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Don’t Forget How Strange This All Is

bee and purple flower

Jerry Seinfeld joked that if aliens came to earth and saw people walking dogs, they would assume the dogs are the leaders. The dog walks out front, and a gangly creature trailing behind him picks up his feces and carries it for him.

Throughout my life I’ve had moments where I felt like one of these visiting aliens, where something I knew to be normal suddenly seemed bizarre. I remember walking home from somewhere, struck by how strange streets are: flat strips of artificial rock embedded in the earth so that our traveling machines don’t get stuck in the mud.

Everything else seemed strange too. Metal poles bending over the road, tipped by glowing orbs. Rectangular dwellings made of lumber and artificial rocks. The background noise is always the hum of distant traveling machines, and all of this stuff was built and operated by a single species of ape.

Even stranger was the fact that these strange things usually don’t seem strange. I know I’m not the only one who has felt this. A few people have shared similar experiences with me, and according to The School of Life, it was a central theme in Jean-Paul Sartre’s novel Nausea.

Sartre apparently believed that the world is far stranger and more absurd than it normally seems. Most of the time, however, we ascribe a kind of logic and order to the world that it doesn’t really have, so that we’re not constantly bewildered by it. Sometimes we momentarily lose track of that logic, and the true strangeness of life is revealed. In these moments, we see the world as it is when it’s been “stripped of any of the prejudices and stabilizing assumptions lent to us by our day-to-day routines.” In other words, we occasionally see the world as if for the first time, which could only be a very strange experience indeed.

Although I know this experience isn’t unique to me, I had no idea whether most people could relate. So when I discovered the surprisingly popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale, I felt that a small but significant part of my experience had been understood. Night Vale is a fictional desert town, and each episode of the podcast is about 20 minutes of broadcasts from its public radio station. The host reads public service announcements, advertisements, community news and weather, and messages from the City Council.

That would be extremely boring, except that almost everything that happens in the Night Vale is incredibly strange, even impossible.

The first announcement in the first episode is a reminder from City Council that dogs are not allowed in the dog park, and neither are citizens, and if you see hooded figures in the park you are not to approach them. In an unrelated matter, there is a cat hovering four feet off the ground next to the sink in the men’s washroom at the radio station. It cannot move from its spot in mid-air, but it seems happy, and staff have left food and water for it.

Wednesday has been canceled, due to a scheduling error. There is a glowing cloud raining small animals on a farm at the edge of town. A large pyramid has appeared in a prominent public space, apparently when nobody was looking. 

I imagine that when most people hear about WTNV, they listen to five minutes of it and turn it off. It feels like a joke at first, or at best, bad art. I kept listening, thinking the weird happenings are some kind of allegory, or a code to be deciphered. But they’re not. The story stays absurd, kind of like an over-the-top Twin Peaks, where none of the weirdness ever gets explained.

Everything is weird until it’s familiar

I was listening to the podcast on headphones, walking down our local riverside path, and I passed an older couple sun-tanning. I’ve seen people tanning a thousand times, but only then did the activity strike me as completely hilarious. In our world, people sometimes take off all their clothes—or at least as much as society will allow—so that they can get radiation burns from a glowing ball in the sky. Even though everyone knows this practice increases your chances of developing a fatal disease, people still do it because they like the color of the burned flesh. Skin burned to a certain tone confers social benefits for a few weeks.

The fact that we live on a planet at all would be unbelievable if we weren’t already used to it. Nobody could have dreamed up this setting: life is set on one of many ball-shaped rocks moving in circles around a bigger, glowing ball. And we have great affection for these other balls. When officials demoted Pluto to a minor ball, people were outraged, even though none of them had ever actually seen it. When the spaceship sent to take pictures of Pluto finally arrived, we discovered it had a giant white heart on its side. It had been loving us back the whole time!nightvale

Listening to Night Vale reminds us that our world is no less strange, just more familiar. If in our world, as in Night Vale, taco shops sometimes became encased in amber, we would accept that as a fact of life after seeing it a few times. But that’s no weirder than the fact that in order to live, we must breathe a gas that combusts so easily and so violently that every city has to have specialized departments dedicated to shooting water onto anything at a moment’s notice. (Bill Bryson captures this strangeness beautifully in A Short History of Nearly Everything.)

You can see the weirdness in almost any normal phenomenon by imagining how you’d describe it to someone not from Earth or any place like it. Water falls uncontrollably from the sky? Pop culture is obsessed with people who pretend to be other people in moving pictures? We eat fresh food grown on the opposite side of the planet? What?

The three options

So our world is really weird and chaotic, which is a helpful thing to realize, because we suffer so much insisting that it should be sensible and orderly. We have to live in a very strange place, and when we forget that it’s strange due to familiarity blindness, it can seem like something’s always gone temporarily wrong. We become preoccupied with returning society to a kind of balance or sanity that it never had, often berating or abusing certain people or certain groups in the process. It’s quite a relief to remember that life was always nuts.

blue interior

Albert Camus (who is an obvious influence in Night Vale) argued that the universe is always absurd and chaotic, yet we’re always trying to find meaning and order in it. When you listen to Night Vale, making sense is the first thing your mind tries to do with what it hears, and it can’t. When you relax that need for the events to make sense, something softens. You stop straining. You listen more for the moment and less for how each moment serves everything else. You gain a sense of humor about the whole thing, however dark it gets.

Because it requires listeners to voluntarily open up to extreme strangeness, Night Vale has made me a less uptight about our own society’s political and cultural nonsense. I am seeing society less like a troubled person who was once sane, and more like a funny-looking animal, adorably knocking things over by accident. milky way

Camus thought our unreasonable demand for meaning and sense was fundamental to human beings, and that it creates a ton of pain for us. He saw only three ways to respond to life’s absurdity: we can deny it (usually by claiming that a God has designed it this way), we can commit suicide, or we can embrace the weirdness and live in it wholeheartedly.

The last option, he figured, was the only good one. When you stop expecting the world to be sensible, suddenly it all makes sense.

Embracing the weirdness takes the edge off of everything, even death. Whenever you’re worried about “big picture” ideas, such as war, climate change, crime, corporate greed, you can remember that this whole weird thing called life just happened, and it’s always fresh and interesting, even though nobody really asked for it. And in that light, the thought of it ending one day doesn’t seem distressing at all—when your time comes, all you can do is say, “Wow, that was odd.”

***

All photos by Joe Del Tufo. WTNV logo by commonplace books.

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Bozena September 7, 2015 at 3:14 am

and I’ve just read this text, that has just been posted by this stranger on the other side of this planet… how weird is that ;-)

David Cain September 7, 2015 at 8:36 am

Super weird! I don’t know if we could even describe the internet to somebody in the 1980s, but it’s a prominent part of life now.

Not Really September 8, 2015 at 12:59 pm

The internet was very real in the 1980’s, so I think you could explain it to them.

https://youtu.be/5WCTn4FljUQ

Drew September 12, 2015 at 3:41 am

Ha! how very true. Mankind has quite a vivid imagination.
However, it won’t be long before we have people on Mars and a whole new set of locations to consider.

I had better start now ;-)

Drew
Planet Earth

Mike September 7, 2015 at 5:32 am

Yes! I find it bewildering that most of us get up in the morning and put on certain types of clothing and then spend most of our daylight hours indoors doing activities that we don’t enjoy in the company of people that we don’t like. This is normal? Wtf!

The beauty is that we can challenge stabilizing assumptions. At my work, almost every male worker wears grey, black or navy blue. Shoes are typically black. Why!? To challenge this I like to wear green and orange.

That we are alive and conscious of our own existence is crazy. However we act like its not. We’ve got to wake up.

Mike.

David Cain September 7, 2015 at 8:40 am

Yes… this article has a humorous tone but questioning these norms is a serious matter, because they define so much of our experience. When did it become normal to hang an uncomfortable piece of silk around our necks? What does it do but make us feel restrained?

You also touched on the strangest thing of all: that we exist at all. It would have been much simpler if nothing existed, but for some reason a whole lot of stuff does. I like what Douglas Harding said about it: “You happened! You needn’t have happened, but you did happen.”

Kalashnikat September 11, 2015 at 2:26 pm

That silk necktie, also known as a cravat, with a knot at the neck, developed from a Croatian creation intended to make it harder for invading muslims to slit your throat…look it up. And keep wearing your Hravat.

Jonathan V. September 7, 2015 at 6:38 am

Great article! Particularly the very big picture of our silly planets just sitting there spinning for no reason. I think about this kind of thing as well once in a while. I use it as a stress reliever by telling myself that “nothing makes sense anyway”.

TL;DR: Your small and big problems are all okay from our species’s point of view. Just focus on survival, procreation if you want, and finding a activity that is meaningful and gives purpose to your life.

In my opinion, as a member of a species, I think our only natural goal is the survival of that species. Which basically means we should not die, and procreate. That’s what I assume feels right for most people, even though we sometimes see it selfishly as building a family, or even just keeping a family name alive in time. Species’ mission to “stay alive” doesn’t make much sense either anyway, but since that’s pretty much the only thing we (and all other animals, plants, bacterias, etc.) feel deep in our guts as a life goal, I’ll assume it’s a legit one. You personally might not want to procreate, but that’s kind of the default guideline if you don’t know what your purpose is.

Now, having procreation and survival as an individual’s life goal is a pretty boring thing. It is certainly not easy to achieve, but it’s boring. Which is why, since nothing makes sense, you have to find your own goal and purpose in life. Something that is meaningful to you and that makes you feel good about yourself. You are pretty much worthless from the whole species’s point of view, so you should find something fun and interesting to do to keep your life exciting at least. Any passion or hobby you love, and that is disconnected from survival and procreation is a great starting point.

Big-picture-scary-life-goals topic aside, this mantra can also be used as a morale boost. In general, taking the species’s point of view about our problems makes them ridiculously insignificant. You’re upset about something your friend told you? You can’t find that photo from 1995 that you really liked? You broke your expensive sunglasses? Wow big deal for the human race. Any of these small problems instantly vanishes if you think about it from the species’s perspective. Even bigger ones, like a break up, getting fired, or a family loss are not such a big thing from that point of view. Sure we are sad as an individual, and it directly affects our survival and procreation mission, but as a 7-billion-people team, it’s okay.

“Nothing makes sense anyway” is a double-edged sword. In the wrong hands it can be a really depressing thought, which is why I usually don’t tell people about this secret mantra I have, but in the right hands it can make you feel fine in any bad situation. I believe the readers of this blog are more likely in the latter category which is why I felt like it was okay to share this here.

David Cain September 7, 2015 at 8:47 am

Zooming out to the species level really does put things in perspective, and it hints at a common theme we get from religion: that salvation from our personal problems comes from expanding our sphere of concern past our own selves.

“Nothing makes sense anyway” is a double-edged sword. In the wrong hands it can be a really depressing thought, which is why I usually don’t tell people about this secret mantra I have

I know what you mean. I find great comfort in remembering that no matter how my life goes I will be dead in an eyeblink and the sun will incinerate all the evidence of how things went. I’m sure many people see that as nihilistic or depressing but to me it is beautiful. Everything returns to dust and it doesn’t make sense to stress ourselves out over getting things very very very temporarily right. It makes more sense to enjoy the ride.

trillie September 15, 2015 at 3:43 am

I love your alternative take on “TL;DR:” :D

trillie September 15, 2015 at 3:49 am

I’d also like to add that this ‘zooming’ out can be a double edged sword that can prevent you from enjoying things you kind of have to be ‘zoomed in’ on to appreciate, like, I don’t know, a board game night with friends. It’s a very powerful tool but if you’re prone to derealisation, it can get out of control quickly. I wrote a blog post about this once, but I don’t want to be a spammer, so if you’re interested you can find it through my nickname :)

Elisa Winter September 7, 2015 at 8:31 am

I just love the term “familiarity blindness.” And I too am struck occasionally by what I think of as “alien eyes.” Or, I deliberately try to think about what an early early human might think of whatever I just happen to be doing or looking at. I spend far too much time in rolling metal and plastic boxes with the sound and temperature adjusted just so … and then I have a tremendous longing for sitting among growing things on a great plain, chewing something chewy, and gazing off into the distance for hours and hours. Growing up at a Long Island beach, so many days spent thinking, “I am laying on a planet, and that great hot orb is just far away enough and close enough that I can lay on a planet.” “Laying on a planet” was part of the disassembling of organized religion for me. Just outside of that tiny blue blanket of breathable gases…. nothing that we know. Just nothing. How bizarre.

David Cain September 7, 2015 at 8:53 am

Or, I deliberately try to think about what an early early human might think of whatever I just happen to be doing or looking at. I spend far too much time in rolling metal and plastic boxes with the sound and temperature adjusted just so …and then I have a tremendous longing for sitting among growing things on a great plain, chewing something chewy, and gazing off into the distance for hours and hours.

Haha I love every word of this. We must have similar minds.

I didn’t really mention religion but it is a major complicating factor in this viewpoint. Sartre and Camus were existentialists, and so they were concerned with the weird conundrum that is left when you assume there’s no God in charge of this. We’re just here and that alone is very strange. We have do decide what to do with that fact.

Just today The School of Life released a video I think you would appreciate, on the awe of living on a tiny ball: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZporFnmDS8I

Johan September 7, 2015 at 10:14 am

Having a Cosmic Perspective has been so helpful in my day to day life. I’d like to thank the late Professor Sagan for sharing this view with his many works and lectures.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Lm6pEhykhs&list=FLsCcrO8KjJQwK-Psy39dVFg&index=20

Elisa Winter September 22, 2015 at 7:15 pm

Thank you so much for pointing out The School of Life new video. Yes. Yes. And Yes. I sent it to a few friends who also practice deliberately dwelling on the super big picture. I am “Just Here/Very Strange,” as are they. Perhaps you as well. Thank you for your lovely blog.

Joey H September 7, 2015 at 8:50 am

I often think about these things, especially when I get caught up in a stressful day at work. I take a step back and think to myself, “Isn’t this all just weird?”

I can’t wait to take a listen to the podcast. I’m also unfamiliar with Camus’s works, so I have that to look forward to as well!

Thanks for another great article, David.

-Joey

David Cain September 7, 2015 at 8:55 am

This kind of thinking really helps when you get stressed out over work or school, because it’s so strange that any of that stuff is happening at all. Especially in the office when you notice half the people are wearing ties and acting serious. Ties are so bizarre when you think about it.

I hope you like Night Vale.

Garrett September 8, 2015 at 4:40 pm

“Whenever you’re worried about “big picture” ideas, such as war, climate change, crime, corporate greed, you can remember that this whole weird thing called life just happened, and it’s always fresh and interesting, even though nobody really asked for it.”

The problem is that many people suffer as a result. The happenstance and absurdity of life has real consequences.

Money is an absurdity. It has no intrinsic value, yet we allow it to determine who starves and who doesn’t, who gets shelter and who doesn’t. National boundaries are arbitrary, yet we allow them to determine all sorts of things that greatly impact life on this planet.

When you’re privileged, it’s easy to dismiss the absurdity or laugh about it. But there needs to be a concerted effort to combat some of those absurdities. And there needs to be a concerted effort to combat those big picture things you listed.

Garrett September 8, 2015 at 4:43 pm

My bad, that reply is misplaced.

Anyway, I agree that ties are bizarre. I should research the origin of ties. Who first thought that was a good idea?

fmsn September 12, 2015 at 6:40 am

Nice to hear some people have the same feelings from time to time.
Surley im also keeping to social conventions, but i think some people are just so used to all that “normal”, they never realise the bizarness of all.That thing with the ties nails it. So funny. But such a moment of bizarness can overcome one in nearly every situation. Im making music on my computer, and 95% of the time it just feels normal and its just what im doing, but then sometimes, late at night, it feels odd and like a game, im sitting here, trying to produce a good song, with this computing machine, this screens, this system of in and output someone created….lol….another example, sometimes the look at the mirror, 95% of the time i look, as usual, either good or bad(depending on the symmetry somseones face has^^), but sometimes i realize “lol” wtf is this, a bunch of atoms, their only reason to live is to breed, and this so called “face” is just a product of evolution, nose to breath, mouth to put food in, eyes to watch around, placed on a thick bone, named skull which contains the control center of that all, named brain….and we call that a face, and its even attractive …
And then teeth…how bizarre are those things….lol, the same things you have inside your mouth that for example fish have….imagine how bizarre fish teeth can look, just this rough material growing outta the flesh to crunch up food, and you have the basically same thing inside you…and regarding breeding…when you have a strong orgasm, i also sometimes feel like ” wtf is this ” …put out by the universe, existing now and here,
experiencing this extreme, overwhelming, kinda “barbaric, animalistic” feeling which evolution designed to make me pass my genes by shooting out millions of small things with a flagellum to semi-duplicate myself….hehe, really bizarre….and as a product, a human can come to life…when he is old enough, he will wear a cool looking cap with a short haircut and a tanktop on warm days….95% of the time, he´ll just look cool, but then sometimes i would look at him and think ” wtf is this” semi-ape with this short hair that gives me a even better view on those strange things, called ears, that are exposed on the side of his head, and on top of that this thing called cap, and then this shirt that covers half of his upper body and let the arms, shoulders and half of the chest free, wtf is that good for ??
hehe, that are all the things that flashed to my head when i read your article, but the list could go on forever obviously, as you said, just everything too bizarre, but where are quite busy to normalize everything in our head to dont go nuts i guess.

Linnie September 11, 2015 at 7:06 pm

If you think that wearing ties is odd – consider the amazing phenomenon of “ironing clothes”. Some on this planet use an exorbitant amount of time, electricity, AND engineering, to flatten out their cleaned attire – what th’???

The ironing implement itself has been redesigned and streamlined into a fantastic machine that burps out steam; with a machined surface milled to perfection and (sometimes) coated with high-falutin’ non-sticky-stuff. How much effort and cost went into the manufacture of these? How much time do we waste using the things? It has never failed to amuse and appal me. Yet anyone I speak to about it looks at me as if I am crazy – which may well be, but – ironing? Really? WHY?

Linnie

trillie September 15, 2015 at 3:46 am

If it helps you to feel less alone: my SO and I also don’t believe in ironing :)

Christine September 21, 2015 at 6:23 pm

And then there’s the huge business of growing grass lawns, not to mention shrubs and bushes, and everything else involved in landscaping.
Think of all the time, money, tools, machines, oil, gas, water, pesticides & chemicals…for a crop we don’t even eat.

If aliens were to come down and see that, and see that we go to all that effort and use all those resources up so that people can also hit a small white ball around and into a hole, they’d probably decide we weren’t worth the trouble of conquering. :)

“Homes, golf courses and parks may grow more acres of turf grass than U.S. farmers devote to corn, wheat and fruit trees — combined.”
http://scienceline.org/2011/07/lawns-vs-crops-in-the-continental-u-s/

Marvin McDude September 7, 2015 at 8:58 am

Great stuff, David. This reminded me of the whale monologue in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Joseph Ratliff September 7, 2015 at 9:13 am

When someone speaks about life with me, I get excited.

Why do I get so excited?

Because “life” is everything (including the chaos), it’s the reason we are here, so when someone asks…

Joe, what is the meaning of life?

I start by answering…

It just ‘is.’

Someone might add:

Purpose… psychological materialism?

I reply…

No purpose. There is no materialism, there just …. “is.”

You see, life is “this,” it is “that,” it is all … it is none. I love that stuff, the “Wu-Wei” … the “nothing,” the “is,” and the “all.”

This sounds corny on the surface, to most people.

Because we seem to need “something” to be “something.” But what we need to realize, is we already ARE “something.” Something out of this world amazing.

So our purpose in life is simple … it is to be “here,” and right “now.” (and to enjoy the journey)

Nothing else.

Akhilesh Jain September 7, 2015 at 9:14 am

There was a quite successful Bollywood movie released in India recently named ‘PK’. The main character in the movie is an Alien landing in India. He is shown taking help from ‘GODs’ of Earth as his important gadget is stolen which is used to communicate to his planet.He goes on learning things from scratch and questioning all things around specially the religions. This movie did gave us perspective how things are weirder around us than we think they are.

Seo September 7, 2015 at 9:31 am

As a scientist I think we may disagree about what does and doesn’t make sense :) That being said I have an applicable anecdote. During a lecture on quantum physics, our professor sat down and asked us if it made sense. There were a couple nods, some frowns, but mainly it was the apathy of the lecture hall. He smiled and said, “I’ve been teaching for decades and I still don’t get it. It’s quantum physics, it’s not supposed to be intuitive.” There are some things we just aren’t equipped to comprehend, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

eb September 7, 2015 at 10:58 am

I love that your professor admitted that! We think we know what we’re doing when it comes to science, and we often do. But for everything we know, there are millions of things we get lucky about, millions of things we get plain wrong, and millions of other things that just haven’t happened yet so we don’t know if we’ll understand them. Fun, right?

Bozena September 7, 2015 at 12:34 pm

But is this really about comprehension? I think it’s more about “awe” moments. Even if you comprehend something, it can still give you that thrill of WOW. Even – or especially – if you’re a scientist :-)

David Cain September 8, 2015 at 9:11 am

I think we’re referring to different senses of the phrase “making sense.” I don’t doubt that there are laws under which the universe operates, but the reality they generate is astoundingly complex and detailed and we just find ourselves conscious in it. That alone is bizarre, that anything exists, and that we can be aware of it, even before we start interpolating to discover the laws behind it.

Trish Scott September 7, 2015 at 9:47 am

My first experience of “seeing through”, I was about 4 or 5. Suddenly there it was. Small ape like creatures in machines driving them from place to place. And the realization that each of them thought they were quite important driving their machines and going from place to place.

The search for meaning!
Seekers!
Those who have the facts!
The list is long. It’s all hilarious. All of it. Everything.
I love that there are some of us enjoying weirdness in all its grandure.
The only hard part is watching everyone taking it seriously.

David Cain September 8, 2015 at 9:12 am

That’s the best thing about it. The bottom line is that it’s funny, in every sense of the word.

Mel September 7, 2015 at 10:06 am

Duh? I feel like an alien dropped onto this beautiful yet overwhelmingly strange planet on a daily basis. I’m trying to make sense of any of it but come to no conclusion and I keep being bewildered that so little people seem to be finding most of what humans succumb to and add importance to as something never to think about even twice.
It’s funny how serendipitous your articles parallel my brain’s activities as of late.

David Cain September 8, 2015 at 9:13 am

I have to say I didn’t expect this many people to know what I’m talking about :)

Christine September 21, 2015 at 6:27 pm

In accordance with the wishes of the people, I doth knight thee, Sir David, “King of the Bewildered”. :)

Sarah Laurence September 7, 2015 at 11:06 am

It’s all absurd!

Susan September 7, 2015 at 11:56 am

It’s so beautiful.

I experience a variation on what you wrote when I imagine describing our planet to an “outsider” from who-knows-where.

Winged beings of many colors fly by and live in “trees” that grow green “leaf”-y coverings which flutter and drift in waves of “air”. At night all grows dark until dots of light, beautiful stars, appear and a glowing sphere travels the expanse.

There so much more that could be said – and written more elegantly – about this constantly amazing place.

David Cain September 8, 2015 at 9:15 am

I can’t get over stars. All the activity and matter in the universe is clustered around glowing balls, with unfathomable distances between them.

Smokey September 8, 2015 at 2:54 pm

Hi David,

Actually, we cannot see most of the universe, which is made of so-called ‘dark matter’. Visible matter is way less than 10% of what we can see and measure (except for gravity, which affects dark matter, too).

So the rest of it is there. It’s all around us. But we’re only a teeny part of everything we see in the night sky. We know this, because galaxies must rotate within that dark matter; otherwise the stars would be flung out, and galaxies couldn’t exist. It’s sort of like stirring a cuppa coffee, then pouring in a tiny bit of cream. The cream swirls around, like a galaxy. But if the coffee wasn’t there, the cream would fly apart. Sort of. You get the idea, right?

Also, light isn’t fast. Light travels extremely slowly. It can take photons many billions of years to get to us from places we can see. That’s a slow walk in the park — and that park is just our immediate neighborhood. It’s amazing that anything ever gets done.

And the number of elementary particles in the known (visible) universe is far less than 10^80. That’s really a very small number. If the number were, say, a googolplex (you could do a search if you wanted), then every current configuration of atoms, etc., would begin to be duplicated. Replicated exactly. You would exist here, and out there, and again even farther out. Another you would be an exact copy, not just a close approximation. In fact, your entire visible universe would be replicated. And a googolplex is nothing even close to infinity. If there were an infinite number of elementary particles, you would be duplicated exactly — an infinite number of times! Me, too. And you over there, picking your nose. You would find an infinite number of boogers.

There would also be other copies of you, that weren’t exactly the same. A good you and an evil you. But which one are you?? (The good one, I’m sure.)

And of course, the universe doesn’t end with what we can see. There is a point out there where things are receding from us faster than light. (The farther away things are, the faster away from us they are going. Eventually they recede faster tthan light speed.) The universe may well be infinite. But once something is receding faster than the very slow speed of light, it effectively is non-existent to us. It cannot affect us in any way, and we can’t communicate with it. Or vice versa. So the evil you can’t getcha. He’s too far away. But then, the universe is strange, so you never know…

And ‘non-existent to us’ also has a strange meaning. Everyone is the exact center of that 13.7 billion year bubble (actually, it’s more than 40 billion light years across; don’t ask, it would take too long). So we all live at the center of our own subjective bubble. If your cousin is 500 miles away, her bubble is shifted by 500 miles. They’re not the same bubbles.

The Hubble space telescope found a very tiny part of the sky where there were no stars visible; no light at all. It was completely black. So astronomers aimed Hubble at that dark dot, and left it pointing there for something like two weeks, trying to collect enough stray photons, if there were any. Like a time exposure, to see if anything was out there. Maybe an ‘End Of The Road’ sign or something. Or maybe nothing at all.

It found something: That tiny dark spot has millions upon millions of galaxies, as far as the eye (telescope) could see. There are pics of it online. That dark spot is teeming with galaxies, with an average of hundreds of billions of stars each. And the Hubble is a pretty small telescope, at only ≈8 feet in diameter. New ground-based ‘scopes are forty feet or more across. (Remember that we can’t observe any ‘dark matter’. What we see is only a very small fraction of what’s there.)

So then there’s the question: where is everyone?? Out of trillions of galaxies in every direction, averaging hundreds of billions of stars each… why are we the only ones we know about? Did everyone else move into a dark mattter neighborhood? Are they hiding? Don’t they like us? What’s the big secret? We can’t possibly be the only ones. Where is everyone?

As someone or other said, the universe isn’t stranger than it seems. The universe is far stranger than we can possibly imagine. And more than 90% of it is right around us. But we can’t see it, and we don’t know what it is. Strange, no?

Johan September 12, 2015 at 6:10 pm

“So then there’s the question: where is everyone?? Out of trillions of galaxies in every direction, averaging hundreds of billions of stars each… why are we the only ones we know about? Did everyone else move into a dark mattter neighborhood? Are they hiding? Don’t they like us? What’s the big secret? We can’t possibly be the only ones. Where is everyone?”

Have you researched the Fermi Paradox? It’s a fascinating read that introduces several hypothesis on the “Where is everyone?” question.

Susan September 7, 2015 at 11:58 am

Mary Oliver:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

Luis September 7, 2015 at 12:01 pm

Spot on. I´ve thought about this a good part of my life, ultimately realizing that nothing we ever do matters on the context of the universe. It´s really us who define that. So your life can be as meningful or useless as you yourself decide. Me, I think that a menaningful life is definde by the service to others. Go figure.

nrhatch September 7, 2015 at 12:19 pm

“I am seeing society less like a troubled person who was once sane, and more like a funny-looking animal, adorably knocking things over by accident.”

I had a similar thought the other day ~> I could walk around perpetually disappointed by the stupid things people do to the planet, animals, themselves, and each other OR . . . I could lower my expectations and enjoy watching them bumble about like awkward puppies and kittens. :cool:

Cheers!

Curtis Smale September 7, 2015 at 12:35 pm

I just love the -coherence- of regularly reading this blog. This is the most artistic and refined post of flowing and perceptive prose that I’ve read on raptitude. I want to say again how the posts are getting better and better, but I won’t. It just shows to go ya that if you love something and you keep doing it, then you will get really, really good at it. While I don’t believe we are descended from apes or that life is meaningless, I have felt the strangeness of it all. Often. How strange it is to regularly spend time, and enjoy, writing to someone I may never meet in person.

Max Coleman September 7, 2015 at 1:01 pm

This is one of your best articles—and I’ve been reading your work for several years! Thank you for this lovely work.

David Cain September 8, 2015 at 9:19 am

Thanks Max!

Shelley September 7, 2015 at 4:18 pm

Thanks for this post. I often think how strange our activities would seem to outsiders, or even people who lived 500 years ago, when I participate in the activity we call a “conference”. Many people travel many miles in small metal tubes in the sky to come to one place, make sounds and show each other pictures for a short time, and go back where they came from. Meetings of congresses and parliaments, with their stylized forms of debate, also raise these thoughts (as does the entire legislative process). International meetings where representatives come together and speak into devices that carry waves of sound to interpreters who send different waves of sound out to other representatives for weeks at a time, before everyone goes away, just to come back and do the same thing again in six months or a year, also suggest the absurdity of some of the activities to which we choose to devote our time. Of course the darker side to the wonder of the systems developed by man is the thought of how much pain humans choose to inflict on each other during their short, curious existence.

David Cain September 8, 2015 at 9:22 am

Often in Night Vale they describe things that sound no stranger than your conference fed by metal tubes, except that we can’t conceive of them because we’ve never seen them before. But occasionally they describe something that sounds bizarre at first but then you realize we do the same thing. In one episode, the scientist left the conference room in a hurry, ignoring the people there and shouting “There’s no time!” into a black rectangle in his hand. At first it sounded like more craziness, but we talk to black rectangles in our hands all the time.

Jess September 7, 2015 at 9:13 pm

I love knowing that I’m not the only one who questions reality! This post makes total sense. Whoever it is who made this society, has done a good job at making it all seem orderly and clean. You really see it when you visit a 3rd world country, our Western selves are overwhelmed with the chaos – mostly the driving! Haha Then you come back home and everything is so….perfect. We don’t embrace weirdness, but maybe what we would think of as strange is just normal, we’ve just been told otherwise!
If you like strange stuff (obviously you do), check out the podcast Mysterious Universe!

David Cain September 8, 2015 at 9:24 am

So good hearing from people who recognize the same strangeness. I will check out Mysterious Universe, I’m on such a podcast kick right now.

aditya thakur September 7, 2015 at 11:44 pm

Yes, it’s all so absurd. And so meaningless. I think this the reason why we like to tell and hear stories. Storytelling helps us give meaning and make sense. If you think about it everything is just a story; religion, economics, politics, civilization, math, and maybe even science.

David Cain September 8, 2015 at 9:32 am

Yeah I think you’re right. Stories usually give us a pretty tidy meaning to a sequence of events, I guess in part because they start and end. But in real life there’s always something after it and always something before it. So there are no true resolutions. When I was a kid I often noticed how movies just ended and ignored all the “cleanup”–sure the characters survived, but half a city was destroyed and that doesn’t seem to matter. I wonder how our preference for stories influences our interpretation of real life. We certainly have a habit of reducing people to “good guys and bad guys” even though it’s seldom that simple, and we also reduce events in our minds to “good” and “bad” outcomes, even though every outcome has consequences that continue forever.

Bhushan September 8, 2015 at 1:39 am

And while we think that other people are bumbling along or moving around awkwardly, it helps to realize that we too are doing the same things. From the point of view of others may be we too or awkward. But the only thing that comforts me is that I know all this doesn’t make sense and so i can laugh at myself and take it easy.

David Cain September 8, 2015 at 9:33 am

I take a lot of comfort in that. The bumbling is mutual!

Chris September 8, 2015 at 12:50 pm

“the universe is always absurd and chaotic”

I think that Douglas Adams did a great job of this in Hitchhiker’s Guide. Man I love that book.

I get that really weird feeling whenever I read about space and how tiny we truly are. We’re on a HUGE ball that’s spinning around another fireball that’s spinning around with a bunch of other fireballs. Oh, and that’s spinning around some other stuff too. And you’re this super tiny little dot in all of this. The distances always just blow my mind. It’s nice to think about that when I’m worried about something going on that’s really trivial.

Dan September 8, 2015 at 1:02 pm

Great essay. Unfortunately, as Aldous Huxley pointed out:

“Familiarity breeds indifference.”

That line was in the Doors of Perception, if I recall. And he was specifically noting/contrasting it to the various instances/moments/means by which the world does take on that “like new” sheen, and how jarring (and glorious) it can be. There is a similar expression of that sentiment which is a bit more common…and cynical:

“Familiarity breeds contempt.”

Which is, sadly, how it seems a great deal of people look at this “familiar” world.

Dan September 8, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Also, Alan Watts on the weirdness of existence:

Clip 1
http://youtu.be/PEKrBsJLs9gg

Clip 2
http://youtu.be/C9xQeejKSM0

And one of my favorite GK Chesterton quotes:

“It is one thing to describe an interview with a gorgon or a griffin, a creature who does not exist. It is another thing to discover that the rhinoceros does exist and then take pleasure in the fact that he looks as if he didn’t.”

Christine September 8, 2015 at 2:39 pm

Wow, what a wonderful & insightful post, David. Thank you!

I’m not sure who the author is, but this is my favorite quote:
When you finally figure out that you’re never going to figure it all out, you’re finally beginning to figure it all out.

That quote aside, do you have any thoughts regarding the enormous amount of suffering in the world that can seem so ridiculous?
For instance, the refugee crisis going on right now. These people are risking their lives and dying to move across some imaginary lines drawn on the surface of the planet.

The three options don’t seem like real options when it comes to suffering:

1) we can deny it (usually by claiming that a God has designed it this way)
I can’t deny it, and I don’t want to believe in a deity who would design something like a refugee crisis

2) we can commit suicide
Well, I’m not going to do that…it wouldn’t accomplish anything.

3) or we can embrace the weirdness and live in it wholeheartedly.
Do you have any thoughts on how to do this when it comes to suffering? How can I embrace the weirdness of a dead three year old child washing up on a beach? How are you supposed to live in that wholeheartedly?

As my favorite quote states, I try not to get stuck in trying to figure everything out…but when it comes to suffering, especially of the innocent, it’s very hard for me to not get stuck.

Thanks for any thoughts or ideas, David. Thanks also for another great post and your blog which is one of the few things I’ve found that DOES make sense in this crazy world. :)

Christine September 8, 2015 at 3:18 pm

I was just reading through all the comments and this struck me:
“Sartre and Camus were existentialists, and so they were concerned with the weird conundrum that is left when you assume there’s no God in charge of this. We’re just here and that alone is very strange. We have do decide what to do with that fact.”

That’s exactly how I feel a lot of the time…”concerned with the weird conundrum that is left when you assume there’s no God in charge of this.”

I’m agnostic, and “that weird conundrum” sums it up perfectly as far as how I feel when I see the suffering that is the result of “what we have decided to do”.

On a different note, another one of my favorite quotes is “I’m content to be amazed.” I don’t feel any need to figure out the secrets of the universe or “why am I here?” or any of that big stuff. I’m content to just look up at the stars and simply be amazed.

But as you can see, I get stuck when it comes to the suffering part. My brain just can’t seem to let go of that “weird conundrum that is left”.

Garrett September 8, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Perhaps my comment below should have been a reply to your comment, but I had not yet read yours. Anyway, I’m with you. None of the 3 options are satisfactory when it comes to the fact that millions or even billions of people suffer.

Christine September 8, 2015 at 7:14 pm

Hey Garrett, I was just about to reply to your comment below saying that I’m with you, when I saw your comment here saying that you are with me. :)

I am fortunate in that I’m privileged compared to so many others, and so I can on one hand very much relate to what David wrote about in this post. I feel like I’ve landed on alien planet a lot the time, but I can also see the humor in it when you look at it a certain way.

But like you wrote, I also can’t get away from how “The happenstance and absurdity of life has real consequences.” It would be wonderful if it all that happenstance and absurdity left only weird & harmless things for us to wonder about and scratch our head at…but that happenstance also has very real and dire consequences, too.

After I wrote my last comment, I remembered this post by David that I need to go back and re-read. While it didn’t answer all these questions, I remember it did have some insightful and helpful points. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, Garrett, but here is the link:

http://www.raptitude.com/2010/12/what-to-do-about-the-worlds-suffering/

I agree 100% that there needs to be a concerted effort to combat the absurdities that cause so much suffering. I’m very involved in doing what I can to combat those things, and there are lots and lots of people like me working to reduce suffering in the world…which brings up another absurdity because despite all these combined efforts, not a lot really seems to change, and the larger absurdities just continue on their merry way.

Garrett September 9, 2015 at 3:22 am

Hi Christine,

I had read that other article of David’s. In fact, I left a couple of replies to it. :)

I’d love to know more about your involvement with trying to combat suffering.

Christine September 9, 2015 at 7:34 am

Hey Garrett,
I haven’t had the chance yet to re-read the suffering post, but I’ll definitely look for your comments. If I remember correctly, I wanted to comment, too, but I found the article after the comments had been closed. I think that’s article that actually initially led me to David’s blog after a google search.

Thanks for asking about my involvement in trying to combat suffering…in a nutshell it’s fighting against factory farming. Sometimes I worry that people will think I only care about animals when I say that, but when you really understand all the implications of factory farming, it causes much suffering for people, too.

I could go on and on, but just one example is that a 2006 UN report titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow” found that “that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of transport” and the meat industry is “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems”.
(You can access a PDF of the whole report at http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.htm)

It sounds like you are involved in trying to make this world a better place, too. So, now it’s your turn, Garrett. :)
Feel free to shoot me an email
clof101@gmail.com

Garrett September 9, 2015 at 11:05 pm

Too funny, Christine. My first comment on that article starts off, “Thanks, David, for a thought-provoking article. This is just what I was looking for when I did a Google search on ways to reduce suffering.”

It was the first of David’s articles I ever read.

Most of my work toward reducing suffering has come via the type of work I do. I’ve had jobs with various non-profits working with at-risk youth or adults with disabilities.

Christine September 21, 2015 at 6:39 pm

Hey Garrett, sorry I don’t know if you will see this now, but I just wanted to thank you for your work with various non-profits working with at-risk youth or adults with disabilities. It seems we both have a calling to get out there and do what we can to help. :)

David Cain September 10, 2015 at 5:17 pm

3) or we can embrace the weirdness and live in it wholeheartedly.
Do you have any thoughts on how to do this when it comes to suffering? How can I embrace the weirdness of a dead three year old child washing up on a beach? How are you supposed to live in that wholeheartedly?

“Embracing the weirdness” is a way of responding to the indivisible package deal that life is a network of chaos that has no intrinsic meaning. The first step is to accept that reality (or not), but that doesn’t alleviate the problem of suffering. Embracing absurdity can take the edge off of certain realities, but nobody is claiming it’s a cure to suffering.

How to respond to suffering is one of the great philosophical questions, and there are a lots of attempts at answering it. The Stoics and Buddhists might have the best insights to offer. Stocism focused on radical acceptance of reality, and a wariness of how our emotions can create needless suffering. Buddhism explores the same territory, but it is more systematic and takes a different approach. Both are concerned with training the mind to accept the arising of pain in real time so that it does not become suffering, which is a grasping at relief from pain.

There are definitely others approaches too.

Christine September 21, 2015 at 6:37 pm

Sorry it’s taken me so long, but thanks so much for your replies, David.
It was an “ah ha moment” for me when I read where you wrote about the difference between pain and suffering:
“training the mind to accept the arising of pain in real time so that it does not become suffering, which is a grasping at relief from pain.”
Now I need to get on the “training of the mind” part. :)
Do you have any suggestions for that, David?
Advice, books, websites, etc?
Thanks again, David!

Garrett September 8, 2015 at 4:37 pm

“Whenever you’re worried about “big picture” ideas, such as war, climate change, crime, corporate greed, you can remember that this whole weird thing called life just happened, and it’s always fresh and interesting, even though nobody really asked for it.”

The problem is that many people suffer as a result. The happenstance and absurdity of life has real consequences.

Money is an absurdity. It has no intrinsic value, yet we allow it to determine who starves and who doesn’t, who gets shelter and who doesn’t. National boundaries are arbitrary, yet we allow them to determine all sorts of things that greatly impact life on this planet.

When you’re privileged, it’s easy to dismiss the absurdity or laugh about it. But there needs to be a concerted effort to combat some of those absurdities. And there needs to be a concerted effort to combat those big picture things you listed.

David Cain September 10, 2015 at 4:52 pm

I don’t see humor as a flippant response to suffering. Suffering over suffering isn’t necessarily helpful, and people have been using humor to respond to life’s hardship forever. Regardless of how much suffering life contains, it is endlessly peculiar that life is the way it is. Appreciating and finding humor in this peculiarity doesn’t require a person to pretend there’s no suffering associated with it. Slaughterhouse-5 is about war and suffering, and it is also hilarious. Vonnegut was endlessly disturbed by his experience during the war, and by human culture in general, and responded to it with humor. It doesn’t mean it’s not a serious matter. Camus’ assessment of the situation is obviously a very sober one, if suicide is one of the paths to consider.

I’m also not sure what privilege has to do with it–we all face the prospect of a painful and absurd existence and all must respond to that problem. Quite often the word “privilege” is used to trivialize the seriousness of suffering experienced by people who happen not to be in the lowest socioeconomic classes, as if that’s the only kind of privilege — disparity of advantage is also distributed across economic groups in terms of health, genetics, luck, stress levels, cultural support and other determinants of quality of life. In other words, you’re better off being a healthy member of India’s untouchable caste then you are a wealthy American with dementia, but you both must face the fact of absurdity. Human life is hard across the board, and absurdity is directly concerned with the inescapability of suffering. The point is that we’re in it, and it is the way it is, and you can suffer over your suffering, you can end it, or you can open up to how freakish and strange it is that this is happening at all.

Garrett September 11, 2015 at 2:59 pm

I still think relative privilege plays a role. There can be no doubt that some suffer in ways that are virtually unimaginable for many who, for instance, live in the US. There’s so much we take for granted, like clean water and food. And even within the US there are degrees of privilege. As much as many white folks and many men would like to deny it, while privilege and male privilege are very real and very consequential. Suffering over suffering isn’t effective, but that’s also not the only option. There are concrete ways to reduce suffering.

But I certainly get that there is strangeness all around us, much of which humans have created and now accept as the norm. Neckties and just about all forms of ornamentation provide a good example. People put holes into their body and loop pieces of metal or other materials through those holes.

Christine September 21, 2015 at 6:56 pm

More wise words from you here, David:
“Quite often the word “privilege” is used to trivialize the seriousness of suffering experienced by people who happen not to be in the lowest socioeconomic classes, as if that’s the only kind of privilege…”

I used to tutor a Somali Bantu family who were new U.S. immigrants who had been living in a refugee camp in Kenya for 15 years. Their eldest son had been murdered in Somali. The first place the 9 people in their family stayed in the U.S. was a roach infested 2 bedroom house. They had very little material wealth.

But these were some of the happiest and most generous people I have ever known. I felt lucky to know them. They had nothing, but they always wanted to give me something when it was time for me to leave.

I always remember the time the mother bent over into a kitchen cabinet and brought out a can of tomatoes that she insisted I take home with me. That can of 79 cent tomatoes made me feel like I was a millionaire. Even if somebody were to steal that can from me, I would lose nothing of the gift given to me & was represented by that simple can.

This family may not have been “privileged” when it came to material things, but they were wealthy beyond compare. I honestly felt twinges of jealousy of how happy they were; I saw they were the ones who were privileged, not me.
:)

Shannon D. September 8, 2015 at 8:49 pm

Thank you for reminding me to embrace the weirdness! Love the blog.

Carl Klutzke September 9, 2015 at 7:36 am

For anyone who enjoys Welcome to Night Vale, I must also recommend “The Hidden Almanac with Reverend Mord” podcast (http://www.hiddenalmanac.com/) by Ursula Vernon and Kevin Sonney. It’s a similar format–public radio broadcast from a strange community–but less Area 51 and more Arkham. The episodes are 3-4 minutes long, 3 times a week, and among the most reliable entertainment I get each week.

David Cain September 10, 2015 at 4:52 pm

I will check it out. Thanks Carl!

Michael Baker September 10, 2015 at 11:33 pm

David, you always describe your deepest perceptions very well, and many of your articles address the same feelings I’m having. I used to experience ‘alien eyes’ in fleeting glimpses throughout my life, but now it happens all the time.

So let me get this straight … Human beings purchase and cage other life-forms, and then charge an admission fee to observe the life-forms in artificial habitats? That’s crazy!

The strangest thing of all is that our mind’s constantly assign labels to everything in order to try and make sense of our environment. Maybe this is partly where familiarity blindness comes from. We rarely, if ever, look beyond the name and definition human’s assigned to some thing, so its mystery or essence remains hidden behind preconceptions.

Fabian September 11, 2015 at 1:54 am

Just before reading, I had a beautiful encounter with one of the multitude of strangenesses that surround us. On a train leaving from the coast of the North Sea, I read an information sheet for tourists, explaining the phenomenon of the Wadden Sea and the tides. It was all interesting on a level of repeating information that you learned waaaay back in seventh grade or so, but there was one sentences that stood out to me – so much, in fact, that I had to take a photo of it: “The Earth is moving under the tide mountains.” That’s right: The tides don’t “come and go”. On a daily level, they basically stay where they are – but the Earth keeps moving. How strange is that?

On a different note, I will totally quote your out-of-context with the sentence: “[We] have great affection for these other balls.” (SCNR)

thisbliss September 11, 2015 at 6:59 am

Haha love this chaotic ridiculous way of looking at life and ourselves how it can put our arrogant selves in its place. Other odditys to add is how reading a book is vividly hallucinating over marked slices of tree. Or the whole process of sleeping – we lie in a dark room for 1/3 of our life and just switch off!

Linnie September 11, 2015 at 6:42 pm

Hello David – lovely writing as usual! I recommend you read “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons if you can – I read it when I was a young woman (light years ago!) and it spoke very clearly to me of the utter chaos and upside-inside-down-out-up-world that I lived in.

Cheers!

Linnie

Johan September 12, 2015 at 6:05 pm

Sorry but I see this a lot when people use light-year but a light-year is a measurement of distance not of time. You cannot say something was “X light-years ago”.

That book sounds fun, is the movie adaptation any good?

april September 11, 2015 at 8:17 pm

your site has been one of my favourites since I first stumbled across it years ago. I have always enjoyed your posts, but is by far the best yet.

ثبت شرکت September 16, 2015 at 2:48 am

thank you for sharing this post

David Buridan September 16, 2015 at 5:04 pm

It’s strange how rarely people point out the obvious: that everything in this world/existence is utterly absurd. So this post (like Sartre’s Nausea) was great. I’ve always felt that being aware of life’s weirdness should be freeing somehow; and yet it never seems that way. I’ll need to read Camus!

Matt Boardman September 18, 2015 at 3:19 am

I moved half a year ago from London to Madrid, and it was only on my first visit back last weekend that I finally realised why the “English people drink too much” stereotype exists. I couldn’t believe that, like a Night Vale hovering cat, the fact that almost EVERYONE on the street was barely able to stand at 3am had previously seemed normal.

Thanks for another awesome post David.

Kathleen September 18, 2015 at 11:37 am

I have been having this experience more and more while trying to explain “things” to my almost 3 year-old daughter.
What’s that? Well, that’s a special box that you open, place food inside, close, push a few buttons, and when it beeps at you, the food is magically hot!
What’s that? Well, that’s another special box. You put dirty dishes inside it, add some goo, push a few more buttons, and when it’s finished, the box gives you clean dishes back!
What’s that? Well, it’s like a boat, because it takes you from one place to another, but it lifts off the ground, and zooms through the air very high up, and very quickly, and lowers to the ground in a completely different place, even though it doesn’t really feel like it’s moving much.
The world we have created for ourselves is bizarre.
When she pushes with her questions and asks “why?” to my every response, I realize how canned my answers are, and how much wonder there really is in the world, and how little I know, and how weird it all is.

Sonny September 20, 2015 at 2:58 am

That level of awareness of strangeness is a rare experience for me. Some part of the strangeness that I am aware of most days is that what people talk about the most, the beliefs or knowledge they defend the most in arguments, and explain to other people the most, what they talk about most whenever there’s a question about the universe or the world or life or truth, is things they’ve been told, that they don’t really know for themselves at all. It affects even the smartest people, like some people who have degrees in math and physics, when they’re at a party, who want to get into a discussion of whether some theory is the next big thing or the future of science, and they’re talking about something they’ve heard and can’t prove for themselves, so it’s really just gossip.

People base their lives, their most important decisions, their most deeply held values, on gossip or what some celebrity said (including if that was a famous author if they’re more intellectual) or what something looked and seemed like when they saw it on television or in a movie (or read about it in their holy book if they’re more old fashioned.) Then there’s the frustration that I’ve noticed happens when I’ve caught myself doing that, where the reality of having something or doing something can’t seem to live up to the media depiction or the talk. I don’t want to name drop or argue from authority, because that would be counter to the point I’m trying to get across, but I seem to recall that Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation noticed that too, and I think I read that book, but maybe it was just another book like it.

I still feel like proving it, because someone might read this and think, people aren’t usually like that, that’s just a few people. I’d ask, how many people do you know who don’t have some fundamental belief that guides all their values and decisions, that they got from what their parents told them, or some teacher, or what the news said some scientists or politicians said, and that they can’t prove themselves and haven’t experienced themselves? How many people do you know who are really pure show-me skeptics? Are you even one yourself? I’d guess as soon you realize the implications of being one, in regards to some belief about politics or science that you’ve based your values or your life on, you’ll say, that’s absurd to be a show-me skeptic like that, we’re supposed to believe what other people say, even when we have no way of validating it for ourselves, because some things are more important than skepticism. That’s what I’d say to prove my point to someone who doubts it, in my fantasy of being a quick enough wit and outgoing enough to say that. I guess I’m not really though, because I’m just sitting here writing this stupid comment that I don’t know if anyone will ever read, because these comment things often suck up a comment and don’t seem to spit it out the other end, in my experience.

Jamie September 21, 2015 at 9:59 am

Great, fun read. Funny timing as I was just thinking about the idea that a friend told me that we “wake up in a box (bed), inside of box (room) to go into another box (bathroom) to look into a box (mirror)…only to go into another box (kitchen) to open a box (refrig) to eat and leave by stepping into another box (garage)….etc… you get the point. We live in boxes because it helps us make sense of things.

On another note, I feel wholeheartedly that if at any point you feel you’ve “got it” and understand existence…even if your understanding is “it’s all absurd” – it’s best to always assume your conclusion is probably still really off.

Through my own personal journey, I’ve come to believe this story that we call life is God’s personal way of showing as many aspects of himself to His creation. For example, the story of human race through scriptures (from adam to now) allows us to learn about Him. He is creative, loving, jealous, fatherly, longs for connection, omnipotent, angry, zealous, compassionate, holy…you can go on forever. We will never fully know all the aspects of Him, but the redemption story is his best attempt at inviting us into communion with Him. The fact that we can’t make sense of this world only illustrates this more – there is always more to learn about who is He – we can always fall more and more in love with Him.

That’s my two cents explain as quick as I can while at work :)

Diego September 28, 2015 at 6:34 pm

This is the sort of thinking that goes through my head quite often while commuting and seeing lots of people moving at the same specific time of the day, five days a week to the same area and back again to their homes several hours later on public transportation.

Di from Detroit October 1, 2015 at 9:42 am

David,
Thank you for this post. “Don’t forget how strange this all is.” is now a rallying cry in my heart when the things that are happening around me are ridiculous, upsetting or confusing. It doesn’t make sense because it’s not supposed to.
Also, thanks for mentioning Night Vale as it’s one of my favourite podcasts now :)

Vishesh October 13, 2015 at 10:37 am

Hey David,
This is really a wonderful website.This post is extraordinary.
For a long time,especially since I have been practicing presence(Eckhart Tolle books taught me a lot),I have had this awareness of the absurdity of life many times.But I thought I was weird myself for thinking like this.And I think’I am part of this absurdity,part of the human race’.First time I have read anything written like this.
Humans are such a small dot in time and space.Yet,how seriously they take themselves.

Juani October 21, 2015 at 1:10 pm

Having this experiences would be kind of what in psichology is called “Despersonalization” or at least it sound like that. Suddenly things seems odd and with a lack of “meaning”. It can be funny or frightening depending on the person. Personally, I don’t like when it happens to me because it makes me feel hopeless and awkward.

Barb October 26, 2015 at 5:34 pm

I have also wondered about tying a piece of cloth around your neck. Stranger still is all the math equations that man instituted and agreed upon. It’s all relative….20 story buildings might be 3 inches tall, man could be ant sized and the solar system ball sized. There is a tall hill in my town and man, in all his arrogance and importance, is not visible to my naked eye just a short distance away. That’s weird……..

طراحی وب November 8, 2015 at 11:58 am

thanks man for sharing this
nice

ثبت شرکت پارسه November 8, 2015 at 11:36 pm

hank you for reminding me to embrace the weirdness! Love the blog

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