“All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it’s pretty damn complicated in the first place.”
― Douglas Adams
This I think was the aha moment Claude was pushing me towards. It was almost painful in a sense, some of the things I have come to realize in the last few days, and yet it was incredibly exciting.
After watching videos from Shots of Awe and noticing Ernest Becker was repeatedly referenced I decided to pick up two of his books, I am choosing to start with The Birth and Death of Meaning, while I’m insanely busy the next two weeks I will let you know how the book goes. I’m almost afraid to start it, afraid that like the explosion of awareness that started Tuesday night, Becker’s words will consume my mind.
What struck me as I thought about the human aim, the singulars and the generalities, expectations, and the reasoning of science was the idea of oneness.
We believe in our oneness, we believe that our uniqueness is something to be applauded and recognized but on what grounds? Why, when you consider the number of homo sapiens that have existed, that continue to exist , would our existence matter? Throw in all the other carbon form forms, living and non, and the planets, starts, and galaxies, known and unknown, and it becomes terrifying how little we matter. How insignificant our existence becomes.
Science, perhaps rightly so, occasionally allows error, ignores the exceptions to the rule because even 5% is so insignificant when you consider the proportion relative to all the other ones in the universe. Yet, science usually says no – any error is too much, it is after all the reason the science kids scorn the psych kids. Perhaps this is because they realize the terror of the infinite – the idea that as time goes one we are essentially becoming less and less significant. Maybe I’m giving them too much credit, but it would explain their massive egos. If they make a massive contribution, they figure they count for more ones?
We realize that the human imagination is capable of infinite possibilities. Possibilities beyond reality, that we may never live to see come to see to fruition. And yet our significance, our life is incredibly, painfully, tragically, finite. Our existence is limited in many ways, even if our mind is not.
If we ignore the exceptions, discount them as too insignificant in the grand scheme of things – then we too, do not matter.
We work from generalities because the ones are too much to know. It is information overload. Perhaps psychology accepts this more because it see the vastness of the ones. Psychology is okay with being proven wrong, because the uniqueness of man, and the sheer number of people who have existed and continue to exist, means that it is incredibly likely that eventually an exception will be found.
Yet we have this need to understand, to grasp the infinite possibilities, the infinite nature of everything that is, has been, and will be and make it finite. Which is almost beyond our processing abilities – perhaps why people become experts and we all hate a know-it-all. To know everything, to know anything with absolute certainty is impossible. It may also be the reason we developed technology. Both to pull our ideas and conceptions into existence, and to remove some of the processing demands from our own minds; to free them up for bigger thoughts and allow us to see the infinite connections. To expand awareness beyond the limits of our biology. To create something less finite than our own existence. To go beyond our mortal flesh, beyond our impending loss of everything.
This has been an earth shattering realization for me – I am one in a sea of unknowable size, becoming less and less significant by the day. I have this finite existence, despite the infinite capacity of my mind. It has been suggested that the brain’s capacity for storage and processing is virtually limitless, but perhaps it is just that we have not the time to test it long enough to find the limits. If we are finite beings is our mind not something finite or does our mind go beyond our pitiful, insignificant existence? Do we suppose our minds are infinite and that we simply have not had the time to find it, to avoid the terror of the fact that our own lives are so finite? To avoid our own mortality? Is this an attempt by science to extend the human life, to conquer death, to make our bodies as infinite as our imaginations?
We have always grappled with this – it’s why the question of “Why am I here?” has plagued the minds of homo sapiens since we first developed the ability to think at such a level.
Is psychology then the study of the oneness? The careful studying of what makes us more than hydrogen atoms (not even water molecules) in an ocean? The attempt to find the things that bind us together to at least form a puddle. The drive to be a part of something that makes our own lives connected to something bigger so that we are no longer, the insignificant being that we fear we may be.
Maybe that’s why adolescence is so tough – the stereotypical cry of “You don’t understand! No one understands what I am going through!” (which I admit, I was not immune to, I was a teenager not so long ago, in fact I think I used the big kid variation last week.) is evidence perhaps that in adolescence, the whole spotlight effect is because we feel our oneness more deeply as we try to separate from our parents, the whole autonomy struggle psychology is always talking about. We try to become this one and it terrifies us, so in adulthood we seek out this understanding of a connectedness, the patterns and generalities that make us less alone.
Beyond the oneness, I see psychology as the study of thought, behaviour, emotion, and neurological functioning. Of existence, humanity, culture and uniqueness.
The study of the ties that bind, and the threads of the rope.
It seeks to expand our awareness of existence in ways technology has perhaps not expanded enough to grasp. Existence beyond the limits of ourselves, yet flowing back on the oneness at the same time. A perpetual cycle to understand humanity in an attempt to understand ourselves, which we use to understand humanity.
A cycle not unlike that of knowledge acquisition.
Wow. Just wow. What a week.
What do you think? Does the idea of oneness and complete insignificance terrify you? Do you think it somewhat explains mental illness? Perhaps is mental illness simply a reaction to this realization in some way? At least some of them?
Is that what psychology is?
Tell me down below what you think.
“The only thing that scares me more than space aliens is the idea that there aren’t any space aliens. We can’t be the best that creation has to offer. I pray we’re not all there is. If so, we’re in big trouble.”
― Ellen DeGeneres