My intent for this post is describe a point of view or feeling that perhaps some readers can relate to. If you take a moment to clear your mind, and try to contemplate the true nature of your existence at the present moment, how do you feel? I know that’s a vague order to process, and probably even sounds like some kind of flaky pseudo-intellectual new-age jargon. That’s not the impression I am trying to give however. I sometimes have moments where I feel like I am viewing reality without a filter. That I am seeing whatever lays before me, whatever it may be, as it really is, without the interference of any bias or contextual influence.
The most recent time I had this feeling was within the metropolitan downtown Toronto. This is probably because that is not an environment that I find myself within often, and therefore I am much more “sensitive” to it. I am from a much smaller city, relatively speaking. The massive skyscrapers and sheer number of people walking the streets, although not overwhelming in any uncomfortable sense, are still a fairly surreal experience for me. I am navigating through a dense concentration of humanity and its architecture, engulfed by a reality solely created by mankind.
I don’t feel this way in social situations when I am busy talking to someone. But there are times when this perspective and feeling that I am trying to describe does feel uncomfortable in some kind of existentially unsettling way. I would describe it as almost feeling naked and vulnerable to the raw forces of reality. This is extremely interesting to me, because I feel that everybody experiences it in different degrees, that are largely dependent on how certain factors in their life mitigate or control the “severity” of these degrees, degrees of what I suppose we could refer to as existential sensitivity. Examples for these governing factors can include desensitization due to overstimulating from too much exposure (or the inverse, which I would attribute to my downtown Toronto example), and psychological security blankets, which can be defined by a number of examples. I feel the need to exercise great caution in how I go about trying to explain what exactly a security blanket may be defined as.
I will first go ahead and say that the interaction between a person’s sensory perception and raw reality itself certainly seems to act as the prerequisite requirement in necessitating the creation of coping mechanisms within the human psyche, the use of which is essentially instrumental in managing the massive intake of information that we deal with on a daily basis. Perhaps we can assume that the majority of non-human species deal with this on a much lower level, due lack of mental/cognitive functioning in place to be capable of dealing with all that reality has to offer in the first place. That only the necessary faculties to handle basic instincts are at work. Perhaps a discussion for another time.
Following what has been discussed thus far, this leads me to raising the point of how there are varying degrees of sensitivity among different people, and groups of people. How can we describe the relationship between varying degrees of existential sensitivity, and the coping mechanisms designed to manage them? There have been countless explanations created by humanity throughout time to explain the nature of reality. As I have mentioned already, our unique intellectual capacities as humans grants us a significantly heightened perception and comprehension of reality, therefore necessitating the creation and employment of such coping mechanisms. It is of my opinion that religious belief may perhaps be the greatest example of such coping mechanisms created by humanity in response to our unique ability to perceive reality in such a heightened way.
In fact, I see a direct correlation between the magnitude of our intelligence, and the magnitude of religious belief that seems to have been created in response to our comprehension of reality. To me, it seems that religious belief is a direct response to the daunting implications of reality made perceivable by our intelligence. Religions and spiritual practices have always addressed the “big questions”, such as the meaning of life, why we’re here, and what happens when we die. What is the difference in the way people feel and experience reality, between those who do and do not utilize such templates of belief? I feel inclined to push forth the notion, as alluded to early in this piece, that perhaps people who do not subscribe to certain patterns of religious and spiritual belief, are in fact left naked to the realizations of their existence, and whatever feelings that those realizations may entail.
There are certain concepts that when contemplated, can magnify the strength of these realizations. That for example, we are merely infinitesimal beings residing upon a rock in space that itself resides quite literally within a vacuum of space so incomprehensibly vast that its boundaries are unknown. That its units of measurement have to be taken by the distance that light can travel over the course of one Earth year per unit (hence the term “lightyear”), and that it takes light, at the speed of light, about 5 hours to travel from Earth to Pluto alone, the distance of which itself is relatively negligible in relation to the rest of observable space that we know about alone.
These are sobering realizations with varying implications depending on the receiving individual. For myself personally, as a somewhat nihilistic agnostic who proclaims ignorance through the fundamental inability to perceive the true nature of our existence, other than what I can experience with the senses, I sometimes see things this way. Moments where life seems alien to me. Where the trees almost present themselves as strikingly odd fungal spores of some chaotic growth with no familiarity. Where humanity itself seems like a futile and insane result of chaos that managed to perpetuate through many thousands of years of suffering, trial, and error, the members of which vainly try to find and create ways to objectively justify and explain their own existence among a subjective labyrinth of confusion. Perhaps this is the existential crisis.
Luckily, with our unique intelligence, we seem to have the means of creating whatever reality for ourselves that suits us best, regardless of how “true” it may or may not be.