Do you ever wonder what is going on everywhere else? What your friends are doing when you aren’t with them? What your ex is up to right now?
Fact: the majority of people will live and die without you ever having even seen them, let alone interacted with them. Obviously you hear about so much going on in the world—international conflicts, celebrity relationships, success stories and tragedies—but it almost seems like all of that couldn’t possibly be going on. My own existence is so staggeringly hard to comprehend—how the hell am I supposed to imagine that seven billion others are going through the same thing?! And that some 100 billion have come and gone on this planet with similar stories?!
Maybe all of that other existence is just a figment of my imagination, a massive charade created by my subconscious to give me some semblance of solidarity, to make me feel not so alone. My mind simply created the Kardashians, two billion Chinese, and all the people of history just so that I would not realize how truly and terribly alone I am. Now there are a number of arguments that immediately emerge at this point—such as “yeah right”, “you wish”, and “are you dumb?”—but even if we disregard those eloquent arguments, the question still begged is: if all people are nothing more than my own perception, then what is real? These are the same musings that brought Descartes to come to his famous cogito ergo sum conclusion: the rationalization that the only possible thing that we can be certain exists is ourselves.
Now that’s just egoistic. There is no way that I can believe that my mind created all that—by which I mean more than just people but also the Earth and heavens and everything in between, as the cogito argument postulates. I simply cannot give myself that much credit, to believe that I am the (perceptional) creator of all things. But maybe…
I could imagine myself as the director of some massively complicated film, where production only runs as long as I am on the set; once I step away, everything freezes. When I am alone, no one else is doing anything else—the actors mill about the stage or retreat to their trailers to go over lines. When I run into an old friend on the street they greet me with well-rehearsed joviality, say their part, and then walk away…off the set.
You mean the Truman Show? Yes…but no! I’m talking about the Truman Show on a cosmic scale! It would not just be people: when I am indoors there is no natural world. Rivers do not keep running like a leaky faucet, waterfalls do not perpetually cascade, and there is absolutely no way that the ocean is constantly crashing wave after wave against every beach across the world simultaneously…year after year! This would answer the age-old question about trees falling when no one is around—it doesn’t happen! Can you honestly wrap your mind around the number of generations of flies that have been born or how long it supposedly takes rocks to complete their cycle from sand to magma? Seems just as plausible to me that everything pauses when I’m not looking. Yeah right. You wish. Are you dumb?
And don’t get me started on outer space! I’ve seen the pictures of nebulae and galaxies, swirling colors and unbelievable shapes composed of millions of dots of light, all distant stars and far off planets, each with the possibility of housing all the complications of our own insanely burdened world, and more. Such images do nothing to convey the scope of such these celestial bodies—or the magnitude of all that such existence implies. Think for a minute on everything currently happening on this planet—tectonic plates shifting; rivers running and trees growing; animals living and dying; people living and dying, loving and fighting, speaking and dreaming and doing everything else that our brains put us to. You cannot. It is too much to comprehend in our mortal minds.
Yet all the goings on of Earth are just a single action within the unimaginably enormous movement of all that exists; the equivalent of one single panda farting in relation to everything happening on Earth. Inconceivable. Far better to imagine that beyond the atmosphere I see there is nothing going on and any NASA imagery that seems to say otherwise is a mere fabrication of my endlessly creative imagination.
Of course believing myself creator, or director, is the height of narcissism. It is to play God, and to proclaim that everything exists only because I perceive it so. And yet imaging myself as God is much easier than considering the implications of (possibly) limitless existence. Talk about empathy! I have trouble enough struggling with my own existence that there is no way I could conceive of every other life form going through the same process of living. The idea that each person also has a million neurons firing in their brains and a thousand problems to think about does not comfort me with solidarity; it overwhelms me. And that is just people! There is no way that I can imagine how many billions of blades of grass are growing at each moment, or how many grains of sand are being blown by the wind every second. My mind would far rather accept that all of that nonsense is not real, not actually going on, is nothing more than mere fantasy.
Or can I? If believing these scenes do not exist—or only exist as extensions of my will—is the ultimate form of self-centeredness, than to believe they could exist on their own would require complete modesty; to allow that not only am I incapable of such high levels of comprehension, but that it is right that I should have no say in the matter because I am nothing more than a cog in the great machine of existence. Only a spoke on a cog, or a dust mote upon that spoke. Of course every person goes on living when I leave their presence. Of course nature does exactly what it has always done even when I close my eyes or walk away. I have very little influence on anything besides myself so it is ridiculous to believe that I could possibly have control over so much.
That is a difficult concept to grasp. Its comprehension is what lies at the end of the journey of humility, perhaps at the end of the journey of life itself. Your own insignificance may only be truly understood when you are leaving this world to which you assumed you had lent so much meaning—but maybe even hoping for an epiphany of that magnitude at the time of your Departure is still too munificent to human ability; another hopeless piece of hubris. Maybe it is impossible to ever truly understand.
I like to think about all the life that goes on outside of my view, but I no longer imagine that my thoughts have any bearing on reality. I can think about the world behaving normally without my watchful guidance and of people living their lives exactly as they always have or I can think that everything outside of what I see is nothing but a dense fog from which emerge scenery and characters when I choose to interact with them. The only thing I try not to think is that either is more important, or more probable, than the other. Maybe the world—the universe!—is nothing more than my perception of it, maybe I did create it, but unless I am able to exercise some sovereign control over it I do not see what purpose that realization has. Neither does it do me any good to consider just how puny, pointless, and altogether insignificant I am in the face of the universe if I have no bearing on it at all; that is just depressing! I hope that the answer comes to me on my deathbed, but not a moment before. Life is too sweet to waste on such wonderings.