Daily Archives: October 31, 2011

Existential Angst

I read this post a while ago, but I read it again and something jumped out at me. It was his comment about how according to theists, atheist have no purpose in life. Of course he counters it by saying that atheists feel the same about the “big questions” that everyone else does: 
Finally, Gutting is correct that many people need convincing that atheists can have fulfilling lives… but then treats that like it should be a grand philosophical project, which is bizarre. A more natural approach is to find some atheists who can say, “Hey! Over here! I have a fulfilling life!” Luke Muehlhauser is excellent on this: 
When I was a Christian, I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like be an atheist. From what my parents and pastors told me, I imagined it would feel like an aching hole in my stomach, a purposeless sadness in my chest, and a taste of cardboard in my mouth. Of course, I was asking the wrong people. I should have asked some atheists what it felt like. 
The truth is that atheists feel pretty much the same as everybody else. We feel happy and sad, excited and bored, nervous and peaceful, ashamed and proud, lonely and connected, horny and disgusted, transcendent and confused and small and breathless. 
This reminds me of something I wrote in a journal about four years ago. I titled it “existential angst”. That musing of mine I can honestly say was a precursor to my more recent post God Has No Reason For His Existence. Here it is in total, with my profound profanity and all (redacted to hide personal names though): 
So I've been thinking… about my thinking. Meta-thinking, to coin a neologism. My thinking, most of which before I started this journal, the thinking that kept (and keeps) me up at night besides my daily troubles are thoughts about existence. Excogitating just why… the… FUCK… there is something rather than nothing.

Not believing in god, existence is simply an axiom. It is THE fundamental axiom. And if I believed in a god, the question of existence, and therefore that fundamental axiom, would simply be pushed back one peg. In other words, all of this existential pondering equally applies to a theistic or atheistic universe. Even though existence is axiomatic (whether it's the universe's or god's), axioms should still be questioned… but I'm starting to think that the questioning of some axioms is an exercise in insanity. For instance, what happens when you start to question why 1 + 1 = 2? There are some fundamental axioms that everyone accepts when they read that.

“Of course 1 with another 1 will give you 2. What the fuck are you on about?!” Well what do you mean by “1”? What do you mean by “+”? What do you mean by “=”? What do you mean by “2”? We assume that we're talking about first grade math, and not binary… so therefore, 1 + 1 = 2 would be wrong in a binary paradigm. 1 + 1 in binary is 10. What about if it were in a programing language? While the answer is the same, the methodology arrived at is different. 1 + 1 = 2 basically says that “1 + 1 contains 2”.

In the military, my first deeply existential excogitational exegesis [ed. this isn't supposed to make sense, 'tis just alliteration for alliteration's sake] was “Who made it law that one plus one equals two?” It's a nonsense question, but basically the answer to that question is the answer to whether the universe was created or not. I mulled over that for a while before finally solidifying my “atheism” (Einsteinian pantheism). But what about the rest of it? What about what happened after 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang? The universe is fucking HUGE. What the fuck; driving from here to Virginia Beach seems like a long time when I'm speeding at like 80 mph, but if it were possible for me to travel at the speed of light (3 * 108 meters / sec, or 186,000 miles per second) it would take me:

  1. 8 minutes to get to the sun
  2. 4 years to get to the nearest star
  3. A couple million years to get to the other side of the galaxy (did you know that “gala” is greek for milk?)
  4. A couple BILLION years to go from one part of the visible universe to the other.
Imagine how long it would take me to drive to the sun only going a measly 80 mph. In other words, like I said before, the universe is goddamn HUGE.

What is all of this space for? It ain't for life, because 99.9% of the universe is hostile to life. There's a whole sea of quantum potentiality in space, none of it affords the possibility of life any time soon. So we're in this sandbox, that stretches for miles and miles as far as the eye can see, and it's only us in it. What the fuck, man. Running with the “sand” analogy, if the Earth were a GRAIN of sand – just ONE GRAIN of sand – the Solar System would be like the Pacific ocean.

Imagine that.

And what about “life” anyway? What's the point? Even if god exists, Christianity is true and Jesus and Satan are having a poker match over our souls… so what? Still – what's the point? We play the holier-enough game to get into heaven and spend trillionstrillions of years singing kumbaya and […]. What was the point of it all? Like I said before, putting a “god” in the equation does nothing for the answer – it only pushes the question back further.

Why do we live? We eat, sleep, fuck, and die. This has been getting to me more and more as “globalization” keeps happening. You see more stories of people getting fucked over and/or dying at an alarmingly random rate. I get older and my inexorable mortality comes into my mind more and more. I could finish writing this post and then a meteor hits me in the head as I leave my house to go out drinking and die. What will the purpose of my life have been? What, when I'm a grain of sand on a grain of sand? WTF mate.

So that's my problem. I understand the vastness of the universe and my place in it. “Insignificant, am I?” to quote Nevermore. This is existential angst, and not some teenage angst about […]. I not only see the forest instead of the trees, I see the surrounding areas and cities, the construction trucks coming to plow down the forest because some rich tycoon overseas wants his little piece of the pie to inflate his ego. He's inflating his ego and fattening up his wallet so that he'll have enough money to run for the most powerful position in the world to be able to wage his own personal war on some other country that has what he wants. But wouldn't it be nice to just ignore all that for a second, look at the forest for what it is – a whole bunch of trees – select an awesome tree like “Hey, this tree is fucking awesome, I'm gonna take a nap under it” and just chill for a spill?

That's why, I think, I occupy myself with other things. Dancing. Drinking. Playing guitar. Writing music. Listening to music. Working out. […]. Randomly searching the internet for more information on just whateverthefuck I happen to land on. These little things don't matter in the grand scheme of the universe, just like that tree doesn't matter at all to something like the War on Terror, or the fact that in 5 billion years the sun is gonna run out of its hydrogen fuel and swell up like a big fat pimple on prom night, searing away the Earth's atmosphere destroying all life on the planet… but… where was I?

Oh yeah, the little things in life. It's the little things in life that we have to carry on about. Kinda like the Principle of Mathematical Induction. A whole bunch of little things can take on (maybe) the one big thing. Make it all bearable. An axiom of mine – whenever I get asked “what's the purpose of life” the answer has always been simple. The purpose of life is to live. It's an axiom, just like existence is an axiom. 1 + 1 = 2 isn't itself an axiom, but it's about as basic a mathematical axiom as it gets. Don't let Godel hear about that, though.

The purpose of life is to live. It's both insanely profound and incredibly simplistic, while at the same time answering nothing. Tautological. “Existence Precedes Essense” to quote some motherfuckers older than me. But… critical thinking, folks – what does it mean to live, in that axiom? The fuck do I know – that's up to you. It's like life is a 10 billion dollar check you find on the street made out to you personally (nevermind that this analogy about life presupposes that you live… but whatever). What do you do with your 10 billion dollars?

I dunno, but fuck it – I'm gonna go take a nap under that tree. In other words, it's 9 pm, Thursday, and I'm gonna go out drinking and dancing… maybe see [S].

It's probably not the answer tha atheists look for when trying to rebut the Christian claim of feeling meaninglessness in an atheistic worldview, but here it is. Of course, I think Christians also cleave to a meaningless existence when the entire purpose of their lives seems to be following a god who cannot have any meaning for its existence, as I argue in that previous post. Like I said, we're in the same boat. So we should probably choose the life and worldview that will give us the most joy and fulfillment in this life while minimizing as many empty promises as possible.

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Posted by on October 31, 2011 in atheism

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