Monday, January 02, 2006

the other point of view

the R train runs shuttle late at night. it connects upper brooklyn with lower brooklyn. as i stood waiting at the station, it announced its arrival by a rumbling in the rails and a distant squealing of brakes. the doors opened, and i got in. there was the usual warning to "stand clear of the closing doors please". A ding-dong sound announced that the doors were closing- a sound that, if you happen to be running down the stairs to catch the train, sounds a lot like fate saying "f**k-you".

The car was empty except for an old homeless man who kept giving me knowing glances. As he got off at the next station he said, "I know you saw him. Know that you are miserable because you want to find out what this is all about". I got off the station, and crunched back through the packed two day old snow, contemplative, worried when the cellphone rang, and I picked it up.

A musical "Hi" greeted me.
"So, I hear you met someone in the subway.."
"Who are you? How do you know who I met?"
"Lets just say i represent *him* - a guardian angel, if you may"
"Never knew such things existed."
"Now you do."

"He told you about his plans, did he not? Told you that your path could only lead to him. Such a fool."
"He has a point, you know.."
She laughed. It sounded like the tinkling of little bells.
"I expected you to be smarter than that. that outline is not exactly lucid."
"In what way?"
"Curiosity is not opposed to fear. Curiosity arises from consequence, the consequence of not knowing, not finding meaning. Curiosity is the fear of this consequence. He is mistaken. That is why, around here, we are not worried"
"I think i see your point."

As I walked along the street towards the place I call home, I saw the joyously lit christmas trees in the houses of my neighbours, and the flashing "Merry Christmases" and the "Happy new years" in their windows. They served to somewhat brighten up the gloom.

But I had an objection.

"That still does not address his point. He is convinced that the curious mind in quest for meaning will be led to the conclusion that there is no meaning, and all consequence is arbitrary. And if all consequence is arbitrary, including the consequence of not finding purpose, then surely there is nothing to fear. And as per the contract you folks have with him, that leads me to him."

As i said this, I turned the key in my lock and entered my gloomy apartment. I dumped my bag in a corner, tore off my winter layers and got into my bedclothes as she continued..

"Ah, that is an argument he always makes. But first let me tell you what the two basic feelings are. Everything else is explained as a reaction to these. They are physical pain and meaninglessness. Man is in every way equipped to avoid the former, but the second one is harder to deal with. Not all hope is lost, though. In fact, that is why we are here - me and *him*. By the way, I hope you are in bed now. I will put you to sleep."

"Physical pain and pointlessness - pleasure and purpose, interesting counterpoints". I closed my tired eyes, and the angel whispered a lullaby.

"Sleep in peace tonight", she crooned, as I started drifting off to sleep.
"Who are you?", I asked, with the final dregs of consciousness that I could muster.
"You still don't know?"

"I am the meaning of your life"


J. Alfred Prufrock said...

The first part was better. This one goes the Kahlil Gibran way.


Heh Heh said...

JAP: agreed. part of us is revolted by what the other part has produced.

Falstaff said...

I thought the start of this one was promising, but then it didn't really work - it didn't sound like the second side had any real argument to make. I think the real counterpoint to the argument in the first part is that fear is not a rational emotion - if anything the apprehension of a total lack of meaning is likely to be a fairly angst / fear ridden event, simply because human thought is used to thinking of existence and purpose together. Ironically, the best way to achieve the abandonment of fear may be to go the other way - inhabit a Panglossian reality where all that happens is for the best - the kind of thing the Bhagavad Gita would have you believe

Heh Heh said...

falstaff: i think the Gita would have us believe that consequence is beyond our control - it is only duty that matters, and it is duty that lends meaning (an eminently contestable point, I agree). there is no hoping for the best outcome involved. you can contrast this with abrahamic religions where all the consequence are defined (even in the after-life) in terms of physical pain or physical pleasure.

as to why we search for meaning, that is an essential part of the human condition, in every way similar to the search for pleasure.

since the sources of pleasure are external to us, perhaps it is possible that meaning is not to be searched within, there are *external* things - professions, people, passions that lend meaning to our lives.

this might be self evident to you, but it was not to me.

sa re ga ma said...

I once heard a philosopher say that it was difficult to find happiness within one's self, but impossible to find it anywhere else...

Maybe, realizing the pointlessness of life, we try to fix our happiness/ meaning of life on an external person/ habit/ art/ whatever, trying to appear to be on top of it all. But, all said and done - what is the point?!!!

Heh Heh said...

that there is no point is an inescapable conclusion, is it not? Hence the whole thing about the possibility of external meaning. for if there is no possibility of meaning, why even care to live?

ina said...

meaning or no meaning, life comes down to simple and easy steps that everyone can follow: sleeping, eating, defecating, sleeping, eating...
(haha, "happiness lies in small things" indeed..)
you don't have to care to live, you just do it.

But was this whole post somehow supposed to lead to your conclusion about the lack of meaning in life (or about the role of/need for religion)? Why a western perspective?
There is a lot to be said about other sorts of believers and disbelievers, who don't fit in the little stories of *him* and 'the alternative guy'.

sa re ga ma said...

Hi - Sorry for the late reply! Got around to checking this post/ comments only now.

The thing is - we are living, whether or not we care! Our birth/ existence on this planet at this point of time has nothing to do with our conscious willing! It was our parent's desire to produce their progeny that has us living and thinking here... And hence - a part of the meaning of their lives is in us. Not that of our own! I just was pointing out that leaving the meaning behind living to a point exterior of our selves, projects an image of being focused/ on top of it all.

Whether or not that is the truth depends on the extent to which every individual wants to belive in themselves/ their importance to the world. And no truth that is evident to me will ever be evident or explainable to anybody else. Nor will I be able to gain from anybody else's knowledge/ experience. Ultimately, it is a lonely existence. And the best company one can get is perhaps that of another person who recognizes that!!!

sa re ga ma said...

Hi again!
You could perhaps argue that one should take their life on realizing the meaning/ the non-existence of it.

But, can one ever know that they know the meaning/ nonexistence of it? So, I guess, as long as one is curious about the meaning, it is worth it to be alive and thinking. The instance they know for certain, they perhaps cease to want to live, and are ready to give up living. And also - people who fix the whole idea of their existence to an external thing, live a relatively non-thinking, untroubled life!

Aarjav said...

I think the culprit isn't curiosity, like you've already come to believe, it is the belief that the purpose of life can be found within just by thinking, that there is a mental holy grail that we much obtain through self analysis so that the rest of our life after we've found it will have meaning. I think there's value in self analysis but there's also value in having a little faith - faith that life does have a purpose, and that it will crystallize over time, but that to find it we need to LIVE, to try new things and meet new people. Perhaps that is what the Gita implies too, in karmanyevadhikaraste.