Does life — and our appreciation of life — depend upon the sanctity of our personal cosmology?
One thing most all of us can agree upon is that we have a beginning and an end in this life, the one we are living and witnessing others living and are aware of in our family histories and the more general histories of societies around the world. We are born, our life as we conceive of it commences, and, later, we die. The evidence born of empirical testing, as opposed to simple belief, is that, upon death, our bodies decompose, and, along with them, the neuronal circuits that give rise to consciousness, including our perceptions of our selves. The best evidence we have is, it may not be over til it’s over; but, once it’s over, it’s over.
Whatever we may believe about what may happen next, after we die, we do not know it. It may turn out to be correct, but we simply lack the tools to answer this question in advance. One distinct possibility, based on what we do know (that we are here, now, and that our lives appear to begin and then end), is that we have a brief tenure on this planet. We simply don’t get to hang out here and be whatever it is that we are being forever. This stint may well be all we ever get.
We know that we either are here as the consequence of the design of some superior entity, or not. Either way, what is happening, this life we are living, is worthy of celebration. Perhaps all the more so, if, as descent with modification suggests, it may well have arisen without intent. Look at the beauty around us, the aspirations, the endeavors, the exasperations, the day to day stuff of human living. Is it not all the more precious if it is just an orphan, cosmologically speaking? If it is up to us alone to be our brother’s keeper, isn’t that state of affairs worthy of our time, attention, and trouble? What else is the concept of god if not to remind us about how we ought to be treating one another? Remind us, because, aren’t the basic principles of how to treat one another already inside us? We cogitate as if in reference to absolute principles, but we may do so simply because it works for us as a species to do so. We can scarcely expect to wean ourselves from such an attachment, but we may at least consider the possibility that the principles themselves have no reality beyond our positing them. It may feel to us as though life under such circumstances has no meaning, but, as with many other perceptual quirks to which we are subject, this feeling may simply be an illusion.
If this stint is all we ever get, don’t we owe it to ourselves and our fellows to make every day, every hour, every minute, count, if we are able? Don’t we owe it to ourselves not to squander our brief tenure on self-pity, retribution, certainty that all will end badly, and other distractions from actual living? We get stuck in patterns of behavior that suggest we are immortal, despite ample, continuing evidence to the contrary. We simply lack the time to grouse about and dwell upon that part of what is happening that we don’t like or that doesn’t seem quite right. That anything is happening at all on the level of human living is quite extraordinary, all the more so, if it wasn’t on purpose.
Intriguingly, if it wasn’t on purpose, then we needn’t torment ourselves over the question of why god would allow this or that misfortune. That conundrum becomes misapplication of neuronal circuitry. The problem of what we down here could or should do about such misfortunes, of course, remains.
What we know, then, is, that we are the most extraordinary assemblage of biological matter in the universe that we know of; we won the cosmic lottery, so to speak, and yet we are inclined to squander our short time here, bitching and moaning about how we got the shaft. When we behave this way, we are surely pursuing our own biology, but, in so doing, are we not exhibiting a lack of perspective on our relative good fortune?