Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What the heck is this life all about?

Having been conditioned in recent years by online reading, and that too reading pieces that are not too long, and where we skip around saying "tl; dr," I was worried that I might have lost whatever ability that I had to read lengthy and deep essays.  Online, I am always tempted to click on a hyperlink, which takes me elsewhere, from where some other hyperlink leads me to something completely different from where I began.

Worry no more for me.  I am doing just fine reading Tolstoy.  But then, it is perhaps a credit to Tolstoy's writings--he has drawn me to a subject that has always been a fascination.  To questions that have always dogged me, for which I am explicitly and implicitly always seeking the answer. Tolstoy writes:
The question is this: What will come from what I do and from what I will do tomorrow--what will come from my whole life?
Expressed differently, the question would be this: Why should I live, why should I wish for anything, why should I do anything?  One can put the question differently again: Is there any meaning in my life that wouldn't be destroyed by the death that inevitably awaits me?
It took me only a little bit of exposure to the world of math and science to sense that those subjects would not give me the answers.  On the other hand, there is no definitive answer via the humanities and the social sciences--at least science gives precise answers for precisely defined narrow questions.  Thus, over the years, I have come to conclude that it will be a lifelong struggle to figure out the meaning of my existence.

I suppose I am really, really enjoying Tolstoy because he is delivering sentences full of ideas that only validate my own jumbled views and writes as if I am undergoing the very experiences that he went through!  Consider this, for instance, that he notes about the sciences:
[They] are precise and clear in inverse proportion to their application to the questions of life, the more precise and clear they are; the more they attempt to give solutions to the questions of life, the more and unclear and unattractive they become. ... These sciences directly ignore the questions of life.  They say, "We have no answers to 'What are you?' and 'Why do you live?' and are not concerned with this; but if you need to know the laws of light, of chemical compounds, the laws of the development of organisms, if you need to know the laws of bodies and their forms and the relation of numbers and quantities, if you need to know the laws of your own mind, to all that we have clear, precise, and unquestionable answers."
Yep. I quit engineering!  I could not figure out the big and fundamental questions via electrical engineering.

What about something like philosophy?
And if it keeps firmly to its subject, then to the question, "What am I and what is the whole world?" it can give no other answer but "Everything and nothing"; and to the question, "Why does the world exist and why do I exist?" just the answer "I don't know." ...
[Although] all the theoretical work is directed precisely toward my question, there is no answer, and instead of an answer one gets the same question, only in a more complicated form.
Yep, only more complicated questions.

This is all exhilarating.  There is so much "life" in trying to understand my existence.  I will end this post with Tolstoy quoting Socrates:
"We will come near truth only inasmuch as we depart from life" said Socrates, preparing for death.
Looks like it will an interesting quest over the remaining third of my life ;)


Ramesh said...

I hereby change your name to Sreo Ramstoy :)

If you carry on in this vein I will write a guest post vehemently opposing such views of your two heroes - Tolstoy and Socrates - as ""We will come near truth only inasmuch as we depart from life" I've never read a sentence in all your posts with which I disagree more.

Sriram Khé said...

Muahahaha ... Sreo Ramstoy; that's darn creative ;)

Hang in there. Only two posts more. And I will be done with Confession. After that is Lolita!

BTW, that quote is not at the end of Tolstoy's discussions. I had paused my reading there. Tolstoy presents views of philosophers like Socrates and the Buddha, and then articulates his own. So, don't yell at Socrates or at Tolstoy or at Ramstoy ;)

Most read this past month