In Search of the Point: A Universe’s Contemplation

by David King on June 14, 2014

moon My eyes burn. Too long have I spent my days staring at this screen…

Today I learned that my 14-year-old brother had his face beaten so badly that he was knocked unconscious—while his adult assailant continued beating him. If it weren’t for an onlooker who threatened to call the police, he would have likely ended up in a coma, if not dead. This was the second unpleasant call I’ve received from my mom in the past two weeks. The first was far more permanent in its implications, as my dad passed away unexpectedly. Lost was his battle with alcohol at the early age of 57; and found sadly was his body by my other brother, Ryan. Upon my return to the day-to-day this week, I gave a lecture in which I discussed the life of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school girl made famous for her survival of a targeted attack by the Taliban. Shot in the face for standing up for the educational rights of girls, Malala was just 15 years old at the time. And as my fingers strike keys in the last hour of this day, I read a story in the news about a senior couple in Georgia who were murdered, the husband beheaded. Beheaded.

On most days, I try hard to see us all as equal; equal in potential, at least, or equal in some kind of fundamental humanity, a universal human nature that defines us all—unites us. But on days like these, it becomes all too clear: there are at least two kinds of people in this world.

And as conservatives continue denying climate change; as the Westboro Baptist Church prepares its next funeral protest; as another elephant is slaughtered for its ivory, hope takes another hit. Reality sets in. This is not going to be an easy change. No, this is not so simple. Amid the chaos, truth and self become elusive things. Where do I fit? How can I help? And is there any point? The last of these questions has two answers, one short and one long.

Let me start with the long…

Whether or not there is a point is really a question of purpose. And so the question can be rephrased in precisely that way: Is there a purpose to it all, and/or what is my purpose? These are technically distinct questions, but I would like to propose that they are the same in their essence, simply different manifestations of the underlying human motivation to exist as more than mere flesh and bone. Answering the purpose question tells us not only whether there is a point to life, but also whether there is a point to change – and to affecting change rather than going with the flow. The longest of answers might have our minds contemplating the lifespan of the Sun and concluding that indeed, there is no point or purpose to an ultimately finite existence. We may contribute in the short-term, but it’s all for not in the long. This conclusion assumes, of course, that what we see is what we get. But we know that what we see is not necessarily what we get. From quantum mechanics to invisible radio waves and even gravity, the universe is full of things that do not make themselves apparent to the senses. Quantum entanglement is now being proposed as an explanation for time’s arrow; the suggestion by physicists being that it is the increasing entanglement of an object with its environment that leads things to unfold in the direction they do—towards a state of increasing entropy. But you may not like the implications of what I’m suggesting, since it speaks of the mystical, and of the possibility for there to be life after death (my death, your death, or that of the universe itself). So let me offer a less dramatic interpretation. Imagine if you will a black box. In that box you watch your entire life unfold, from non-existence to gestation and birth, and from birth to old age and death. Eventually you see yourself return to a state of complete non-existence, and the box is empty again. Now remove yourself as the observer, and imagine that what unfolded in the box was indeed not remembered, nor was it recorded or documented in any lasting way. Would you give it up? Is it somehow worth less to you? Or would you take the opportunity for existence at face value, despite all its impermanence? This is ultimately the question I’m getting at. At the very least, evolution would tell us that we are always progressing, caught in a perpetual flux of purposeful change and development. But even if you take the sun-won’t-last-forever-so-who-cares-anyway approach, what your experience in the black box tells you is that life is purposeful simply because it is in contrast to a state of non-existence. More specifically, your life is purposeful simply because it’s occurring. Imagine the experience of the black box itself. What a purposeless existence to contain no such life—what a purposeless experience without you. You are in contrast to that which is nothing. More importantly, you are an opportunity for the black box to reflect upon itself. The realization that the black box is the universe results simply in the realization that you are the consciousness of the universe itself. Should there exist nothing before or after you is of little importance. Should there be no storage of such self-awareness in some trillion-year memory, it doesn’t matter. It still was. Returning to the question of whether there is a point to change (and to affecting change), the answer is ultimately up to you, but I would like to make the suggestion that to raise the awareness of another is to raise the consciousness of the universe itself. And that, I must say, makes for a particularly interesting unfolding of events, in this black box or any other. To affect change is more than simple self-observation; it is the evolution of the universe itself.

Now for the short answer…

It’s yes. It’s always yes. It was yes in the moment my little brother lost consciousness, and it was yes in the moment my dad closed his eyes and reclaimed the darkness of his own black box. It’s yes in all the bad, and it’s yes in all the good. There is a point, and it’s staring right back at us, and it’s clear. These things are not things to bring us down. They are not things to immobilize us and paralyze us. They are not things to make us feel helpless. No, they are not these things. Rather, they are the very things that tell us there is a point. They are the things that tell us to wake up in the morning and make the changes we want to see in the world; to stand up for someone else; and to be brave and courageous. Imagine a black box full of courage. Imagine it full of all the good stuff. Is that not a purpose worth fulfilling—a point worth making—even in the darkness?

There are two kinds of people in this world. There are those who do something good with their existence, and those who don’t. There are those who take the potential and use it to make an impact, and those who squander it in madness and despair. We are only equal in this potential, no other. So make the most of it. In this incredibly short existence, do something that extends beyond yourself, something that really takes hold, even if it is all in passing.

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