General08 Oct 2009 12:21 pm

The following is the remainder of an essay I wrote some 30 years ago which I recently found while getting rid of old notebooks.

Studies of human infants appear to replicate in the individual what has happened in primitive societies. The infant, like primitive cultures, starts from chaos and slowly forges a sense of having a world, a cosmos.

At first it appears that a newborn is a float in a sea of undifferentiated sensations. Bombarded with sights, smells, sounds and sensations all without a distinct form or meaning. Eventually patterns emerge and a child is able to isolate and identify objects and sensations. At some point in time he becomes aware that he is separate from the world of sensorial objects which stimulate his perceptions.

The ability to isolate sensations and identify and focus on specific objects creates a world out of the formless sea of earliest life. Once the baby begins to overcome chaos with order, he begins to take pride in his ability to make associations amongst objects. Quickly he jumps from identifying his specific dog and stuffed bear, to understand the concept of dog and stuffed toy. The lamp becomes a lamp and the entire world of generalized objects opens up to his awareness.

Since the word often makes a thing spring into life for a child, often young children have difficulty separating the object from its name or the word used to identify it. This is the stage of word magic when the very naming of the object seems to create its existence. Until the word was learned, the object eluded his perception, but once the sound (word) found its association the object sprang to life.

The very possibility of having a world seems to be structured in language and the ability to have perceptions settle into differentiated objects. Like primitive societies the individual and his world come into existence out of initial chaos. Slowly we see snapshots of the world about us. Out of these snapshots we construct an organized world and universe. We seldom see an entire object, or a room and definitely not the entire planet or universe, yet our mind quickly learns how to fill out large pictures such as our room or house piecing together and filling out the voids left by separate and incomplete perceptions. This is how we sense, structure and live in the world.

The primitive felt meaning and the world very fragile things. The power of the Word was something revered by many cultures. Not only children, but early societies had a hard time separating a word from the thing named. The name of an object was not arbitrary but essential and in many cases the object came into being the moment it was named. People believed if you knew the correct name of an object you could call it into existence.

In ancient societies the object and its name were one. The naming of a child after a father or grandparent was not just a sign of respect and honor, but a way of insuring the continued existence of the name (person). This explains the fact that many cultures cite people living hundreds of years in their earliest history. As long as the name lived on so did the spirit of that person. A person only died when the chain of the name handed down from generation to generation got broken.

I mentioned these things to emphasize how central the quest for cosmos and the fear of chaos has been in the functional history of man. Man created the sacred as a way of giving life meaning and significance. Each increase in the realm of the sacred was an increase in the ordered world of meaning and a victory over chaos.

The desire and need to fabricate meaning through expanding the realm of the sacred continues in modern man. For modern man life can not be left on the level it is experienced. It cannot remain temporal, transitory and fragile. Life for most has to be grounded in purpose and meaning.

Ironically the more life was experienced and defined as a historical existence situated in real time and space, the more man relied on placing the essence of life beyond temporality. Both science and religion portrayed the same basic view of life. Even though life was experienced as temporal and finite, its essence is eternal.

Religion had Truth, God, the absolute, eternity and other trans-temporal superlatives. Science had law, Truth, infinity and its similar superlatives. In fact, the possibility of making a scientific or religious statement demanded both certainty and dogmatic truth. Neither science nor religion would view any temporal functional reality as worthy of credibility.

Rationalizing Pain

The struggle for survival has been a constant companion of human history since its earliest memories. His fight to survive his battles with the elements, drought, plague, animals, other tribes, ice ages, fires, etc. have caused man to suffer and left him puzzled and hungry to find explanations for life’s cruelty.

Man used to spend the bulk of his existence barely meeting his basic needs of food and shelter. Often the life of the average person was painful and fragile.

Man had to rationalize his pain, to find reason for existing. Without such reason man would find it hard to continue. Much of mythology and religion is focused on giving man hope and having him deal with pain and suffering. God and Truth are two ways of rationalizing pain and giving life meaning.

For ages pain and suffering have been prominent realities of human life. The search for meaning has likewise been a way for man to deal with his pain and suffering. In a world of incessant change it makes sense that man sought something constant to ground his life in.
This desire to find a non-changing basis for life gave birth to Truth and God. These ultimate and eternal truth’s gave man comfort and provided his life with meaning. Since the early mythic ages of man life’s purpose and meaning have been predicated on the eternal laws of God and Nature.

Life, Then and Now

Not many would argue with the belief that an individual goes through many stages of development. Actions, thoughts and activities deemed appropriate and beneficial at one age may be detrimental or restrictive in another. Mankind, like an individual, develops and grows through time. Where is mankind now in his development, and do his thoughts and actions match his stage of development? Are our lives filled with suffering and do we need absolutes to provide life with meaning?

I personally do not spend the bulk of my existence fighting to survive and do not experience my life as being predicated on suffering and pain. My life is not free of pain, but it certainly is not dominated by pain. I do not feel meaning fragile, but rather meaning is something almost impossible to remove from my experience.

In fact life is so saturated with meaning that I can look at a single event from a host of perspectives which all endow my life with meaning. I am free to see events from a biological, chemical, psychological, historical, economic, mystical, systemic, spiritual or anthropological perspective (just to name a few).

For millennia the possible arbitrariness of life was a source of vexation and despair for man. He looked to Truth and God to help him through the night. Yet, now I find then concepts of infinity, eternity and Truth to be sources of imprisonment and not comfort.

The very ideals that many found necessary to lesson the pain of man’s tenuous if not futile existence now feel suffocating. I find life to be a challenge and not a struggle or fight. I enjoy being temporal and find great pleasure in the finitude of experience. I like . being able to have choices and to see life from a host of perspectives. I find so much meaning in human experience that the arbitrary is no longer a demon. The fact that I a finite and will one day die gives my life meaning and significance. The thought of living forever or having an afterlife seems to make my time alive here seems to strip each moment of its importance and significance.

Castles in the Air

When we adopt a perspective we are giving meaning to our experience. If I take a ball and thrown it at a metal hoop extended 10 feet inn the air supported by a backboard little meaning is achieved. Yet, if I construct an entire game involving a complexity of rules, objectives and priorities I give the activity meaning and significance. If I give the activity which allows for success, improvement, creativity, and expansion I will have a better chance of funding this stimulating and rewarding.

I yearn to the the world from a host of perspectives. I want to experience the world, chemically, biologically, poetically and mathematically. I’d like to view and feel the world from the perspective of 16th and 17th century cosmologists and well as that of the 20th century astronauts.

I also want to build my own sand castles and have my children and grandchildren feel the world from my new forms of meaning. I want to give them the gift of enjoying and basking in our humanity and yearn to see and feel the world from their eyes.

Lived meaning is neither absolute or arbitrary. It is what it says it is, lived. Human life does not need absolutes or gods to become fulfilling and amazing. Every moment is both magical and real, full of meaning and capable of personal poignancy.

I enjoy a life of building castles in the air. No experience is fully captured by one truth or one reality. Absolutes and ideals cannot exist in our world, for our world is sensual and finite. This is not to say that one cannot use or be motivated by absolutes. Yet, being dependent on them seems to be such a waste of human potential and a restriction to the richness and quality of human experience.

Jim Guido

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