Wednesday, June 03, 2009


There are times when I wonder what it’s all about. All this – the world, the universe, where it came from, what was here before, extra dimensions, time… are we the only sentient beings – anywhere? Ever? What could possibly be the point of intelligent life and does anything really exist if there is no intelligent being that “knows” about it? Science is answering so many questions, yet what we know still pales in comparison to what we don’t and those eternal questions still remain – are we alone? It is likely I will never know in my lifetime, nor will anyone alive today, but as a species we accumulate knowledge for future generations to build upon. Why?

All humans are mortal – we will all die. According to the CDC, life expectancy in the U.S. averaged 77.7 years in 2006 – higher than it has ever been and the trend is toward longer life. But it is such a tiny slice of time when placed against scales used to measure geology, evolution and cosmology that it makes me wonder – why do we do it? Comfort? Curiosity? A need to know? No other known life forms have such inquisitiveness, although many do appear to care about the well being of their descendants. Only one animal, however, appears to care what happens beyond its own death – humans. Could it be because we are the only animals that know that death awaits us all?

Maybe, but I have to believe there is more to it than that. The inescapable fact that my time is limited does not occupy my every waking moment. I am about as comfortable as I can be. It is probably safe to say that I do not need to know anything more and I know that, though the breadth of my knowledge will increase, it will never reach anything close to answering those eternal questions we have been pondering since we came out of the trees. Curious? Yes, but those ultimate questions will never be answered in my lifetime, although it is quite possible that in several generations, many will be. Yet I willingly - even enthusiastically - contribute to the human legacy…

In the last 100 years – just more than one average human lifetime - we have experienced an explosion of knowledge that has transformed our world for the better - and perhaps, the worse. We have made possible what was not even dreamed of when this country was created. And yet in many parts of the world there is still needless suffering. The brutality of war, fanaticism and the killing in the name of some god continues. Power still corrupts, and absolute power? Absolutely. Greed and doing unto to others still grabs the headlines. We have not yet figured out how to peacefully coexist with each other, let alone our planet. For all the progress we have made, a more highly developed being would likely see us as savages.

And still there is decency in the world. Love still exists. Evil must always protect itself against good; good eventually and always dominates. True, at times it seems as though we are taking three steps forward and two steps back, but the net result is still positive. The principles that are held as virtuous are common to all cultures and all times. Living up to them, however, has proven to be far more difficult than articulating them. Are all these abstractions, these ideals and principles uniquely and exclusively human? I guess until we all live up to them, it doesn’t really matter.


Lacey said...

I've been thinking a lot about this myself lately. My grandfather died last week; in the end he fought with every breath to maintain life, instead of embracing the inevitable end.

The ideas and values we have built help us maintain a sense of permanency in this world, I think. My grandfather's last words were to express his love for his wife - something he did every day, something she knew, but something he needed to tell her anyway as he left... perhaps because his love for her could go on even if he couldn't?

We have within us a sense of right and wrong. Is that morality valid without an eternal being to propagate it? Justice, if left up to humans alone, cannot fully be served, and so we like to believe we are not alone.

I do hope someday we'll be closer to doing right on our own. I don't know that science will get us there, but surely as survival becomes easier, we have an easier time addressing our own moralities.

Andi said...

You are a very deep thinker. I think about mortality a lot. I try to focus on enjoying life.....but I am such a worrier. Memo to self: keeping trying to focus on enjoying the now. I am glad that I read this. Visiting via Net Chick.

colleen said...

My theme song for years was "What's it all about Alfie?" I am forever pondering the interpenetrate mysteries of life, especially death. What I know and what I feel are so different so it is like a battle of heart and mind. I try to remind myself almost daily that it is all impermanent. Got to do it a lot because otherwise the automatic pilot trance comes into play. Netchick.

Snaggle Tooth said...

I think perhaps we are desparately trying to not dissappear without passing on the accumulated knowledge as the Ancient Incans n Egyptians did...

We are preoccupied with the concept "Will my life mean something important after I leave?"