I don’t know how often this topic has come up here before, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the past few weeks and I wish to have a discussion (not neccessarily a debate, but I thought this would be the best place to talk about it.) For some reason, at this time in my life, I’ve been thinking a lot about human existence, the meaning of life, what seperates man from beast, and various other existentialist thoughts.
I was raised in a not-very-religious household and never grew up with any kind of spiritual indoctrination. In school, I was always good at science classes (even though my real strengths were the humanities) but I never really understood the science. I was good at it in a rote, memorized way, not on any deeper level - I was good at internalizing rules and terms and systems of organization, but not good at really appreciating them for being anything else. The basic concepts of chemistry, physics and especially astronomy were always esoteric and confusing and made me have existentialist thoughts when I tried to understand them. Nevertheless I’d always thought that just because I didn’t understand science didn’t mean it wasn’t the answer to all of mankind’s problems, and that in the hands of “real” scientists, somehow the secret to human existence would eventually be unlocked.
I consider myself a spiritual person (more in the cosmic, all-encompassing-energy, Buddhist-esque vein than anything stemming from Western religion.) Once a friend and I were talking and he brought up the atom bomb, and pointed to this little spoon on the table and said, “something tinier than that spoon, something so tiny that millions of them are contained within the spoon, has the power to destroy an entire city. Isn’t that insane!” I thought, well, maybe it sounds insane, on the surface, but to me what it really means is that there is this incredible, powerful energy flowing through everything, that exists within every person, animal, plant, non-sentient object, and molecule of dust on the entire planet. And that’s not really all that different from Eastern religions’ belief in an all-encompassing life force free from the “self.”
I’ve recently been doubting that science does hold all the answers for mankind, and that science is simply an extention of what religion is - an intense human desire to know the unknowable and to figure out the meaning of our existence. Both are eteological - they seek to explain. Science, I thought, is just a series of classifications, of names, of taxonomies. We humans think that by having a Latin name for every little thing, by having a mathematical formula for every single event, that we really understand it - but all those animals, plants, and natural + physical phenomena were all there before man was around to make up languages and give them all names and classify and organize them. Scientists can research, experiment - even create new beings through cloning. But each door we unlock leads to a hallway filled with more locked doors. Each mystery we solve leaves hundreds unanswered.
Right now I’m almost 19 years old, done with my first year of college, unsure of my life’s meaning and direction and where I am headed, and desperately seeking some answers to these existentialist questions. Some of my peers are spiritualists who throw themselves into meditation and reflection, and while I’ve considered (and would be willing to explore) Buddhism, Hinduism, zen medidation, and all that, I still don’t know if it’s the solution to my quandaries. With every new scientific report I read about in the news, whether it be about astronomy or the human brain, confuses me and scares me. It scares me to think that there are billions of stars and planets and galaxies out there, that the “universe” is “expanding” or “contracting,” and that all of it is there to serve no greater purpose. That there is no reason for physical existence. I want to believe in a greater force, but I don’t know what greater force to believe in.