For something completely different... and really well written... and either marvelously meaningful or completely meaningless... yet fun to read, nonetheless...
Check out Rivka Weinberg's New York Times piece, "Why life is absurd."
I liked it a lot. While understanding it hardly at all. Which could be Weinberg's point. With modern philosophy, often it's hard to tell the difference between satire and seriousness.
Here's a few excerpts to whet your reading appetite.
In a famous 1971 paper, “The Absurd,” Thomas Nagel argues that life’s absurdity has nothing to do with its length.
If a short life is absurd, he says, a longer life would be even more absurd: “Our lives are mere instants even on a geological time scale, let alone a cosmic one; we will all be dead any minute. But of course none of these evident facts can be what makes life absurd, if it is absurd. For suppose we lived forever; would not a life that is absurd if it lasts 70 years be infinitely absurd if it lasted through eternity?”
This line of reasoning has a nice ring to it but whether lengthening an absurd thing will relieve it of its absurdity depends on why the thing is absurd and how much you lengthen it. A longer life might be less absurd even if an infinite life would not be. A short poem that is absurd because it is written in gibberish would be even more absurd if it prattled on for longer. But, say I decided to wear a skirt so short it could be mistaken for a belt. On my way to teach my class, a colleague intercepts me:
“Your skirt,” she says, “is absurd.”
“Absurd? Why?” I ask.
“Because it is so short!” she replies.
“If a short skirt is absurd, a longer skirt would be even more absurd,” I retort.
Now who’s being absurd? The skirt is absurd because it is so short. A longer skirt would be less absurd. Why? Because it does not suffer from the feature that makes the short skirt absurd, namely, a ridiculously short length.
The same goes for a one-hour hunger strike. The point of a hunger strike is to show that one feels so strongly about something that one is willing to suffer a lack of nourishment for a long time in order to make a point. If you only “starve” for an hour, you have not made your point.
Your one-hour hunger strike is absurd because it is too short. If you lengthened it to one month or one year, you might be taken more seriously. If life is absurd because it’s short, it might be less absurd if it were suitably longer.
Absurdity occurs when things are so ill-fitting or ill-suited to their purpose or situation as to be ridiculous, like wearing a clown costume to a (non-circus) job interview or demanding that your dog tell you what time it is.
Is the lifespan of a relatively healthy and well-preserved human, say somewhere between 75 and 85, so short as to render it absurd, ill-suited to reasonable human purposes?
...The absurdity of human life poses a challenge to its meaning. Absurdity and meaningfulness don’t go together. This, however, does not mean that if life were not absurd then it would have meaning. Removing the obstacle of absurdity does not entail that meaning rushes in.
But if we cannot remove the obstacle of absurdity then it will be hard to conclude that life has meaning or determine what that meaning might be. The clown suit is standing in our way.
There are lots of comments on the piece. I only looked at a few. This is one that resonated with me.
Yikes. What a lot of words. I am older, and have discovered for myself, that over-thinking, over-analyzing, trying to ascribe meaning to this brief existence of mine, have done nothing but cause me to not be present and subsequently fuel neurotic behaviors.
Late in life, I am finally learning to curb my need to analyze and now try to only apply that important skill to problems that are solvable. (like how to figure out a stress-free password solution or purchase a used car).
At some point I decided that the experience of being alive was so full of things that engendered a sense of wonder and awe, that I let go of the need to make sense of it all.
Thinking about how the optic nerve works, or how my body sustains itself, watching the play of dolphins in the ocean, for the most part, brings me to a resounding "yes" . In spite of the hardships, the struggles and the mistakes, I am grateful for the trip and do not want to spend a lot of calories anymore deciding whether it is absurd or not.