Since the New Year is coming, I thought it might be fun to look ahead, not just to the next year, but the far, far, FAR future and what we might expect.
SPOILER ALERT: WE ALL DIE! AND EARTH DIES! AND THE UNIVERSE DIES! EVERYTHING DIES!
In terms of going big or going home, it don’t get much bigger than the Apogee of Endings, Monolithic Mortality, The Termination of Teleology! You get the idea.
But why though?
The point is not to be depressive or pessimistic or, God forbid, emo (is that still a thing?). The simple fact of the matter is that just about everything you think is just SO important is not really that important. What we think and believe is especially unimportant, just about as unimportant as what we want. And yet, we continue to mentally turn ourselves into the little red pin that goes in the center of the cosmic map. It’s all about us and it’s all here for us, one big cosmic smorgasbord designed and enacted to content us and God help anyone if things don’t conform to the way we think things should be, such as finding a suspicious hair in the celestial bisque! But I’m going to tell you the secret everybody knows deep down in their little twitching hearts: life isn’t perfect or fair. In fact, life hurts a lot of the time. Let’s go one better and say life is one big, multi-tiered shit sandwich punctuated every so often by a delicious slice of dill pickle. And guess what? You’re lucky to be eating it because once you reach the far crust, you’re dead pal. Bad metaphors aside, life is painful and that’s just the way it is and always has been. So think about it: if you’re constantly running from pain and discomfort, by extension aren’t you also running from life in all its uncertainty, and disappointment, and, yes, pain? Does that mean that if you get to the end of it while living in blissful contentment and ignorance maybe you never really lived?
Now, considering everything you just read, considering that you’re going to die no matter what choices you make or what you believe, do you still want to fret about whether or not to ask the girl/guy out that your groin brain has been after you about? Or do you want to stick around with the guy/girl who doesn’t treat you with love and respect? Do you want to stay in the soul crushing job you hate with the boss you loathe just to make money? Do you honestly think that you have everything figured out when you’re just like all the other naked apes that have lived and died and turned into dust? What’s more likely? That you’re that one ape in untold billions that’s got it all figure out or that you’re just as fucked as all the rest of us. Trick question. You’re fucked.
A large part of all our problems is thinking so much of ourselves and about ourselves. We blow everything up to the point of cosmic constants, from our pains to our opinions. This kind of aggrandizement, this mythologizing of our personal experiences, puts us and our unhappiness on a pedestal like it’s some kind of great event. But it’s not. It’s nothing different than what billions upon billions of other nameless humans have endured throughout history. We don’t remember them, we don’t remember their troubles and I hate to be the one to break this to you but no one will remember you or yours either. And chances are no one will care what you thought about this or that. Opinions are great and all but the graveyard is full of people who I bet were very strongly of the opinion that they shouldn’t die. Go try asking them about whether or not the world gave a sideways shit about them and their opinions. But don’t worry, it’s okay that you think that way. In fact, it’s quite normal and here’s why.
Your brain, besides being the most complicated thing in the universe other than the universe itself, is a total douche bag. Yeah, that’s right. Your brain sucks, specifically it sucks at correctly interpreting the world around it. You see, cognitive, or thought, processing power is expensive. As it is, your brain consumes up to 33% of the energy in your body. Just like your asshole roommate who eats all your cereal and never buys more to replace it. So, in order to make cognitive processing less energy intensive and to free up cognitive resources to do other important things (like watching cat videos and figuring out where the remote went), we evolved a set of what are called cognitive biases. They’re almost like little computer programs running in the background that quickly and cheaply interpret information. But you buy cheap, you get cheap and many times we are left with a skewed or down right wrong interpretation of the world. And we’re all guilty of it much of the time. But for now I want to focus on two cognitive biases called the Impact Bias and Semmelweis Reflex.
The Impact Bias makes us think that things are going to affect us emotionally much more strongly than they actually will. But the thing is, this is all in your head. It’s a way to get yourself geared up and ready for lots of pain and disappointment or really psyched up and sweaty for some awesomeness. Unfortunately though we blow up our expectations, especially of negative emotions, to crippling heights and to such degrees that we paralyze ourselves right out of acting. We convince ourselves that our failure will be more complete than Obi-Wan Kenobi’s, that entire chapters of history books will be dedicated to our shame. All because our douche bag brain can’t help but diddle its own emotion centers.
But this neuro-diddling (there’s a phrase I never thought I’d have the good fortune to write) is all in your head. Quite literally. Because, as I’ve been saying, the world doesn’t give a damn! And in fact most people don’t care either. Nobody cares except you! And you might be thinking, in dramatic Howard Beale fashion, while furiously poking your head to try to stop your brain’s sinful self-abuse, “But it’s my life! I care! My life has value God damn it!” I’m not saying your life has no value (which, if we want to get technical, it doesn’t in a measurable objective sense though that’s an issue for another post) but you’re turning thoughts, conjectures, beliefs, emotions, all things that only exist in the shadow play inside your skull, into objective measurements of reality. Value, sure. But real? What you’re feeling ain’t that.
Now we come to the Semmelweis Reflex. This one has a particularly fun backstory. There was a doctor in 19th century Austria named Ignaz Semelweis who made the very astute and, today, common sense observation that if you handle a sick person then immediately, and without washing your hands, go to deliver a baby, that baby and mother have a high chance of dying from transferred bacteria. However, the doctors at the time not just balked at the prospect of this idea but destroyed Dr. Semmelweis’s career and reputation. Today, a cognitive bias that describes people’s tendency to reject new information that conflicts established paradigms and norms is named after him.
As per usual, we place ourselves and what we think before and above everything else. We know best. My beliefs are better than yours! My opinion can kick your opinion’s ass! So why do we do it? The simple answer is because being wrong bruises our oh so delicate ego. Especially when it comes to deeply ingrained beliefs and biases. Contrary information stabs right into the soft, quivering center of who we think we are and how we view the world. Furthermore, it forces us to admit we were wrong. And nothing hurts more than having to admit you’ve been living wrong. It’s like admitting that your life has been one big hologram, minus Jem.
Never fear, though, for the omnipresent shadow of death is here to set us wayward meat-boxes straight! Everything you already believe is most likely wrong anyways! So you’re already living wrong! “But I have facts! I have figures! I have reputable sources! Look at my bulging bibliography! Awww Yiss!”
There is only one truth, mein leibe franken. Actually two truths. One: I can’t speak the German very well. And two: we are going to die. After that, all we have are the observations made by and through our perceptions. Does this mean you can believe whatever you want? Yay! Post-modern party at my place! You can find me at Derrida Center. (Literature nerds will get it. Everyone else needs to learn them some books.) No, there are some things that are more wrong or more right than other things. The point is that we are never one hundred percent right. No human being can hold absolute knowledge or truth. What does that even mean? Perfect knowledge, perfect understanding? Those concepts exceed the limits of humanity and human potential and so are meaningless to us. None of us have the answers. Whatever answers we do hold are provisional. This doesn’t mean that if someone comes up to you and says, “This begonia is a karaoke champion,” you say, “Well, this has thoroughly challenged my beliefs, I shall hereby accept it.” No. Also, are you some kind of high powered idiot? You use critical thinking. You weigh the evidence based on what the begonia dude (or dudine) presents and on what things you also know about begonias and karaoke. You can then consider the two options and come to a reasonable conclusion that is the less wrong of the two options. The singing begonias may seem like a bit of a stretch but there are many times when we’re confronted with ideas that to us, based on our views of the world, seem equally outlandish. But it’s important that we keep our minds open yet scalpel sharp to spot bullshit and keep it from breaching the gates of our minds while allowing in the good nuggets that are less wrong than whatever bullshit we were currently believing.
To sum up, you’re going to die. Compared to that everything else can be dealt with and up against that anything you think you know or are so sure of isn’t a canary fart in a typhoon. Your negative experiences aren’t going to kill you. The only thing that’s going to kill you is death. And your big house and the seven mortgages it takes to keep living in it aren’t all that amazing and prestigious anymore, are they? You’re probably not as smart or infallible as you thought for that matter.
So if everything is so trifling in the face of our mortality, then what’s the point of doing anything? Why not turn life into one giant animalistic blood orgy? That is a post for another time. All you need to be worrying about right now is coming to grips with your own mortality and wondering if you’ve been using your limited time well so far.