I had quite a wild shower thought last night.
My everyday task/activity focus is often interrupted by a nagging question about the nature of our existence as humans. The question is not always the same, but it generally channels the spirit of: “Why are we here?”
Usually, the way I ask the question also points specifically toward purpose – as in, “What is our purpose on this planet, in this life?” I don’t have an answer, and I think that’s why the question is so alluring.
The value of this question without an answer is that it breaks the Matrix, so to speak. It inundates me with a rush of awareness I can only compare to immersion in frigid waters. And with this rush of awareness comes a gleeful, cozy bath of amused delirium. It makes me feel a little psychotic, to be honest, but not like frustrated, frantic psychotic – more like laughing-amid-catastrophe psychotic:
I am totally bewildered by how we so willingly dedicate ourselves to careers defined by others, how we become so emotionally attached to notions of lifestyle and social standing. There is no set of absolutely, deductively verifiable laws about anything anywhere in the world (science doesn’t even qualify – we have spelled out some pretty reliable patterns in the natural world, but there is no guarantee they will repeat tomorrow). Despite this freedom, we box ourselves into one-size-fits-all biographies, usually peppered with self-imposed misery, contention, and longing. We even enforce social penalties for not participating in subjectively appropriate ways, “If you _______, unfriend me!” being only the most current and explicit example.
This thought-package will bounce around my brain and usually give me a few laughs. As I said before, these thoughts don’t feel especially heavy, they actually carry some entertainment value. Think about how a group of adults observes a group of small children playing – standing off to the side, sipping coffees or beers, chuckling when their kids do weird shit, like pretend to be ninjas with ham sandwiches for hands, or matter-of-factly tell the other kids that daddy has a pee-pee but mommy doesn’t.
Now imagine yourself observing, in the same fashion, a normal group of adults living their lives. How did they come up with handshakes as a greeting? Who first decided that words like “fuck” and “shit-cock dumpster whore” are offensive? Why do the women have to remove their body hair? Why do they feel pride over things determined before their birth? Why do they spend 50+% of their waking hours doing things they hate?
Again I chuckle.
I’m always left with the same thought – “We didn’t, and don’t, have to do any of this.”
Now, all that was context.
In an exhilarating turn of events, my thought last night was less about human activity and more about why the universe itself exists as it does. I find this particular slant on the “Why…?” question rather titillating because it does not encourage judgmental, self-righteous theorizing on my part. With this camera turned on, the scene is less filtered.
My consideration was very simple – “None of this has to be this way.”
Literally everything that exists could have different qualities. Some cosmic decision just happened to enact the physics that facilitate our current state of affairs.
This, again, gave me a rise. The possibilities are both hilarious and astonishing to consider:
Why aren’t rocks bouncy, like rubber balls? Why doesn’t gravity push up, instead of pull down? Why doesn’t it push up and also a little to the right? Why don’t flat things roll while round things stay put?
Why isn’t air more dense than sea, creating oceans teeming with mammals and birds beneath the “dry” water? Why don’t trees walk? What if humans had hooves?
What if, instead of being beneath us, the ground always felt like a vertical rock wall we were climbing around on? What if limbs weren’t standardized – some of us had five arms, and others three legs with two feet each? What if all the inanimate things had consciousness, and animals hadn’t a speck? (What if we were rocks, and had this same experience of consciousness – able to observe and analyze our surroundings – but we simply watched as mindless animals roamed around, bouncing off things, like the ghosts in Pac Man?)
I suppose the answer to the “What if?” question is, “Yea, what if?” and the answer to “Why not?” is, “Because it isn’t.”
This is a classic bit of mindfuck that echoes through the ages. It’s far from new. But I find it quite fun to approach it in a personal way, to step inside the question and take it for a ride. Why do I wear pants? Why do I breathe air? Why do I use words to speak? Why do I have a name? Why am I human?
Give it a whirl.