Friday, October 18, 2019

The Search for Meaning

Life is filled with many woes: not satisfying, weariness, boredom, much is missing. The moment this changes to joy, shortly it returns to the original state. We are bound by the chains of dissatisfaction.  A professor in the science of the mind in an article in the Kyeongyang magazine gives us a scientific understanding of what humans desire.

Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist, says all life has two basic emotions: positive and negative. If it is a negative emotion one strives to be rid of it, if positive one wants it to remain. This is true of all the many different emotions. 

What do we desire to avoid and what to possess? Hunger, pain, danger, are all associated with death, if possible we try to get rid of them. Satisfaction, security, happiness are related to life and we desire them. This is a basic principle in biology. All life follows this principle.

However, there is one exception, human beings. Up until now, it's only humans that kill themselves. We hear stories of animals killing themselves but they are only legends. Only humans show an absence of motivation to initiate purposeful activities. We see it often in cases of depression, not found in any other animal life.

 Not to desire anything is seemingly to rise to a high level of self-control but it's not a plus. In serious cases of depression, one often falls into this kind of situation— no desire to eat, sleep, no joy, or sadness. No motivational desire, there is no will even to kill oneself.

In 1944 in the concentration camp of Auschwitz many thousands of Jews were incarcerated. Vaguely they believed they would be freed at Christmas of that year. This was a groundless belief but it gave them hope. But nothing happened and within a week many died. A month later they were freed.

 What one hopes for is not that important. Hope itself gives life, energy. But without hope, seeking only power brings death. People who are depressed often kill themselves when they are recovering. They find the strength to do it.

 Of the seven capital sins, greed, lust, etc. half of them are to do with selfishness. When nothing is desired that is a very serious situation, it's called sloth. Eating to satiety, to rest and play is not just laziness, when all motivation and hope are missing we have depression.

 The writer uses Heidegger's expression of having been thrown into the world. We don't know what is our destiny which makes us feel uncomfortable. Greed, lust, gluttony, pleasure doesn't solve anything. It leads to boredom. Anxiety leads to depression and helplessness.

Hope is not only looking to win the lottery, get into college, get a promotion. This is only a release from the present anxiety using a temporary pleasure. It's not traveling around the world,  bungee jumping or other activities on our wish list which are just forms of escape, and bring more weariness and fatigue.

We need not ask what we can gain from life but what life wants from us. Our life can be unhappy, tragic, but it is not necessarily a failure. Life's object is not happiness or success. We need to look for what life is asking from us. It is the search for meaning.

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