- Education and Science
The Grim Reaper returns
Monty Python The Meaning of Life
The Meaning of Life
'There's a Mr. Reaper at the door. He's come about the reaping.' (Monty Python, The Meaning of Life).
Ah OK, so the Grim Reaper is here with sharpened scythe ready to harvest another lost soul. Again. This isn't the first time I've been confronted by the hooded fiend but alas this time is the last. When I first read Camus I was gripped firmly by his words on our final destination: 'To come to terms with death, after which all things are possible.' Ironically, for the larger part of my life I felt I had succeeded in that direction in that death held no particular terror not the process at least. The method was an altogether different matter and one I tried to sidestep not out of cowardice but simply because it couldn't be predicted with any measure of accuracy. But the process, the transition, transformation, whatever it turns out to be could in some, in many, ways be imagined and prepared for. Was it illusion? Youthful arrogance? Immeasurable self deceit? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Coming to terms with that particular twilight crossing is not the most pressing issue. The matter at hand is the distinct lack of time. And this is what irks most of all. Time may be an illusion but it is the most precious deceit that we have, although it may be a huge misnomer of language to use the possessive case. To say we 'have' or 'don't have' time is to misunderstand the nature of the beast. We cannot in any sense of the word 'have' or 'possess' time due in no small part to it's abstract nature but also simply because of its essential fluidity. There is a saying that 'Work expands to fill the available time' and in the present context an interesting question would be how we would fill the time available if it was severely limited. The answer is probably that that available time would expand to encompass the completion of necessary activities. To live each day as if it were one's last is an often quoted aphorism that seems trite, even prosaic and cliched yet when the situation presents itself, Mr. Reaper hammering at one's door, the phrase assumes enormous meaning and relevance. It quickly becomes apparent how much time we actually waste. Idleness, pointless distractions and generally fruitless activities of little or no consequence. This isn't to say that all our time should be spent in creating culturally significant monliths. Not everyone has either the capacity or inclination to write a best selling novel, a history of the world, compose a symphony or engineer an opera house in a desert.
The sad fact is that most of us are erased from living memory after as little as a couple of generations - an observation wryly made by Thomas hardy in 'Far from the Madding Crowd'. And what's more sad is that, for most of us, whatever we leave behind is a legacy even sooner forgotten, which begs the big question of 'What's it all about then?' But that's the *biggest* question and one that the biggest intellects of philosophy and religion have quite unsatisfactorily failed to answer in some thousands of years of debate so there's no point in even attempting it here. My personal intuition is, and I think I may have expressed this sentiment elsewhere, that there is no 'real' meaning to life, per se, and it is our human task to try to form some semblence of meaning where there is in fact none. It seems to me to be the only rational mode of existence. We create our own meaning, whatever that may be and for whatever purpose, and we create it in our own image. For our pitifully brief existence on this plane we are as little gods forging our own Logos and from which the rest of our raison d'etre should then derive. Whether we succeed in our miniature divinity is really of no consequence though, for the reasons already stated. Who's going to care? Whatever we leave, some of us, we leave for our children and in turn they for theirs ad infinitum ad nauseum either until we have plundered the planet's natural resources or until the sun collapses into itself dragging the rest of the solar system with it. Cynical perhaps but this rather makes an idiocy of the arbitrary value we put on rare metals and works of art. It's all going the same way ... into one great final cosmic bonfire ... eventually. At least it puts everything into some sort of albeit nihilistic perspective. Doesn't it?
Back to the main point. Time is something we don't have. We cannot possess it and it's going to end, at some point. I don't pretend to understand physics but Einstein claimed that space is curved and both time and space are finite. If he was right, and I've no reason to doubt him, there is an end to both. In the final analysis it's not how 'much' time which we don't in fact 'have' but what we make of it for ourselves and those around us now and for the time being. The past is done and the future doesn't exist. There is only the Now - an ever-present eternal moment and we should live, breathe, laugh and love each and every precious moment that it is our privilige to experience. What other 'meaning of life' could be more important?