Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Philosophy as Fiction: Is Life Meaningless?

Literature has the power of philosophy made plain, tied to human emotions and given a body. I’m reading the 6th in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, and I am continually moved by it’s lengthy examination of the question: is life meaningless?

This is where Goodkind shows his true genius – not in his writing skills per se, but in examining and pushing the limits of human psyche in various fictive scenarios. With the last book, I was about to give up on the series – I don’t really care about movement of troops and battles. But this book, Faith of the Fallen, he has stepped back into the intimate of the human. Why do we do what we do? What is the point of continuing on? His answer, I think, is moving toward something I’ve thought similarly – meaning is found in relationships and the experience of loving and being loved.

This sounds like a trite answer on the face of it. It is, when it’s the knee-jerk response. Love is the reason for living and for hope – a common fictional tool – It’s the thing that saved Harry Potter and is otherwise commonly depicted as the only thing can ultimately overcome the greatest evil and power. It is so common we cannot see underneath the statement – the never-ending complexity of this answer.

The more I think on love, and experience it, the more I think of it as something magical, and by that I mean, it’s Other. Not grasped by reason, or even words adequately – the experience of it, like other physical sensations I can feel, but never describe, or have described to me in any way close to the actual experience of it. I’m not even talking about understanding it from biological and anthropological standpoints – the emotion of love as a series of chemical responses and electrical brain activity that maybe one day will be charted by computers. That won’t make it less real, because it is Other. It is a language that reason cannot understand. It simply IS.

Maybe one could try to explain in terms of evolution – that these feelings of attachment evolved as a way of keeping a family unit stable, of bonding a mother to care for her infant so as to promote the survival of the species. I’ve tried for a long time to understand why love is. But at the end of the day, I can only call it magic. Other. Something I experience in different ways at different times, and whatever makes love what it is, it's the reason for living.

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