The Meaning of Life

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The photo above was taken by Venera 13, an unmanned Soviet spacecraft that landed on the surface of Venus in 1982. It took a few photos of the planets surface within the short space of an hour before the extreme heat and severe gravity of the planet completely crushed the drone, destroying it completely.

Although the original footage was captured in polaroids, someone out there was nice enough to edit the photos so that they could show the real colour of the surface. It’s a bleak life on Venus. Well, it would be if Venus could support life in the first place.

Earth is special in our solar system because it’s the only planet close enough to the sun where water remains in liquid form. Too close it gets hot and evaporates, too far it freezes into ice. Earth is just right, right in the Goldilock’s Zone.

There’s lots of planets out there in our own galaxy that abide in these kind of zones for their respective stars. Some can support our kind of life, all of them too far to travel to at the moment. Despite the deafening silence, there is almost definitely life out there… somewhere.

There’s a lot of theories upon why we haven’t met any yet. The most likely, and most depressing, is something called the Fermi Paradox. It states that the reason we haven’t received any contact from anybody out there isn’t for lack of trying. A civilisation, if advanced enough, can build sufficient technology to channel and receive something like a radio-wave across the universe for some other civilisation to receive.

The problem is that space is a really big place that is constantly expanding, so it can take decades or centuries for these radio waves to transmit. All this effort is wasted if it falls on deaf ears, such as the civilisation in question not being technology advanced enough to receive, respond or even exist long enough to do either.

Think of it like this. There’s a person at one end of a very large cave system that goes on for miles, seemingly endless. They decided to yell as loud as they possibly can, creating an echo effect that bounces off the walls as it descends further and further down the cave. By the time it reaches the end of the cave system, three days have passed. The possibility that the person who initiated the echo still being there is very unlikely, even less if there’s a person on the other end to hear said message to respond. It’d take up to six days just to say Hello.

Earth has only been around for about four billion years, modern humans only one hundred thousand, civilisation only twelve thousand and we only discovered radio waves a century ago. So the window for communication is tight- very tight.

We’re probably not gonna interact with any life out there by the end of the century, especially those living on rogue planets. Planets that do not orbit any stars, so there’s no heat. The oceans freeze over, thick ice descending miles down. But near the crust there is an ocean underneath that ceiling of ice, kept warm enough by the planet’s core.

There’s life down there, maybe even intelligent life. Maybe right this very second a squid creature is returning home from a long day at work, finishing dinner with their family and watching TV.

Their mind trails off as they think of the mundane, the extraordinary, the cruel and the benevolent before the train grinds to a halt and the realisation hits them that they are alive. Right at this very moment they are a living, breathing, thinking being out in the world- doing absolutely fuck all.

It’s a realisation on par with disembarking the train of thought and remembering that you’re currently driving a car down the road at eight miles per hour.

That squid creature probably has no idea that it’s encased below miles of ice. That there’s a desolate world above them. That there’s a deafeningly silent universe out there. That squid creature has no idea that you exist, you have no idea it exists. But if it does, I hope it’s happy.

Life is a rarity in this universe, intelligent life even more so. The fact that we live on a planet where there’s so many beings who can think and do basic stuff is astonishing- because for all we know there’s nothing out there. The person you walk by carelessly across the street may be one of the few beings in the whole universe that actually exist.

We should cherish that…but we don’t.

Reason being that despite intelligent life forms being generally remarkable, when you place a large portion of these creatures in a condensed area- their value plummets exponentially. Why value one life when there’s seven billion? And why value seven billion when you only really care about twelve?

There’s so many of us that have existed for so long that we’ve basically gotten social norms down to a tee. Meaning, we can tell whether or a person is a cunt or not in like the first twenty seconds of an interaction. Depending on whether or not they reciprocate a greeting, engage in eye contact or even just have a bad vibe about them. We’ve got all these nuances down to a tee, and you just know that a lot of people had to die to figure this shit out.

I’m willing to wager that the reason the Neanderthals died out was because one of them said hello to us wrong and that started a war that led to us wiping them out. Probably not even the first time we’ve committed Omnicide either.

We’re pretty smart. We built cool stuff. Orchestrated a lot of sounds. Scribbled a lot of pretty images. But there’s a downside to being smart. You get to thinking. About life, about death. The meaning of it all. That depresses a lot of people because as smart as we are…we don’t know.

We made up Myths to better understand the world in our intellectual infancy. Those myths developed into religions. Those religions birthed cultures and all that followed. But what we told ourselves, that there’s a big man in the sky who’s got everything handled and will love you unconditionally even if you find yourself irredeemable, was a lie.

There isn’t a big man in the sky. There is no one in control of anything. Nobody loves you unconditionally and you could genuinely be irredeemable. We’re alone out here. There is no eternal life and someday you, and everything else, will die.

When people think about life, like really think about it, they can get very anxious and very depressed very quickly. I don’t blame them. All the things listed above are sound enough reason to jump in front of a train. Most people don’t though. Most people try their best not to think about it. Fill their life with things to keep them busy.

All of which is fruitless, because like that squid creature out there in the oceans of a rogue planet, you will awake to realise that you are alive and that is terrifying.

I don’t know why we’re here. Why earth got stuck on this particular star. Why the neanderthals had to die while we lived. Why we’re alone. I don’t know.

All I know is that while we’re alive there are seven billion plus people who are also alive, right here, right now. We’re social animals. We created languages so that we could communicate with each other effectively- none of that screeching shit that the birds do. You’ll see that the saddest among us are the most isolated.

They feel that nobody cares about them, which is possibly true. But if there are people then they still feel these things. Self doubt, pity, loathing added atop the narcissism that nobody could understand you and the arrogance to believe nobody has gone through similar things on an emotional level.

They feel lonely in a crowd because their interactions with others aren’t meaningful. Their relationships aren’t intimate or rewarding. They could be, but the person may be afraid to burden others with their emotional turmoil. Thus loneliness and depression corrode the heart.

If you think about it, nothing in this universe has any meaning. We give things meaning. Water is valuable because we need it to survive, so we apply value to it. We use currency because we all choose to believe that a piece of paper and metal have an inherent value that can make people do things. We give the words we use meaning to describe the things we either understand or seek to understand. All the nuances of the universe.

The only reason it bothers us that nobody has reached out to us is because we went out of our way to think about it. Our thoughts possess meaning. That’s why when trying to hurt another person you’ll often say that their interactions meant nothing to you. Because meaning nothing is the worst fate imaginable.

So we’ve ascribed meaning to literally everything under and above the sun, but when it comes to life it becomes a little more difficult. It shouldn’t be. Life really only means anything in the context of other life.

Like I said, the saddest among us are the most isolated but the happiest or what we prescribe to be the best among us are those who are the least isolated. Those who have the biggest impact on the lives of others.

When you break it down, the goal of everyone is to leave an impact on someone’s life. Great or small. You see this with a person who want’s to become a parent, so that they can have a family which they’re responsible for both creating and taking care of. You see this in the politician who initially rose to prominence to help the people, but now just wishes to be relevant. You see this in the actor who needs people to look at them, because the attention gives them meaning. You see it in the dictator who rises to power, with the arrogance to believe that they- and they alone- can fix what ails the people. They want to be loved, to be cherished- to have meaning to someone.

All of this initially comes from a good place. There’s countless genocides that have occurred because the perpetrators believed that they needed to protect their own people at any cost. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

We give life meaning because it ends. Before so we can roam for a limited time. Some lives long, some lives short. Some have a greater impact than others. All of them have meaning. Because when you get up and leave the door in the morning you aim to have a positive impact on another’s life. Your impact, good or bad, seals your value to the world. That, is the meaning of life.

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