The Meaning(s) of Life

(August 27, 2011)

In my 24 years of life (I am newly 24 and it feels pretty cool to stress this) I have developed some very powerful thoughts and feelings and opinions on a wide variety of topics, on life in general, and I think that they could be of significant use to people—a lot of people. I want to address some of the things that I’ve come to consider to be the highest glories and honorable pursuits in this endlessly fascinating and beautiful world that we all inhabit. I genuinely believe that my thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, habits, passions, and beliefs could really have a significant impact on the world if I could somehow positively reach out to enough people (in fact, this happens to be one of the pursuits that I consider to be most meaningful). If these thoughts and feelings at least provoke some insightful thoughts then I have succeeded in the major (reasonable) portion of what I have set out to do. But I hope that people might be even more deeply affected and thoughtful of these ideas that I’ve come to cherish, as I have been so deeply affected and thoughtful in developing them. Then maybe they will adopt some of them for themselves, and help to spread them even further. I want to infect the world.

So what is it that makes a life meaningful? Admirable accomplishments? The sum of positive influences on others? The depths of love shared with a significant other? Fame and fortune? Carefree enjoyment of “life’s little things?” Uncompromising respect and diplomacy? The successful raising of offspring? The sum of overall happiness? The degree of positive reflection of one’s own life upon one’s deathbed? Simply being alive?

The problem, at its root, is that people vary by so many degrees, and even the most generic qualities generally favored by a set of people, even a very large set of people, very likely differ greatly among all of the other sets of people of the world. Is there any one “quality” that absolutely everyone can agree on? The most “common sense” and generic among them comes to mind, to me at least, such as kindness and compassion and respect and reciprocity, but even these seem to have their exceptions—acts of random brutality and senseless violence and just your typical jerk throw such potentially universal qualities into the air and so none can really offer an existing true universal standard for some “ultimate meaning.” There is no universal meaning in this sense. But each of these “generic qualities” might represent the highest honor to any small or vast number of people, and none of them are necessarily wrong, although some are harder sought-after and harder fought against than others, for any number of reasons and from any number of beliefs. I think the search has to focus on particular sets of people if one is to demonstrate any meaningful evidence of a deeply-rooted meaning, but that doesn’t mean that the ultimate goal of all people shouldn’t be any number of highly praised and proven-effective traits (as proven-effective as they can be in this crazy world).

And this is the stance that I feel so strongly that I must take. I will argue for those habits and beliefs and pursuits and qualities which I feel are crucial to the continued overall and most diplomatically beneficial success of humankind and which would, if adopted by absolutely every person in the world, make life as beautiful and as meaningful and as productive as it has any reason to be. I cannot hardly hope to influence everybody, but every single person positively affected by my sharing of these thoughts and feelings (not only by these writings but by my physical presence) will be a step in the right direction. And that’s something. This is one of my own primary goals in life. And I believe it should be yours as well. It could be everybody’s.

The problem with pushing ahead anyway with sharing your deeply cherished values and habits and beliefs, regardless of the masses of people who are likely to disagree and possibly even demoralizingly demonstrate their disagreement, is that those who do not see things the same way are very likely to take advantage of one’s uncompromising determination to exhibit such treasures of behavior. You, for instance, might want nothing more (as I do) than to share in the glorious benefits of a mutual, meaningful connection of thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams, but another person might see this for its vulnerability to advantage, and reap it accordingly. Reciprocity, for instance, is a very, very easy thing to fake on a person who is so willing and eager to believe that another person is genuine in their displays of generosity. This is most unfortunate, to put it lightly, but, well, it is what it is. With any luck the numbers of such people will gradually dwindle as the light of better ways shines upon them and induce positive change and, under ideal circumstances, their kind are relentlessly removed from the populace as everybody else ceases to procreate with them (crazy, huh?). There are just so many people and so many sets of beliefs to consider, and they are going to clash for as long as they remain as they are. But there is one virtue which I believe, above all else, is inherent to absolutely every person on the planet.

Because the mere fact that you exist and have the ability to wonder at such things at all is, I believe, the most fundamental, intrinsic value of all—you exist, and it is not by your own will. By the time you are able to formulate the thoughts that probe into such depths as to why you are here, or what it all means, or other such generic inquiries, you have already come into being and have lived some span of time in which the development of your biological existence blossomed, and you had no choice in the matter. Once such questions can even be imposed, you are alive, and you have a basis of experience. I think that this fact alone represents the most bare, essential values to your existence. You simply exist! Your parents spawned you into being, whether it was done with this specific intention or merely the result of a satisfaction of a spontaneous desire on some fateful day. But you exist because of this base act, regardless of its intentions, and because of the nature of life to succeed and flourish. Disregarding all other things, you simply have become a part of this world, and you eventually (I hope) realized the implications of this fact. Every single person able to read this and every single person who is able to wonder at the same deep-rooted questions owes this ability to this simple fact. I find it fascinating that, up until some relative age (I think it’s usually a few years, at least—I am no expert on the matter) you are utterly at the mercy of your own natural development (of course aided by your parents and/or other caregivers). This initial biological development and “learning period” is very long with us humans, as we are helpless on our own for so long, but it is entirely worth the struggle, considering all that we are able to understand and influence and shape to our will by the end of it. No other species comes anywhere near our own abilities—both physically and mentally. This is a treasure we take for granted. Let’s really see it for what it is so that we can all make the most of it, and of what each other has to offer.

So, given your natural biological growth, you will not have had the chance to meaningfully evaluate the merits of your own life (or anyone else’s) until a certain point in time where your thoughts and experiences have become complex enough to grasp such an idea. Until the first time you have understood and grasped the concepts of suicide and murder you have had no conscious control over your own growth and development, and those of others. From this pivotal point onward you have obtained the willful choice to influence your own life in the most substantial way of all—because you now understand how you could end it (not to condone such a thought in any way). This idea merely sets up the point in which you first have some direct control over the future of your own life, and the lives of others, by conscious consideration and understanding of what is truly at stake and how your own free will has ultimate power over this.

So, needless to say, the overwhelmingly vast majority of people “choose life” over the “alternative.” Because life is—there is nothing more basic and fundamental. Life is the crux of everything. You didn’t choose it. You just eventually developed a consciousness powerful enough to at last understand the concepts of what constitutes your life and your physical surroundings and your relative thoughts and feelings and how you are an integral part of everything that you have come to influence, and will continue to influence. Deeply rooted in this idea, difficult to put accurate words into is my belief that everything matters to each of us simply because we are alive. It doesn’t matter to what extreme one “is living”—someone in the deepest, most tragic and sorrow-filled rut is not so different from someone on the highest, most respected pillar of success and admiration. Both live, breathe, think, feel, and interact by their own will with the world and their individual surroundings, and have an impact based on these interactions. Both are made up of the same fundamental bits of matter, of organs and tissues and cells and DNA. The differences result mostly from the depths of the genetics and mindsets of each person, and the specific interactions within each person’s physical location and in the specific ways in which they have influences on their surroundings and the other people included within. The pursuits of fundamental meaning are extremely subjective to each individual’s experience, and those values which are most commonly shared among everybody have that much more weight to their arguments because they are, to some degree, realized independently time and time again. These values are the most primal, and the most valuable, and most worth consideration and adoption.

They say that we share 94 percent of our genes with chimps, our closest biological relatives. Needless to say, that slight difference accounts for practically everything that we hold so dear to ourselves and tend to take for granted because our nature simply is our nature. But if we share 94 percent of our genetic makeup with even the most generic, dull chimpanzee (dull relative to the most generic human), consider how similar the genetic makeup is of two human beings, even the two most seemingly unique among us. In this sense I believe so strongly that there is no powerful reason why any two people can’t get along and connect on every possible deep level. (Of course, the complexities which derive from that other six percent lead to vast emotional differences which, understandably, lead to disagreements… but still.) Differences, and disagreements, between us should only reinforce meaning and connection. We can embrace these trivial differences and learn from each other, inspire each other, benefit each other, and embrace the presence of every single other human being on the planet. Because there is nothing else, absolutely nothing else roaming upon this enormous planet, with over 1.7 million species already identified, which can even come close to the possibilities that are laid bare at the ground between the feet of any two humans anywhere.

In this day and age, with the advent of so much technology making possible the exchange and sharing of information and feelings with practically everybody on the planet (via the internet, most powerfully), it’s much easier to be influenced by the thoughts and feelings of other people than it ever has been, some of whom you might never even meet. But the influence is real, and effective, and has impact no less. Another thing that fascinates me is the depth of conversation and mutual understanding you can have with a person with whom you’ve only ever shared information over wireless communications delivered through sets of ones and zeros. Yet they can touch your lives perhaps almost as much as anyone else can (although this will not generally be the case, as the value of personal, face-to-face communication is arguably most powerful because of the inherent benefits of a personal connection, complete with facial expressions and other body languages, right there in front of you). But, undeniably, the values of such never-personal-space-oriented connections are growing as we grow more comfortable with the possibilities of long-distance communications. All but the benefits of actually seeing a face in the physical space in front of you, and the joy of touch, can be satisfied in this way.

Whittled down to the most fundamental levels, a person’s actions only represent some complex factorization of what they wish to impose on their surroundings, and what they hope to gain from such interactions. Because every decision, every act, boils down to the rationalization of whatever outcomes one deems most beneficial, for whatever reasons. You hear people say all the time “I never wanted this to happen.” But, based on their decisions (assuming an effective set of reasoning, which I think there almost always is) they weighed the pros and cons and any undesired circumstances were either unaccounted for or were simply the unfortunate result(s) of their ultimate goal, which is the result that they wanted. There are probably going to be some “good” and “bad” results, as consequences, but some calculation was made in the attempt to make the “good” results balanced more in their own favor. And, of course, some people are more successful (or just sometimes lucky) at actually achieving a more all-around “good” result than others.  (This includes the gratification of a seemingly “selfless” decision, which brings favor upon yourself if only because of your own appreciation and the hopes for others’ appreciations, of having made such a “selfless” act. In this sense I don’t think any action is ever entirely truly “selfless” although the bare attempt at its root can be extremely admirable. There must have been something, no matter how trivial in comparison to the ultimate goal, which you desired to gain.)

In general, a person is going to pursue what makes them happy. They are going to pursue what gives them that warm, fuzzy feeling inside, what tickles their fancy and what makes the world glow in its inherent beauty in their eyes. Everyone (or so I believe) wants to see the world glow in its inherent beauty. But the things that make the world glow in its inherent beauty are more of those things that vary so greatly among so many numbers of people in the world. For this reason it’s extremely important to seek out and connect with the people who share in similar interests, so that the things that make each of you happy can be sought out together and then is this regard efficiency is multiplied. On the other hand, it’s also worth pursuing people who only share a vague sense of appreciation because these are the people with whom you can learn and experience things based on only thin strands of similar pursuits of happiness and in this way the potential to benefit from unexpected gains is most possible. Your sets of friends should include not only those with whom you share most, if not all, of your deepest thoughts and feelings, but also those with whom you share just enough of the fundamental pursuits to appreciate the vast differences between each other. With an effective ratio between these two generic categories, so much of what the world has to offer your mind is within the reach of mutual pursuit. Just as there is strength in shared interests, there is also strength in conflicting interests (in which case respect largely sets apart the conflicting interests which result only in negative conflict from the conflicting interests which result in positive progress). With this in mind, pursue what makes you happy, and pursue such things with both those who share with you most closely and those who share with you just closely enough to constructively show you, and themselves, alternate routes.

The similarities of interests between people are some of the most obvious benefits of a meaningful pursuit. You can live your entire life locked away within the confines of your own mind, your own thoughts—endlessly evaluating your surroundings and forming your own judgments of them—but without sharing any of this with another person, what value would these thoughts hold at the bitter end of it all? If absolutely nobody was ever let on to what you think and feel about this life and all of its wonderful complexities, then what lasting effect will you have had on the world? …Practically none. You will die, utterly alone in your deepest beliefs, thoughts and feelings. And so I believe that one of the primary “meanings” of life is to share your deepest thoughts and feelings, your interests and your beliefs, your passions, your motives, your ideas, your most cherished hopes and dreams, with those who mean the most to you and who will cherish these luxuries to their fullest potential and help to pass them on even further. Perhaps it is silly to suggest that a person might willingly (for some reason) not share in such a way at all (without being, say, locked in a basement for your entire life I don’t think this is even possible), but the idea is to stress that such a sharing should be pursued as often as possible. During our lives, this is what spreads our influences in and among others, who will then be able to share their own deepest thoughts and feelings and passions with us in return and with still others, and after our lives, this is still what spreads our influences, in and among others, who will then be able to share their own deepest thoughts and feelings and passions about us and create some sort of legacy of us. People need to be able to realize and to understand your accomplishments for you to have a truly lasting impact. And for this, people need to understand and share in your efforts and your thoughts while you are still establishing them. They can (and should) provide you with the constructive criticisms and praises and encouragements and companionships which are so helpful. And so your friends and your loved ones are of upmost importance, in this regard, as they are the ones best suited to understand you and your intentions and to pass them on in a meaningful, accurate portrayal. Only then, I believe, will you truly live on after your time on this Earth has come and gone. Leave a powerful legacy with which everyone in your life (and everyone else not directly in your life) can share and glean meaningful insight from.

This isn’t to suggest that the fame and fortune of your peers are necessarily the prime factors of a meaningful life. But think of all the history classes that you’ve ever taken—how many people are addressed by name and by significance in these studies, compared to the number of people who were actually living at the time—a tiny, miniscule fraction of the total, at best. And that isn’t to suggest that those not documented were any less important, but only to suggest that those not documented are not actively remembered by the default teachings. And it may be entirely true that certain people would have preferred not having their name and their deeds passed along; this is not demonstrably wrong, but it does speak of the limits that their lasting impact can have. Some people may simply not want such a lasting impact, which is entirely up to them, of course, but such a decision comes with its share of benefits and consequences (as does every decision) and choosing, willingly, not to have this sort of lasting impact is going to have its own relative consequences (such as not being remembered by large numbers of people). But there are any numbers of reasons to desire this less-obvious outcome, and so I’m not degrading such thoughts intentionally. I’m only putting forth a rather simplified argument for the value in recognition at the end of it all, because such is the way that any person who ever crossed your path is going to remember you in any meaningful way. Your worldly significance is very heavily dependent on your impact, and the depths thereof, and of these depths being shared with and by others. (It strikes me that it’s probably worth mentioning that any person not mentioned in “popular history” such as textbooks and biographies were not necessarily any less important to their closer families and friends—and this is certainly meaningful in its own way, in all likelihood even more so, individually, even if it is on a much smaller scale. But why not mix the deepest recognitions of your treasured family and friends with more of the rest of the world?)

So it’s important to make a noticeable impact, on any scale, and this impact should be in the positive light that you wish to be seen by others. Because memories and documentations are the means by which absolutely everything that ever happened is set in stone. Even the most diligently journalistic accounts are subject to some degree of interpretation and bias, but the most faithful will provide as detailed a summary as possible. Ideally, everyone will portray you in just the positive light that you deserve, but realistically, only those that you shared the deepest connections with, and vice versa, will portray you in the positive light that you really deserve. And it can be extremely difficult to realize these deepest connections for what they really are at the time of connection. Sometimes it is only after some dramatic event that you realize that you had been mistaken all along in your belief that a certain person really was one of these deepest connections. For example, if any of your “true” friends lost touch with you simply because they entered into a relationship and their interest was pulled entirely elsewhere, then this “true” friendship wasn’t really “true” after all, it only seemed “true” because you indulged some passion of theirs while they had “nothing better” to seek out. And once they did, you were pushed to the curb. This wasn’t a “true friend,” it was just “a friend.” It’s difficult to tell the two apart unless all variables are already involved. I point this out because it has become a recent realization of mine. I believe, deep in my core, that any “true” friend will still make time for you, will still pursue the connections that were always abundant, even in the face of the future they have established with a significant other. I think that this is perhaps the most evident telling of how deep a friendship really is, because the stakes do not get any higher.

So your deepest friendships will stand out among the rest, over time. They will weather the “burdens” of added interests, added pursuits, added complications, and all other added variables. Those that withstand the tolls are the ones most worth your fullest devotion in all ways that most meaningfully develop these deepest connections. So be careful, be analytical, and always give your fullest to the ones that invoke such desires. Make sure to keep the flames of these friendships brightly lit, even when you find yourself to be the one being drawn in other directions by the pursuits of romance and other friendships and other pursuits. Hold on to the ones that you feel strongly for. Don’t let them fall to the wayside simply because you have found your significant other with whom to share every last nook and cranny of your life with. Your friends still need you, and you still need them, even if you feel like you have everything you need in this one romantic partner. Because I don’t think that this is ever truly the case—it just is easy to feel this way while you are overcome with romantic notions. It’s easy to feel like this connection is all that you need. But it will surely fade to some degree over time, and you will then realize that you still desire the friendships that you so carelessly cast aside.

My strongest argument for this idea, that no one connection is ever all that you need (even in the most beauty-filled, admirable example of “true love”), is for when, unfortunately, this relationship ultimately fails (and even when it never does, but this is much less dramatic). This is when people tend to come crawling back to the friendships they had previously been so willing to push far off to the side, because once again they have nothing better to spend their time pursuing. And I don’t mean to demean the help and encouragement that such a person needs during such troubling times, but only mean to stress the trueness that this behavior represents. Because where were you to them when things were going so well for them? On the curb. You shouldn’t be left on the sidelines only when things are going well for someone. You should be intertwined into their life in all of the most beautiful and meaningful ways regardless of the depths of their love life. I’m just trying to point out that things don’t ever need to be so fluctuating based on a person’s “relationship status.” Ideally, the status of their romantic relationship should not affect the relationship between the two of you in any substantial way. Of course it’s going to be affected in some way. They only have so much time to devote. But still. Whatever the case, this speaks immensely of how much you really mean to this person (and, in turn, how much they should really mean to you).

You should be as accommodating as you can, however. They may yet come around. There is a “fairy-tale” period to most relationships. But it won’t last forever. When things settle down, hopefully you will resurface in their interests. Just don’t be a hopelessly optimistic fool (as I am starting to feel like I have been).

It should be obvious that this argument goes both ways. You should not over-devote yourself to the point where you have lost contact with most, if not all, of your precious friends simply because you’ve found a romantic partner willing to spend all of your waking (and non-waking) moments with. Of course this romance is going to take up a significant portion of your time and your thoughts, but that never needs to mean that you completely drop others to make room. They will be lessened in their allotted time, these friendships, understandably, but they can still be pursued, nourished, and reinforced ever-further. They will recognize and appreciate whatever new level of commitment you are willing to put forth for them, if you do so whole-heartedly and if they are, in turn, true friends themselves. It will sort itself out for the best combinations if everyone involved is genuine in their worth. There is true beauty and meaning on display here.

So cherish your friendships, and your loved ones, and keep a strong, meaningful balance between these loved ones and your friends. In turn, your friends and your loved ones will always be there for you—simultaneously, ideally. And even in the deepest ruts, your friends and acquaintances should not lose any value to you. The deepest ruts are caused, sometimes, by things entirely outside of a person’s control—it might not be their fault that they’ve taken such a mighty fall. Help them. Figure out what has happened, and do your best to figure out what might help to set them back on the right path. Don’t leave them on the curb simply because they’ve fallen out of your favor, or because you feel like they left you on the curbside. Between deeply-cherished friends, such a feeling is probably a miscommunication because of the natural tendencies to bias your own pursuits and feelings to yourself. But a friend in a deep rut does not have this luxury anymore—they can’t just cut off ties that have seemed to become downtrodden. To them everyone else seems up trodden. They need friendship, they need companionship and encouragement, and just because they’ve developed hermit-like habits and seem to recede within themselves more often than they used to should not repel you from what you should willingly accept as friendly duty. There is a reason for this behavior. You can find it. You can be there for them in their time of need, even if you have “other” things to look after. With overwhelming likelihood they just need some devoted time and comfort and some encouragement from the friends that they hold so dear. So I want to make the strongest argument that I possibly can that you should set aside your own convictions and your own loose judgments and the things in your life that are, when you are not carefully considering other variables, absorbing the vast majority of your time. Who is anyone to determine who is or isn’t deserving of this? Your most cherished pursuits are no more valuable than the most cherished pursuits that another person is so tragically longing for, but lacks the means to pursue because they require cooperation. The difference is, most likely, that you have such pursuits right there in front of you, while they do not. They need you, need to know that you still care and are there for them.

You know that ultra-generic slogan/phrase, “What Would Jesus Do?” Well it has its place because in so many cases the “right” and the most “diplomatic” and “accepting” and “loving” thing to do is almost completely absent from what is actually done. You should be able to approach a complete stranger (or an actual friend, for that matter) and, assuming genuine intentions on your own part, receive genuine intentions in return on their part. And, of course, flipped around, you should be able to be approached by some strange person (or an actual friend) and, again assuming genuine intentions on your own part, receive genuine intentions from their part—because this is how people should interact. Because who should really care what this other person is wearing or what color their hair is or how rugged they look or what kind of car they drive or the condition of the house they live in or who their friends are or how deep of an emotional rut they’re in or any such knowledge you may think you have of their situation? Your relationship with any one person should be governed by the individual experiences you have with them, and very little (if anything) else. Don’t worry about second-hand stories you’ve heard passed around or silly assumptions based on fleeting glimpses of the way they live, dress, or behave. Give them the chance they deserve. The deepest, most cherished friendships you could ever hope to find could be buried within the sorts of people you habitually casually dismiss because of some shallow halfhearted reason.

Imagine Jesus himself sitting at a campfire with a few of his “best friends.” Now imagine yourself, or some other rugged, awkward, insecure person (not that you’re necessarily rugged, awkward and insecure) wandering up to the circle in search of some warmth and companionship. Do you not imagine Jesus scooting over to give you (him/her) a seat? Do you not imagine Jesus opening his heart and his mind to this person, not only willing but eager to hear this person’s story? It wouldn’t matter what this story is. If it’s a good-natured story full of praise and accomplishment, then this person can expect complete and absolute appreciation, and maybe some still-further helpful advice. If it’s a sorrow-filled, unfortunate story full of tragedy and crushed dreams, then this person can expect sympathy, empathy, and utter encouragement in its truest form enough to help them get set on a more fulfilling, successful path (if they have the capacity to see it this way). Whether or not you believe in Jesus as a genuine person, and whether or not you believe that he was the biblical figure he is portrayed as in Christianity, it is undeniable that his character’s characteristics are extremely admirable and praiseworthy. I try not to impose the religious idea of Jesus on people who most likely are not willing to see things this way, but even so, such a person can replace “Jesus” with some other name representing a person with the similar qualities but devoid of all heavenly traits. Such a person could still exist. Whether or not you accept it to be Jesus, just imagine this person. The point is, JESUS JDGAF! XD

You can be this way too. All of us can. Listen to the stories of your fellow humans. Don’t just listen, but inquire. They have untold beauties and impacts and lessons for you to glean from, whether it’s the most wildly successful story or the most deeply tragic one—no matter their trivial societal position, they have insight for you (and you have the same for them). Those lowest on this “ladder” are arguably (very powerfully arguably) the ones who have the most to share and teach to others. Those most in need of advice, and those most capable of providing such advice first-hand, have the most to gain and give. Nobody should be discounted entirely for silly, nonsense-ridden reasons (as so many are).

Knowledge is another of the pursuits that I feel is most meaningful to any—and all—of our lives. Knowledge is the means by which we understand the complexities of our wildly complex world, whether this knowledge pertains to the sociological aspects by which we interact or the scientific aspects by which nature (and, in turn, ourselves) behaves. Furthering the accumulation of our knowledge of all things is one of the ways in which our lives are continuously enriched, and there is no end as long as we keep pursuing. I don’t think that there is any person alive who could say that they’ve pursued and grasped every bit of knowledge that is out there to be understood—even the highest geniuses among us can truly understand only a fraction of what constitutes everything. There is so much!! So we are never in danger of coming upon the edge of all knowledge. A highly specialized person may very well find themselves at the edge of the current knowledge of a certain field, but if nothing else this person could always branch out to other fields. With any luck, their specialized field will encounter breakthroughs to open the floodgates of still more knowledge while they still retain these branching interests.

There is always more to learn. All other things considered equal, you have every reason to claim that every single successive day of your life is the best day of your life simply because you have more knowledge than you did on the previous day.

With the pursuits of knowledge come other concerns, however. Because it so easy to be led astray, especially when first establishing your methods and the tools of your skepticism. You can’t just believe anything you hear or read which seems to be a valid argument; whether or not it was intentional, people are prone to pass along knowledge that has not been subjected to the rigorous methods with which to weed out the nonsense from the genuinely insightful. If someone is claiming that scientists have discovered particles that travel faster than the speed of light, or that navy captains have discovered a wormhole through space-time somewhere out on the Atlantic Ocean which swallows any object thrown into it, or that a genetic study has revealed that we are actually evolved directly from turtles instead of chimps, or that a breakthrough in mathematics has revealed that two plus two really does equal five, then it is in your own best interest to respectfully withhold excitement and acceptance until you can be successfully convinced that this truly is the case (the degrees of convincing vary, of course, but I wish to stress that an undeniably accurate and worthy documentation—and demonstration, if at all likely—is crucial to satisfying any doubts you may have). The burden of proof is on the one who is making a wild claim, not on the one who is refuting it based on common knowledge. If you are the one trying to educate others of some profound discovery or idea, be prepared to stand up to any contest. And if you are the one who is trying to be convinced of some profound discovery or idea, be prepared to be skeptical of whatever it is, and probe for details. For these reasons it is extremely important to be rational in your own thought processes, so that you can winnow out the deep nonsense from the deep truths, and skeptical in your considerations of others’ thought processes, also so that you can winnow out the deep nonsense from the deep truths. Sometimes people are so caught up in a wild, hopeful idea that they may not realize how silly or simply untested it really is until you slap them with the sensible hand of skepticism. And if they really are deeply knowledgeable in the idea that they are trying to share with you, then your skepticism will only help to reinforce the truths in their claims, as they will provide you with further evidence and/or arguments, and you can rest assured that you are accepting a valid story (assuming your skeptical tactics were effective enough to filter out all doubts).

Remain intrigued by your interests, and chase them, and also keep open the opportunity to be intrigued by other interests as well, and chase these too. Stay curious! Ask questions, to others who can help provide you with the answers and to yourself and to the world in general, which you can seek out on your own. This will keep you searching for truths, hopefully challenging others as you challenge yourself, and the knowledge-bases of everyone involved will expand in turn. The knowledge base of the human race is a collective effort throughout the ages, and you can tap into this at your leisure (especially in today’s internet-filled world), and you can also branch out on your own inquiries and hopefully discover for yourself, personally, things that you might otherwise have simply looked up on a website or in a textbook. Both are valuable, but one provides the exclusive benefit of hands-on, independent discovery. So pursue your interests, and hopefully do so with companions that you respect and who respect you. Incredible discoveries wait to be known.

And, no matter what anyone says to the contrary, life is NOT short. It is the longest, most all-encompassing thing that anyone will ever experience (worldly). Comparing the span of a human lifetime to anything else but the span of a human lifetime (such as the lifespan of a giant tortoise or a redwood tree or an ecosystem or a star) is practically meaningless, because these things are not sentient or even remotely individually organically complex in the ways we are. The comparison is silly. The span of each of our lifetimes contains everything we will experience. But even with the promise of afterlife, it won’t matter how long it takes you to get there, because afterlife is eternal. So your physical presence here on Earth is, under such an argument, that much more meaningful because it is here that you will leave your mark for anyone else who is going to come along and benefit from your teachings and your experiences and all of your influences. No value is lost, if you’re looking forward to such a divine promise. Within the confines of worldly existence, nothing is lost by living longer. But everything is gained! Everything here still remains, and everything here still holds the unrivaled promise of worldly significance. So make the most of it!

The best is always yet to come, whether you believe it or not. Materialistic appreciations might make certain points in your life seem more valuable than others, certain memories might be more cherished than others, but at the root of it all, the best is always yet to come, because potential can never be overcome and your experiences and your collective knowledge can never be lessened by continued existence. There is always more to learn, more to experience, more to share, and more to appreciate. When you finally reach the end, whether or not you believe that you have still further experiences to enjoy in afterlife, the sum of your worldly life’s experiences will portray who you were, what you lived for, who you shared your time and your devotions with, and how much impact you had on the world in, hopefully, as near to its true light as is humanly possible. This is, without a doubt, one of the highest possible distinctions you can hope for—to be positively remembered, and to be influential, because of how you positively touched any number of people while you were roaming this planet. For as long as you will let it be so, the best is yet to come. Let it, the best of all, come, and let it be, always, the best it can be, as guided by your thoughts, and your feelings, and your hopes, and your dreams, and your passions, and your habits, and your pursuits, and your cherished beliefs, and your companions, and allow these companions to benefit you, and be benefitted by you, to the absolute highest gain that you can provide for each other.

And so, to sum all this up, I implore you to embrace life, simply because you have it to embrace. Life finds a way, and here you are. Simplified to its most fundamental, the meaning of life is simply to live. But contained within this notion of living are uncountable possibilities. So indulge your passions and pursue what makes you happy—establish your deepest thoughts and feelings, because these are the means by which you view and interact with the world and its inhabitants and how they view and interact with you. Connect with those who closely share your passions as well as those who share your passions only closely enough to open other further doors with you. Share your deepest thoughts and feelings with your deepest friends and loved ones (and have as many deepest friends and loved ones as you can manage), because they are the ones most capable of understanding you to your core and passing along your legacy in the most genuine ways. Work to keep your deepest friends and loved ones close to you, because they have the tendency to slip away from your grasp when the devotion is not kept up. Keep an open mind for your fellow humans, because even the most dirty, rugged, stuck-in-a-rut among them may hold treasures of companionship beyond your wildest dreams—and likewise. Jesus (being perhaps the closest possible example to a purely desirable human, even outside of true Christian beliefs) wouldn’t simply turn someone away, and neither should you.

Pursue knowledge, because knowledge is the means by which you understand the wildly complex complexities of this world and its inhabitants. Keep an open mind, but be rational and skeptical in your own pursuits and in the considerations of others’ pursuits, as it can be easy to be fooled by the seemingly-sound arguments of others (and of yourself). Stay intrigued, so that you can always count on your interests to pursue further along a set path and also to branch out on any other paths of interest you might notice along the way. Challenge yourself, intellectually, and challenge your peers as well, as this is the primary means for the collective growth of knowledge in our species. Keep on living, and keep on indulging all of these devotions, with as many as you can, for as long as you can, for utterly every last second that you can squeeze out of this life, because this life is all that there is, entirety incarnate, and as every passing moment comes and goes you will have put into it as much as you were willing to devote, and this willingness should know no bounds. The best times of your life are always ahead of you as long as you are willing to make it so. The past and present don’t need to suffer in any way for this view to remain valid; indeed, whatever appreciations you hold for the past and the present need only enhance the potential of the future that much more! Shape your thoughts, and your feelings, and your habits, and your hopes and your dreams, and your passions, and your companions with whom you will be sharing these treasures with, to suit the appreciations of all that has ever been in your life, all that is currently in your life, and all that has every potential to be in your life in the future. In this way the best will always be yet to come and every last person’s glory will know no bounds.

So… live long and prosper!

Oh, and 42. That’s what really sums all this up. ¦]

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 5:12 AM | 0 comments

More Precious Time With You

(August 16, 2011)

So many of the deepest friendships I’ve ever had are all the way over in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Others are all the way over in Oregon, Europe, Kansas, Florida, Australia, and simply other parts of Missouri.
Some of them joined the military or are otherwise all over the place.
One of even them lives in the same household I do.
And to every single one of these treasured connections I want to say, “I wish I had spent more time with you.”
“I am going to love you. For what we’ve shared I will love you.”

Most of my immediate family lives only a mere few miles away.
My mother lives only a mere few miles away.
Other, more distant family members live mostly in other parts of Missouri and in Massachusetts.
My father lives all the way over in Massachusetts.
And to every single one of these cherished blood ties I want to say, “I wish I had spent more time with you.”
“I am going to love you. As simple as that, I will love you.”

Most of these people I see only occasionally, sometimes woefully fleetingly, always regretfully out of my control.
Some I see only in multiples of years, some every year, as distance takes its toll on short-lived opportunity.
Some I see every few months, some every few weeks, as opportunity takes its toll on aching desire.
Some I see practically every day, but not necessarily see, as desire takes its toll from unfortunate circumstance.
And to every single one of these valued visitors/visited I want to say, “I wish I had spent more time with you.”
“I am going to love you. For better or worse I will love you.”

The only true romantic love I’ve ever known is thousands of miles away.
In fact, as lame as it sounds, the only true relationship I’ve ever known is thousands of miles away.
Perhaps the hole that has been left inside of me was left so deeply and so abruptly it’s kept its shape.
Perhaps only the same piece will ever fill it up again. Perhaps the best is yet to come.
To this forever-loved and remembered person, I want to say, “I wish I had spent more time with you.”
I am going to love you. Even when it hurts I will love you.”

And so, to every last person who’s ever positively touched my life, I just want to say,

“I wish I had spent more time with you. And I hope I get to spend more precious time with you.


Posted by Eli Stanley | at 10:33 PM | 0 comments

The Frontiers of Our Thoughts

(August 10th, 2011; revised April 15, 2012)

Perhaps you have heard somebody, or read an article by or of somebody, who once claimed that we, as the human race, already know practically everything there is to know in the world? That we’ve already made every significant discovery that there is to be made? (Maybe you’ve even thought this yourself?) It always strikes me as a particularly shallow and short-sighted viewpoint, especially considering current rapidly advancing trends and the multitude of obviously wrong viewpoints of the past and, most crucially perhaps, the vast reaches and mysteries of the universe we are continuing to discover which persistently continue to baffle even the brightest among us.

I can only wonder at how many points in our long history somebody has proclaimed such an idea—that there was nothing else of significance to be discovered in any of the sciences, even in anything at all. I have seen and heard such claims made numerous times, sometimes by friends, sometimes in articles, sometimes by scientists. And it’s not difficult to be caught up in the wonders of recent technological advances, because every breakthrough has a certain “magical” quality to it, inherent in its suddenness and in the incredible possibilities of its applications. It might seem at the time like this one can only be the pinnacle of human achievement in its field, but how often has this train of thought been wrong?

Well so far, at least when it’s been able to be demonstrated, every single time.

There is a quote I’ve always been fascinated by, from the great Arthur C. Clarke, which goes “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I think this idea rings true in so many cases, when people seem to be unwilling to accept a new idea because of how deeply it refutes previous assumptions, how deeply it seems to defy our intuition of how a thing, or an idea, is, perhaps just simply because of how outlandish it seems. But how outlandish do you think some of the most fundamental discoveries in the history of the human race seemed at the time? It is paramount that we do not dismiss anything simply because of some seemingly intuitive notion against the idea—our evolutionary upbringing may very well pit us against certain discoveries simply because they are not intuitive to our senses. Our dear senses, which are perhaps our most valuable commodities we have to make sense of the world, are extremely biased to the conditions they evolved within, and these conditions most likely did not leave room for certain technological advancements which were simply impossible by the standards of the times. They are entirely adaptive to our furthering understandings of the universe in respect to the environments in which they came to be, and could not have been carefully and selectively included into the genes of our ancestors while they were still struggling over how to most efficiently bring down a woolly mammoth or how to effectively navigate terrains by established landmarks, or just how to continue to survive, through passed-down knowledge.

When we strike out on our own into some unknown territory of knowledge, we have to be able to provide the credibility necessary to replace any ancient upbringings that might be entirely against such an idea so that we can truly recognize it as the beneficiary that it truly is. Because it will, in all likelihood, challenge our cherished beliefs and the cumulative collection of what we call “common sense.” Just think of all of the most significant technological or otherwise beneficial advances that have been made throughout history—to name a (woefully inadequate) few, in no particular order: the wheel, fire, agriculture, writing, the discovery that the world is round, the concept of “zero,” any number of psychological discoveries, germs and sanitation, domestication of animals, music, the discovery that those twinkling points of light in the sky are actually other far-away stars, calculus, Newton’s laws of motion, electricity/magnetism, x-rays, the theory of relativity, geosynchronous orbits for artificial satellites, the Internet, DNA… the list goes on. All of these have proven crucial to benefiting humankind in all of our technological prowess, quality of life, and simple mindset, and they are surely interwoven into each other and into countless other branching discoveries throughout the ages that have transformed the quality of life, or at the very least the potential to increase it, into previously-untold heights at every point along the way.

We used to think the earth was flat, but we realized that it’s actually an enormous sphere of landmasses, oceans, plate tectonics, and complicated weather patterns. We used to think the sun and the stars and planets revolved around the earth, and eventually we realized that we inhabit but one “lonely” world in the midst of all these revolving bodies revolving around other bodies revolving around still other bodies—without a “center.” We used to think that the earth was only roughly as old as recorded history, until we looked more closely at the geological records and fossils that have continuously been discovered and provided insight. We have been thoroughly humbled by many of these discoveries, but for this we have realized so many other ways to appreciate this vast, crazy universe. We used to think that a human being could never take flight into the air and soar like the birds, until some clever people finally did just that. We used to think that we’d have walked on Mars by the mid-1980s, until the political space race cooled down and we realized just how dangerous, expensive and labor-intensive it truly was. Not everything has been productive like we had begun to plan, but even in this there is profound insight. We need to know, as best we can, where our powers can be best utilized in any moment, and where we might have over-indulged our desires.

Needless to say, we’ve come a long way. And how much do we really owe to these fundamental discoveries, made by such ruthlessly curious minds, sometimes sacrificing the majority of their potential social lives, all along this way? …Words could never ever be enough. These people, these discoverers, these pioneers of our collective knowledge, sometimes made ultimate sacrifices in order to bring to light countless ideas and discoveries and laws of nature that today it sometimes seems so many of us take for granted without hardly giving any passing thought to the struggles and difficulties and personal sacrifices endured. And, at the time, these people might not have even grasped the full implications of what they were on the brink of revealing—maybe they were solving some somewhat-unrelated problem, or simply proving a point to someone, or just exploring their random curiosities. Many of them lived the rest of their lives without ever witnessing the final fruits of their endeavors that were finally more fully understood. I wonder what any of them would think if they could be resurrected from the dead, today, and shown what further discoveries their initial discoveries have led to. I do not doubt that they would be fascinated and appreciative beyond compare. And, if given the chance, they would probably delve back into “the lab” to pursue even further, sacrificing again any number of social possibilities they may otherwise have been capable of pursuing.

Who can say what sorts of unparalleled discoveries are, even at this moment, waiting on the horizon? In my own wildest imaginations I see the widespread use of teleportation, of somehow-faster-than-light space travel, of communications with extraterrestrial intelligences, of implantable knowledge-chips infusing a person’s brain with a level of expertise in a given subject such as physics or calculus or architecture or grammar or any other knowledge-base you can think of, of flying cars not reliant on crude gasoline, and so many other potentials. And of course I realize that most, if not all, of these may never see the light of reality, but who knows? Maybe with enough time they all will. Any idea that challenges the current sum of all of our knowledge may only be “ahead of the times” by some degree. Or maybe they will forever remain in the realms of the wildest imaginations. Only time will tell, but at the same time only the most dedicated pursuits will likely ever bring them forth if they really are capable achievements. A genuine breakthrough is, by definition, something that happens so suddenly that perhaps nobody had the forethought to give much consideration to it. Something leads to another, and before anyone truly realizes it, some incredible power has been harnessed, or some amazing insight has dawned on somebody, and then the future is laid bare for all it’s worth. And those that are ready, or at least in the right place at the right time, have the opportunity to seize the reins and pursue what only the wildest imaginations might have ever predicted… and what countless people would undoubtedly sacrifice a good chunk of their worldly possessions to have the chance to be a part of.

 By that same definition, none of us will ever be able to accurately gauge the future of the discoveries awaiting our discovery. The highest geniuses among us may be the ones farthest along this track, but even they cannot really know what all is truly on the horizon, as close as they might be able to predict knowledgeably. And, of course, as the time frame being considered is extended, the potential for having absolutely any meaningful opinion on the matter dwindles exponentially. The discoveries to be made 50 years from now are, most likely, things that even the most hopeful imaginations have not thought up yet, let alone the brightest, most deeply-engrossed. And just consider the possibilities of a few hundred years from now. Or more! At this moment, if any one of us was shown a glimpse of such a future, we would probably shrug it off as “magic”—some expert playing an elaborate trick on us. We probably wouldn’t believe that it truly is in our future if some undeniable evidence was not given along with it.

I, just like any of us, can only dream of the incredible discoveries and breakthroughs that are to come in the glaringly bright future of our species, but I’m sure that when the time comes and when each of these such discoveries has been made and adequately documented and proven then each will, in turn, then seem like it had always been the next logical step despite any amount of vehement opposition to the idea throughout its development and implementation. We’ll wonder what took so long to find it. And long after the discoveries that are today only in our wildest imaginations, once they’ve been so engraved into common, everyday life that their origins are hardly even considered, at this point they’ll seem as trivial and “common sense” as gravity and algebra and sanitation and Newton’s laws of motion are to us today.

All of this speaks of our species’ potential, of the untold possibilities that our utterly unique (as far as we so far know) capacity to pursue knowledge and insights holds, but what if there are extraterrestrial civilizations out there so far ahead of us intellectually and knowledgeably that all of the frontiers of our thoughts are like preschool practice sessions to them? How incredible would it be to converse with them, assuming a means to do this, let alone simply be in their presence?

I do not imagine that they would just willfully hand over all their hard-won knowledge and insights, but I absolutely believe that there would be so much to learn from them simply by their cultural mannerisms and understanding of their history. It’s an ultra-generic idea in science fiction (and non-fiction) that the reality of a space-faring civilization must be the result of them having ended inter-species warfare, but the arguments really are very powerful…just look at us, spending so much of our precious resources on defense budgets and weaponry and, well, just general warfare, and all of these efforts put toward national boundary security and media censorship and the trivial bickering over petty opinions that societies create such disparage over. I don’t mean to trivialize the necessities of protecting our country (and other countries) and property rights and the like, but only that this shouldn’t need to be the case. But it would take the uncompromising cooperation of all humans for this ideal, a species-wide peacefulness, to be a reality. It is not impossible…

And this is one of the many reasons why I believe a permanent off-world settlement has one of its deepest benefits—carefully chosen, devoted members could focus on genuine problems and solutions and applications for furthering the glory perpetually hinted at by the vast frontiers of our thoughts without the distractions and the dangers and the resource-gobbling vortexes of all this mindless, unnecessary fighting amongst ourselves. And if a peace-faring, super-knowledgeable race of extraterrestrials ever does make their presence known to us, such a colony would arguably be the best suited to establish contact with them because they will be utterly devoted to the furthering of our own species’ knowledge and well-being. They will not be hindered by budget restraints due to interspecies warfare, or catastrophic damages brought upon the earth, or the general ignorance so seemingly acceptable by most citizens relative to such all-important universal scopes. Such a colony would, of course, be conversing on behalf of all mankind, but they would be presenting our side in the absence of so much “trivial” difficulty amongst ourselves. They would be able to offer the furthest advances our species has to offer, and at the same time able to accept any kind-gestured deliveries of things we have not yet unlocked on our own terms (if they do indeed have such things to offer us). With any luck, such generously administered knowledge would help us to rid our world of so much hurt and turmoil and struggles—while at the same time furthering our pursuits of what will ultimately benefit our species most of all, some unforeseeable insight perhaps, and the wings of our species could unfurl at last to make use of this updraft which will bring us ever more within the realm of all of our wildest dreams come true.

And maybe, just maybe, we would be able to offer them some sort of insight into what to do or not to do or how to go about pursuing some currently-unknown path. There’s no reason why we couldn’t offer them something in return, even if only by the demonstration of what not to do within a thriving worldwide population (although hopefully we’d have something more positive and hopeful to offer). They would almost certainly be much more advanced than us, but that doesn’t mean that they will have already experienced every possibility of something that can be learned from. Sometimes all that is needed to solve some problem is an entirely different viewpoint upon it.

We just need to reconcile with each other, come to peaceful terms on what each person on this world is inherited unto, and, most off all, stop killing each other over such things. I know it will almost certainly take many, many long years of fighting and negotiations before this can become anything close to a true reality, but long-term goals are no less important and impactful when such drastic far-reaching endeavors are considered. But it can be this way. Nothing is stopping it but our own unwillingness to compromise amongst us.

Of course I know this may sound hopelessly optimistic, but really stop and think about it. If, in the most unlikely of cases, everybody on the face of the planet could truly stop and consider such an alternative, would it not fuel the spark of so much more potential in us? But there’s too much at stake—nationality, oil and other natural resources, pride, vengeance, grudges from the past, general selfishness, and so many other such factors. And so this argument returns to the off-world settlements which might actually have the hopes of utilizing the dreams and the determinations that so many share, but are not putting genuine effort into or are impeded by so much conflict, because they will be united in their goals and in the pursuits of all that the frontiers of our thoughts have every hope of achieving as no other group in the history of our species has been able to strive for as productively as they could. Because separating a group of ourselves from that which is the most demeaning to our collective potential has never before been a reality—we’ve been stuck with each other for practically all of human history. But if a small representative collection can get away and really focus their efforts on some of the real problems of this day and age not always given the focus they deserve (not discounting the worldly problems that are, after all, best fought here on the surface) then both pursuits can grow and evolve and exceed their forbearer’s wildest dreams. We could be able to focus on both of the extremes, simultaneously and independently and cooperatively, to the benefit of all like never before.

And maybe we will live to see this day, whether it’s triggered by the arrival of a hyper-intelligent species or simply by the arrival of an agreement settling so many of the problems being addressed in this day and age by the governments of our planet. Either way, I hope that we will always be open to the endless possibilities of what scientific (and all other knowledgeable pursuits) has to offer, and put them to the highest and most practical use that their properties allow. Because who knows how useful they will prove in the future? The frontiers of our thoughts do not have an agenda of their own; it is up to us to realize them and decide how to effectively pursue them with whatever resources we have at our disposal.

Especially if we can overcome all this senseless fighting and actually make ourselves into the knowledge-seeking, life-benefiting species that we clearly have every potential to be (at least the least ruthless, unforgiving and vengeful among us), then we can construct a sail as huge and as powerful as our wildest dreams allow, and let it carry us though the turbulences of the vast universe as we work on unlocking every single hidden discovery that is ours to make sense of.

And one day we will be the hyper-intelligent, space-faring civilization bringing our knowledge and our peace-loving mannerisms to another less fortunate species struggling to overcome the national boundaries abundant in their devotions to make sense of their world. The frontiers of their thoughts will be intuitive to us, after all we’ve been through, and so we will hold an empty torch, designated for them, up to our own, which has been burning so brightly for millennia, and we will spread the power of this light onto this gift which we will pass along to them, so that they may flourish in their newfound light and in turn one day pass along the torch in their own name as we have done for them.

Such should be the fate of all civilizations. The Universe is much, much more than big enough for all of us. So let’s cooperate, amongst ourselves first and foremost, and then cooperate amongst them, whoever they might be, and help those who are struggling in the same ways we have been for so long. Everybody, and every civilization, has the ability to fly once they overcome the difficulties that have been holding them rooted to the ground. This is inherent in intelligence and reasoning, and we most certainly have these luxuries at our disposal. This is so blatantly obvious by how far we have come. 4We owe it to ourselves, by our very position in this hierarchy of life, to progress ourselves to the farthest reaches that we can achieve. The best is yet to come when we work together for a common goal and participate in the cooperative efforts of every new frontier that our thoughts become capable of understanding and shaping to our will to lay the vast potentials of this universe out before us.

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 1:54 AM | 0 comments