Worldview

Human existence is essentially tragic. We inhabit a world not designed for us. Our life span is sadly limited while our ambitions and desires are unlimited. 

Our species awakened in middle of a cruel Darwinian game. The higher cognitive capabilities of sentient animals granted us a survival advantage. But these same cognitive capabilities grant us the ability to suffer. And suffer we must. We imagine beautiful things that we will never have the chance to create. We dream what will never be. In Darwin's world individuals are disposable puppets, bit players to be used up and tossed aside in the latest iteration of the survival game. Only the genes that we carry are allowed immortality.

Our duties to our genes satisfied, we are left to whither away through planned obsolescence. As our bodies and minds break down, our capacity to act upon the world slowly diminishes, then sharply. Our hope for the future narrows as our potential to pursue our goals comes to its end. Our life's work is left to erosion. At the last we fall into darkness, fully conscious the entire way down. 

But even well before we come to the end of the line, our desires clash with the nature of the world.

We are driven by a primal desire to reproduce. Love and family is the source of our deepest joys. And yet for most of our species' existence we were bound by strict Malthusian limits on the number of us that can be supported by available resources in our environment. In modern times technology has only relaxed those limits, not eliminated them. If any humans are born beyond those limits then others must die. Even if we were to defeat nature's obsolescence of our bodies, we would have to give up the ancient desire for reproduction to have a sustainable society. 

As creatures that crave beauty we seek elegant explanations for features of the universe, but its complexity does not admit to elegant explanations. The quest for absolute truth is frustrated by the famous theorem of our own Mr. Gödel. In ethics, in social organization, even in mathematics we are left with ugly contradictions. This is so unpalatable that most humans must pretend that the contradictions do not exist. 

And should we conquer all our limitations, then at last the inexorable entropy of the universe will come for our proud and mighty civilization. 

The tragic character of human existence is the motivating force behind our most famous institutions, as diverse as science and religion. The world we live in is not designed for our happiness, so we try to mold it to our will with technology and discovery. The world is cruel while we last and soon forgets us when we are gone, so we dream of an afterlife without cruelty or impermanence. 

My recognition of our tragic nature is why I find aesthetic appeal in Christianity. If you erase the afterlife from Christianity, it is a very pessimistic religion. It preaches a gospel of flawed people living in a flawed world. It does not pretend that humankind can be perfected. I feel comfortable talking with Christians. Their doctrine of original sin fits nicely with my vision of the dissonance between human aims and the structure of the universe. We share a language; we can communicate. 

This feeling of kinship is odd for me in particular. I am an intellectual atheist and I share much more culture with other young atheists than any Christian population. If a Christian pastor could follow my life or see into my mind, he would blanche. I'm no Starchild, but I will never be elected to office in a Christian nation. And my own childhood was made unbearable by a collision with some of the darker parts of that religion. I ought to hold a grudge. 

But I enjoy the company of other pessimists from time to time. I need a break from the companionship of young revolutionaries, those that assume there must be a neat answer to every puzzle because they want one. 

Besides, Christians have all the best music. 

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I smell bullshit.

Goddamn trendy, vaguely nihilistic pessimist. First of all, why exactly do we live within Malthusian constraints? I would certainly say that the last such and such hundreds of years of history have clearly shown this to be horseshit. Second, is it really so guaranteed that we will forever be living in frail quickly expiring bodies burdened by unlimited aims and dreams. So far our unlimited dreams have allowed us to create a world that people as recently as 200 years ago would find unimaginably astounding. why should this stop any time soon? Maybe we very well will find a way for each of us to live for centuries, and watch (and participate) as our species spreads into the stars and builds wonders that would be to us as would the sight of modern New York to a medieval peasant farmer.

But no, believing these things, giving them some measure of substance through optimism of their eventuality wouldn't sound sufficiently sophisticated in its pessimism. How could one say this stuff and maintain a fashionably jaded attitude? He might look too much the fool in his optimism, never mind all human history proving that optimism worthy of belief.

Tragedy abounds within the daily weave of us humans, but it is a shadow compared to the happiness and innovation that is also there. The general whole of our history, from the primitive origins we came into, to where we are now has been anything but tragic in its enormous leaps forward and upward.

The singularity is the

The Singularity is the atheist's heaven.

And yes, forestalling death for a few billion years would make human life a good deal less tragic for a substantial interlude.

If we don't wind up being

If we don't wind up being godlike and able to live for all forever within a few billion years anyways, then I'd say that your use of substantial is one motherfucker of an understatement. I'll happily settle for it!

The universe starts as masses

The universe starts as masses of simple elements like hydrogen and helium. It grows in complexity to form heavier elements which combine to form clouds of ever more complex chemicals. The heavy elements coalesce together forming a mass of rock that grows in complexity. It becomes a place for more complexity where incredibly complex chemical reactions slowly become the metabolisms of living cells. They grow over billions of years on that dangerous, deadly rock to become multi-cellular, and eventually to evolve into creatures with mouths and simple nervous systems. Those creature grow in complexity amidst the dangerous, cold, cruel, brutal process of natural selection.

Skip ahead a billion years, and millions of catastrophic changes later comes creatures who start to notice the difference between warm and cold, cruel and kind. Amidst all the supposed cruelty arises creatures that can look back at the universe and all these processes, contemplate its nature, and then text each other regarding their own thoughts on the matter.

It is LAME to call that tragic. Sure the universe wasn't made for us, but we damn well were made for it.

If we are the product of a myriad of unlikely and improbable circumstances and events then it would seem that we are incredibly lucky, and I think some optimism is in order. If on the other hand intelligent life is a naturally arising phenomena in a universe whose very nature spawns ever increasing complexity, then damn I think some optimism is in order.

Regardless we need neither a messiah, nor a singularity to save us.

Reading economics can make you feel all warm inside

Agreed, this death stuff sucks. But as far as I've been told, this tragic world is the only game in town. Enjoy it as much as you can!

Being able to imagine a world better than the one we live in is not a bug, its a feature. Its how we take the world we are born into and start to adapt it to the one we want.

We call contentment or satisfaction that state of a human being which does not and cannot result in any action. Acting man is eager to substitute a more satisfactory state of affairs for a less satisfactory. His mind imagines conditions which suit him better, and his action aims at bringing about this desired state. The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness. A man perfectly content with the state of his affairs would have no incentive to change things. He would have neither wishes nor desires; he would be perfectly happy. He would not act; he would simply live free from care.

--Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, p. 13

Just make sure you don't fall into a trap of despair. Von Mises' next paragraph shows the problem with this:

But to make a man act, uneasiness and the image of a more satisfactory state alone are not sufficient. A third condition is required: the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness. In the absence of this condition no action is feasible. Man must yield to the inevitable. He must submit to destiny.