Are Humans the Ultimate Truth?

When I was in the eighth grade, my teacher had a poster stuck on the wall that explained the meaning of happiness. I believe (though I am not fully sure) that the quote was from Johnny Cash.

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me that I didn’t understand the assignment, but I told them that they didn’t understand life.

Johnny Cash

This quote really got me thinking about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Of course, we already know that the answer is 42, according to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But in all seriousness, I have struggled to find an adequate response to that question. Scientifically speaking, we are no different than any other creatures, or even inanimate material for that matter (pun intended). As a result, I find it quite surprising when people claim that humans were created to spread good throughout the universe. With regard to religion, there are many truths that are evident in unconventional places. Modern religion is highly monotheistic and speaks of a God that cares deeply for the welfare of the human world. Yet there is still evil in the world. In Hinduism, for example, there are a multitude of gods that, just like those of the Greeks, treat humanity like pawns on a chessboard. As a result, it is to these gods that Hindus pray, asking for protection and other favors. On top of all of this is the fundamental being of existence, the Brahman. No one ever prays to him, nor are there any temples built to honor him. The reason for this is that the Brahman is so fundamental that he does not care for humanity nor for the universe. Whatever happens in the universe is completely irrelevant. Why is it that in monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, that God is so concerned with humanity? In the grand scheme of things, we are absolutely nothing. This is question that really has no simple answer, yet it warrants a discussion between all of the faiths.

A Gleaming Window into New Worlds

As the slithering seasons come and go,

As the ceaseless tides ebb and flow,

Time marches on with blatant disregard

To human history and its heavenly bard.

Literature is a gleaming window;

Love, satire, gallant deeds, what a show!

Black symbols, merely ink on a blank page,

Scrawled down by many, an undying sage

Enthrall generations of humanity

With no more than subtle allegory.

I wrote this poem as our second term at Mass Academy neared an end, very much surprised at how fast time seemed to fly as we struggled together. 

My goal then was to compose a sonnet in the Shakespearean style, however, it proved to be quite difficult. I maintained the verse structure of the two quatrains and the rhyming couplet, but I did not use iambic pentameter or the abab cdcd efef gg rhyme scheme. I morphed in the style of the Petrarchan sonnet, but again took many liberties to ease the creative process and simplify the style. For example, this sonnet is not about unrequited love nor does it introduce a problem and end with a solution.

Literature is extremely important because it is, as I mentioned in the above sonnet, “a gleaming window.” I very intentionally chose the word gleaming because of its meaning with regard to a shiny, reflective, quality. We tend to embed ourselves in the stories that we hear. Literature opens a new world in our imaginations; worlds in which we can be heroes or villains. Stories bring back our childhood. We need that.

Finding Meaning in Education

We often don’t recognize, and thus don’t appreciate, the extent of our prosperity in the United States. We take for granted the liberties and privileges that are associated with being in a prosperous nation. However, our forgetfulness does not absolve us the responsibilities of providing a relevant education to the next generation.

When we think of education in the traditional sense, it often involves learning about science, math, social studies, and literature. However, education, in it’s fullest form includes much more. Being “educated” isn’t about having multiple college degrees, or having a wealth of knowledge. Rather it is about having a wealth of experiences that enrich our souls and provide us a sense of understanding and compassion for humanity. This type of education is far more challenging to come by, especially in the U.S.

The American education system has begun to resemble an assembly line. Teachers work quickly to include materials deemed important. Standardized tests are a form of quality control. “In the past decade, the line has been sped up, the workers are asked to add more bells and whistles, and the raw material at the beginning of the line have decreased in quality” (Alan Rosenberg). This system is ineffective and defunct. Modern society demands a passion in building a brighter future with the tools we have. Innovation is not an esoteric art; rather, it’s the simple cooperation of sapience, ingenuity, and imagination.

The term sapience has extreme significance. It represents the philosophy of ideal knowledge and intelligence. And in fact there are three steps in the hierarchy of understanding: first, there are the facts. When we have simple understanding of facts, such as the population of the United States, they have knowledge. But is that really true comprehension? No, it is nothing but memorization. Children consider themselves “smart” when one student can recite many unrelated or random facts, or maybe knows the definition of some complex term. The next step is the ability to connect those facts together to begin gaining more knowledge. This is called intelligence, and it is what we do in high school. This stage is the compounding stage, where more background information allows more understanding. Part of the satisfaction of learning is in noticing the connections between seemingly unrelated aspects.

While being able to relate facts together and having a deeper understanding of the world is important, the final step is the application of knowledge and intelligence to our lives — to improve the lives of others and to create a lasting legacy. This is called Sapience. Sapience is touching the lives around us in many different ways as a granger does to the landscape.

At this stage, I surmise that one can truly be called “educated.”

What is Joy Worth Without Adversity?

Joy is a fleeting emotion. It is the small bubbles bursting at the surface of a boiling cauldron of the sticky soup of pain, of adversity, and of hard work. But without the thick, gurgling broth that the bubbles slowly rise through, joy would be worth absolutely nothing. The difficulty of the journey is what gives true value to every bit of happiness that we relish. At the very end, when we are able to look back and reflect on the progress of our lives, I think that we all hope, whether or not we are considered successful by others or consider ourselves successful, that we can be in peace knowing that every living moment was used to squeeze out hard work and passion. The utmost judgement of life is that we pushed ourselves to our limits and that we worked to our fullest potential.

It is the ephemeral element that, I think, adds value to our lives. The fact that everything is in constant flux allows our limited time to become our most valued asset.

Change is an essential component of nature. Without it, the entire earth would be a homogenous lump floating through the empty void of space, as it is from the ever changing sea of brine that life was born. Without change, the human race would not have evolved and progressed as it did throughout the ages. Revolution after revolution, we things get better and better as we realize the flaw in our old selves. This cycle repeats until the end of time and the Day of Judgement is upon us. All of us have a small desire to impart change in the world; to craft our wondrous legacy and build a better and more harmonious world. However, few get around to actually doing anything. The rest of us wander aimlessly among the large masses, living content and complacently, engulfed by popular society. From watching adults while growing up, they seem to despise change. Wanting to keep the old habits and customs alive so that no effort is needed to go through the world. Their energy is exhausted and their souls depleted. The energy from the soul is what powers human ingenuity and creativity. The passion for curiosity comes not from any external sources, but purely from the search of new ways to express the raw and unkempt emotion that resides within each and every human in existence. Though we do not know what is beyond death, we do know that life is ephemeral and fleeting. As a result, it benefits no one to keep the soul within its indefinite prison; let it escape, let it go free and float away, drifting away on the soft breeze. Why not?

Water

Salty froth ebbs away with the tide
As the water seethes about the jagged rocks.
The sun dims, succumbing to a graceful swoon.
Without a noise, a gentle breeze slowly creeps in
To quiet the insolent water and sooth the hot sand.

Language and the Human Soul

Human beings are bizarre creatures, not only in terms of evolution as in Sapiens, but also in terms of our societal structures and unique linguistic creations. Of all the beasts on Earth, only human beings are capable of sophisticated and abstract language. Yet, of all these beasts, only humans struggle to convey heartfelt messages. We stand silent and reserved when near a person we admire, while inside we are screaming. We are afraid to speak when it really matters, when whatever we say can really change our lives. However, we blabber on incessantly when saying a simple word or two would suffice. Language is one of our greatest creations, nevertheless, it has complicated our discourse to point of maelstrom, to a point where a simple message becomes turbid with convoluted implications. The fear of being spurned hinders our ability to express our hearts’ most profound desires. It is that fear that must be dissolved in order to further our lives most precious aspirations. However, I do not doubt the power of words and the freedom they bring to human cognition. Their cogency does not come from the speaker, but from the listener. The power of words is a direct result of their ability to make the listener indulge in the contemplation of their meaning.

But words are things, and a small drop of ink

Falling, like dew, upon a thought, produces

That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.

Lord Byron

Dossier

“Sapiens,” by Yuval Noah Harari, 2014. This book goes through the history of humankind based on the premise that humans’ ability for fictive language and effective group communication is our only fundamental advantage.

Floating Away

A small boat adrift somewhere in the seven seas,
Lost among the sugary stars and slithering waves.
The night pierces my heart like a black dagger,
Alone with naught to break the inky silence.

Jack of All Trades

The human soul is often kept confined and imprisoned by society and its rigid structure. However, it continually yearns to be let free and is always on the search for new ways to express itself, whether through music, through visual art, through film, through science, through poetry, or through any other means. I find it essential to express oneself in a variety of ways and to dabble here and there in as many differing crafts as humanly possible. Why not, I ask, try something new each time, only to discover a newfound passion for that particular subject. Most individuals have heard of the quote that someone can be a “Jack of all trades, but master of none.” This often taken negatively in context, however, it excludes the entirety of the couplet, “Jack of all trades, master of none; though oftentimes better than the master of one.”

However, I often engage with myself in silent conversation about the things that I enjoy doing. I think of all of the amazing projects that are possible and get inspired by things I see online. Despite this, something that I have only now realized is that very few of these ideas, if any, will ever come to fruition. Leonardo Da Vinci’s fatal flaw was alas, his extremely broad interests. He was so often compelled by new subjects, that he usually failed to finish what he started. As a result, he completed only about six works in 17 years, including “The Last Supper,” and he left dozens of paintings and projects unfinished. He spent most of his time studying science, either by going out into nature and observing things or by locking himself away in his workshop cutting up bodies or pondering universal truths. This is a problem that plagues many people in the modern age, including myself. I admit that I have fallen over many times in my quest for achievement, but I believe that the strides I have taken overcome these setbacks and make them look inconceivably small. No man can ever succeed without failures, as these failures are what define success: the more failures you have, the more the success feels better.

The Value of Thought in the Modern Age

Society both craves instant gratification, and antagonizes melancholy. Consequently, laziness and procrastination are abundant, like an eerily quiet disease that disguises itself with symptoms of happiness and joy. Thus how wise it is, to be the destroyer of such a disease. Unfortunately, in modern society, the purveyor of the disease is, none other than the media. I was recently rereading Fahrenheit 451, and noticed that Bradbury also states that “Not everyone is born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone is made equal.” There are clearly multiple analogies with modern society. However, the conflict is that the media is not purely a bad thing. In fact, books are essential to Montag, the main character, because they give to him the truth in its bare form, emanating the history which happened so long ago, not what the propaganda the government or other institution wants. Expressive, unadulterated media is an essential component of a free society. Media today, however, is a means of further tightening the grip of the powerful on society. Without reading a real history book, not a simplified digest of information that the government provides. Yet in society, do these truths really matter? The cognition of these facts have no importance to a great society, as the average man simply does not care. Bradbury famously said, “‘The zipper displaces the button and a man lacks just that much time to think while dressing at dawn, a philosophical hour, and thus a melancholy hour…. Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, [etc.] … There was no dictum [to stop writing], no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals.’ … ‘With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers, instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be…. [By limiting books,] Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against…. People want to be happy, isn’t that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren’t they? Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun? That’s all we live for, isn’t it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.’” This specific passage so enthralled me because it nearly perfectly aligns with our society and culture here in America today. The fact that Bradbury wrote this sixty-three years ago (in 1953 when Fahrenheit 451 was published) highlights his genius. The book is an incredible piece, and is eerily accurate with its predictions of what modern society would look like.

How Writing Encourages Creativity

What greater pain is there but for the wonderous thoughts that so wander about to flutter into oblivion the very moment they are conjured. The greatest gift we are given is, in fact, our sauntering imaginations, and for such a beautiful thing to go to waste is a distressing notion in my mind and in other minds alike. To spew thoughts onto the page without regard to the meaning, but as a stream of consciousness, is an incredible freedom that is not appreciated enough. A creative is able to conjure up fictional worlds in such a manner that they often become tangible, alive even, within the mind of the beholder. However, because the memory of the human mind is pitiful, the incredible fantasies vanish into thin air just as quickly as they arise. Writing is the only solution, as we have yet to discover a device that can record thoughts directly in some way that is understandable to mere mortals. The chief complaint regarding writing, is the sheer difficulty of simply beginning. After all, to move such a heavy mass as the imagination requires significant energy and effort. I used to be in the same boat. A significant amount of time has passed since the beginning of my own journey through my conscience, though now more remains to be explored than when I first made headway. With each passing moment, I am more satisfied by the new questions that arise from the old. This is the great joy in life: learning more and more about the universe, yet realizing how much more there is to know. With every question that is answered, there are easily ten more that arise. Knowledge is not a linear progression, but is rather exponential. As more is discovered and as more is understood, the imagination is let loose on a larger field and is free to wander through an ever growing universe. The mind can saunter along at its own leisure, finding new paths and reminiscing on old memories. Please, for the love of all humanity, set your life free and explore every inch of your own mind.

I think that by writing, your cognitive effort is reduced. What happens is relief from having to remember all of the great thoughts that you once had.