Chaos and Uncertainty

Tarot

I have not found it any easier to accept uncertainty in recent years, despite my intellectual acceptance that it is unavoidable.

Covid has (thus far) been a walk in the park when compared to the wholesale slaughter and general bestiality of the 20th Century. Not for those who have died of course, or their families, but numerically speaking.

The shocking examples from the last century are so well known, they are hardly worth revisiting. A Jew in the 1930s and 40s. An intellectual in communist Russia or China. A parent during two obscene world wars. What need to continue. Covid is not so alarming by comparison.

And yet it has helped me to organize my thoughts somewhat, even though I have been little inconvenienced personally. I was isolated enough before the modern plague struck and so repeated lockdowns have provided little physical or mental irritation.

But the events of the past year have put human life, human travails in sharper than ever perspective for me.

A friend and neighbour in London owns and runs a large retail chain, a household name in UK high streets. The enterprise was founded some 150 years ago and has presumably suffered both rough and smooth during that period. And yet to me it has always seemed a bastion of security, a fixed reference point in an ever shifting world.

In reality, such security has never existed and I was interested to hear the moves necessary to survive in the current market. Shop rent has to be paid out of capital reserves while little income has been earned. Presumably like most other retailers, this chain was also suffering anyway from online competition.

A young man of my acquaintance has lost his job in finance I gather, and I am told his wife was also made redundant. I hope that their youth will make them resilient enough to weather this storm, and that they will soon find new jobs to support their two children and mortgage.

A relative has been operated on for cancer – I have no idea how serious her plight may be. Friends have started dying. Nothing so surprising there perhaps, given my age but none the less, change is never welcome, however much it is expected. In the same vein, my parents died 5 years ago and in the interim my wife’s relatives are going the same way.

None of this seems quite so shocking when you are young. We tend to feel exempt, immortal. Death and disaster happens to others, elsewhere. As life goes on our mortality becomes ever more evident and certainty fades.

I believe that if you look for reasons for what is happening around you, you will find cause and effect to be a slippery customer. At very short time frames, it is of course possible to say that the plight of many retailers has been greatly worsened by the onset of Covid. Or that your relative died because he had developed a brain tumor.

But such reasoning is highly unsatisfactory and inevitably leads back to the big existential questions. The big scientific questions.

The biggest question is probably “Why?” and we have not begun to answer it. “Why is there something rather than nothing?” being one of the biggest conundrums we have yet to face.

In terms of our current stage of technological and scientific advancement, the answer to most of the big “Why?” questions has to be: “it just is”.

It may transpire over the millennia that there is no other answer to be found.

But of course that will never satisfy us. We will keep looking.

My guess is that eventually intelligent civilization will be able to mitigate the effects of chaos and uncertainty on our lives. Meaningless deaths from cancer. Poverty, illnesses of all sorts. Even death itself may be abolished as we learn to upload our personalities from our frail biological framework to a more durable medium.

We may even learn to transcend physical reality – free our minds to roam in heavenly lands without worrying about paying bills or the lights going out.

Back in the 21st Century however, we are still subject to chaos. We remain as flotsam in an apparently meaningless universe. Jetsam, a by product, an accident of evolution. If we survive that long, then over the next few thousand years, we may hope to make our own meaning where their was none.

But what can we do today to mitigate the anxiety and torment of our still all too precarious lives?

Historically, the answer has been to take as much as we can from others and pile up riches in an attempt to secure our own precarious existence.

Although of course, there have been non materialist attempts to quell anxiety and find purpose. Chief among these have been the invention of gods – all sorts of different gods, stretching back to the times we first gained sentience.

Gods answer the question “Why?” for those who believe. Gods also mitigate our anxiety over chaos. Propitiate this or that fearsome thug in the sky and your crops will grow, your enemies will wilt and your soul will exist in an eternal bliss after your body has rotted.

More modern gods have tended to be slightly nicer that the older monsters. They have apparently strung themselves up and died for us and if we only believe in them, they will save us.

All well and good for those who can convince themselves, less useful for those of us that are sure we are either a) on our own or b) in a malevolent virtual reality slung together by an evil super coder.

So where does all that leave us? If you don’t buy the god stuff and don’t have a few millennia to hang around and become a technological god yourself, then you need some method to cope with uncertainty. With untamed chaos.

The only answer I have come up with over many years is to shut my eyes and say “f**k it”. Rather like the Buddhists really!

52 Comments

  1. Hi Anthony. Thank you for the insightful post. Proselytizing on topics of philosophy and religion are not my personal forte, never mind the negative connotation of that word, but I really appreciate your thoughts. It is people like you, who hold humanity to a higher standard by holding themselves to a higher standard, that bring people like me up from the lower rungs of the psychological ladder. Ah, how do I miss sophistication. And who would give me this right to be an intellectual but myself? But others seem to come along and do it for me when I’m being lazy. So thank you.

    Regarding the chaos, you’re absolutely right, and I’m still somewhat young, that bad things never happen to you. I have myself had an atrocious life–barring that that is a wholly subjective way of looking at it and saying it–and yet, I still think, bad things only happen to others. Perhaps it is not denial, as you seem to be suggesting, but a stronger force: The irrepressible drive to the positive and good things in life. Interesting ramifications for and arguments about whether positivity blinds us in any way.

    I can tell you’re a little agitated, and who wouldn’t be, so I apologize and I’ll leave you to it.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Sounds like you’ve had your own ups and downs lately. Indeed, sometimes all we can do is take comfort in simple pleasures and distractions and try not to think about the uncertainties. I’ve never been one for alcohol, but losing myself in a good book often works.

    I’ve never really understood how gods answer the why is there something rather than nothing question. To me, we’re still left with, why were there gods to make everything else? It seems like no matter what we put in reality, we’re eventually left with turtles all the way down.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Your ability to boil down complex ideas and to get to the core of your subject is quite refreshing as blog offerings go, and as one of your regular readers, I know that I can rely on your frank and unvarnished treatment of whatever subject you choose. I am less inclined to be as direct as you often are in your postings, but it is always in the interest of being as inclusive as I can be, since it is most important for my purposes to express my ideas in a way that can be appreciated by a broad range of viewpoints. Reading here often provides a demonstration in how to be succinct, and you have a flair for eloquence, which, according to the French author, Francois de La Rochefoucauld, “consists in saying all that should be said, and that only.”

    Whether or not we may ever be able to unravel some of the great questions, in particular, “Why is there something rather than nothing?,” it is an endeavor that has, at its core, the unraveling of some of the less daunting questions like, “Why should we search for answers to difficult questions at all?, Why not just accept that we are here and never bother to question anything?”

    I would suggest that while it seems unlikely we will unravel everything that is currently mysterious, and may never extend our physical lives to be long enough to accumulate the necessary knowledge to figure out why we are here, in the short term at least, asking the questions leads us to think in broader terms than the narrow bits which surround us day-to-day, and may possibly lay the groundwork for those who come after us to finally arrive at a better understanding of what it’s all about. Plus it’s so much fun to ponder and wonder!

    I doubt anyone believes that you are a miserable, grumpy old man either. You just have a low tolerance for flotsam, and it’s a notable advantage when you have clear ideas about what you think. One other advantage is to note that if the universe is indeed meaningless, our search for meaning will go on indefinitely, and the less daunting questions have a much better chance to be unraveled!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you John, for your thoughtful and detailed response. I am guilty of directness, particularly on the subject of religious belief of course. In many ways, I am envious of those who are able to assuage their existential anxieties with belief in a deity, although there are of course many in the Church who find little or no comfort in their beliefs. I remember for instance a pleasant six month stay on the little island of Alderney in the English channel where I sang with great pleasure in the church choir. The priest in charge was a man driven by insecurity and despair – it drove him to drink. So perhaps religious belief is not such a prophylactic against grief after all. My personal belief is that there ARE answers out there to be found. Even if, for instance, we discover that there was no first cause and that the physical universe has always been there and was never created as such. I very much like to imagine and hope too that the worries and miseries which so often (always?) beset sentient beings ca be “cured”, made to disappear when our science becomes advanced enough. Perhaps sentient beings who enjoy themselves enough (in a non physical realm for instance) would simply cease to worry about why there is something rather than nothing. And get on with enjoying themselves. I find my own moods are subject to unacceptably large swings between pessimism and optimism and I am sure that such swings will be eventually controllable for instance. In any event, it is so good of you to respond to my ramblings. It would not be worth expressing them at all if one were merely shouting into the wind! All best wishes for the New Year. A

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Insightful, thought-provoking post. All philosophical questions I often muse about myself. Unfortunately, the more I think about them, the less I actually seem to come to any firm conclusions that can hold up too long under scrutiny.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Kind of you to say so and thank you. From my closing words (f**k it!) you will have realized I have no idea either. As to conclusions my decision is, in a sense, simply to give up. I am trying to “be” since everything else I have tried has inevitably led to unhappiness, disappointment and depression. Being seems to suit me rather well when I can do it. Simply switching my brain off, like today, pottering in the garden and having a bonfire. Remember Voltaire’s Candide? Well I think I have been searching for Eldorado my entire life and have never appreciated that the search did not suit my personality and was in any event pointless. I have noted similar thoughts, similar searches in your own writings. Perhaps you are more successful than me in controlling your emotions, perhaps not. In any event, perhaps I just need to accept that the answer to everything is “42” and give up the search!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. “the invention of gods?” Hmm, reminds me of what God said to Nietzsche, “Why should I believe in YOU?” πŸ˜‰ Hope your 2021 is an improvement and that you find we did not invent the First Cause. He is a personal and infinite creator who cares for us, and you, particularly. your friend, c.a.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think it hugely important to respect other views. Remember Pascal and his wager? Well I am rather like Pascal. My belief is that gods are nonsence but I will behave in my life as if they were not. I will try to behave as JC wanted us to behave as he stated in the Beatitudes. I mean no offence ~ its just that I have never “believed” and don’t think that I ever will. However, I freely admit that I may be quite wrong and that you may be right after all!

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Thank you for a thought-provoking post. “Why is there something rather than nothing” is essentially the same question the one that has been in my mind for a long time now “What is really going on?”. That question led me to Zen Buddhism and to my main teacher who very strongly focussed in his teaching on “here-now” as the only reality. There were times practicing with him when I thought I was getting a taste of that reality, but afterwards would struggle to retain any grasp of what I had experienced. In the last 15 years, meditation was a more relaxed and sporadic thing, what with a demanding job and two young children. But the burning question remains. Recently, I’ve been rereading writings of my teacher and feeling some urge to dig into these questions again. Perhaps a more focussed meditation practice, but perhaps some other avenues as well. And having a very sceptical mind, that is always second guessing itself, I oscillate between thoughts of pursuing my “life koan” and saying “f*ck it, I’ve got buckley’s chance of realizing the nature of reality”. Should I spend my time doing my little bit for world peace and a less hot planet, or is that a futile pursuit also?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I do not think I was ever cut out for great works and so, much as I believe in the topics I write about, alas, that is all I will ever do: write. “f*** it” has become a part of my meditation. A deliberate and necessary letting go. A way to just “be” without torturing myself any longer with the big questions. Like you I sometimes wonder whether I ought to take my practice more seriously, sit at the feet of a master even. In reality I recognise that I am my own master and so am probably doing the best job I can do, just sitting and contemplating in my own garden. Singing choral music. Playing the piano. I sometimes get a vivid and apparently real sense of the sacred, at other times I get distracted by nonsence like the financial markets. In my case, fuk it and my life koan happen to be one and the same thing!

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Thank so much Anthony Garner, what a wonderful way you have put the points.
    Love your style.
    I feel we are all helpless witnesses to the happenings and nothing much we can do as an intelligent creatures.
    We can only wait for the events to unfold…..by that time one may or may not be alive.
    It ok
    Let us continue our routine as it’s happening.
    It’s immaterial whether one is good or bad.
    Things happen when they are supposed to happen.
    Thanks again for your patient reading,my rant.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Yes I can see this attributed to you. I don’t agree with nor believe everything you wrote, but I enjoy looking outside of my beliefs and experiences with the purpose of gaining insight and wisdom from different/alternative perspectives. There is so much we can all learn from one another. There are lessons within this piece relevant to my life right now. So thank you. Take care and happy new year.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. I am new to your blog, ventured here after your follow of my blog.

    I am a bit speechless with how direct the posts reads, but at the same time, that is something I actually like ( directness).

    Your opening paragraph “..I have not found it any easier to accept uncertainty in recent years, despite my intellectual acceptance that it is unavoidable…”

    Life is ironic that way. We know the facts, but when faced with the facts in our personal circumstances is quite the test paper for us.

    There is much chaos in peoples lives and it is quite hard for many. Not sure when the light will return. This why I feel we must be internally strong, who knows how much more we have face. I don’t say this to be negative. I think it is only way face what we have to face.

    It was interesting to read your post on the various topics. Your writing style is wonderful, I enjoyed it and found it inspiring.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are very kind to read my posts and to tell ne that you have enjoyed them. You are right ~ I am extremely direct. The gift of being able to mince my words was never bestowed on me. Nonetheless I try not to cause offence where at all possible.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I think your view is absolutely correct. I do not think what you say is negative. The Buddha stated 2500 years ago that life was suffering and I believe he would have said the same thing were he alive today.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I am looking at your blog now, with pleasure. Such questions are the only ones worth discussing, in my view. My beliefs are unconventional to say the least. I suppose I would quote Teilhard de Chardin, Frank Tipler and the Omega Point. And I certainly believe there is a better way to live, as you do.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Anthony, I believe you are far wider read and experienced in life than I am. I will have to Google “Teilhard de Chardin, Frank Tipler and the Omega Point” . I can see you will help me increase my knowledge of things I don’t know.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Ah. Well I think you will enjoy those references. In their different ways they both believed than man would ascend to godhood. That too is my hope, and also my belief. Perhaps substituting the word “man” for the word intelligence or sentience. We on this planet may well not get that far given the way we are headed.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. I googled and you have clarified. My view is quite simple. We are all Souls and we are the “being” of human being. Our original qualities are, love, peace, purity, wisdom , joy The soul is immortal. We are children of God. The difference is God stays in the Soul world, doesn’t take a human form. We through rebirth as human being we children – lose our original qualities and much like a mobile phone without a charged battery we begin to behave a bit … Through Meditation – Remembrance of the God Soul, we recharge our battery and return to original qualities which are Similar to God. God Soul is our father and we his children. In my simple view.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. I recommend Viktor Frankl’s book “Man Search for Meaning” to you. Frankl, as you may know, was a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. He believed that meaning is essential to human existence. From his Nazi concentration camp experience, Frankl concluded that meaning can be derived from love, work, and suffering.

    I, also, take great consolation from the biblical Book of Job. As a child abuse survivor and former atheist, I once thought the Book of Job a prime illustration of God’s cruelty. I now see it as a profound study in human suffering.

    As a Christian, I understand that suffering, too, has its purposes. The Apostle Paul wrote: “We are hard pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor. 4: 9-10).

    We may feel buffeted by circumstance. But God remains in control. And He will never forsake us.

    Blessings,

    A.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, I will look at Frankl’s book with interest. I am not a believer in a god nor the divinity of Jesus but nonetheless love the moral framework of the New Testament. I am also a very devoted “cultural” christian and devoted to its music, art and literature. Good of you to comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. My solution to uncertainty… you probably guessed by now but do not share it… is to rely on God. When we have reason to believe that God knows and will provide for all our needs, then that really takes the edge off even the worst, most unpredictable situations. πŸ‘Ό

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I can imagine that certainty would be most comforting. While I can not share your belief, I understand the way you feel and in many ways wish that I too believed in some beneficent entity looking after us all. A

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I probably told you but I began a lot like you. That’s why I say ‘reason to believe’ and not just ‘believe.’ For me, there’s a huge difference between the two. I don’t know why some people go through conversion experiences and others do not. It probably doesn’t make that much difference in the end/beginning, providing one is not an axe murderer or something like that. And even the axe murderer, only God knows what becomes of him or her. I have to remind myself of that. Only God knows…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I assume that a conversion event can happen to anyone if any faith and that it is not just linked to the Abrahamic conception of a god? I imagine the experience informs the experiencer that there is meaning to the universe and some sort of purpose to existence. Culturally I may veer towards the art and music of Christianity but temperamentally I am far more attracted to Buddhism and the Tao. I would never claim that I am right, nor that I have any particular insight or access to Truth. For me it is an almost intellectual process of what makes the best sense to me. I would not claim however to have derived any particular joy or sense of wellbeing from my thought processes in this regard. All good wishes, Anthony

      Liked by 2 people

      1. “For me it is an almost intellectual process of what makes the best sense to me.”

        This is very close to how I feel! One of the ‘great’ theologians once said that understanding follows belief. I think for me I’d say it’s a kind of loop. I began with a request for a revelation, experiences followed – not right away, mind you – I believed more… I thought more… more experiences… deeper belief… more refinement in thinking… and so it still goes today! As one of my friends put it, she is learning “nonstop.”

        Anyone who thinks they know it all, well, I know one professor like that but I think he is a madman…. or at least, a Jekyll and Hyde type of character.

        Carl Jung suggested that some people are ‘gripped’ by an inferior ‘archetypal energy’ and they assume that that interior experience is the be all and end all. He felt Hitler was like that… gripped by the Wotan archetype.

        I’d say Jung’s ideas are a simplification of a more complex and nuanced dynamic but I think he was more or less on the right track.πŸ™‚

        Liked by 2 people

  12. If you read any recent physics books, you will encounter an idea that the Universe is finite as in it already includes all past, present and future (Buddha said that millennia ago but hey waddya know). We are linear – the Universe is complete. Personally knowing this gives me solace. Everything already happened and in the big scheme we can’t really surprise anyone.

    Besides we literally can only see our Universe’s past and have no idea what is going on right now. For all we know, the unobservable Universe already reversed its expansion to contraction and is crashing in on itself in a (future for us) Big Crunch.

    Where does that leave us? I found β€œI don’t know” to be a rather liberating answer. Enjoy the present, have some champagne and watch that film you always wanted to watch. Everything else – πŸ€·πŸ»β€β™€οΈ

    Liked by 2 people

    1. An excellent attitude Lola. Yes, I have read quite a few physics books for laymen and have always been fascinated by the idea of the co-existence of past, present and future. If tone can accept all that, then I can see it would be very liberating. No blame, no guilt, no point in worrying.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Thank you for the follow, Anthony! I find reading your thoughts very interesting. One thought that I would like to add is that I did not convince myself to believe in Jesus. He has made Himself very real to me. I experience His presence more intimately than I do my own husband’s or my human best friend’s. (He is an even closer Best Friend than she is.) He fills me with very real peace in the midst of the most painful situations, like when my daugther was in a coma for 17 days a year and a half ago. He has also healed my heart of that trauma, and it doesn’t now cause me any pain to think about it and remember. I know He loves me, not just in my head, but deep, deep in my heart. I don’t at all have any notion that this makes me any better than anyone else; it absolutely doesn’t, but just wanted to make sure and share this perspective with you, in response to your thoughts about belief in gods.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I have constantly desired, ever since I remember, for contact with the numinous. For many years though I have broadened my sights beyond any one concept of what that might be. But most certainly I still seek out the ineffable.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s