Existential Agony

Did you ever wonder who it was out there who was feeling all those things that we as humans supposedly all feel, except that you don’t feel that way, and it bothers you?

Let me explain.

I’ve had a lifelong interest in science, which started even before kindergarten with astronomy. You can’t read about astronomy without regularly coming across philosophical treatises about our place in the universe. A typical example comes from Edwin Dobbs, writing in Harpers.

Dobbs tells us, as many others have in different words, that we as human beings on the planet Earth are "acutely aware of our position...insomniac, obsessional," hoping that other beings are out there because "[t]he alternative...is unthinkable."

"We see you in your loneliness," he puts it, along with, "our search for extraterrestrial intelligence is a cry in the dark, revealing the terrible longing around which our cosmology revolves."

I’ve also read writers who maintain that we are terrified that others are out there because it offends our sense of existential supremacy. They always describe this in terms of almost unbearable anxiety, profound feelings of humility, paralyzing fear or unfathomable terror.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve never really met anybody who has these feelings. Sure as hell I don’t.

I’ve only met writers who think that we do, or think we ought to, somehow, or we already do feel that way but aren’t able to express it. Or maybe it’s only the writers who have those worries, and project them out onto the rest of us so they won’t feel as bad.

When I talk to people about cosmology or the possibility of life on other planets, I don’t ever hear them say, "Please, God, no! It would challenge everything I’ve come to believe about my place in the universe!" or "Heavens, that would be wonderful for assuaging these excruciating feelings of cosmic loneliness I’ve been feeling, which I always thought were just gas."

I usually get things like, "Wow, wouldn’t that be neat?" or maybe some reasoned discourse on the practical possibilities, or a great deal of excited speculation on the specifics of such an encounter, or even, "Boy, I hope Prop 187 gets past the Feds by then in case they try to go on welfare." Practical reactions from real people.

Sure, most everybody I know has spent some time thinking about the universe and what it all means. But, for the most part, they don’t appear to go around in the perpetual state of high anxiety that many writers seem to feel grips the mass populace and a description of which seems to be obligatory in every bit of writing attendant to matters cosmological.

Let’s see, what was the point of this?

So don’t spend too much time feeling bad about not feeling the way people tell you you ought to be feeling. Usually, it’s more their problem than yours.

 


from: A Practical Guide for Everyday Living, by Lee Gruenfeld
* Copyright 1996, 1997 by Steeplechase Run, Inc. - All Rights Reserved

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