Would appreciate input/perspective re questions

Discussion in 'Human Science' started by Azael, Apr 1, 2009.

  1. Azael Registered Senior Member

    Hey I'm not looking to have a pity-party, I just feel like I'm loosing touch and would appreciate some sort of well-thought reply to these questions.

    On one level I know why we are alive. I know (more or less) all I need to know about evolution, DNA variation, everything traced down to quantum physics and extrapolated to the movement of planets — or at least I know I’m in a position to find out.

    I know that our prime biological directive is survival, and that in a sense our actions can be said to be as logical and bound to the movement of particles as dropping a ball and letting it fall to the ground.

    But I don’t understand.

    I don’t understand why a janitor works long hours for minimal pay simply to put food on the table when he is propagating an existence he knows to be bleak. I don’t understand why he chooses to have children when he knows that they are not economically viable, or he is not in a position to really provide the best for them.

    I acknowledge how lucky I am in so many respects. I simultaneously cannot understand why human beings living in torturous conditions, starving, afflicted without medical attention — choose to continue living and further the cycle of life by having children. Do the joys of life really outweigh the pains? Is the human survival instinct so strong as to direct people to seek life when dying is of no consequence? Is the effect of religious or social dogma so strong as to create an unquestioned directive to live for human beings? Is there a reason why the sacrifice of one’s life is regarded as the highest form of self-sacrifice?

    It's a source of confusion to me, so much that I don’t try to understand lest I become even more confused. Hypothetically if I had all the facts I could work out the geography of why every rock lies where it does, why the clouds move in the meteorological patterns that they move in, but as I look at the rocks and the sky I’m assaulted by a total incapacity to really understand why they exist at all — what binds them, what about them is supposed to provoke a reaction in me consisting of wonderment or the appreciation of beauty and awe.

    I don’t understand why, all things being equal, my mind consistently conjures violent dreams of being hunted down by tigers, being forced to fight the entire population, or being persecuted by people or intangible ominous entities. I don’t understand why these dreams fail to provoke within me any real sense of terror or discomfort.

    I hang around other people, but I don’t understand what compels them to do what they do. I don’t understand why they work their asses off for weeks to finance a ski trip which lasts for days. I don’t understand the payoff. I don’t understand why people seek loans from the bank which they cannot plausibly or easily pay back. I don’t understand why people presume the existence of supernatural beings when the force driving this belief is not logical deduction, but indoctrination by others.

    I don’t understand how my biological programming can be to survive yet my thoughts are so easily capable of challenging, analyzing and destroying the survival instinct — I don’t understand why it’s so easy and natural to reach the conclusion that all things are equal and inconsequential anyway.

    I don’t understand why people hold grudges or engage in spiteful behaviour, when it ultimately serves to make them unhappier. I don’t understand how the fruits of a 1st world capitalist society can be anything more than tentative entertainment to fill the time between birth and death.

    I know that my awareness, my consciousness, or my subjective ability to experience may simply be a manifestation of complex chemical processes within my brain. Yet I don’t understand why as human beings we are considered to have feelings when a rock — also made of atoms — is presumed not to. I don’t understand the point where complex groups of atoms are considered to be alive.

    I don’t understand why I need these questions answered. I don’t understand why I can’t be happy without this sense of meaning and understanding.

    I hope that people will respond and show me how and why my thinking is completely wrong.
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  3. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

    Gaah, this entire post would have been easy to be flip about, but I'll be serious, because I guess you really are.

    Good start: knowing you can find out is a big first step, take the rest.

    Only in a sense: looking for "logic" in life is probably one reason you've got to this state.

    Welcome to the club.
    And that isn't being sarcastic.

    Yourself or a general question?
    If it's general then people do what they because they want to or the feel they should or they feel they have no choice.
    If it's you: see final comments at the end.

    Generally yes.

    It's a biological instinct, not a social or religious one.

    Only regarded as worthy if it's done to help others.

    Half of that I can't even begin to answer: people's reasons are a mystery to me too.
    Why does that guy drink that beer?
    Why is he married to her? etc.

    I'm going out on a limb here: you sound much like me a year ago.
    And it turned out be depression.
    Everything was pointless and futile.
    I took the advice of a friend (after much nagging) and raised the subject with my doctor.
    It took him less than a minute to work out that it was depression, once I started being utterly honest about my life and feelings, instead of being a guy about and putting a brave face on it.
    And I really felt a stigma being diagnosed as a depressive.
    But I am getting better; slowly.
    There's still bad days, and there's days when I can actually look at the sky and think "yeah, it's not that bad".
    But I'm a long way off jumping out of bed in the morning and looking forward to anything.
    The first step is raising the subject with a medical professional.
    My two penn'orth.
    I could be wrong, don't take my word on the above, but what you've said is nearly exactly what my thoughts were.
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  5. Azael Registered Senior Member

    Thanks for the response.
    I know the entire ramble seems "icky" to me too but I needed some sort of external input -- to know if it was just my thinking that was the problem.

    Thanks again.
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  7. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

    No problem.
    I had thought about not posting: but the more I read the more it was frighteningly familiar.
    If you want, PM me about it.
  8. Bells Staff Member

    Education and discovery is a wonderful thing. You are lucky that you are in a position to experience both.

    And in following that 'prime biological directive', we are sometimes illogical.

    We are alive so that we may live. Part of our 'biological directive', though not viewed as being essential by the pure biologists or scientists, is to experience life and all that goes with it. To live is to love and hate, to touch and feel, to question what we see and hear but sometimes to just feel joy or even sadness about what we see, hear and experience. Yes, that is all girly and touchy feely, but I am in that kind of mood at present.

    I do not view my 'prime biological directive' as being merely survival. For me to survive, I need to love and to hate and I need to be able to see and experience all that I can. I need to feel. I need to hope. "Survival" is but one part of what makes us human.

    Neither do I. But the journey to try to understand is what makes me who I am and possibly what makes you who you are.

    The janitor does it because he feels he needs to do it. What may be bleak to you may not be so to him. He will find happiness, even in his poverty.

    I defer to Oli's answer here. The answer is yes.

    And sometimes, it is nice to just enjoy it all in the moment. Sometimes we need to do that.

    Because those few days of pure unadulterated fun makes up for the hard work they had to do to get there.

    And some people believe in God because to them, it is essential to their existence. It provides them with answers so they do not feel the need to look further or deeper within themselves.

    You need or desire the answers because you feel it would provide you with some meaning.. some reason to explain your own existence.

    I am probably not the best person to answer your questions because I too am currently plagued with many questions that do at times, consume me somewhat. I too sometimes find myself in the same boat as you currently see yourself in. But for me, I view it as a part of my self discovery. I don't know if I will ever be able to answer my questions and I have come to the realisation that I may never be able to answer them. But I also know that the journey to find those answers is what makes my life interesting.

    I suggest you take Oli's advice. If you do feel overwhelmed, you should speak to someone about it. And I don't mean that in a bad way. But consider it as being a method to helping you answer those questions.
  9. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    "Please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
    The courage to change the things that I can;
    And the wisdom to know the difference."

    Understanding is highly overrated in today's society. And worse, pretending to understand often causes more problems than the original issue. And far worse is berating oneself for not being able to understand something that's probably inexplicable.

    Baron Max
  10. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    No one really does but we try to get along with life as best we can. Learning what we need to know, having fun, being happy, doing what we enjoy if possible. Then it ends, all to quickly, so just get out there and live!
  11. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Abraham Maslow says your model is incomplete. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs has five steps: Survival, Security, Love, Respect and Fulfillment. (The psychology books title them differently but I'm going for sound bites here.) You need to look a little deeper into biology and discover that humans, like most other species of primates, are pack-social creatures. Each of us defines our life instinctively as including the members of our pack, and so our "directives" are much more complicated than those of an instinctively solitary animal like a tiger.
    There's a thread going on about whether money buys happiness. It buys survival and security, Maslow's first two steps, but it doesn't get you very far beyond that. You obviously live a fairly prosperous existence and you can't understand how people of limited means can be happy. Well they can. If they have enough to pay for their survival and security, they find a way to get their love and respect, and perhaps even fulfillment, without spending a lot of money on it.
    The urge to procreate is a preprogrammed instinct. Duh! A species that doesn't have it would not survive. Civilization has been a ten thousand-year endeavor to override our instinctive behavior with reasoned and learned behavior, so many people including myself have stuck by the decision not to procreate (and certainly not due to poverty in my case). But most people have children because it's in their nature. It also, by itself, provides happiness. Talk to some new parents, you'll find that the experience provides them with an instinctive source of joy that overcomes all the sleepless nights and dirty diapers. Even adoptive parents feel it; a friend of mine said that when the social worker put the baby in his arms and uttered the magic words, "This is your son, Mister Doozer," he felt like a toggle switch had been thrown inside his body.
    You don't have enough respect for instincts. Reflect on the fact that Homo sapiens is the only animal with this uniquely massive forebrain, which gives us the ability to suppress or modify our instincts with reasoning and learning. All other animals' lives are guided much more strongly by their instincts. And their species get along just fine.
    Well yes, it is. All animals have to have a survival instinct or their species will end up as a very short fossil record.
    Well that's the pack-social instinct. Other pack-social animals have it too. We each depend on and care for our pack-mates. Originally those were the couple of dozen extended family members in our nomadic clan of hunter-gatherers, whom we had known since birth. As we developed agricultural settlements and ultimately cities and nations, we reshaped that instinct to apply with slightly less fervor to an enormously larger "pack." Most of us would stop and think twice before jumping into a raging river to save a stranger, but there is always someone on the shore who has a reasonable combination of strength and altruism to do it despite the risk. And I think most of us would risk our lives without hesitation to save a whole busload of people. People volunteer for military service when they believe their entire nation is in danger. We have the instinct to sacrifice ourselves for the good of the pack.
    Everyone needs a little danger in their life. It generates hormones like adrenaline. If there is no real danger because after all life for most of us is a pretty low-risk activity, then we do one of five things:
    • 1. We find something risky to do for recreation, like hang gliding or white-water rafting.
    • 2. We find a way to simulate risk convincingly, like violent MMORPGs, shoot-em-up movies, or a fertile imagination like yours.
    • 3. We become compulsive about physical exercise, which to a certain extent simulates the activities resulting from danger and certainly yields some of the same hormones, endorphins and exhaustion.
    • 4. We suppress it by denial or drugs.
    • 5. We don't do anything so we let it cripple us emotionally.
    Again, you need to delve a little deeper into psychology. Jung tells us that religion is a collection of archetypes, instinctive beliefs that are programmed into our DNA and occur in all cultures in all eras. Many archetypal beliefs are clearly leftover survival traits, like the urge to run from a large animal with both eyes in front of its face. Others may be accidents passed down through genetic bottlenecks like Mitochondrial Eve. Whatever the case, Jung says that belief in the supernatural is part of our nature.
    You say that, but do you actually have suicidal urges, or at least the ability to stop caring for your own biological needs? The fact that you're here asking these questions suggests that you want to survive.
    Capitalism is just a fancy word for decentralized management of the gigantic economic surplus that an industrial economy produces. It's merely one step in the progress of civilization. Ten thousand years of civilization has generated (with many setbacks but nonetheless inexorably) a steady improvement in the quality of life that only professional curmudgeons like Max can gainsay with a straight face. The proliferation of entertainment is only the most recent manifestation, and one that our pre-industrial ancestors in the fourteenth century--with their hundred-hour work week and "careers" in back-breaking food production--would flog you for decrying.

    Most people try very hard to make it up onto the third step of Maslow's Hierarchy and find love. A lot of them strive for respect and the world abounds with people who seek and occasionally achieve fulfillment. They're not "filling the time between birth and death."

    You sound like a person who hasn't yet found anything that excites you. Keep looking. It's out there. You don't say how old you are. If you're somewhere between 15 and 25, then you're experiencing what most people experience at that age. It's just that you are thoughtful and articulate enough to wonder about it; most people aren't.

    Possibly the hardest thing to learn in life is patience.
    We have electrochemical processes we call "thoughts" that can be observed with instruments. And we have hormones which, in conjunction with neurological processes, result in "emotions." Rocks don't have these things, but many other animals do, to a greater or lesser extent.
    Life is defined by many or all of the following: organization, regulation of internal environment, adaptation to external environment, metabolism, growth, reproduction and response to stimuli.
    Because this need for answers and knowledge is your particular path to fulfillment, your Fifth Step in Maslow's Hierarchy. I suspect that what's gone wrong is that you've set your focus on the top step (that's a conceit, we don't know what new steps may be discovered in the post-industrial era) without fulfilling your needs at the lower steps. I'm sure you've got survival and security covered, but have you got love in your life? Or respect? One problem many bright, articulate young people have is that their very intellect and constant seeking of answers alienates them from their peers, who aren't developed enough to understand them. This makes it hard to find love and respect, so they try to skip directly to fulfillment.

    Evidence suggests that life just doesn't work that way. You have to take it one step at a time.
    It's not "completely wrong." The majority of what you say is more or less correct. It's just incomplete, and the gaps are misleading you.
  12. chris4355 Registered Senior Member


    Maybe the janitor does not see his job as badly as you do? Maybe he sees meaning in his life by having children? People look at the world differently. Something that doesn't make sense to you may make sense to someone else no matter how illogical, and vice versa.

    Maybe they don't choose to have children, they jsut want to have sex, whereby pregnancy and children is the outcome of it all.
    That's all subjective. Some people dwell over the most minute problems in their lives, while others can throw their lives upside down and move on the next day.

    Apparently so.

    Yes, because people need understanding, and meaning. No matter how ridiculously illogical it might be. I think religion comes from the fact that we are too smart for our own survival.

    I take it you are an atheist?

    Because death is the ultimate sacrifice, I don't see how that is difficult to comprehend.

    How would you feel if you knew it all? Wouldn't life be... boring?

    I don't either.

    I think I would live a life of suffering for a glimpse of happiness in the end. If it means I suffer more then be it, I only live once might as well enjoy it as much as I can.

    So you tell me there's absolutely nothing in your life that you care for more than another?

    Does it?

    Well, its better entertainment than living under a communist rule don't you think?

    Ever heard the quote "I think, therefore I am."

    I think there's a lot of meaning to this quote.

    Also, two things composed of the same thing are not necessarily the same.

    Maybe just like the janitor likes his kids, you enjoy understanding? Take it as a gift. Most people go through an entire lifetime without ever even questioning it.

    Maybe you find comfort in understanding the world around you, nothing wrong with that really. Whatever makes you happy.

    I think you are right about a lot of things. I also think you need to find something to be passionate about. Over analyzing things to death is not always the way to go, the human mind can only bear so much and our understanding is limited.

    Try a little ignorance, find a reason to be happy and just live.

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