Giving Strangers Headaches

I wrote an article about how these coins are not magic and some of my friends started hoarding them. So I thought to myself, “How can I make this worse?” I know! I will create existential nightmares on a Saturday night!

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For our maternity shoot (yes, “our”), my wife and I did a traditional African themed photoshoot. Why? Why not!? I have dramatized one of the behind the scenes photos for this article with high contrast black and white. Scary, isn’t it? Don’t be scared, it’s just boring regular me with a little bit of face paint. But the look means something to you as an observer without context, doesn’t it? This is what I want to explore in this article. Meaning and the human desire for it.

Now that I have circumvented you thinking I am crazy, let’s proceed to undo that good work, shall we?

Headache Trigger Warning {You can get off this train now if you want}

Still here? Well, you were warned.

“Follow the White Rabbit Neo…”

There is a line in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy by Douglas Adams that goes, “Though, as our story opens he no more knows his destiny than a tea leaf knows the history of the East India Company.” This line about the title character Arthur Dent. The earth is about to be destroyed to make room for a hyperspace bypass and he is lying in front of a bulldozer to prevent his own house, ironically, from being run over by a bulldozer to make way for… Wait for it… A bypass. The funny thing is that the same bureaucratic logic that is about to cost him his house is the same bureaucratic logic that is about to cost him his home planet.

I have always felt that there is very much depth in that line. It describes the human condition. A compulsion to assign meaning to things in order to create some sense of psychological order in disorder. This is how gods, religions, and movements are born. The world is a chaotic place and there are very many things in it that are out of our control. So any belief that, psychologically, gives us even a 0.0001% advantage over our own fears of the unknown can (and will) be held to be an absolute truth. Because survival is perceived to depend on it.

When I was a boy I believed that rain was the consequence of God taking a shower. Then I went to school and teachers said things like “cold air”, “hot air” and “nimbus” to put a stop to all that bathtime nonsense. In both cases, something out of our control like weather patterns is given order by an explanation. If we can create a sense of control by creating things (and beings) that are out of our control then assigning them control over us and our circumstances, then this gives us a sense of control because we can influence the hand of those in control. For instance, if God is taking a shower then I can pray to him and ask him to only do it when it is beneficial.

But are we really in control? Realistically no, right? Because we don’t know that that thing we have created even exists because it is only created in the same imagination that imagines the need for control.

The reality is human beings grapple with the question of existence because we are designed to be inquisitive. We have brains that seem designed for categorization, mapping, and understanding sensory data. But designed by what? Why are we curious?

Further in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it is explored that the earth is just a giant computer program meant to calculate the answer to the ultimate question. The question of life, the universe, and everything. The answer is 42. The actual question is unknown. But maybe this is why we are so inquisitive. Because we are running numbers for something else. Like computer processors with self-awareness. This is just one way of looking at it!

You: But Andrew! Why are you like this!?

Me: I know… Headache! But stay with me.

Does Batman Know You Exist?

I am a Batman Fan. I enjoy reading Batman comics, watching movies based on him and thoroughly enjoy the animated series. While I am watching or reading Batman stories, I am observing almost every detail of his life. I see him at work, I see him at home (if you can call it that), I see him in the Batcave, I follow him on his detective exploits and see his struggle against his foes. I can even see his thoughts.

But it does not work the other way around. Batman has no idea I exist! But can you imagine if he one day realized his life is a dramatized story for my entertainment or contemplation? His first question would probably be why it was important to me that his parents die and if I can do anything to undo that. Subsequently, undoing all of it. Including him.

You: Andrew, please stop…

Me: Trust me, I hear you. Moving on.

Sometimes we read books and the characters’ exploits help us manage something in our own lives. Yes, I am aware that I am not a billionaire vigilante, but witnessing Batman use intelligence (and resources) to overcome chaos, or even understanding the nature of chaos itself through The Joker, can help me figure something out in the “real world”. But ultimately, the characters are not aware of the influence of my desire for their drama for my own purposes.

This is a philosophy Grant Morrison explores in most of his work. The idea that the characters don’t have knowledge of the reader but the desire of the reader for drama and excitement affects the characters. Batman and all the other characters are written, drawn and animated for our desires for the adventures! To them, we would be superior beings with immense power to shape their lives. Dare to consider who (or what) may be reading our story or watching or lives? That’s a scary way to look at the idea of a god. 

Caveat: I cannot stress this enough! Grant Morrison is a living, breathing and talking rabbit hole that nobody should attempt to dive down. But we have already highlighted that curiosity is an inbuilt human trait. So if you must, please, remain grounded in reality!

Further Musings on Time

There is an excellent video by Vsauce3 in which Neil deGrasse Tyson considers that if we were able to communicate backward in time to “alter” the course of events, the larger possibility is that we would trigger the events we are trying to avoid. The message would be a distraction that would cause an action that was “not supposed to” happen. But all this is founded on the premise that time is a simultaneous occurrence. Meaning the past is a real place, the same as the present, and in the same way, the future. So messages could be sent back and forth because a destination exists. So if you can communicate backwards and influence your trajectory, are you a god? If the you in the future does the same, is he or she a god? If all this was possible, what message would you send backwards? Would it be “avoid” this or that?

This is in line with the possibility that if we could communicate (actually communicate) with our “authors”, “gods” or “insert deity here”, we would likely attempt to influence our story for our better. But what if the message causes a distraction and triggers the very sequence of events we desire to avoid? Worse, what if we get so hung up on the message itself that even its usefulness is lost? Distraction!

This reminds me of the scene in The Matrix where the Oracle tells Neo that he was going to be more bothered by the reality that he may not have broken the vase if she had not prompted him.

“What’s really gonna bake your noodle later is, would you have broken it if I hadn’t said anything?”

Anyway, It’s All Not As Profound As It Sounds 

This article is not a manifesto on faith or any part of a conversion agenda. We are all human grappling with phenomenally big questions about phenomenally big concepts. Not just as a species but as individuals. We want to know and understand why things. Faith and science are the children of that desire. The truth is, nobody really knows what’s going on or why it is going on. Maybe things just happen and we can just go with it. Just remember, no matter how outlandish we believe anyone’s beliefs may be, we are all doing the exact same thing. Trying to understand our lives and get even the slightest advantage over fear. Perhaps we should make as much room as possible to live those lives and experience the moments. Because trust me, they are fleeting.

As my uncle used to tell me when I was younger, “Don’t stress people out and don’t stress yourself out! Chill out, enjoy your life and try not to overthink inconsequential things!”

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