Something of the Week: Nihilism
Goal: Explore nothingness (thus everythingness)
In math, the concepts infinity and zero are some of the hardest to grasp, especially because they create all sorts of conundrums and exceptions, like asking what happens if you had x / 0 (undefined) or wondering what ∞ / ∞ is (undefined) —it should come at no surprise that these things are undefined via mathematics because mathematics is perhaps one of the first core "hard" sciences that evolved way back when the abacus was first invented and is therefore symptomatic of how humans think (more on this later). Math is considered technology and indeed even our hardware and software are comprised at the root level by 1's and 0's, without math, we would not have the modern inventions that have been built on top of it.
The thing to understand about math is that it reflects a way of seeing the world, math is an invention, therefore a theory, that helps us perceive and filter the world. We can't physically see gravity, but we can point to -9.8ft/s^2 as a simplistic model of gravity. Currency, money, is of course, only possible with finite numbers. Even social relationships can be modeled by math (game theory) so that it's evident there some real roots in how our brains work through the ideas of 1 + 1 or 2 / 2 or 3 - 3 and of course, 4 * 4. We can say that math developed perhaps as the first technological abstraction that allowed us to begin to exercise some control over the world by making things more certain —after all, 1 + 1 always equals 2.
For most of our use cases, math works great, and if we continually move up the hierarchy of technological innovation, we still find that it's always a "numbers game". Businesses try to push levers on economics, maybe making upfront investments in belief of future returns, the proletariat try to move up the corporate ladder and obtain higher salaries, friends spend time with each other, etc. Numbers everywhere.
Then there are those other two numbers (or concepts, since all numbers are just concepts) that we carefully push to the sides and ignore, ∞ and 0. I emphazise that numbers are just concepts because they don't actually exist. This is evidenced by the fact that the average high schooler learns what polymaths and math geniuses of the past used spend a lifetime on (because at that time it was still new). This means that the field of mathematics is continually expanding, and if a field can continually expand it means there is theory, and theory, is obviously not rooted in reality, but only tries to model certain realities.
Okay, so what's the point? The thing is: I've been exploring the concepts infinity and zero, and I find that they are a much more accurate estimation of what life is. We live in a relatively math and technologically driven world: we're given certainities, and math is the first technological certainty we've invented: make the connection —mathematical thinking is how the world operates, and yet, life is much closer to the concepts ∞ and zero: undefined.
Take for example the infinite possibilities a child that is first born can become. How can anyone quantify in mathematical terms what it means to be that child and that Mother and Father, not knowing the infinity of possibilities that still await that child? It's futile to attempt to bring that child down to one specific path, and yet, this is exactly what society tries to do —one major (or two if you wanna work for it), one job (or more, but in a specific field), a tried and true path: school, college, job, do whatever, die. Why try to bring a child who is undefined (∞) into a finite digit so early as if their life depended on it? It's the opposite: even as a person ages and their potentiality decreases in favor of actuality, that does not preclude that there is still potentiality, so that the idea that a life can be "finished" before it is actually finished and dead is to me a failure to understand that life does not consist in existing, it requires a level of undefined and that is life staring back at you.
Then we have the nothingness of flow; that state that people reach when they are doing without any sort of consciousness (thought), like an athlete in the zone who can react and move to stimulus without reflection, as if, automatically. A person who is someone while playing sports, who is finite, is not playing correctly, they are too in their heads, and the first piece of advice to athletes is always the same: play the game, don't overthink it, trust your gut, intuition, whatever. That requires egolessness, again, essentially, "losing sense of time"; that is, losing the concept of time, which is, yes, grounded in math. In other words, feeling that time is for once, equivalent to zero. Make the connection: keeping track of time requires understanding what finite numbers are, losing our sense of time means making numbers undefined, which is equivalent to ∞ or 0, of which 0 is a closer estimation since we don't feel things stretching into eternity when we play sports, we feel that time doesn't exist, and there is only the moment: we call the present now which is equivalent to 0 minutes because it is not later (1 minute) or earlier (-1 minute).
Math is opposed to life (or at least tangental) as far as ∞ and 0 and the exceptions they raise are not taken into account, we already know this intuitively: 9-5 jobs are soul-crushing, over-certianties breed ennui and restlessness, boredom is a result of always knowing the right answer too quickly. Therefore, we turn our attention to art which we feels encapsulates ∞ and 0 better than math can; we call this creativity, or what is emotional and subjective. Creativity and the art that comes from it is meant to give our lives a spark of uniqueness and differentness, to remove us from the humdrum reality of numbers into the land of the infinite and varied. Creation is taking a zero (nonsubstance concept) into reality (finite number). Art is supposed to liberate us from an ordered society, does it succeed in doing this?
The problem here is that art is not highly integrated into our lives; it at best fills an ancillary role and at worst is even detrimental to the very cause it seeks to fulfill. Leo Tolstoy says art is supposed to help improve solidarity between humans, that is, art is supposed to connect us and make us feel closer, not alone, and at first, it may seem that art does fulfill this function, until you realize that it fulfills this function in the same way an overdependence on cocaine might fulfill it. A person who relies on "art" (hint: entertainment) generally becomes more isolated from their peers because it takes that very person away from the waking reality they exist in into a different land. Watching a movie may bring an emotional payoff in the form of a subjective experience, but at the same time it's isolated from our real lives —when we leave the theater we also leave that experience behind with us, it has not changed us at all, even if we believe it has, especially if we believe it has. Then much social talk consists of talking about the shows we've watched, and talking with peers doesn't even consist of talking of them, but about other (fake tv show) people's lives because there seems to be so little to talk about of that individual.
So what we have is a sort of existence without meaning or purpose while we attempt to seek these things within art or creativity or individualism or values or anything that is traditionally "subjective", and it doesn't work because it can't replace the real life experiences that would root these subjective realities in objectivity, therefore it's just a sham: the real reality of the world is still governed by the turning of levers, technology, mathematical operations, and we crunch along to it while wanting to believe we're not. Art is fundamentally modeled off the desires of a general society: so what you get is art that doesn't model reality at all, but is really just a refined wish of what we'd like reality to feel and seem like. Even classical literature doesn't escape this trap, and it seems like classical literature is even more deceptively unreal because it seems more real without being so. People progressively become more and more delusional as reality becomes more and more scientific, escaping into more and more art (entertainment) that is masked as being important, meaningful, purposeful, directed towards ends, while accomplishing none of those things, but precisely the opposite.
People often say I'm living, but I'm simply undefined (0 and ∞), and that is the precise definition of nihilism —living as everything being undefined, without a purpose, without a meaning, free to do anything or nothing, everything inbetween, hoping for nothing, wanting nothing, having nothing, only knowing that everything is permissible and that nothing matters or is worth anything.
The thing is, society wants you to believe that being nihilistic is a bad thing, but nihilism would say that it's not good or bad, it's nihilistic. If we were to think of why society (status quo culture) would want people to shy away from nihilism, it's quite simple: a nihilistic person finds everything to be permissible, and a peaceful society would not exist if everyone in that society found everything to be permissible: that's called anarchy, so society labels the person who is undefined (∞ and 0) as insane —the societal way of dealing with individuality is to consider that person crazy. Conclusion? Society will always try to shame you for who you are because if you're ashamed of yourself, you'll accomplish less in the world because you're too busy fighting yourself and your own inclinations, and that's good for society because a person who fights themself won't fight other people (obviously bad for society). Popular culture doesn't want anyone to believe that nihilism may actually be good or the proper way of seeing things, like suicide, nihilism is so terribly shamed that no one has really thought to try the philosophy for themselves or to think about it, in fact, the "existential" philosophers: Nietzsche, Simone de Beauvoir, Jeal-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Søren Kierkegaard are all more closely defined by nihilism than by existentialism —that is, their philosophies are all unique to their individuality and therefore undefined. In fact, the word existentialism was coined by Gabriel Marcel, a French Catholic philosopher supposedly, but no one references him for "existentialism".
... The existentialist philosophers ironically had no problems with their existence, they had no "existential crises", they were certain of their existence... but the English language has a bunch of these hidden misnomers and catch phrases ("pursuit of happiness, but you can't pursue happiness, it's a byproduct, internal values, but all values are external qualifiers of what we think of other people (you can't own an internal value, they come from without), and all the times in conversation when people say "Don't take this the wrong way, but..." or "Not to be mean, but..." when they might as well just say, "You'll take this the wrong way, but I'll say it anyways" and "This is gonna be mean, so..."): the "existentialists" were certain of their existence through nihilism because to continue living even when there is no purpose and no meaning either means you're afraid to kill yourself or else you find no reason to kill yourself, and if it's the latter one, then you're free to live, and to live is the greatest (and only necessary) certainty we all have, the rest is undefined, up to you.
If nothing matters (0), then you're free to do anything (∞) and everything you think is preventing you from doing something is just a lie (not that there aren't consequences, but you get to weigh those), so live on.