Tuesday, April 07, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Thirty Nine

If life's for living/ what's living for?
from "Oklahoma, USA" by Ray Davies

One of my pet theories, as far as I know unproven, though I really haven't done the research on that point, has to do with the way human beings will create meaning for their lives as a mechanism to keep existing. To wit: the reason we create reasons to live is so that we will continue living. I don't believe this is a conscious decision but something wired into our brains by years of evolution, a psycho-biological feedback system. It's as if the brain realizes that without a reason to live, the entire organism (the person in question) will fall into despair and eventually die. An individual can die from depression or despair if they neglect eating, sleeping, or bascially taking care of themselves. To prevent this, the brain will create meaning, even if it is harmful or a complete lie, so that the individual will continue to eat, sleep, breathe, and continue the fundamentals of life. Anything will be believed so long as it keeps the person functioning. What matters is keeping the individual alive; the belief systems or personal mythology their brain creates to keep them living is secondary.

This explains why people can live for years with outlooks that might seem self-defeating or negative. It's not what their values are, only that they have values that keep them functioning. The bitter man who lives only for revenge, the alcoholic who lives only for happy hour, the soldier who is willing to die for his country: all their minds have adopted belief systems that may eventually destroy them, but until then give them a reason to continue living. As I said, this mechanism isn't conscious. People think they believe things because they have thought about them and determined them to be true. But I say that people would believe things anyway: that the mind creates belief systems, narratives and personal myths just as sweat glands produce sweat, as a way of regulating behavior and ensuring continued existence. The mind creates meaning to keep the body functioning, which in turn provides the material that keeps the mind alive. The goal of all this activity is simply to keep existing for its own sake. Or, more likely, exist until you produce offspring, then protect and provide for them until they are old enough to produce their own offspring.

The world doesn't inspire meaning within our brains. Our brains naturally generate meaning and use the world as its raw material.

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