Sudden and Unexpected

A received a tearful call tonight informing me that the young son of a family friend had been killed in a car accident earlier this afternoon.

We weren’t close yet in these moments all I can remember are the days when we were both at school. I was a few years older and asked to look out for him when he started big school. He never needed looking out for, he was far savvier than I ever was even at that young age.

I think about the lessons taken from Marcus Aurelius and the philosophers and wonder if in the face of sudden and unexpected death we can ever truly practice what we preach. It’s a twisting of the gut that I can’t rationalize.

Einstein said that there is no death – not really. All of space and time were created all at once; destiny is and was always set in stone. There is no death because as we travel across this oceanic landscape of space-time, nothing is ever really gone. We all have been dead for trillions of years and are yet to be born for aeons more. Is that comforting to say or to feel?

A little distance perhaps from the immediate family affords me the privilege of a little naval gazing rather than crying. While millions across the world – and billions throughout history – have lost a child, the reality of it still doesn’t strike as logical or aligned with some natural order of things.

What is the natural order of things?

I was in a bar yesterday discussing happiness with a man who, in a past life, found himself living with Buddhist monks.

“What is happiness?” – X

“Fulfilment I suppose, an acceptance.” – Z

“What is acceptance?” – X

Well? What is acceptance?

When we are happy, we can say nothing affects us, or we’d all be taken with the wind like a limp tree. Yet what is acceptance? Is it accepting people on the bus playing music too loud or is it acceptance with the blind faith of the natural order that would kill a young man barely twenty with a bright future?

Marcus Aurelius writes that the griever’s problem is not mine since I would be carried away with the same grief. Yet apathy is the enemy of humanity, and we live for each other and mourn for each other the same way.

It’s an interesting conundrum and an emotional tightrope walk.

I feel loss, that’s perhaps the only way I can describe my emotions. It’s a hollow cold feeling. It pulls downwards like a heavy crown of ice. My feelings don’t bother me though.

The well-being of his parents bothers me.

Another futile projection perhaps. I’m miles away and neither my presence nor words could bring much comfort.

While being both sudden and unexpected, loss brings a minefield of conflicting thoughts and emotions. I suppose then, we can never truly be prepared beyond our own impressions of what could be.

Loss. Such a familiar word and experience to humanity yet so sudden and unexpected every time.

I have no final words of wisdom nor concluding sign-off. I’ve yet to come to any conclusion on how to react or feel appropriately. Perhaps when I figure it out I’ll add an addendum.

Science!

I got into a rather in depth discussion today with a young person about the importance of science. It seems very obvious later on in life but at an age where science is a means to an end to pass exams it’s all very arbitrary. I must admit, I went on a bit of a ramble and I remember it vividly.

“It all starts with simple physics to push to atoms together to make chemistry and then as more atoms come together to form compounds and tissues you have biology. To reject the study of science is like rejecting the study of your own existence. A scientific mind can exist congruently with the spiritual, it’s poetry in motion. You sat here right now are the product of the science of the universe. Let me demonstrate some astrophysics: the Parallax Effect. Hold your pointer finger out in front of you and close one eye. Now open and close the other. See it move? Congratulations, you’ve just discovered how astrophysicists map the distance of stars from Earth.” – Z

Listen to the music of existence, open your window and stick your head out. Listen to the cacophony of biology and chemistry, feel the forces of physics whip across your face and dance through your hair. You are a part of this chorus. You are a beautiful expression of the universe and you can revel in it. Feel the air on your skin as you read these words; feel the pulsing of blood and the beating of your heart. We are all connected and made of the same stardust.

You are brilliant, it’s scientifically provable.

“I think therefore I am.” – Rene Descartes, Discourse on the Method.

The fact that you can think about thinking is an amazing feat of nature and biological advancement. Each firing neuron and whiz of electrical energy in your cerebral cortex is a homage to the sciences. But what about God, you ask. What about God? Would he not be as amazed by this achievement? From our reaching into the stars to the bottom of the oceans to the deepest recesses of our minds, we grasp closer to divine understanding. It’s an achievement of monumental proportions that you and I meet and excel every single day. Each time you awake you have won the great game. Every time you smile and be thankful for the existence of your very being and the existence of those you love, you are thanking the sciences that made you you.

Stretch your mind with philosophy, open up your senses to the science around you. Break each thing down to its core nature. Look at your phone and trace it back to the factory and then back to its conception on a sketch pad in some office. See all the moving parts and the engineering. See the human biology of those crafting the device. See the forces of nature acting on the shipping vessels and the great waves that crash into the sides of cargo ships. See the chemistry within the device, the lithium-ion battery stirring with each motion. See the chemistry perhaps, between a vendor and a buyer: a spark of destiny bringing two people together in harmony. See how you are a part of it all like a single cell in the conscious thriving ocean of our reality. You deserve to be here.

Science will take us off-planet and save it. Science will make immortals out of fools and heroes out of altruists. Today, I look back and I am grateful for the man now dust: Edward Jenner who has saved the lives of billions and future billions through his discoveries – a hero of our human industry.

Thirst for knowledge of sciences and you are thirsting for knowledge of existence. Who are we to deny such hunger? Perhaps you can even argue that it is philosophy is a kind of science, defined by Google as: “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline” and “a theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behaviour“. Science is the study of our universe and philosophy is the study of how it all ties together.

Tether your philosophies to scientific principles and be scientific in everything you do. Whether you be Taoist, Jewish, Muslim, Lutheran, Hindi or Sikh: notice that the very air you breathe is bound by the same laws of physics that binds us all. We are one in this discipline regardless of faith, culture or race. We are all expressions of the same wonderous Whole.

It may be all relative, from the speed of light to universal truth, yet we are united in that relativity. We will be born the same way and die the same way. It’s a stoic principle and a human principle.

“Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch that illuminates the world.” – Louis Pasteur

Z3N0

Trust

Trust is funny.

That’s not exactly an exciting or ground-breaking revelation as it could mean dozen things depending on your definition of ‘funny’. In this case I mean it’s funny in both the weird sense or rather subversion of expected reality as well as funny (usually in hindsight after it’s broken).

Personally, in general, I don’t really trust people. Which as a novice stoic probably a counter intuitive state of being. I love to trust people, I try to trust people but time and again, that trust is broken. Just today, for example, I confused co-workers with friends and ended up having a sizeable chunk of my ass bitten off. Now that was my fault of course, for sharing information with people I thought were trusted friends when in fact they were and are untrustworthy colleagues. A lesson learned – in fact, several but who’s counting.

Yet even though I don’t generally trust people, I trust the universe, Providence, God , etc. To an atheist stoic like Massimo Pigliucci this may seem like acceptance of truth with extra steps with the truth being: it’s going to be ok in the end. We all start our lives in the same way and we all end up in the same state. It’s like an RPG game where we can take twists and turns but the ending is just the same (maybe with a few fun differences). Unlike Mass Effect or Skyrim or D&D, it’s less clear. The same narrative elements exists in the theoretical sense but it’s far more fluid. I, a human person, who would describe myself as having a reasonable disposition would rather trust in an unseen truth than the truth presented by other human persons.

There are people I do trust, don’t get me wrong. What well adjusted person can exist in 2021 without confidants? It’s a healthy facet of life to have, we are communal creatures. Prof Pigliucci wrote in his book How to be a Stoic about that being a difference between a cynic and a stoic: the embracing of each other. Or at least I think he did? I could be entirely missing the fucking point (who knows?). In the spiritual way of thinking, the one I subscribe to, human beings are in their nature expressions of the universe. So by not trusting other people, my own trust in universe, Providence, God, etc. is ultimately flawed.

It’s something I’ve got to work on and on the positive I trust myself to try.

But maybe it’s far simpler and naval gazing solves nothing. Do as Yoda does: trust or do not (there is no kind-of trusting). If I’m the only person who finds this amusing so be it. From my own experience today I have this cold knot in my gut which can most likely be described as anxiety. In my head I fully am aware that the feeling of anxiety is from the underline fearfulness of what the impact of this event will be. I accept the unknown and I know worrying about it doesn’t change anything. Yet this seems to be undermined by this inescapable feeling in my abdomen. Head says trust, gut says panic, universe shrugs, in between I’m laughing myself silly. Just like that, while I’m busy in hysterics I find acceptance and trust with a tipsy hug.

Funny, no?

Z3N0

P.S. I recommend Prof Pigluicci’s blog for notes from the man who helped start my journey:

https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com/