Is it all gloom?

The scale of the universe mapped to branches of science. By Efbrazil - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Is everything bad? Is the world a bad place? Are we humans damned and doomed? Is there any good news?

It is so very hard to be objective, to look at our world through the eyes of a dispassionate alien from an alternate universe, or from the perspective of an emotionless machine intelligence.

While it may have a core, our worldview is always tinged with shades, colours, which vary depending on how we are feeling, how we slept, the time of day or month.

Left to right: Plato, Kant, Nietzsche, Buddha, Confucius, Averroes By Javierfv1212 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
Left to right: Plato, Kant, Nietzsche, Buddha, Confucius, Averroes By Javierfv1212 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Try as we might, our view of the world is bound to be subjective and to vary from day to day. Our very physiology dictates this.

But despite my cynicism and distaste for new ageism and quackery (I don’t have any chakras, thank you very much) I believe in some rather ill defined sense that we do have control over our destiny and our world. Not perhaps in a physical sense, and certainly not as individuals.  As individuals our society, our culture are such massive objects we can have little influence.

And yet collectively we can change. Paradoxically of course such change has to occur at an individual level first, bit by bit. We can change our own reality, or perhaps I should more accurately say we can change our attitude to the external reality we are presented with.

Sculpture depicting Ahinsa (non-injury) Ahinsa sthal, Mehrauli, Delhi By Jain cloud - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
Sculpture depicting Ahinsa (non-injury) Ahinsa sthal, Mehrauli, Delhi By Jain cloud – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

And viewed in that sense, it is emphatically not all gloom.  There is optimism, there is progress, there is goodness. But is it our responsibility as individuals to do our bit to slowly change the collective whole. Some of us do our bit and some quite the opposite. We have to hope that over time more of us will do our bit and more of us will abandon collective nihilism.

I wonder what that means in practical terms?  I believe it must start with thought – philosophy, if you will.  As individuals we must attempt what seems impossible – to look at ourselves through the eyes of another.  What are our objectives? What do we believe in? How can we further our views? Are our objectives pure solipsistic selfishness or have we considered ourselves as parts of the whole? Cogs in the wheel.

One of the five paintings of Extermination of Evil portrays Sendan Kendatsuba, one of the eight guardians of Buddhist law, banishing evil.
One of the five paintings of Extermination of Evil portrays Sendan Kendatsuba, one of the eight guardians of Buddhist law, banishing evil.

In a macro sense we might consider changing our career. We can not all discover the cure for cancer or write “The Theory of Everything” but perhaps we can support those who are trying.  In a micro sense and as microscopic cogs in the wheel of existence perhaps we can become a little bit nicer, a bit more reasonable, a bit less selfish.

It is not all gloom. We live in humanity’s golden age, where science and knowledge have made our lives better than ever before. Yes, you will argue there is still poverty and misery throughout the globe but I would argue less so than 100 years ago, or 100,000.

There are problems, sure. But given goodwill and perseverance we can solve them if science can walk hand in hand with a move away from crude Darwinian brutishness.

These two are my current favourites on the topic of optimism:

David Deutsch  David Pearce

 

 

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