From the documentary “Fast, Cheap and Out of Control“:
When I think about it, I can almost see myself as being made up of thousands and thousands of little agents doing stuff almost independently… But at the same time I fall back into believing the things about humans that we all believe about humans and living life that way. Otherwise, I think, if you analyze it too much, life becomes almost meaningless.
– Rodney Brooks
This was a fascinating documentary. It seemed to leave me (I think intentionally) with less certainty of meaning and purpose than when I started, but in a good way. I don’t think that this means we have cause for despair. As many of us have come to reject the notion of ultimate, preordained meaning in the universe, and accept the realization that we are merely an emerging process of selfish genes, it’s easy to doubt.
Yet, we have somehow trudged along thus far in our (relatively) blissful ignorance. With the rejection of religious explanations, we realize that conscience is not suddenly absent. We can see other societies with other religions reflecting similar behaviours. We may also realize that our own have not always been as wonderful as we assumed they always were.
With the sudden absence of an old narrative which used to explained our ethics, it does not simply cease to exist. Our ability for evil and good are there as ever before. As such, our ability to have a sense of purpose need not change, but you might have to embrace the fact that you are not logical, and even some “illogical” thinking. Some practical “delusion” may be in order.
” Blasphemy!” you might say. But as you are reading this you may be thinking about yourself as a discrete person, with an identity and clear delineation of psychological boundaries between you and the next person. Is this not itself a delusion according to the body of knowledge that led you to this dilemma in the first place? (Did I just give you a migraine?) There’s a very simple reason to continue with this set of delusions including the existence of a self and a general sense of purpose. It works!
“A theory about a thing does not change the thing the theory is about”
– B.F. Skinner
It is not beyond the ability of the human mind to operate in an intentional “delusion” or mental narrative and still realize it’s not precisely true, without getting carried away in it. We do it every single day. I think of it like the realization that we are made up of atoms. We know it’s true, yet does that fact that causes us daily stress about whether or not we’re suddenly going to fall through the ground or have our matter suddenly explode at the speed of light in every direction? I think not. It’s a comfortable delusion to think of our body as a solid contiguous mass rather than one that’s full of gaps and made of the same mundane building blocks as the dirt we’re walking on, yet we seem to be fine with it… because it works!
We can still go on about our lives, but with a greater sense of wonder and renewed hunger for answers to our new questions.
I choose to be, therefore I am.