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Does Life Need Meaning?

November 7, 2014

It’s been a month since my last post.  Geez!  Actually, I’ve been too immersed in my studies of particle physics to take the time to write any blog posts.  I also got rather involved in a few video games, so I apologize for neglecting all of you!

I want to pick up on the conversation I was having with Michael.  Let’s abandon all the jargon and terms I had come up with in past posts.  I can’t stand jargon, even if I came up with it.  We’ll instead begin with a short talk by Alan Watts where he discusses this life and our search for meaning.

In this video, you’ll hear him say this:

 “So often when one listens to the beautiful character of the Baroque composers, Bach, or Vivaldi, it is felt to be significant not because it means something other than itself, but because it is so satisfying as it is.  And we use then this word ‘significance’ so often in those moments when our impetuous seeking for fulfillment cools down and we give ourselves a little space to watch things, as if they were worth watching.”

– Alan Watts

Many of Vivaldi’s compositions are practically perfect.  The conscious experience you have when you listen to the music feels complete, polished, and finished.  It doesn’t need fixed or fine tuned.  It’s almost as if you see the image of God through that music.  If you were to enter the throne room of God, and you asked Him to play you something, he’d play something like that Vivaldi composition.

Finding those diamonds of perfect experience in the rough of life is very challenging.  Undergoing this search in any creative endeavor seems to send you through these oscillating stages, bouncing back and forth, trying to converge on these eternal diamonds.  Like if I was composing music, you’d hear me flailing away on the piano, saying to myself, “No this isn’t it.”  So I’d keep trying different notes in varying patterns, hoping to stumble onto this “something”.  I’d keep at it, and slowly converge as close as I could to it.

convergence

Imagine that straight line is the “perfect” song, and the temporary song I’m working on is the curved line.  If you were to ask me what the perfect song was, I’d have no clue, but as I flailed away, somehow and in some way, I’d know I hadn’t found it yet.  Even still, in many cases I can get closer and closer and converge on it with practice, hard work, and mental effort.

I’m not a musician, but if I was, I would be having all sorts of experiences of playing the notes as I worked on each new compositions.  None of those experiences would feel complete.  They’d be lacking in perfection.  They would all be pointing to something else which I could feel inside of me.  All of my work in the studio would just be intermediary steps to find what I’m after.  However, if I stayed at it long enough, I may finally converge on that melody, that perfect sequence of notes, and then I would exclaim, “A ha!  This is it!”

I find it really interesting that this very thing is what St. Thomas Aquinas meant when he described our world as fallen.  Those “perfect”, complete, fulfilling experiences, they’re images of God.  Somehow God has been buried and hidden, but sometimes we uncover a small part of His existence.

It’s as if we’re all fragments of God trying to put ourselves back together.  The rest of our body is buried and scattered all over, hidden within a complicated maze of disorder, which we have to sift through.  That’s what it means to be “lost”.  It’s to be separated from this divine essence.  It’s to be separated from this deep, true perfect beauty which has always existed.

Aquinas argues that we can never put ourselves back together in this temporal life, but we can only glimpse fragments of what we should be.  Temporal happiness can never fulfill every desire because of this ‘dross’ obscuring our vision of God.  This dross is ‘evil’.

“In this life every evil cannot be excluded.  For this present life is subject to many unavoidable evils: to ignorance on the part of the intellect; to inordinate affection on the part of the appetite; and to many penalties on the part of the body….Likewise, neither can the desire for good be satiated in this life.  For man naturally desires the good which he has to be abiding.  Now the goods of the present life pass away, since life itself passes away…Wherefore it is impossible to have true happiness in this life.”

– St. Thomas Aquinas

And what does Aquinas argue is true happiness?  It is “the vision of the Divine Essence, which men cannot attain in this life.”  We are only as happy to the degree that we partake in the divine essence.  On earth, there can be only a beginning “in respect of that operation whereby man is united to God….In the present life, in as far as we fall short of the unity and continuity of that operation, so do we fall short of perfect happiness.”

The divine vision would be a series of conscious experiences which are all perfectly done, always beautiful, always infused with joy, excitement, and ecstasy – never ending, unceasing, an infinite stream of pure joy, beauty, and perfection.  That’s what we want.

We all have an inner craving to be reunited with such a conscious stream.  It’s almost as if we wish God would come down with a filter and sift away all the garbage from this world, leaving behind only those divine diamonds of experience, like Vivaldi’s musical compositions.

My father likes to play bluegrass music, so I grew up hearing songs like this one.  This whole discussion reminds me of it.  I’ve always loved bluegrass.

I can’t say what this life feels like for others, but for me, I feel like I’m equipped with a sort of inner sonar system.  I look around me and I’m almost completely surrounded by things which are poorly put together.  I then tune into this sonar and it leads me to small glimpses of a perfect world beyond, and I find myself asking, “Why aren’t more things like this?” In his Ethics, Spinoza writes, “All noble things are as difficult as they are rare.”  I don’t want to live in a world where they’re rare or difficult.  I want to live in a world where I don’t need to search.  I want that divine perfection to be all around me at all times, infused in every experience I have.  That, to me, is the quest for meaning in life, and the older I get, I do believe it’s too much to ask for in this human life.  That inner feeling makes me feel a stranger, belonging elsewhere.

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