The meaning of life

After my life basically imploded due to my repetitive strain and vestibular issues, and I had to move from Los Angeles to San Diego, I spent a lot of time wondering about the meaning of life. More specifically, I found myself asking the question, “what do I do with my life now?” I’d basically just transitioned from a life of financial comfort, a rich peer group and steady access to pussy towards not knowing anybody, being celibate and spending a lot of time aimlessly walking around.

Mankind has, of course, grappled with these questions throughout its history. The presumption is that we should do what makes us happy. What makes us happy? Conventional answers might be having a relationship or family, generating wealth, accomplishing something (like writing a book) or earning celebrity. But those answers don’t ring so true these days. Families break up all the time, the miserable millionaire is a cliché and the joys of accomplishments and celebrity are fleeting.

In those early months of pondering the subject I noticed two things that gave me pleasure. One was continuing my lifelong dissection and exploration of music, the second was reading as much as possible as I could about the mind and the brain. It was the challenge of understanding some of the infinite mysteries integral to both subjects that gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

This idea, that man likes a challenge, is nothing new. Biologists presume our natural curiosity helped us evolve, and psychologists and neuroscientists argue that it’s built into our DNA. Think of it this way: a primitive man sees a rabbit. He takes a guess at how hard he needs to throw a rock to hit the rabbit on the head. He overshoots and the rabbit runs away. The next day he sees another rabbit, under shoots, and again loses it. The third day, he sees yet another rabbit (or maybe even the same one, your choice.) He muses on what he learned the previous two days, throws a rock, and hits the rabbit on the head. He’s just figured out how to add rabbit to his diet which will only benefit him and his species. His willingness to embrace challenges is passed down to his offspring etc.

But I don’t think it’s any challenge that gives us a sense of fulfillment. We have to be faced with challenges that we have a reasonable chance of overcoming. If you challenge yourself to learn everything about post-Newtonian physics by Friday, you’re going to be frustrated and overwhelmed. But if you challenge yourself to get a decent understanding of molecules by Friday, you just might achieve it. Robert Sapolsky, a neuroscientist I’ve talked about in the past, has discussed this. When people are presented with insurmountable challenges, they stress out, and stress is not pleasant or particularly effective for accomplishing anything. But people thrive in an environment where they face reasonable challenges. And this idea of challenging people in a benevolent environment is especially applicable to learning. Sapolsky states…

… educators call this the x+1 rule. We take kids wherever they are now (level x) and then challenge them with x plus 1, not x plus a thousand. There has to be a good chance of success from the beginning.

If we return to my list of potential happiness inducers, we might conclude that relationships are, in fact, a viable pursuit in life, because they are challenges. Figuring out how to have a mutually beneficial and exciting relationship with someone is, in itself, a challenge. And you often hear marriage counselors say that successful marriages consist of partners who continually surprise and intrigue (e.g. challenge) each other.

But here’s the rub. As a heterosexual male, my only option is to seek a relationship with a heterosexual female. And figuring out what a woman wants is clearly an insurmountable challenge because they defy all laws of logic. Their emotional state undulates for no discernible reason, their sexual desires are fickle, and their personal demands fluctuate with all the predictability of the weather on one of Jupiter’s moons (which we all know is very unpredictable.) Someone such as myself — intelligent, good natured, quite reasonable — is doomed in any attempt to placate the wild beast we call woman.

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of taking a thoughtful, perhaps even profound blog post, and appending to it a malicious slander against all women.

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