Wednesday, November 10, 2010

why does it have to mean anything?

I have a friend who's very interested in existential psychology-- the search for meaning, how important it is to know yourself, to know why-- as if there is a unifying answer. Why do I like cats instead of dogs, why did J Edgar Hoover dress up as transvestite, what was that weird trail in the sky, what do you see when you look at the moon, and why are we here? I guess it's natural to look for patterns, to want to find them. It's reflexive as the fight or flight response. That doesn't mean it's always useful.

I think it brings him some comfort to think that even if there is little deeper meaning, that we are meant to search for it anyway. The fact that we do it makes it ok, as if questioning existence were like eating or farting, something you probably shouldn't do where camera phones are present, since you never know how really foolish you look doing it until someone posts it on facebook.

It's not that I'm against philosophy, or self knowledge. I just think there's a limit. When you're looking for patterns, you start excluding information. You discard what doesn't fit what you think it's supposed to look like. This may be fine on an IQ test, but the world isn't like this. Sometimes there is no reason why you have five symptoms of whatever the disease du jour is, it's just a coincidence. Sometimes you work so hard to understand how the universe works and whether God is listening or exists or has qualities of any kind, and you forget to just listen.

Another friend went on a 10 day retreat that involved utter silence, and meditation, plus three meals a day and a place to sleep. It made me sad to think it could be that hard to learn how to be here now.


  1. For me, self-knowledge was the ticket to self-control. Until I understood myself on a very deep level, I was often mystified by things that I had just done, and that feeling of being out of control bothered me.

  2. That I concede. I'm not knocking self knowledge, I wouldn't. I teach it. But I'm seeing people who get too overspecialized too soon: call it philosophical/spiritual hypochondria. Two points don't always make a line in a four dimensional world. So if you're scouting around to figure out where the next point is going to show up, you've got a infinity of possible errors.

  3. Guilty, of over-analysis of everything. Looking for meaning and invariably coming to the conclusion that Neil Young was right. "What's it all about? It isn't about anything."


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