How to Know What Matters
The human mind is a remarkable thing. It has the ability to compose a symphony, build a robot, and chart the stars. But the most extraordinary ability of the human mind could also be it’s greatest downfall. The human mind can discern meaning from anything, and everything. Every song, every story, every mundane rock that crossed our field of vision can be assigned grand cosmic importance by the human brain. This leaves us with two options for understanding the world.
Option one is that everything is, in fact, meaningful. Option two is that nothing is In other words, if everything is equally meaningful, then everything is equally meaningless. This renders the concept of meaning ultimately meaningless.
In previous ages, the default option was for people to believe in the inherent meaning of all things. Every single thing a person encountered was important. It was easy to maintain this perspective, because even the worldliest people didn’t really encounter very many things. It is easy to say your village is important when it’s the only village you’ve ever been to. It is easy to believe in the ultimate truth of your favorite book, especially when it is the only book you’ve ever read. The only book you’ve ever even heard of.
These days, we are exposed to everything, even if only by proxy. We know there are millions of villages with billions of people living in them. A person who has never cracked open a book intrinsically knows there are more books out there than he could ever hope to read. Today, even the least worldly person has more access to the world than al the priests, scholars, and monarchs of the past. And we know that ours is just one world in an infinite stretch of planets, solar systems, and galaxies.
Today we are exposed to it all. And all of it still appears to mean something. In this age of increasing diversity and infinite combinations, it is easier to believe that nothing really matters. The alternative, that everything matters, is simply overwhelming. Its like picking one TV show to watch, when every TV show ever is available. You can’t watch them all, but all of them are important. How do you choose?
How can we get a grip on the world if everything is important? How can we know where we are when all locations are the center of the map?
How do we decide what to study when absolutely everything is going to be on the test.
(Test! I didn’t know there would be a test!)