would be no such thing as uniqueness.

                "Corruptio Optimi Pessima" (Corruption of the best is the worst)

                by zenox on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 08:43:40 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  On the contrary: (4+ / 0-)

                  infinity would utterly destroy all concepts of uniqueness, since the probability that all possible states of being have been replicated endlessly is 1.

                  Humans assert that they can step outside of human perception, but they cannot. Seeing the world from a helicopter is still an understandable human perspective. Seeing it as an insect capable of perceiving ultraviolet is not. Experiencing it as a dog hearing sounds above 20,000 megacycles per second isn't. (How can we possibly understand what that would be like?) As I put it in another post from a few years back:

                  It has been fairly well established that humans do not perceive what has been called the “actual, free-standing reality.” It would appear that all non-deductive human knowledge of the world is mediated through the senses, which present to the brain a version of that reality, something perhaps linked to it, but not the essence of it.  Humans literally cannot directly experience this “real” reality, what Immanuel Kant called “The Thing in Itself”.  If a human were to be plunged into this “real” reality, we must suppose he or she would have no way of comprehending it or describing it to anyone else, since the human would have no basis whatsoever from which  to do so. Such a basis could only be grounded in what philosophers call absolute perspective, which can only be possessed by a fully transcendent being. This means that humans face a paradox from which they cannot escape. It is logically impossible for them to view reality from a non-human, transcendent vantage point. They cannot perceive as a human and a non-human simultaneously.
                  I question whether anyone truly grasps infinity. One may postulate the existence of something without comprehending it. (Consider, for example, the highest possible prime number.) If one has never experienced genuine infinity, I doubt whether they could understand it. And no, I don't think any human ever has experienced it.

                  Finally, two entities do not have to be infinitely different to be distinct. There is no logical reason why they must be. They may share much in common, and yet not be identical.

                  Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

                  by Yosef 52 on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 04:08:24 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Agree that it is logically impossible (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    zenox, mkor7

                    for humans to view reality from a non-human, transcendent vantage point. However, human beings are capable of feats of perception that defy logic. If you limit perception to what is logically possible, you ignore significant parts of it.

                    •  Logically possible covers an AWFUL lot of (0+ / 0-)

                      ground. I don't see any way to go beyond it. But perhaps I am obtuse.

                      Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

                      by Yosef 52 on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 05:55:55 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Pff, Godel killed logic (4+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        Yosef 52, marina, mkor7, chalatenango

                        Any logical system that is coherent and complex enough to be of any use contains within it truths that are not provable by that logical system. But that's not even the real problem.

                        Mind precedes logic. Logic is something you learned to do. It can manipulate false premises as well as true. It can not apprehend new information. Deductive reasoning is a useful tool, but it is only a tool. And it is only one tool among many, but to be free, to see the world as it is, one has to put down all tools and just be.

                        Ego will tell you this is impossible. Or worthless. Or too frightening. Because it is a tool. Putting down all tools means putting down ego. Like you put down a dog that is old and sick. Ego does not want to die. And this is how it views letting go.

                        But once ego is put down, it finds it is not dead, but free. A huge weight has been lifted, an impossible burden removed. It no longer needs to protect itself from death. It no longer feels this intense emptiness, this disconnection, this isolation that comes from seeing the map it has built as the territory it inhabits.

                        There is no longer a point labelled, "You are here" on the map. Ego can go about its function of watching the world and updating the map without fearing that, if it gets it wrong, something will eat it and all it is, and has ever been, will be lost.

                        Nothing lasts, but nothing is lost. That is eternity. That is this present moment.

                        •  Godel did not kill logic. He killed CERTITUDE. (0+ / 0-)

                          Those are not the same thing. Godel's conjectures demonstrated that there are mathematical statements that cannot be expressed as proofs. That in no way proves the existence of logical impossibilities. Even the most mind-bending paradoxes ultimately are paradoxical because they follow the rules of logic. (Example: a list of books that don't include themselves on any list.) Such an entity cannot exist precisely because it would violate logical rules.  

                          Letting go, (as in the Buddhist meditative tradition, for example) is still a state of consciousness being experienced by an ineffable but still real self.   The self (whatever that might be) is the medium through which anything is experienced. I may feel as one with the Universe--but it is still me who is feeling that way.  I may think I'm no longer on the map--but I have to be on the map somewhere, if only to believe I'm not on it.                                

                          Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

                          by Yosef 52 on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 02:50:26 PM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                  •  There is more to the "human" than the localized (4+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Yosef 52, SethRightmer, marina, mkor7

                    being you and I call "human." There is also the global dimension to a human which is not available to our local comprehension or/ and perception. Why not available  ? Because it is  global meaning it has the infinity (think fractals) built up in it. Both the insect perception and the dog perception are part of it. Hence the native American concept of brother sister animals, totems. The local human perception cannot comprehend it. Therefore, humans have unknown potential when it comes to global perception. The global human comprehends it; the local human is unaware of it.
                    Individuals share common traits but what is unique cannot be shared. Immanuel Kant "knew" what he was talking about. He comprehended the incomprehensibility of "the thing itself." Yet he was human. You and I differ in what we "observe" as "human." I understand the limitations you are talking about. They arise from the locality. But whether he/she can comprehend or not, there is more to the "human" than what meets the eye. Human " borders" is a cognitive construction.

                    Another example to "infinity": Light prism. A ray of light spreads into many colored rays after going through a prism. Look at the areas where one color changes into another. You will not see a line, a border or anything indicating the ending of one color and the beginning of  the other, however. Those two colors, although different, are infinitely connected.  The place of change while there is no defined line or marking is where you will find the infinity.

                    In other words, infinity is " E Pluribus Unum"


                    "Corruptio Optimi Pessima" (Corruption of the best is the worst)

                    by zenox on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 06:59:15 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  I truly enjoyed our conversation (5+ / 0-)

                      and gained insight from it. The thing about truth is that no one person has the complete ownership of it which is a blessing. I think human perception has potential to evolve into global perception. And global perception would give us a viewpoint that would be indivisible if we think in terms of geometry. I don't know how it would be like to have such perception. We may need a new form of language to describe it. :)


                      "Corruptio Optimi Pessima" (Corruption of the best is the worst)

                      by zenox on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 08:07:45 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

          •  There is no way to tell... (0+ / 0-)

   we stand in the spectrum from smallest to largest anyway, just talking physical size.  Going smaller than the smallest element we know about there could be entire universes smaller than that.

            Boehner Just Wants Wife To Listen, Not Come Up With Alternative Debt-Reduction Ideas

            by dov12348 on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 05:26:59 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  I enjoyed your last post and will come back (5+ / 0-)

    To read this one.

    Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. - Gandalf the Grey

    by No Exit on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 05:37:02 AM PST

  •  On finding meaning (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, zenox, mkor7

    To what purpose do we "find meaning?" What do we gain in the finding? What do we lose if there is no meaning, or if the meaning we find is incompatible with other meanings that we have found, or that others have found?

    As long as one is searching for meaning, one is lost. Meaning, all and any meaning, are illusion, and as soon as we create any meaning, we also create its negation. We want unity in meaning, but only unity can be unitary. Meaning comes from division, from dividing this from that.

    Ego creates meaning to protect itself. Seeing itself as separate, ego fears that its unique and valuable essence will be lost. Ego's only tool is the map it creates, but this map, with its little marker, "You are here" is the source of the problem. Ego spends more and more time looking at the map, and less time looking at the thing it is mapping.

    Put down the map. Tell ego it can go on a fifteen minute break. Ego is tired. Creating a universe is hard work, and it is scared it isn't doing its job right. That is because it isn't doing its job at all. It has gotten confused and thinks it is the boss, when it is just a lowly worker. It is really quite bad at being the boss.

    •  Seth, I agree with much of what you say. But the (4+ / 0-)

      reality for most people is that they need to feel there is some reason they live, they must know why they live, their lives have to be for some purpose. In my larger work (the first volume of which is completed) I explain that they exist because of the emergent properties of reality. By mathematical/physical/chemical/biological/ chance a species evolved on this planet, a process which took 13.7 billion years from the first moments of the (misleadingly named) Big Bang to the emergence of the first members of Homo in the great arc between eastern and southern Africa. I contend their evolution was guided wholly by natural processes. There is no why; there simply is.

      But knowing that doesn't seem to help most people. If there is no god, (and I am not sure about this either way), if we are simply the product of blind natural selection/genetic drift, if no one else knows we're here, that demoralizes a lot of people. I'm trying to say that people don't need to be downhearted about these things. Their lives have an intrinsic value quite apart  from assertions that humans are the favored children of God. I think most people need meaning in some form--even if the search for it is a delusion.

      Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

      by Yosef 52 on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 03:50:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  But meaning, ultimate meaning, is right here! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Yosef 52, zenox

        Ego, seeing itself as a thing, separate from other things, believes it must manufacture meaning. Not only that, but it thinks that it must get it right, that the meaning it creates must be True. That is an impossible task, doomed to failure, and leading to suffering. No meaning created by ego can be True. But the Truth is right here, in front of us, all the time. We could see it once, all of us, before thoughts got in the way.

        So there it is. On one level anyhow. On another level, you are completely and totally right, and the way you are going about creating meaning is relatively true, but more than that, it is pretty. I find your creation and your way of expressing it aesthetically pleasing.

        I mean, once you realize that all meaning is make believe, like we all used to enjoy playing at as children, then why not spend your time in a very pretty and enjoyable make believe? What child, when they play house, imagines fights, and exhaustion, and depression, and drudgery? Okay, maybe some children in very poor circumstances do, but you get my drift.

        All I am trying to say is that, right there in front of all of us, there is ultimate freedom. One does not have to believe in God, or anything, to feel, in the present moment, an intense connection to all things, a feeling of connection that melts away all questions of "why?" The answer is right in front of our noses, and it is just "this."

        But that understanding, and understanding how to get out of ones own way and just be, does not negate the other way of seeing things, as a Universe full of separate things. It is a complement to it. Knowing that it is a form of play, the creation of meaning becomes a game instead of an existential, life or death struggle.

        And you play that game with grace and beauty, thank you for making this Universe a better, prettier, more enjoyable place. :)

        •  Yep. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mkor7, SethRightmer
          No meaning created by ego can be True. But the Truth is right here, in front of us, all the time. We could see it once, all of us, before thoughts got in the way.
          (Bolding is mine)

          "Corruptio Optimi Pessima" (Corruption of the best is the worst)

          by zenox on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 05:08:14 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  At this point, for me (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Yosef 52

            Thoughts are just falling away. They still come, but when they do, they come with their own negation. Most of the time, they don't even make it through the entire thought-phrase. The internal words just sort of peter out.

            I'm not trying to make thoughts go away, if they don't, that's cool. Thoughts are fun phenomenon. But boy howdy is it clear they are illusions. This isn't something I strove for, not really, it's just sort of happening this way.

            I'm really happy most of the time, and when I'm not, I'm perfectly okay with not being happy, and I can see why I am not happy. If I'm sad, I can be sad, and see why, and feel it, and then it goes away. My life is proceeding in a sort of flow. Who knows if it will last? I don't worry about that, though.


  •  This is just wonderful (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52, RiveroftheWest, native

    and I look forward to reading more. Following you now.

    Ceiling Cat rules....srsly.

    by side pocket on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 09:56:33 AM PST

  •  this is very provocative... (5+ / 0-)

    ...and in a good way, in my opinion. Thank you for positing this. It raises many, many questions that have challenged the minds of human beings for thousands of years.

    However, having said that, in all honesty, while this is truly an excellent and serious inquiry posed by you it also exposes some of the fallacies of human beings' thinking, as well, fallacies predicated on a few assumptions, which may or may not even be true.

    Following are the three assumptions contained in this excellent line of inquiry raised by you:

    a) In Part I, you say that we human minds are "connected to each other only by tenuous lines of communication." This may or may not be true. You may be right. However, there are a lot of people, including scientists, who, in recent years, believe that there is scientific evidence that members of species are connected by more than just the "tenuous lines of communication" which you mention. One biologist in particular, Rupert Sheldrake, though he may not be part of the mainstream of scientific thinking, has spent his entire career around what he thinks is his discovery that important new insights in one member of a species can actually affect the entire species itself. If true, that is not a "tenuous line of communication, but rather implies a deeper connection, a deeper type of intra-species communication which goes beyond our brain's ability to fathom and, perhaps even beyond current science's ability to fully explain.

    b) Also in Part I, you write that: "Consciousness has convinced many humans that they must find some broad, universal meaning in their existence." That is true to many people and has, in fact, become "conventional wisdom," so to speak, among many people. However, that doesn't make this assumption true. Isn't it possible that the lack of awareness of what consciousness actually is has caused humans to create their own barrier with their belief that they "must find some broad universal meaning in their existence." Isn't it possible that, like a tree that has no need to question it's validity, worth or need for some meaning, human beings, if they inquire deeply enough, beyond superficial beliefs and conditioning, may, in fact, be able to find nothing but pure ecstasy and joy in simply living? (Am not saying that is the case...but it seems possible, making your predicate/assumption (like most people's) based on a false assumption.

    c) In Party II, you ask..."How can a human hold up his head with any dignity, if humanity occupies no special place in creation?"

    This assumption that humans must have some kind of "dignity" (whatever that might be) by occupying a special place in creation (as compared to what...other species on this planet and...(perhaps others?))...raises the issue to me that is one of humankind's worst afflictions: it's egotistically-based premise that the human species is and must be superior to others (by having "some special place.")

    It is this human conditioning, fueled, at least in large part, by so-called "religions" (any religion that propagates the belief that human beings are superior to anything else in the not a real religion in my book), that human beings must have some kind of special place, in comparison to others, somehow making them superior to other things or entities...that is the cause of so much misery.

    It may be true that human beings have a special place in the universe, but there is no evidence to prove that. In fact, there is ample evidence that human beings, while thinking they are superior to other species and other things in the universe, are anything but. This is just another assumption.

    These three assumptions are widespread, widely accepted as being true.

    However, it's quite possible that if we question the validity of those assumptions (and ALL assumptions, for that matter), that we may discover that we are creating a self-imposed prison, a prison whose assumptions themselves prevent us from getting at the truth to these questions you've posed.

    •  wdrath, I am not saying that I AGREE with the (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, native, wdrath

      sentiment that "Consciousness has convinced many humans that they must find some broad, universal meaning in their existence". I don't think there is an inherent meaning. That's my point. Nor do I think humans are essentially superior to other conscious beings. I'm saying that if humans are stripped of their (widely held) pretensions, their arrogance, and their sense of being "special" in the Universe, they can still view themselves--and each other, which is a crucial point--with dignity and a sense of pride. I reject all metaphysical/supernatural assertions. But I still say that it is within our interests to remember our uniqueness and our capacity to be something more than we have been. I want us to embrace the Universe as our home, not our possession. I want us to cherish each other because we recognize the reality and significance of our lives within the moral framework of this planet and its community of sentient beings.

      Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

      by Yosef 52 on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 03:36:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I can only add to this via another person's... (4+ / 0-)

    writing. Lucretius. He wrote DE RERUM NATURA (On the Nature of Things). Anyone with Yosef 52's wonder at our nature should definitely read Lucretius.

    The main points are given by Stephen Greenblatt.

    (Written 55 BCE, Lost 900's CE, and found 1417 CE)

    Explained in
    "The Swerve - How the World Became Modern"
    by Stephen Greenblatt
    About Lucretius:

    Points (1-20) from Greenblatt (2011)
    1. Everything is made of invisible particles.
    2. The elementary particles of matter - "the seeds of the things" - are eternal.
    3. The elementary particles are infinite in number but limited in shape and size.
    4. All particles are in motion in an infinite void.
    5. The universe has no creator or designer.
    6. Everything comes into being as a result of a swerve.
    7. The swerve is the source of free will.
    8. Nature ceaselessly experiments.
    9. The universe was not created for or about humans.
    10. Humans are not unique.
    11. Human society began not in a Golden Age of tranquility and plenty but in a primitive battle for survival.
    12. The soul dies.
    13. There is no afterlife.
    14. Death is nothing to us.
    15. All organized religions are superstitious delusions.
    16. Religions are invariably cruel.
    17. There are no angels, devils or ghosts.
    18. The highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain.
    19. The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it's delusion.
    20. Understanding the nature of things generates deep wonder.

    Yosef 52 has deep wonder. He is blessed!



    "Daddy, every time a bell rings, a Libertaria­n picks up his Pan Am tickets for the Libertaria­n Paradise of East Somalia!"

    by unclebucky on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 02:50:38 PM PST

    •  So... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Yosef 52, native

      UB, #12 says, "The soul dies."

      If we accept the other 19 points, why would we consider that such a thing as a "soul" had lived in the first place?

      •  Now, remember that Lucretius was a person... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Yosef 52

        living in ~50 BCE. Greenblatt was summarizing Lucretius, but I don't think adding to him.

        If the motive force that is LIFE can't be described in terms of mechanics, then someone can call it "soul".

        I have used the term "material soul" to extend Lucretius. So, just say: "The life force dies [there is no spiritual soul]."

        Also remember that Lucretius denies a spiritual plane:

        #17 There are no angels, devils or ghosts (spirits). And there is no creator, but there are "gods" who are somewhat distant from us, but no less physical. Thus, if we say there are no spirits (I know I do!) then there is no spiritual soul, just the impression give by a physical life force which dies.

        So, two things: A. Lucretius is not a 21st century writer. and B. Let's not slice and dice this too much. Check out #18. That's the gold. And #20, too.


        "Daddy, every time a bell rings, a Libertaria­n picks up his Pan Am tickets for the Libertaria­n Paradise of East Somalia!"

        by unclebucky on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 03:13:39 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Thank you so much for your kind words. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, Dvalkure, unclebucky

      And yes, I have read (much) of what Lucretius said.

      Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

      by Yosef 52 on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 04:22:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yep, good stuff at first glance. (0+ / 0-)

        I will save the link and read through it.

        Now, the question is when the book will be ready to read as a whole! :)



        "Daddy, every time a bell rings, a Libertaria­n picks up his Pan Am tickets for the Libertaria­n Paradise of East Somalia!"

        by unclebucky on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 03:15:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Volume One is already finished. (0+ / 0-)

          Volume Two should  (I hope) be finished by December 2015, Volume Three by 2018, Volume Four by 2020, and Volume Five by 2022 (if I live that long!).

          There is an excerpt online you can read for free. Just hit the link in my sig.

          And again, thank you.

          Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

          by Yosef 52 on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 03:28:38 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  I read this and thought it very good... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Yosef 52

        "There are so many variables acting on any one of these situations, so many chains of consequence intersecting each other at each moment, so many synergies at work, and so many unanticipated outcomes being set into motion by them, that no human or even set of humans can predict the ultimate effect of any given action."

        Many people think in terms of linear causality in a very simplistic one to one relationship between events. Not really what we observe with even the least of observational technology.

        History is an explanation. We often say that it is the explanation by the winners, not the losers who often know more about the events they endured.

        C'est la vie...

        Ugh. --UB.

        "Daddy, every time a bell rings, a Libertaria­n picks up his Pan Am tickets for the Libertaria­n Paradise of East Somalia!"

        by unclebucky on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 03:44:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Giving up our pretensions (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52, side pocket, Dvalkure

    Yosef 52, this is a thought-provoking and beautifully written post. Thank you.

    “We live here and now. The human enterprise has meaning for us. It is real to us, and that is sufficient.”

    I am not a philosopher. I am older than you; when I go, I probably won’t leave behind much that the world considers “significant.” I will try to do as little harm as I can, and as much good as I can, while I’m here.

    My own little contribution to “the true business of humanity: making this world a truly decent place for the first time.”

  •  We don't know what will happen (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52, zenox, mkor7, Dvalkure

    at the hour of our deaths. That is a mystery. You can assume that our entire life will be simply erased, but you have no way of knowing that.

    Consciousness is a phenomenon that has never been explained by science, and probably never will be. Because consciousness created science. Until science can even begin explain what created consciousness, it is just taking wild guesses.

    I see no reason to believe that we are alone and isolated in the cosmos, or that the universe is indifferent toward us. That is merely an assumption on your part. For all we know, the cosmos may be rooting for us.

    Neither do I accept your assertion that human minds are connected to each other "only by tenuous threads of communication". On the contrary, I would say that human minds are connected by very strong forces, intimately related to consciousness itself.

    •  I hope you're right. (5+ / 0-)

      But I find no empirical support for your propositions (although I hope to). I see the capriciousness of the natural world ("the rain falls on the just and unjust alike") and I cannot see any deeper cause of it than the actions of chains of consequences unfolding in a probabilistic way. And I agree that we do not (as yet) understand consciousness.

      Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

      by Yosef 52 on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 05:34:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  True (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      I would say that human minds are connected by very strong forces, intimately related to consciousness itself.
      We are beginning to focus on consciousness and brain, native. And I am not surprised by it. It is time. --All new developments in science start as almost fantasy like thoughts. Somebody dreams about it. Somebody ponders with "what if..." and then it slowly but surely becomes a natural part of our -internationally-scientific landscape. So much that we forget how impossible it sounded to us, before. What is technologically feasible to us today was science-fiction, decades ago. Skype was observed in Kubrick's "Space Odyssey, 2001," 40 plus years ago, for example.  I don't need to go into Star-Trek science here. We all know. Jules Verne wrote fiction on a trip to moon before any serious scientist would even consider such possibility without losing all credibility.

      I agree that there are such strong forces connecting human minds, albeit below our level of what we call awakening state of consciousness. On the surface (the ego consciousness), like a group of islands sticking out of the ocean surface, we feel isolated, separated, dis-attached and dis-connected. But when we dive, we see the landscape at the bottom of the ocean merging and ,depending on the depth we dive, connecting all those individual islands. To connect all of our mind's surface landscapes (if such thing was ever possible), we need to hypothetically imagine the possibility of diving deeper, all the way to the center of the earth, where all landscapes become one. Interestingly, that center, however, is not fixed. It won't allow us "absolute measurement and absolute knowing." Meanwhile, to the local mind (the ego consciousness) such 'merging' creates awful paradoxes which it cannot comprehend or deal with (therefore the mistrust, the fear, the greed, the violence, the anxiety). The global consciousness belonging to the depths, however, is free from the paradoxes of local borders, frames, lines and separations of "me" vs " thee". That consciousness is where Peace is found.

      It took us to long time to focus on consciousness because for the longest time we could not relate to such "abstract" reality as "scientific." We couldn't "measure" or "test" it, and that meant we couldn't "know" it. Starting with the 20ieth century, however, we began to witness imperfections in our trusted classical "reasoning and knowing." We continued doing science using classical methods since they worked on the surface as they did before. But that just wasn't enough to our newly awakened perceptions which brought us to today, where we are connected globally with the exploding of science and technology that could not have been imagined to the mind of the most prolific science-fiction writer, previously. What we see and credit as scientific today are what some of the geniuses in the past got burnt for on the stakes, accused of "witchcraft." "Magic," right? :)

      I believe the 21st century will be the century of "consciousness." Not only the expanding of the "ego" consciousness but also the re-surfacing of the "global" consciousness from the 'Mariana Trench,' where it has been!  But seriously, it is a natural development of mind and thus cannot be reversed.

      We may not see it in our life times but since we are dreaming of these things, our descendants in the near future will all wear "technicolor dream coats," me thinks...


      "Corruptio Optimi Pessima" (Corruption of the best is the worst)

      by zenox on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 06:08:09 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Kierkegaard and Heidegger grapple with much (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52

    of what your excellent diary contemplates. "Being and Time" by Heidegger discusses the phenomenological issues you discuss.

    "If the past sits in judgment on the present, the future will be lost." Winston Churchill

    by Kvetchnrelease on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 06:00:23 AM PST

  •  Martin Buber's concept of the numinous is what (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52, Dvalkure

    fuels me personally when confronted with the existentialism of your diary.

    "If the past sits in judgment on the present, the future will be lost." Winston Churchill

    by Kvetchnrelease on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 06:04:45 AM PST

  •  Obilgatory Bill Hicks: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52

    “Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Heres Tom with the Weather.”

    I'll fight in the gutter if dragged into the gutter, but the gutter is not where I want to be. --Seneca Doane

    by Mad Season on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 03:39:44 PM PST

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