What is man in the midst of nature? A nothing in comparison with the infinite, an all in comparison with nothingness: a mean between nothing and all. Infinitely far from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their principle are for him inevitably concealed in an impenetrable secret; equally incapable of seeing the nothingness whence he is derived, and the infinity in which he is swallowed up.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Pensées, first published posthumously in 1669, translated by O.W. Wright
The greatest mystery is not that we have been flung at random between the profusion of matter and of the stars, but that within this prison we can draw from ourselves images powerful enough to deny our nothingness.
André Malraux (1901-1976), Man’s Fate, 1933
If it is nothingness that awaits us, let us make an injustice of it; let us fight against destiny, even though without hope of victory; let us fight against it quixotically.
Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), XI, “The Practical Problem”, The Tragic Sense of Life, 1913, translated by J.E. Crawford Flitch
We arose from nothing, in a universe composed almost entirely of nothing. From atoms to galaxies, from viruses to our own bodies, matter is composed of mere wisps of particles suspended in vast oceans of nothingness, given form by invisible forces to create the illusion of tangible reality. We are the miracle children of matter and energy, forces and fields, physics and chemistry, probability and time. We are islands of order in a boundless sea of chaos. We are accidental sentience.
We struggle to survive on a tiny speck in a limitless cosmos, which may be only one of countless multiverses, hosting civilizations that have sparked into being and then are snuffed out in endless cycles of glory and tragedy. These grand and epic stories of self-aware, intelligent, feeling, suffering, passionate individuals and their families, communities, and worlds are lost forever in time and space, as if they never existed at all.
We are all born from stardust, and we all return to stardust when we die. Our lives are infinitesimal glimmers of consciousness between two infinite voids of darkness, somewhere between never and forever.
And our ultimate and final destiny will be perfect, irreversible annihilation in the unhurried, unending, unbounded entropic death of our universe, where we will again become nothing.
Perhaps younger, habitable universes exist among multiverses, but they may be forever inaccessible to us, even with advanced science and technology. And long before we need to escape our universe, we’ll need to escape our home planet – civilization may be snuffed out by an asteroid or another lethal hazard in our galactic neighborhood, and in a few billion years the Earth will be slowly cooked by our dying sun. Mere decades or centuries from now, we may end up joining Earth’s billions of extinct species, be made obsolete by artificially intelligent machines, or transform into beings that will no longer be recognizable as human. Even if humanity has a chance of survival, those who survive may no longer resemble humanity. For whoever survives, nothingness awaits.
In the long view, life is a struggle to control and adapt to change, an endless quest to rationally deal with our fear of the unknown, and an uphill battle against the agents of entropy, intolerance, cruelty, and hate. Living a worthwhile life as a human being requires a stubborn will to transcend the absurdity of existence and the futility of living – conditions inherent in our mortality combined with our inevitable fate of nothingness in a lonely, harsh, and ultimately doomed universe.
Life can often be a weary journey, but life can also be rewarding and meaningful when it is filled with moments of love and compassion, pleasure and joy, humor and laughter, learning and discovery, awe and wonder, passionate pursuits, beneficial achievements, altruism, kindness, empathy, tolerance, generosity – all the things that make us human and humane. And without these things, human civilization will atrophy into nothingness long before the universe does.
Yet none of this makes our lives insignificant – it makes our lives precious. We are living a rare opportunity. Life is a privilege, meant to be lived to the full.
The meaning of life is to find meaning in each of our lives. Meaning and purpose are found within you and your relationships with others who journey through life with you. We are explorers of life, each of us encountering a minuscule portion of the four dimensions of our reality. But it’s our portion, and that makes it important, significant, and worthwhile.
Seek out meaning, live with passion, savor each day as a unique experience, good or bad, and play the best hand you can to meet challenges as they arise. Utilize your day – create, shape, and exploit it. Embrace life.
Focus on this life, not some wish-fulfilling escapist afterlife. Immortality is a fool’s fantasy. So don’t squander the gift of life. That would be the real tragedy.
See the unseen. Imagine the unimagined. Create the uncreated. Experience the unexperienced.
Be what hasn’t been. Live what hasn’t been lived. Love the unloved.
And above all, live as if this was your only chance at life.
Live it up!
Eternal nothingness is O.K. if you’re dressed for it.
Woody Allen (1935-), “My Philosophy”, Getting Even, 1971