18 May 2008

Abandoning the bonfire and wandering by lantern light

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.
--Carl Jung
Found that quote in Watchmen. Such a beautiful choice of words, kindling. Beautiful and precise.

In recent times I've become paralyzed in the face of opportunities for my life. To what should I apply myself? Searching for my purpose inevitably leads to searching for everyone's purpose. Quickly, I reach the dead-end of the purpose of life. I have no contribution to that question's answer.

I've decided that there is no objective ultimate purpose for me to adopt as my own. Any and every purpose is of our own creation, and so carries no special gravity. We kindle a light of meaning. We create from nothing our passions, deriving both the warmth for our hearth and the righteousness for our violence, both good and evil. The bonfire is beautiful – the flame and ember looks alive – but it consumes indiscriminately.

We're surrounded by the darkness of mere being. I think of Sagan's Pale Blue Dot space photograph and lecture (please read his words, they're quick). In the incomprehensibly vast universe, glows our speck of life, Earth. We breathe meaning into it, building our bonfire to chase back the cold and the dark of our insignificance, in search of safety.

I would find in the safety of the bonfire the purpose of life, the meaning we've kindled, so that I can be assured my choices in my life are wise. Jung's poetic words resonate with Sagan's photograph, shaking me out of that journey. There is no ultimate purpose to justify my actions, there is only what we create; my search is for not.

I have sought a great bonfire to bathe all my confusions and uncertainties in the light of its truth. I imagine that by inspecting the shadows a question casts, I could find a direction that would lead me to a solution. The light would project the problem onto a simpler plane, flattening its complexities, discarding the infinite subtleties, leaving only the salient moral issues so that I could act, righteous in the well delineated answer I found in the question's distilled silhouette.

I found no great bonfire, but instead many bonfires, each as bright as the next. They cast conflicting shadows, so that there are no shadows at all. With the cumulative light of all these bonfires, I see the many facets of my questions about life, all the intricacies and subtle interactions exposed by the incoherent ambience of the many intellectual perspectives, but no single solution dominates the others. There are no simplifying silhouettes, just an even more complicated problem!

So I have spiraled into the flames that I have kindled, obsessed with the search for meaning but making no progress with my original questions about life. I am warm, but I am lost and I fear I will be consumed.

I am now abandoning the bonfires. Together, they shine too bright and burn too hot to do me any good - there are too many absolutisms to be useful. Since I no longer expect to illuminate all of existence, I need just enough light to take the next few steps. It is wasteful and confusing to use anything more.

I'm going to carry a lantern. May it light my path as I wander into the darkness of mere being.

04 May 2008


I have a hard time recognizing experts. I have no reason to trust them. This quote is sharp to my ears as Moyers interviews expertologists.
We consider ourselves meta experts. Because we have lost any faith in the views of experts. And we don't want to be tarred with that description.

--Victor Navasky