24 January 2024

To be or not to be?... a fun question!

Icarus: Is there any meaning to life? Is it not just about birth and death with the middle part being a period of procrastinating on the death part?

Daedalus: Well maybe, but the way I see it, death is worth delaying as much as possible. Are you thinking of opting out?

Icarus: No, not at all. But it is fun to question the meaning of existence. And in that vein, if the fun of life ends with death, what’s the point?

 Daedalus: Hmm, sounds like the argument of an ex-lover who challenged me with the question: ‘What was the point of our relationship if it was simply going to end?’ I contest her assessment that an ended relationship is a waste. Beginnings and ends are inevitable, it doesn’t make the bit in the middle “a waste.” Birth and death are like two tasteless crackers around a lump of tasty cheese. Like two bookends around a long shelf of fascinating books. Like the title credits and end credits that bracket a film. Like the two sheets in which you find your favourite bedmate of the moment. The meaning of life is what we put into it, what we make of the part between the beginning and the end.

Icarus: Yeah, but what’s the point if the middle all disappears at the end? What is the purpose of fun if it ends? If there was a roller-coaster that you could ride but at the end of the ride you forgot about the pleasure it gave you, would you bother riding it?

Daedalus: Yep, I’d ride it even if I ‘forgot’ all about it at the end – just as I would ride it if at the end I disappeared into oblivion and there was no “I” to do the remembering. The enjoyment I experience in the middle is its own end. Life has no meaning other than what you make of it. Why not make it enjoyable?

Icarus: Well good point. But what if you don’t have control over what you get – which arguably you don’t. What if the roller-coaster was not fun? What if it is in fact a torture device – which is not far off what some people think of roller-coasters? What if it is a vile ride and you come out the end in pain.

Daedalus: Life is risky. We make choices. Some outcomes are good, some are bad, and some choices return a bit of both. Over the passage of time – if we survive the bad choices – we will hopefully learn to make choices that return more pleasure than pain.

Icarus: You’re talking about the roller-coaster ride as one of multiple events in life. What if the roller-coaster ride is the whole of your life. Once you board it, you can’t get off it. Given that scenario, what if at the end of the ride you end up with more pain than pleasure? Is it a roller-coaster ride you would board if you knew the final outcome, the final balance, was negative? If death erases what is in the middle, and the middle is pain, then surely death is welcomed?

Daedalus: Hmm, good question and the roller-coaster is a good metaphor for life. Lots of ups and downs, whether you howl with pleasure or pain is really up to you. Ultimately, we choose life hoping it will be pleasurable while having to accept that some parts – and even much of it – may be painful. We learn to accept that the world is not always going to be the way we would wish it to be. In particular, the distribution of ups and downs across people does not seem at all ‘reasonable’ or ‘just’. Some people get an abundance of pleasure, others an abundance of pain. Most of us get a mixture. Most of us aspire to be like those who appear to have a life filled entirely with pleasure. And most of us console ourselves that they too almost certainly have a portion pain in their life.

Icarus: But what you’re really saying then is we have to accept what is coming to us in life. Do we really have a choice? How can you love a life that you don’t get to choose? What if you are visited by a demon who tells you that you have lived this life before. All of it. In particular, he reminds you that each pain-point has been lived before, you’ve already experienced it all. He tells you that there is more to come. You will re-live your life exactly as you did last time. Again and again and again ad infinitum. So, can you embrace that life now? Are you willing to stay in that game if suffering is the bulk of your experience? What if you are Sisyphus, condemned to push a rock up the hill only to watch it roll down again, and required to push it up again? Why do that?

Daedalus: Tough question, but I think we do strive to love that life, the life we get. It is useful to point out however, that the demon is an unreliable informant, even evil. He’s setting you to think about the worst-case scenario which may or may not be so. Will be there some pleasure in it? Will it be like the lives of most people – some pleasure, some pain? Probably. So to hell with the demon, to hell with his focus on the miserable moments of our existence. Even in your scenario of reliving the same life over and over, we don’t know what the future holds. So it is with this life – whether it recurs eternally or not. We seem to be built to rely on hope offsetting our fears.

Icarus: Maybe, but aging is losing in some way. Every step taken is a one step closer to death!

Daedalus: Oh the irony – to be schooled in the challenges of aging by the young! But yes, you’re right, and the irony runs even deeper. You see, the greatest challenge is that just as I think I’ve grasped the idea of living the best life with what I have, I find myself with a little less – less hearing, less taste, less vision, less energy, etc -- and once again striving to live the best life with what I have. Maybe it is the striving itself that is what makes life worth living.

Icarus: So your response to 'one step closer to death' is to embrace it, make that step count, step up, step out -- even if actively towards death?

Daedalus: Precisely. If I have the freedom to choose – and it feels like I do – then I choose to live my life to the fullest that I can. I choose life, I choose to be – until I can’t. Perhaps the ultimate act of free will is to accept that eventually, I will not be at all. Or perhaps I might even choose not to be, the "one truly serious philosophical question" according to Camus.

Icarus: You’re not thinking of opting out are you?

Daedalus: Fear not. It is fun to explore the meaning – or lack of meaning – of existence. So I remain in no hurry to get to the final act – notwithstanding the downhill slide. I plan to hang around until the end comes along and enjoy myself in the interim.


Extra Readings

To become mature is to have regained the seriousness one had as a child at play.
-- Nietzsche

Nihilism vs Existentialism: https://study.com/learn/lDaedaluson/nihilism-vs-existentialism.html

Eternal Recurrence / Eternal Return: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_return

The Myth of Sisyphus, and “the one truly serious philosophical problem… is suicide”: https://www2.hawaii.edu/~freeman/courses/phil360/16.%20Myth%20of%20Sisyphus.pdf

Life is for striving, not achieving: https://3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2024/01/against-self-improvement-the-negative-capability-of-everyday-life.html

Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life...
-- Mark (Rentboy) Renton, Trainspotting


No comments:

Post a Comment