Based on the readings of The American Scholar and Self-Reliance, written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, I’ve come to learn quite a bit about who we are as individuals and the things we should be striving for. Well, it would perhaps be more accurate to say my personal beliefs were affirmed and solidified by these essays, but in any case they’re good reads. They aren’t too long, so if you’re old or educated enough to read intellectual, nineteenth century stuff, it’s a good read. (Not trying to boast here, but you’ll probably be wasting your time if you don’t take the time to understand what is being said. You have to digest those works, so be patient!)
All-in-all, Emerson tells us to believe in ourselves. We can learn the most about everything in the world by learning about ourselves, and vice versa. We humans are complex beings. There’s a lot going on, just as there is a lot going on with the universe. In fact, we can take our own complexity as evidence that there is some Creator. Imagine, if you will, that all human life has been extinguished in the future. An alien lands on earth and is walking along a beach. He stumbles across an old watch. Opening up the watch, he can see how complex it is. There’s all these gears that twist and turn, and there is clearly a purpose to it. It wasn’t just made for the fun of it. Whether or not he is able to discern the purpose of this watch, he can conclude that at some point, there was some intelligent thing that made it. It is the same with humans.
Now, I don’t use this example to push my beliefs. I in no way am claiming that this analogy translates perfectly to humanity, but it definitely is a strong argument for some higher being. What then, do we do with this information?
Well, what can we do? The only way to truly prove whether or not there is a God is to go and meet him yourself. But we can look to other things to find purpose in ourselves, too.
Living life is the single most divine thing we as humans can achieve. There is a great world around us, whether we choose to see it or not. Even if it wasn’t made by a god’s hands, life is the most important thing there is. Even searching for this “higher truth” would be for naught if we had no life. There is no meaning in anything without life.
So, since living life is the best thing we can do, we can see that in all things, there is meaning. It doesn’t matter if you’re eating breakfast, taking a shower, doing calculus homework, or saving somebody’s life. There is no meaning to any of this if we don’t draw meaning from it. More often than you may realize, we operate on autopilot. It takes no real thought to get up, eat food, get dressed, drive to work, finish paperwork, get home and watch TV. There is nothing to it unless one puts meaning there. What does that mean? Well, whatever you want it to mean.
I know it can be a little frustrating (and as I would call it, a non-answer) to say that life means what we want it to mean, but is it not true? We observe, act, and experience the world one milisecond at a time, and through it we shape the world whether we want to or not. We, as thinkers, as people, as a society, have a responsibility to change the world, to make it the world we want it to be. But the key thing is, that time is passing regardless of what we do with it. We can’t not change the world, because we are by nature a piece in its puzzle.
So, the world really is what you make of it. We can’t all be watchmakers, sure, but we can’t degrade ourselves to mere observers of the world. No matter what we do, we are fundamental participants in its natural transformation.