, ,

What is your goal in life? There is an ongoing problem for atheists, that many other people acknowledge too – without religion humanity has no purpose. A typical atheist approach to humanity’s role in the otherwise meaningless world is to survive and reproduce. They follow Charles Darwin’s idea of “Survival of the fittest”, and choose to live with the idea that we living species are here as the end result of those who have survived over billions of years the environments they encountered. They believe that to survive personally is meaning enough and that to reproduce their DNA to carry on our species is superfluous. Merely living is the meaning of life. Of course the very idea of meaning is a verbal concept derived from our ability to communicate in a language; without language the idea of meaning doesn’t exist. Physical matter just exists, and the other creatures that don’t have language just exist, and they do what they do because it is their proper response to the experience of the moment.

Religions offer us a purpose for our existence that is beyond the animal’s immediate experience, and beyond the atheist’s life as a summation of the historical immediate experiences. Religious ideas are communicated to humans in words, and via the words they have an intellectual understanding and emotional experiences. As these religions matured they acquired rituals that included all of the senses, including physical gestures, musical expressions, odoriferous incense, tasty libations, sensuous anointings, each of which was associated with some symbolic meaning that was developed with words and language. Without the verbal symbolic meaning those experiences would just be what any animal would enjoy. The atheists have abandoned these pleasurable rituals as foolish.

Religious ideas tend toward ultimate meanings for our temporary human existences. People easily cross over from emotionally perceived meaning into infinite meaning. People think of the Universe as infinite, and themselves as an important part of that infinity. Using the Deep Space photos taken by the Hubble space telescope we can now estimate the size and limits of the whole universe. It is now seen that there are about hundred billion galaxies, and each of those generally have about a hundred billion stars, and it is now seen that many of the stars have planets. That’s a huge number of planets. If you imagine our sun to be the size of a grain of sand, then compacted together all the stars in the universe imagined as grains of sand, they would form a cube 14 miles on a side. The point of mentioning this vastness is that people easily speak in universals, and ultimates, and infinites, but their actual experience of physical things is far less than a grain of sand compared to that big cube, and that immense size still isn’t an infinity.

Mentioning that vastness is intended to bring us back to thinking about our personal selves and our human reality. We can think about things within our expected lifetimes. If you are very young you can hope for a hundred years of life, and if you are very old you can still hope for ten more years. We can all hope for ten years, and so it makes sense to plan out to ten years. Also, ten is an easy number to work with when projecting into the future. Thus ten years sets a reasonable single number for outer and inner limits on our human-scale planning. We can mentally project ourselves ten years into the past and into the future, and by looking at people and things that we know are ten years younger or older we can make projections and adjustments from what we presently are into what we might become that are realistic. These are not absurd infinities.

The rate at which modern technology is progressing makes projecting ten years out difficult in some ways, and easy in others. My ten-year-old car can easily make it ten more years, but my ten-year-old computer was abandoned long ago. A top quality ten-year-old laptop computer still functions, but it’s the current internet that makes it viable, and a much more functional tablet can be bought for one tenth the price paid for that old laptop. And, making ten-year projections on what will be a popular song is meaningless.

Those are ways of thinking about the future and putting reasonable limits on what to expect and what we ought to prepare for. Thinking about one’s personal future in infinite years is absurd, and confining oneself to the present moment as the way the future will be is also absurd. Some things can be projected to ten years, and you can make reasonable adaptations to those assumptions, but some things are unknowable and too protean. In a turbulent world those planning ten years ahead can have built in an anti-fragile lifestyle. “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” ― read Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder.I recommend that book so you can –

Design your life so no matter which way things change your situation improves.