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The Essence of Insanity

Ramblings of a lunatic

The Stories That We Tell Ourselves - Meditations 2

I live by the philosophy of Nihilism: nothing has any inherent meaning. The most frequent question I get when I tell this to other people, however, is this: if life is meaningless, why live it?

My usual response is something like this: life is just as meaningless as death; this is the only time I’ll live, so I might as well take advantage of it. Life has no value; if I felt like the cost of living longer does not outweigh the benefits, then I can stop living.

That, however, is not the real answer. Yes, it is technically correct, but it is not the whole answer.

The answer lies behind the workings of the human brain. We know, for example, that we are not evolutionarily attuned to the truth, but to nature’s fitness function. For all we know, the concept of truth itself may be fundamentally flawed, and if that is the case, all of our philosophy might as well get thrown out of the window.

The whole answer is this: all of our belief systems, be it Christianity, Zen Buddhism, Islam, Nihilism, or whatever beliefs you might hold, these are all just stories that we tell ourselves to make us live through our life better. Nature doesn’t care what we believe as long as we make babies; you can believe that a Jewish Zombie has saved you, or that a guy rode off on a flying horse, but both of you can still live on the same planet and interact with each other as normal human beings.

As long as everybody lives along fine and produces enough babies, all of these belief systems will persist. The stories that we tell ourselves are just that: stories. The universe doesn’t care if it has any validity.

My Christian friends find comfort in the fact that a cosmic Jewish Zombie, whom they have telepathically accepted as their master, has removed an evil force from their soul that’s there because a rib-women ate a magical apple on the advice of a talking snake (shamelessly copied from ED). The suicide bombers of the extreme Islamists die a happy death knowing that they will be handsomely rewarded for the service by their almighty deity in their afterlife.

I, similarly, find comfort in the lack of life after death, and the lack of a meaning of life. I feel comforted by the lack of absolute morality and am relieved by my ability to end my miserable existence as I see fit. I find freedom in the lack of meaning and the lack of eternal existence. I don’t want to exist forever; the fact that some day, I will cease to exist, comforts me, just like it does for the Buddhists seeking Nirvana.

I have also come to find comfort in our inability to understand the universe. Are all the patterns we see just patterns made by our pattern-seeking brains? Is everything material? Does the question even make sense? I don’t know, and I never will. There is comfort to be found in our lack of answers, and in our lack of ability to understand it all.

The realisation that all belief systems are just stories that are told to the brain has freed me from my quest to seek out the best belief system; they are equally valid, and as long as you continue to live, their job has been accomplished. This doesn’t mean that I am not open to change; I will readily abandon my beliefs if a new system that helps make the brain happier is found. I hold beliefs not because they are true, but because they are useful.

This realisation, for me, has made the world a tremendously happier place. As long as everybody’s interpretations of their world render them a functional human being, the interpretation itself doesn’t matter. I don’t care if you believe that you have been saved by a cosmic Jewish Zombie; if you are a pleasant human being to interact with, it doesn’t matter. The belief of others matters much less than my interaction with them; does this not make interaction with others that much more pleasant?