Living through Uncertainty

I am a very self-conscious person, who enjoys reading about psychology, understanding humans, and finding out what drives people every day… including myself.

Here are some thoughts about life and purpose.

The Uncertainty

“We all want explanations for why we behave as we do and for the ways the world around us functions. Even when our feeble explanations have little to do with reality. We’re storytelling creatures by nature, and we tell ourselves story after story until we come up with an explanation that we like and that sounds reasonable enough to believe. And when the story portrays us in a more glowing and positive light, so much the better.” Dan Ariely, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty

For myself (and many other purpose-driven individuals), each day is part of a never-ending journey of finding purpose.

An endless routine of trying to point out what motivates our own behavior, identifying what we value the most, and finding out where our truly intrinsic motivation stands.

The underlying hypothesis is that we can potentially figure out the rules of the game. Once we become fully conscious of our principles and life goal, then we simply need to ensure that everything we do is contributing positively toward that end.

In reality, it is far from being an obvious process. As it turns out, this self-exploration is quite depressing, and often means questioning the possible meaninglessness of existence beyond our self-established, superficial and temporary goals.

This acquired “freedom” of searching for and defining our own purpose is both scary and enlightening.

This is the same “enlightenment” that led many people to lose their religions, realizing that religious beliefs had long been a deeply rooted, undisputable, source of meaningfulness that is becoming less and less necessary today.

To quote one of the most misused citation of all times — from Friedrich Nietzsche:

God is dead

Just like any other endeavor, humans now survive in this overwhelming sea of uncertainty before understanding their reason for existing.

The Only Certainty

If there is one source of undeniable certainty, it is that any living being is temporary. This includes myself and yourself, our families, friends, the animals, and the plants…

Interestingly, despite everything being ephemeral (and the estimation of our life span is getting pretty accurate thanks to science.), we like to ignore it.

But if you ever lost someone you were very attached to, you should have noticed how “encountering death” has this interesting side effect of causing an existential crisis and reminding us of what matters (e.g. “What the hell am I doing with my life” type of moment).

“Hopelessness is a cold and bleak nihilism, a sense that there is no point, so fuck it—why not run with scissors or sleep with your boss’s wife or shoot up a school? It is the Uncomfortable Truth, a silent realization that in the face of infinity, everything we could possibly care about quickly approaches zero.” Mark Manson, Everything Is F*cked.

Death resonates strongly with both our “biological nature as living beings” and our emotional mechanisms. If death was not a thing, the essence of “what matters” would probably be very different.

Hope

In my opinion, the most dangerous mistake one person can make is putting their complete faith into an artificial and imaginary purpose:

  • Some put their core beliefs into the acquisition of money and fame ;
  • Some reject the uncertainty by following the same steps as their parents ;
  • Some find comfort in following a clear roadmap and meeting cultural expectations (e.g. getting a job, getting married, having children, buying in a house…).

Even if these “distractions” provide temporary reassurance, the illusion always fades away to some extent. Then starts the struggle of staying true to oneself, living one’s own life, finding true meaning, true purpose, and true hope.

On the other hand, there is — I believe — one unaltered source of hope.

“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” Emmanuel Kant’s “formulation of humanity”

Kant says we must treat relationships as ends.

Our lives are filled with relationships: parents, children, family, friends, pets… And placing our “core value” in these connections is one of the most fundamental axioms of our existence.

My personal justification for living by this principle might be naive, flawed, and self-fulfilling, but has so far provided a convincing motivation. If all the relationships we share along the way are as meaningless as the rest — then there is no point in anything. So we should as well trust in them.

Conclusion

Human beings tend to severely misjudge uncertainty in their lives.

We live in a paradoxical society where people firmly believe in self-constructed values (e.g. economy, careers, reputation…) while rejecting the only source of definitive certainty of our own limited lifespan.

Enlightenment comes when we do our best to treat all these artificial processes as means and treat other people as ephemeral, worthy, meaningful, ends.

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