Life on a Sinking Ship

Human existence can be described by this allegory: You open your eyes and find that you are in a large room filled with people. You ask someone, “Where am I?”, “Why are we here?” No one seems to know. As you look around, you notice that there are two doors. From time to time, one door opens and someone walks into the room. They open their eyes and ask, “Where am I”, “Why am I here?”. You try to look through the doorway and see what’s on the other side, but it’s all black. You can’t see anything. From time to time, the other door opens and someone walks out of the room. You try to see what’s on the other side of the door, but you can’t see anything. That’s life. That describes the situation in which we all find ourselves, which leads us to four basic questions: “Where did we come from?”, “Why are we here?”, “How should we live?”, and “Where are we going?”. None of the answers are self-evident, even though opinions abound.

Our opinions about life can be grouped into those of optimists and those of pessimists. Optimists, whether they are religious or secular, think they have the answers to life’s basic questions. They might be preaching to save souls or lobbying to save the planet. These people can become manipulative, as they attempt to persuade everyone else to live by their rules. Entire nations, throughout history, have tried to dominate the world because they were convinced that their ideology was good for everyone else. Strong opinions lead to wars and oppression. So we have to ask ourselves if there really is any absolute truth, or is our exaggerated confidence just the result of natural human egotism.

Those who are pessimistic about life, on the other hand, live from day to day. Many people fall into this category. They just want to get by the best they can. They work to pay the bills and live for the weekend. They have more debt than savings. They are driven toward a goal, like owning a home, raising a family, or going on vacation, but when they reach that goal, they’re not necessarily happy. They are motivated by a lack of contentment, keeping up with the Jones’, but never get to the place of being content. They just stay busy to avoid facing their feelings. Amusement becomes a drug to mask their misery.

What we know for sure is that all of life on earth is small and insignificant in an inconceivably vast universe. Sometimes we think we’re really important, but we’re not. Let’s look at ourselves from a different perspective. Let’s see ourselves from where the sun is, and let’s say that the sun is reduced to our size, about one meter in diameter. Then the earth would be the size of a pea and more than a football field away. Each of us would be as small as a molecule on the surface of that pea. We wouldn’t even be perceptible under a microscope. Then look up, and the sun’s nearest neighbor would be 18,000 miles away and the size of a grapefruit. The universe doesn’t care how you dress today or whether or not your team wins the Super Bowl. All life could cease to exist on Earth and it wouldn’t affect the rest of the universe in the least. Most of the universe is hydrogen and helium. It doesn’t care what happens on Earth.

Our lives are so short! It’s like we are in a waiting room, just passing the time. If life is good to us, we play with our toys until we get bored. If life is hard or painful, we struggle. We think life is fair if we have a good life and live to be 80 or 90, but life is unfair if a child is terminally ill and dies young. Maybe both are fair. Maybe both are unfair. If we see life as a burden, then why are we alive at all and why continue living? Why do we work so hard at pleasing other people, if life has no purpose? If life is good, then why do we need to die? Every day, we make plans and have the expectation of fulfilling them. Death is a disruption that makes no sense. It goes against our expectation of continuity. In terms of the history of the universe, our life is like a puff of smoke or a soap bubble. Even if we could keep ourselves from dying, the Earth is breaking down and the entire universe is slowly dying.

Since life seems to be so short and meaningless, why does anyone obey the law? Why does anyone make personal sacrifices for the benefit of others? Why do we work hard for long years to save for a short retirement? The morality that we should naturally expect for insignificant, temporal beings is obviously self-interest. My outlook should be ego-centric, where I’m the most important person in the universe, to me. Family should exist for me. Government should exist to benefit me. In short, there’s no reason for society to rise above the barbarism of Genghis Khan, because there’s no reason to sacrifice to have a culture, since there’s no purpose to culture. If life is meaningless, then our advanced civilization is just a mistake, and a relic of past idealism. Our prosperous society shouldn’t even exist.

The greatest dilemma that we face is why people who have such intellectual potential don’t have a greater role in the universe. Philosophy and religion have discussed this issue since the beginning of history. Opinions abound, but we all die. Whatever great ideas we might have, we still get buried six feet under or our ashes get tossed to the wind. We’re all in the same sinking ship. But what if one person was able to stay afloat and not drown? Would we listen to them? What if another ship came alongside that wasn’t sinking? If they threw you a life preserver, would you accept it?

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