Posted by: Staff | 02.12.2008

A Discussion of Existence

CHRISTOPHER RUSH ’08

I find it ironic; that despite all of man kind’s progress technologically, economically, and industrially, we are still clueless as to how to coexist. Man remains enthralled with trivial issues concerning the labels of gender, age, sexual orientation, and race. I feel that Bob Marley puts it best in his song, “War” when he says “Until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes me say war.” We focus so much on these ideas that make us different that we fail to realize and support the things that make us the same, our humanity. Even in our attempts to be diverse, we stress the importance of these labels so much so that we instead promote the fact that we are all different. It seems that human’s obsession with these issues and labels encourage the disregard of a larger picture; our own existence.

Theories behind existence have been contemplated and debated for thousands of years by men and women much smarter than most people in this room. Yet no logical answer has been found or proven. The presence of an afterlife is an idea with which we are all familiar. No matter what religion we associate ourselves with, whether it is Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Daoism, or Hinduism; we all know the idea of eternal life. Even those of us who might be atheist or agnostic for the most part still understand the basic ideas behind an afterlife. However, mankind is not new to the suggestion of an afterlife.

Neanderthals were the first species of the homo genus to show belief in an afterlife. Neanderthals are one of mankind’s closest relatives in evolution are believed to have coexisted in some places for about 12,000 years. Neanderthals were human’s last relative and are believed to have died out somewhere around 24,000 years ago. Through the excavation of Neanderthal gravesites, historians and archaeologists have found remains surrounded by objects much like the Egyptian tombs. The fact that Neanderthals were buried with these objects indicates that their peers believed they would somehow use them in the afterlife.

In the evolutionary race, it was our higher brain functioning that allowed us to succeed. Instead of relying on brute force or strength, humans relied on their ability to use tools, communicate, and out think their prey and predators. It is human’s ability to think and imagine that led to our rise to the top of the food chain. However, it is thinking that may also be mankind, and this planet’s downfall.

Religion teaches people across a broad spectrum the proper way to live life and treat others. Religion instills morals and values that keep the world functioning and succeeding. By offering the reward of an afterlife, religion gives people something to work for. The afterlife is mankind’s prize for being good. However, there are other methods besides religion that could instill the same ideals. Proper upbringing and education could teach mankind the need for these values in order to succeed. We could show our young through stories and parables examples of appropriate behavior and encourage the same values we see in the Bible.

One could also argue that this is actually the role of the Bible. That it is not to be taken literally, but rather simply interpreted and understood. The book itself is nothing but a book; a compilation of stories. Like any story it contains a theme and a moral. There are heroes and there are villains. The Bible contains symbolism and represents an idea way beyond human understanding. According to 20th Century psychiatrist Carl Jung, humans possess a collective unconscious. The idea behind the collective unconscious is that all humans are driven by archetypes, or a model person, personality, or behavior. Humans use these archetypes to achieve self-actualization and individuation. In other words, archetypes push humans to be the best that they can be and to achieve some notion of individuality. Theoretically, it is these archetypes which Jung discusses that allow mankind to progress and succeed as a society. One of the archetypes that exist in the collective unconscious is the hero. Throughout history mankind uses hero figures to teach lessons and instill values. Does this sound familiar? Is it possible that instead of worshipping the Bible and the characters in it that we were only supposed to learn from the stories? By focusing so much on important individuals and specific events are we missing the true message behind the book’s words? Are God and the other characters in the Bible simply archetypes in the collective unconscious meant to drive and inspire us?

In addition to Jung’s theory, there are theories that suggest the sub-conscious creation of God exists to lift the load of responsibility off mankind’s back. Without the existence of God, mankind is self-sufficient and therefore responsible for its own actions. This idea is known as existentialism. This theory suggests that it is humanities desire to have some meaning and essence that drives the creation of God. As humans, we want to know that we are special and that we have some purpose here. Our minds cannot grasp the concept of death. We can’t even begin to fathom the idea that once we’re dead our minds lose their abilities to think or imagine. So, we refuse to accept that this life is all that there is for us; that all the pain and death that surrounds us is only the prelude to a better end.

At the moment, humanity is still convinced and infatuated with the idea that this planet is unique. Out of the millions and millions of planets, what makes us think Earth is so special? We have not even come close to discovering all planets or parts of space and there remains so much beyond our own planet that we have yet to learn about. It is not until we come to understand this that we can take the next step in our evolution. I find it difficult to believe that this planet is it; that we are the most successful representation of life. I mean look at us, we can barely figure out how to coexist with each other; how can this tiny little planet possibly be it? I choose to believe that we are not special; that the pointless wars, the unnecessary suffering, and the judgmental ridicule that we put each other through is not possibly the best representation of life. I believe that there must be something else out there that supersedes us, but I am an optimist.

In the world beyond God there are alternate realms of thought that represent a more abstract approach to existence and what our purpose is. We all know the concept of the universe. Planets make up a solar system; a group of solar systems as well as gas, dust, and dark matter make up a galaxy; and finally galaxies are what make up our universe. No one knows for sure just how large the universe is; we do not know if it ends and if it does, what is beyond it? According to Einstein, the universe is a kind of sphere. If you go to the edge of the sphere you will theoretically return to where you started. At the same time however, the universe is expanding and growing; but what is the universe expanding into? In theory I find Einstein’s hypothesis to be confining. I would like to believe that there is more beyond the universe; that we are not limited to this supposed sphere. I don’t know, I might be the only one who feels this way, but it keeps me sane.

There is another theory that suggests the possibility of multiple universes. This concept is known as a multiverse. In a multiverse there are several universes, much like there are several planets that make up a solar system, several solar systems that make up a galaxy, and several galaxies that make up the universe. One could even take it a step further and say that this universe and everything in it is the equivalent to just a fingernail on a much larger being. I mean think about it, don’t our own cells work strikingly similar to the solar system? Electrons orbit the nucleus much like planets orbit the sun. Obviously I have no factual evidence to support this argument and if I did, I doubt I’d be in my fifth year of high school right now. The point is that we have a good deal left to learn and a good deal we may never know. For example, what came before the Big Bang? The event was caused by two atoms colliding, which means there had to have been something there, how did those atoms get there, or is the existence of nothing possible? Understanding our ignorance is an important part in understanding our own existence. There are questions to be answered we cannot begin to imagine due to lack of information. We must remain questioning in order to find the answers.

This questioning also applies to our faith in God. It is my belief that no man or woman can honestly claim to know that God exists. From what I know, there is no physical evidence or proof that there is a God or an afterlife. However, there is also no proof or evidence that God does not exist. The only honest claim a person can make concerning religion is that they simply do not know. This claim is the central idea surrounding the belief of solipsism. Solipsism is the philosophical principle that suggests the only existence that any one can be certain of is the existence of their own mind. The concept itself is very complex and confusing. In the simplest terms, it means that the rules and supposed laws of nature are actually man made and cannot be proven; therefore they do not exist. It is believed that the most certain facts are the thoughts and experiences of one’s own mind. Solipsism is a controversial approach to philosophy. It goes against the established norms of psychology and refutes the existence of commonly accepted scientific theories. Belief in solipsism typically emerges in cultures or environments where individuals feel that they have no hope. In time, solipsism has officially become known as “Debby Downer Mentality”, not to be confused with, “Negative Nancy Syndrome”.

Through my own observation, I have come to learn one very important lesson about humanity and this planet. That even through human’s amazing evolution and progress, we still have so much left to learn. This is an idea which I think we are all aware of but have never fully considered. Due to the technologies and sciences that humans possess, we believe that we know a lot. We believe that we understand a fair amount about life and this planet. However, we still know very little about this planet, and what exists beyond it. If we were to condense the Earth’s existence, which is estimated to be around 4.5 billion years, into 24 hours, man’s existence in these 24 hours would add up to be about 27 seconds. In the natural clock of earth, we would be considered “noobs”.

In today’s world our existence is being threatened. We are faced with an alarming number of problems that appear to only be getting worse. According to World Bank estimates, 2.7 billion people survive on less than $2 a day, which is defined as moderate poverty. 1.1 billion people live on less than $1 a day, which is defined as extreme poverty. The United Nations estimates that in 2003, 25,000 people a day died due to starvation and malnutrition. Additionally, with the build up of nuclear arms over the past 60 years, it is inevitable that at some point they will be used, the only question is when? Countries such as the United States and Russia have the nuclear capability to destroy the world several times over. We have harnessed the destructive powers of nature that could lead to our own annihilation. Humanity has reached a point where it can affect the world that we live in on a major scale. This is seen in global warming, an ongoing event where this planet is methodically being destroyed and the climate has the potential to change drastically due to human activity. It is very possible that we are nearing the global warming threshold; where we will have done so much damage to the atmosphere and to our environment, that we won’t be able to reverse the damage. Where’s the outcry? Where’s the plea for action? Do we even care?

We live in a revolutionary time; thanks to events taking place now, the next 50 years and what our generation does will be crucial in the survival of our species. This era could be the most influential and defining periods in human history. The seeds of man kind’s existence are in our hands, but we remain silent. As the possible failure of our species looms issues that are stressed as important by society such as race and sexual orientation do not seem all that important in the long run. I mean, in the end it is not our race or our so called “wealth” that will determine the success of our species. Only our understanding of this planet and the fragility of our own existence can lead us to action.

These circumstances will force our generation to answer a difficult question: what is more important to us, our political interests and policies or our specie’s existence? If we choose political interests, we will continue down the same path we are right now. We will continue to apathetically destroy in order to create. We will focus on today, not tomorrow, not yesterday, but today. If we choose existence, our lives will change significantly, you might see a more global effort at success instead of merely national efforts. Mankind might for the first time since the first stages of evolution work together as a species to correct these issues and fight for its own existence. However, in order to do this we must realize that we are not above the destructive forces of nature. We must understand that our existence is only possible because of nature and in the end it will be nature that will kill us. It is nature, not us, that gives us the means and possibilities to do great things; it is how we choose to use them that will determine our fate. We are only visitors on this earth and at some point we will be extinct. Humans are not unique in their existence. There was life before humans, and if we allow it there will be life after humans.

Socrates- “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.

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