The Universe Is Content with You

by
Yamen

One of the harder things to tackle, emotionally, is the feeling of insignificance that comes with the understanding of our limited, mortal existence. No matter how big or important something is to one of us, or even to all of us, it's nothing but a blip on a small rock in an unfathomably large ocean, for a brief instant in the eternal timeline of the universe. There are (presumably) stars and planets that are so far away from us that we will never, ever see a sparkle of light from, even if we spent all of human history running towards them. Thinking of how few names you know of your family when you look even just 3 or 4 generations back makes it hard to envision that your life now will even cross the minds of your great-great-grandchildren. The vast majority of our existence as homo sapiens occurred over 100,000+ years in the jungles of what is now Africa, but our knowledge of life even just 5,000 years ago is extremely sparse. Individually, we are nearly inconsequential to the universe as a whole. If this is as far as we take the thought, it's understandable to feel like nothing really matters. I don't agree, so let me break down why.

If the universe is deterministic, you are a slave to the physics and math that make up your body, and your fate is inevitable. If the universe is created, you are subject to the plans and wills of a being who's mind is beyond comprehension, and your fate is ordained. If the universe is chaotic, there is no guarantee that anything you do or create will persist. If the universe is virtual, all of existence may be no more than an illusion.

But that doesn't mean that nothing matters. And perhaps more importantly, it doesn't mean that you don't matter. In fact, I argue that in each of those cases your existence is itself proof of your inseparable significance to all of creation. The universe, whatever its nature, has conspired to bring you into existence, and it will never escape the consequences of that act. You are as inevitable as the sun, and as much a part of the universe as gravity. There is no future where your existence has not left a mark on the final shape of the universe (and every form it takes until then).

If a God put you here (or a godlike being, like a simulation operator), you are a part of Its plan. It wants you to live your life, because it built a special machine to live your life: you. Even if God has infinite copies of you in infinite simulations or universes, It has still found cause to place you specifically where you are. You are imbued with purpose by your existence.

If physics put you here, you are a living embodiment of the universe exploring itself. Your existence may be scripted by fundamental laws, but those laws have given rise to you to play the part. The most intricate choreography is nothing without dancers performing it. You are imbued with purpose by your existence.

If random chance put you here, you are the ambassador for all the possibilities that didn't come to be, and a trailblazer to the possibilities that lie ahead. You bear witness to the result of the cosmic dice rolls, and define the parameters of the next set of rolls. You are imbued with purpose by your existence.

To whatever extent the universe, or reality, or fate, or God can want you to exist, you are wanted. More than that, you are needed. Necessary. Required. And that means you have a very important ability: Anything you imbue with meaning has meaning to the universe by extension. Even if we are just along for the ride, we are the ones who choose which way to look. If your body, or your career, or your legacy matter to you, they implicitly matter to the entire universe.

The actions you take will play their part in shaping the rest of the universe forever. So the actions you take with purpose are your will expressing itself on the universe. You may only have control of a very small part of a very large shape, but the shape couldn't be what it is without you and your contributions.

This is an intoxicating responsibility, and as history shows it can be used to justify great harm. It is the responsibility of the aware to know that while they can choose to imbue meaning to anything, those who are harmed by the action can choose to imbue meaning in the harm. In simpler words, you cannot remove the meaning someone else has added. This also means that even if you choose to withhold meaning from everything, it still exists independent of you. The balance between pursuing your own meaningful actions and respecting the meaning that others have imbued the universe with is what I consider morality.

For me, this means I seek to create futures in which more people can invest more of their lives into the things and activities that matter to them, and I look to unravel systems which allow one person's meaning to replace the voices of others. As humans, we accomplish a lot more when we support each other than when we try to hold each other back. On the whole, we are rocketing forward and discovering endless new frontiers to explore, even if we are risking our survival as a species to do it. How could I not want to keep my eyes open and see what comes next?

That's the real power of this perspective, the optimism it gives me. I'm a very anxious person, I struggle with depression and I'm frequently rendered nearly useless by stress and fear. I'm fortunate in many ways, but I've been subjected to a lot of emotional trauma, and it is so easy to fall into a hole of despair and self-loathing. But even in my darkest, most uncontrolled moments of panic, the few times I've begun to seriously contemplate suicide, I cannot escape the feeling that I want to see what comes next. That my purpose is to bear witness to my life. That even though it really fucking hurts sometimes, and even though that hurt can leave deep scars, it's all a part of what I was meant to go through to get to the next scene.

So even when the world feels hopeless, when my life is a mess, when all I can see is my failures and the obstacles in my way, I know that there hasn't been a bad day yet that has stopped me from finding a good day later. The times I've chosen my happiness over my success, my heart over my wallet, or my passions over my responsibilities, they have all been just as meaningful as the time I spent being successful, profitable, and responsible. And the inverse is true too, the time I spent being successful, profitable, and responsible have been just as important even if they've left me feeling exhausted, spent, and depressed.

I hope you'll stick with me in finding out what's next, and I hope looking at it like this is as comforting for you as it has been for me.

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