Happiness is only attainable once you recognize that everything just “is”.
Despite what we humans would like to believe, we are nothing special and nowhere special. Nobody designed us, nobody is looking out for us and we have no purpose or particular meaning.
Which is not to say that we can not create meaning for ourselves. Merely that meaning does not exist in the abstract.
Let me explain. Everything we see around us simply “emerged”. Emergence is a scientific term which means that all we see around us, in all its baffling complexity, emerged from a few basic rules and a few basic properties of “nature”.
In conventional terms, we say that humans and all flora and fauna on planet earth arose from the laws of physics via the laws of chemistry and biology. Humans are an emergence from far, far simpler properties. Our atoms are mostly carbon, hydrogen and oxygen which, left to their own devices, do little. But we are a particular and extremely complex coupling together of these simple chemical elements. Complexity “emerges” from extreme simplicity.
In the beginning there was nothing. And then it seems that something happened. John 1.1 puts it wonderfully:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
If you consider “god” as a few basic rules, rather like those of a computer program or network, then you are probably really onto something. You probably understand who and what we all are.
Stephen Wolfram puts it wonderfully well in an article entitled What is Spacetime Really? Time and space could well have emerged from a simple rule based network, whose simple rules fed back on each other in an infinite loop, to provide the baffling complexity we see all around us.
A very simple example of this sort of emergence can be seen in the flocking of birds. I can program my computer to imitate the flocking of birds (all the beauty of those spectacular patterns) using three simple rules:
- avoid crowding neighbors (short range repulsion)
- steer towards average heading of neighbors
- steer towards average position of neighbors (long range attraction)
In a similar fashion, the simple mathematical rules governing fractals and cellular automata show how trees and insects and coastlines can be drawn with trivial ease on a computer. Which is doubtless similar to how they emerged in nature.
And this, it is said, is evolution. Blind, unthinking evolution has, by a few simple rules and many eons of applying those rules, given us the universe and everything in it.
So how does all this equate to happiness? How can it?
Acceptance, pure and simple. By accepting that we emerged from a few “knots in the ether” we can perhaps learn to stop striving. To stop competing, to stop fighting. We “are” – and that is all there is to it. We should “be”. We should accept that the world just “is”.
This may be a great disappointment to some who cling to visions of holy purpose, of heavens and pure lands. Of Islamic paradise.
If we need a theory, a creed, then Eastern philosophy provides it for us very neatly. In eastern philosophy there is no beginning, no end, just a continuum, a never ending flow. “Knots in the ether”, forever tying and untying, winding and unwinding. A giant 3 D cellular automaton, working forever and creating the very fabric of time and space.
And to achieve happiness all we need do is to go with that flow. To recognize that all there is just “is”. That we should just stand by and watch, or rather let it all roll over us knowing that we too are simply “knots in the ether”.
There is nowhere to go, nothing to do, no-one to be. Just exist. Create beautiful patterns in your life or ugly patterns (assuming “beauty” and “ugliness” have any meaning) but don’t fight “isness”.
Are you disappointed perhaps that there is no god and that the non-existent god has no purpose for us?
You should not be. You are in the midst of all the wonder you could ever imagine, all the beauty and all the ugliness. You are in a giant playground where knots in the ether writhe and turn and you should bend and twist with them.
Consciousness itself has arisen out of those few simple rules. Incredibly, the simple program which led to all you can see around you, also led to self awareness of that program by that program.
We are a program, a set of instructions. We are the universe and some are lucky enough to feel and witness that directly.
As the vast complexity grows all around us, our consciousness grows with it, part of it. Consciousness is more, becomes more inch by inch, second by second.
And so at the end of the incredible dance perhaps even “god” emerges from this infinite computer program. This infinite network. Perhaps that is what the mystic sees.
So, purpose? Perhaps not. But emergence of something incredible, mighty, complex, magnificent. Yes, most certainly. We are something from nothing. We will become more and more something and less and less nothing as the recursive, complex system weaves and warps, twirls and twists and turns.
And that, surely, is something to be happy about?