My understanding of Maslow's hierarchy of needs is that if you have all of your basic needs fulfilled, like the need for air, water, food, shelter, safety, human companionship, etc., then you arrive at a special place called "self-actualization", which is where you.. um.. can have your clearest thoughts.

I believe I have reached near the tippy top of Maslow's hierarchy a couple times, around Christmas time. I was not with my family, or with anyone at all. I was alone in my dorm. I suppose some might fear that I wasn't really self-actualized at this time since I lacked human companionship, but I don't need other humans all the time, just some of the time, and sometimes I really like to be alone with my thoughts. And at Christmas time, it's even better since nobody has any expectations of me. In particular, I didn't feel like my adviser would be too upset if I didn't make any progress on my thesis at Christmas.

So all of my needs were met. I didn't have any cares or responsibilities. I was alone, and didn't need to worry about other people caring what I did. And so I could think clearly.

And I thought about the big questions in life. What is the meaning of life? What should I be doing?

Unfortunately, my thoughts were a bit negative and pessimistic (which surprised me, since I'm naturally very positive and optimistic). Here were my thoughts:

  • Life seems meaningless, or rather, the question doesn't make sense.
  • It doesn't seem to matter, in any grand sense, what we do.
  • I am not sold on the idea that we should maximize happiness. The notion of "should" does not seem grounded in anything, e.g., the universe doesn't care what we maximize. So simply choosing arbitrarily to maximize happiness seems a bit hollow. And in fact, any choice of what to maximize seems arbitrary and hollow.

These thoughts were a bit depressing, raising into question the value of life. I didn't want to end my life, but I felt like my life didn't matter.

However, there was one thing I didn't understand, and that was consciousness. It didn't make sense to me why consciousness existed, or what the deal with it was. Similar to this, I didn't understand why anything existed at all.

And actually, asking "why" seemed a bit problematic in the same sense that "meaning" and "should" seem problematic. Meaning to who? Should with respect to what metric? The word "why" suggests a reason, as if someone has an agenda, but without some entity having an agenda, I'm not sure "why" makes sense as a question.

Still, conscious seems to exist, and that seems very strange, so I do want to ask something about it.. and I think what I want to ask is along the lines of "how" does consciousness exist, or what is the nature of consciousness..

In a sense, I feel like the real "big question" in life may be: how do we phrase or conceptualize of the big question in life such that we'll have the experience of "yes, that's it!"

And this is a bit problematic too, since just the experience of "yes, that's it!" seems like it could be faked -- it seems like our brains could be put into a state where they think "yes, I understand completely what is going on" without actually understanding completely what is going on.

And that is sortof as far as I got, my thoughts shifting away from "what is the meaning of life" to "what is the deal with consciousness, and with stuff existing, and what is even the right question to ask about that, especially given no good definition of 'right'?"

No comments:

Post a Comment