Existential Crisis - Social Anxiety Forum
 
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post #1 of 12 (permalink) Old 04-24-2020, 01:33 AM Thread Starter
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Existential Crisis


I've been thinking again about the total and utter pointlessness of all things; I feel like nothing ever has, does, will or could matter.

 
So a little background first. I've had existential crises before. The first time I think I was about 13 and seriously suicidal due to bullying at school and church; I remember thinking for the first time one night that maybe God didn't exist after all, and being completely overwhelmed by the possibility of oblivion after death. My last time through university I was kind of obsessed with metaphysics and existential philosophy as I gradually reasoned my way out of religion altogether. I asked too many of the "hard questions" and could never be satisfied by any of the apologist answers. Besides, I've always had a thing for "controversial" or "forbidden" work; anything deemed "offensive" or "heretical" by any group immediately seizes my attention and demands to be consumed. Long story short, I don't believe in much of anything anymore. I certainly don't believe in any gods or religions, and I don't believe in any sort of spirituality -- I think it's all BS that people made up to exert control over others. For a long time I thought I believed in reason, logic and science; at least these things made sense to me in a way that religion never did. But now I'm starting to question that, too. How can I believe in such things when they come from people, who are just as fundamentally flawed as me, and who have consistently proven themselves undeserving of my trust? Is the root of the problem, then, trust? Or is it something deeper?

If we're just animals with brains too big for our own good; if we are born, live and die on this rock out of sheer coincidence; if there really is nothing else out there -- no gods or devils, no ghosts or aliens, no other life anywhere -- just the gaping black void of space that spans off infinitely in every direction, spattered with lifeless galaxies here and there; if we're literally nothing at all in the grand scheme of the universe; if this life is literally all there is... Then what? Well, then there is literally no "meaning" or "purpose" to anything at all. Each of us just happen to exist for a few decades or so, and most of us won't even be remembered a century after our deaths. 'Ashes to ashes, dust to dust' and all that. Furthermore, if you happen to believe certain scientists, we may not even be capable of choice -- if all of our choices are actually determined by a complex mix of our genetic and experiential backgrounds, then where does that leave us? Everything that mattered to me suddenly seems so petty and trivial.

I've wasted far too much of my life thinking way too hard and way too much about all of this ****, and it always leads me nowhere. It's so maddening to me that, in all likelihood, I'll never have all or even most of the answers. It's like, what's the point of reason and logic when they can only take us so far? What's the point of science when there are always going to be questions that simply cannot be answered? What's the point of metaphysics when, by definition, we can never "know" the truth? What's the point in any argument or school of thought, when there will always be dissenters? But beyond that: what's the point of even asking questions like this? What's the point of metacognition when I'm eventually going to be nothing at all? What if reason and logic are actually just as flawed as superstition and myth? What if they're just more tools for control? And, more to the point, how would we even know? I just keep going, deeper and deeper, and it's sending my anxiety through the roof. Worst of all, I know that there simply aren't answers to any of this; there can't be, by definition of our very reality. So, then... What? Why bother with anything, ever? And how can I get out of this ****ing paradox?


TL;DR: I think I've triggered my own existential crisis again, and I'm wondering if anyone else here has weathered this kind of storm and, if so, how you managed it.

"Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce / To reign is worth ambition though in Hell: / Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n" - "Satan", Paradise Lost
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post #2 of 12 (permalink) Old 04-24-2020, 02:28 AM
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everything is narrative. truth and science is also based on narrative. the god narrative you relied on was incoherent with the other narratives that we pretty much rely on a whole lot more. but the atheist narrative on its own is boring and empty. people say we can choose to be happy - i don't believe that exactly but we can influence happiness with narratives. but its not just "think positively", its the whole big picture. if "thinking positively" doesn't fit then its not going to work. like everyone i've been unhappy and there are ups and downs. but a good narrative can pick you back up. its not so much having a purpose, but fitting into the story. this is just the way i see it. i let myself make up a narrative that was true to me. which is arbitrary really, and silly because its creative and kind of baseless and random. as you say, a paradox is a problem. unless its not. dialectics as in meaning things not being black and white, but when something is true there are also ways that its not true. i don't have the relevant links but i guess there's youtubes, Marsha Linehan and DBT being the major basis for getting away from black and white thinking/absolutes. also its enshrined in endless media/stories/etc that people aren't simply rational creatures. i also recommend reading "Tao Te Ching" of course. this is also centered on language and opposites and their use.


i guess basically, i'm saying the life that we think of and talk about isn't really the life an animal might have, its verbal/conceptual, and that's what makes human life different to other life (by degrees, since other animals function on a conceptual level also to differing amounts). so philosophy of language must be central. the human mind is the field that concepts exist on, what the Tao Te Ching would call the source or the tao, the empty in which the myriad things (thoughts, feelings) exist. therefore the nature of life is creative, not prescriptive as in the religions. spiritual people sound crazy because they just pick up whatever ideas they like. but they create a coherent worldview which works for them. but closer to Taoist thought i think is the awareness of how this functions. and it has a quite simple and plain and not special and everyday style. Eckhart Tolle for example talks about the difference between your life and your life situation. your life being the same thing as the tao, the empty space. your life situation is stuff built there, built out of nothing. experiences arise and subside, what is their substance? some workings of the brain, sure. even this is more narrative. even Christianity has the saying "Hallelujah", a simple affirmation. life is central, and any judgements arise only to serve the life. (idk i'm trying to bring a bunch of threads together).


anyway yeah i let myself make up a goddess to function as a narrative for good things that happen. an impotent benevolent goddess because that makes sense to me. its just a good-willing entity. Marcus Aurelius (i think its from him?) wrote that you should imagine the kind of perfect father/guide/role model that you would want and imagine that they are there with you, guiding you. a lot of ideas from ancient Greeks are better than modern thought, i think because they were more into dialectics, Pantheism being more open to entertaining opposing ideas/forces as both having value. anyway the goddess isn't even that central to my beliefs, but the narrative works and i feel it. it doesn't matter that its not real under the narrative of logic/reason/physicalism/atheism etc. and everyone knows that's how people function - we feel bad about things without good reason because of the stories we tell ourselves. a person needs to know how to use their own non-sense against the negative non-sense. all the positive thinking, the universe brings you what you think about kind of bull**** people know that and that's what they do. you need to stop seeing narratives that don't fit as bull**** and see them as opposites, both with their own value. and create a narrative that works for you.



i don't know if that makes sense. there are also beautiful narratives in "Thus Spake Zarathustra", and more about philosophy of language from Wittgenstein. those are some more influences for me. but mainly "Tao Te Ching" now (and its a pretty short book, not too hard to read). anyway yeah probably doesn't make sense. but that's some of how i got more happy.

"I take what is mine. I pay the iron price."
―Balon Greyjoy
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post #3 of 12 (permalink) Old 04-24-2020, 02:45 AM
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Its crossed my mind, I try to use it as a walk up call to be more alert to my surroundings and communicate more.
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post #4 of 12 (permalink) Old 04-24-2020, 11:01 AM
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I think it's actually becoming more common to feel this way over the last few years.

Reason and logic are also used as tools of control, and some people worship science as a God. I mean there are a lot of things that just don't have solid answers/explanations to and nobody really likes that. Also tbh most people who bang on about reason and logic are also very driven by emotion. Why does this song annoy him so much? I've come back to this video and one that's an edited version of this many times because I found his reaction so fascinating and frankly, pretty hilarious.


The EuRoPEan LeFt lol.

Speaking of Ben Shapiro clips


But I guess thinking about various problems too much just sends you into a schizophrenic thought spiral. If you have a lot of problems you can't solve and you can't distract yourself, I guess that's inevitable.

Some people heard my words and thought it meant they knew me
Truth is, I don't exist, I'm just a soundtrack to your movie
Some background figure in a story that's already scripted
And what I feel's just felt for you to hear me ****ing spit it
I jump in many different heads through these words and poems
Always hoping maybe the next leap'll be my leap home

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post #5 of 12 (permalink) Old 04-26-2020, 01:33 AM
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Perhaps art could fill the void that reason and logic can't. As Keats put it:

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
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post #6 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-03-2020, 10:06 PM
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I started writing out a whole reply, but then I think your problem has more to do with unresolved psychic trauma from past experiences.

The bullying eventually ended, but the pain remained with you and probably caused a lot of self-loathing. Your focus shifted from one unsolvable problem (the trauma) to another unsolvable problem (meaning and purpose), perhaps as a form of distraction, and the unsolvability in the new problem creates the same sense of despair and acts as a vehicle for your self-hatred to perpetuate itself.

Self-hatred is actually a coping mechanism. We couldn't stop the bullying and abuse, so we attacked ourselves psychologically to subconsciously convince ourselves that we "deserved" it on some level. Children are notoriously prone to this because their mental faculties haven't fully developed yet, but even adults can fall victim to this, too. (Sartre's theory of emotions actually generalises this to all emotions, positive and negative. It might be of some interest to you, if you haven't read it already.)

I believe self-compassion, and realising that you did and are doing your best, every day, is an extremely important step. Of course when I say this, it's just words on a page and might mean nothing to you. You probably have heard it all before anyway. Hence, you have to find your own mental "switch" that would uncover all the ways in which you have been beating yourself up. You have to realise the full horror of what you are doing to yourself, and that you don't deserve this.

Most people have grave difficulty being honest with themselves, not through any fault of their own, but because the defence mechanisms - denial, minimisation, rationalisation, intellectualisations, etc. - all serve a protective purpose. Without these various dishonesties we would probably all drown in an ocean of despair 24/7. So this existential crisis is actually something to be thankful for, even though it doesn't feel that way right now. It is a symptom, a misdirected way of self-preservation, a cry for help to address the underlying issues.

Everyone lives with the futility of not knowing what the "ultimate" meaning or purpose is. That is not the root of the problem. The problem are the learned responses from your past: learned despair, learned depression, learned nihilism. They do not define you, they can be unlearned. You can slowly come to stop identifying so much with these false feelings. They are responding to a lost reality. The true reality is here, now.

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realisation: the act or process of becoming real. —Webster
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post #7 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-06-2020, 02:23 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks to everyone who responded. I appreciate it...

@andy1984

I've tried for years to build my own narrative, something that works for me. I thought I had one, once. But I can never make it "stick" -- there's too much evidence to the contrary of my narrative, you might say. Too many people who are outright hostile to it. So what do you do when your narrative just isn't sustainable?

@firelight

I've never really been much into art. I used to love literature, but it's been a long time since I've actually read anything worthwhile. I've always felt guilty for having earned a degree in English my first time through university because it never seemed worth it in the professional world.

@sabbath9

That sounds nice on the surface, but you must know that real life is never that simple. What if your values are not others' values? What if what you value is hated and feared by others?

@bad baby

Nah, my psychological trauma isn't unresolved; it's ongoing. Sure, the bullying stopped years ago, but there's always something else to take its place and make the self-hatred continue. Perhaps I'm simply too honest with myself, because I always feel like I'm drowning in despair. But I'm not responding to anything "lost" -- I'm responding to the here and now. That's the problem.

"Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce / To reign is worth ambition though in Hell: / Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n" - "Satan", Paradise Lost
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post #8 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-06-2020, 12:09 PM
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Isn't that the definition of unresolved? The trauma is continuously seeking its own replacement. But I can't see that because I am too identified with the learned responses of my trauma. I see them as part of me.

When people point out how dysfunctional some of my behaviours and thoughts are, I feel attacked, I feel that they are attacking me. But they are in fact attacking the remnants of this trauma and not me as a whole, though it often seems that way.

One logical solution is to uncover the coherent structure of this internal thing, and trace as much of it as possible to the root causes so as to excise it. Easier said than done though. Maybe this solution is not even possible in its full entirety.

There are probably other ways, such as seeing that everything is mental superimposition like andy1984 said. I think a lot of these approaches can work in tandem. But the underlying presupposition is that I have to see that the dysfunction doesn't come from me, even though it comes from within me. I have to first create some mental distance, which can then allow for intuitive and emotional distance.

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post #9 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-06-2020, 12:36 PM
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Oh yeah we're stuck here indefinitely & everything means nothing & life is a drag & there's a good chance we'll experience a slow painful death, but whatsya gonna do.. : /






And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death
Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow,
A poor player that strut's and fret's his hour upon the stage and is heard no more,
It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
- Macbeth
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post #10 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-06-2020, 12:55 PM
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I don't know what to say to really attempt at answering your questions. But it is something that many of us go through in life (some only a handful of times while for others it's all the time.) Especially when hearing about a potential second wave of this pandemic that could hit harder than the first, it had me in depth to think about my loved ones and my own mortality, though of course it didn't last long. All in all, I accept that one day I will die, but it's more or less the process which in most cases it cannot be controlled.

This is where I understand why people turn to religion. Even when thinking and seeing some people going through their rituals like it's an instinctive way of living (though to some degree it is, but that's another subject), it makes me envy that I've ever questioned my original stance, even if it was not heavily rooted in religion to start with (another long story.) They have the answers only because they repeatedly are told and believe with what they do is correct. There's no forethought only because 'God told them' about what they know.

Even if scientists are right or wrong about many things, they seem to know more than the average population. I just leave them to do the maths and whatnot and take their word if it's common among them through testing and retesting. Something that religion lacks and refutes some of the major religions' claim of how we came about. Of course, there are those who 'interpret' their religion in a metaphorical sense...

Either way it's looked at, how we function in our given societies are mostly subjective. Yes, even if we talk about murder and whether if it's wrong, it's still subjective. But we had 'evolved' to give common belief that it is wrong. It's evident that we need to eat and drink for survival, but does that mean we should refrain from robbing a store because theft is wrong? Under what circumstance? We made it wrong because the law tells us it is and gives repercussions.

I just look at it as we are just a way of being. Even if it's mostly genetics or mostly environmental is irrelevant. What happens after we die insofar as while we are still alive, we don't know. Fear of the unknown is a driving force to have an existential crisis to begin with. We have to fill in the blanks as we see fit for what is presented in front of us right now.
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post #11 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-06-2020, 02:21 PM
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There doesn't have to be a point to anything, and that is actually kind of comforting. The entirety of the universe may be pointless, there may be no meaning, and I'm fine with that.

I remember feeling the same way you do, and it really bothered me a lot. I think ultimately, it came down to the conditioning from my family and society. I was lead to think there needs to be meaning, and a point to it all. At the time, it was with God, and eventually much like yourself, I lost that faith and then placed it in other humans. Eventually, I too lost faith in humanity. It was uncomfortable, but I learned to accept the uncertainty, the prospect of everything being pointless and without meaning.

Ultimately, what if everything is without meaning, without purpose? Does it really matter? Do we need meaning, and purpose in order to enjoy life? I know that I don't need there to be some meaning woven into the fabric of reality, in order to be able to enjoy myself.

Without meaning and purpose, you are in a way liberated from a view that a lot of us were raised with. If there is no meaning, no purpose, then you are free to live your life as you wish within the confines of society.

I can't quite force my own views into your head. But honestly, sit back and think about it.. what if there is no meaning, is it so horrible? What is horrible about it?

Edit:
As a side note, I can play video games all day, and no cosmic force is going to seek to punish me for it Yay me

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post #12 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-28-2020, 07:03 AM
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I struggle with existentialist issues sometimes and they resolve in the following ways:
1) I find meaning in art (i.e. what @firelight suggested), in my case reading and writing.
2) I derive a morose satisfaction out of an image of a nameless grave getting covered by autumn leaves (I suppose romantics would approve, so literature still remains close). Or, in other words, I wallow in morbid meditations on the pointlessness of life.
3) I just trip out on the possibilities of life and death. This is where I don't actively disbelieve anything, and approach both with the curiosity of an explorer. What sort of awesome things can I experience in life? What bizarre unthinkable things could happen at death?

In my first year of university (mine was also an English degree), I took a module in philosophy with a naive expectation that I would find the *answers*. There were no answers, of course. So it seems to me that the pursuit of an ultimate truth is exciting, but likely pointless. Sometimes I still get immersed in it (e.g. when they were testing the Large Hadron Collider to see if it proves supersymmetry - boy, was that exciting).

At other times, I build my own meaning. You can look at the world and see chaos, or you can see brilliant patterns within the chaos. The hyper-rational approach abhorrs the latter, but the hyper-rational approach has its limitations (because truth often proves to be a mirage). I do things for the pleasure, joy and beauty of it. Call it magic - one can find magic in science (e.g. the aforementioned LHC event), art, relationships. It doesn't automatically turn you into a gruel-brained moron if you take an interest in something that is not purposeful, explained and delivered to you in a divine textbook. In fact, that's how most visionary scientists had their breakthroughs.

So, in short, creativity and curiosity, and the pleasure that arises from both : )

Leonard Cohen (Bird on a Wire): I have tried in my own way to be free
Mrs Hudson (BBC Sherlock): Sherlock! The mess you've made!
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