Brain Food #754
Purpose versus nature
Thoughts of the day
There are times when our body tells us to stop, where some short-termed illness or injury, or some other event, puts a semicolon in the otherwise steady, sometimes frenetic pace of our lives. In these moments, we come face to face with nature’s indifference, where a quick glance outside the window reveals that the sun continues to shine, trees continue to grow new leaves as birds sit on their branches, and we begin to comprehend what Albert Camus described as the absurdity of living.
In The River of Eden, Richard Dawkins described this indifference by also removing the manmade lens of good and evil, suggesting that things in nature do not happen because of good or bad reasons, or due to some sense of purpose; they simply just happen:
“This sounds savagely cruel but, as we shall see, nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous — indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.
We humans have purpose on the brain. We find it hard to look at anything without wondering what it is “for”, what the motive for it is, or the purpose behind it. When the obsession with purpose becomes a pathological it is called paranoia — reading malevolent purpose into what is actually random bad luck.”
We think everything should have purpose, particularly ourselves. It only takes a day of withdrawal from the world to realise that it happily carries on without us. What a sudden, terrifying relief it is to discover that a day of doing nothing, of being absent from life itself and its demands, will have little impact, and little meaning.
Nature’s indifference can often be seen in depictions of the sublime, but also in simple natural landscapes, where man is absent, or too small to make a difference, the size of the figurines simply serving as a method to amplify the scale of their surroundings.
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