Links and Comments: Derek Muller and the Beauty of Nihilism

Via, a lovely video by YouTube vlogger Derek Muller, who runs a channel called Veritasium — “a channel of science and engineering videos featuring experiments, expert interviews, cool demos, and discussions with the public about everything science”. “The first principle is that: you must not fool yourself.” This one is about the acceptance of nihilism, the realization that there is no higher purpose, which is otherwise “Our Greatest Delusion”, i.e….

The thought that we are in any way eternal. We want to believe that some part of us, consciousness, or, our soul, will last forever. But, what do you make of it when you see stone is not even so permanent. Walking around Chernobyl I think it’s understandable that I started contemplating not only the permanance of rocks but also their decay, and by extension, our decay, death.

The hardware I am running has been developed over billions of years, with the only requirement being that it frequently and accurately makes copies of itself. .. and it would help, not in the slightest, in the goal of making copies, if the hardware could accurately simulate its own non-existence.

We are left hardwired for denial, the selected inability to imagine true nothingness, an ephemeral sack of particles that thinks itself eternal. This delusion is comforting and it makes living easier. Might drive you crazy, to be confronted with the ultimate meaninglessness of everything all the time… what we call nihilism.

And then why this is a good thing:

But the same delusion, I’d argue, is also debilitating. It lulls you into a false sense of security. …There’s always tomorrow, so we procrastinate living the life we truly desire. And we live in more fear. The sense that your soul is eternal makes you cowardly, because failure would stick with you forever… for really ever. Shame, embarrassment, disappointment, it would never leave you. A distant horizon encourages you to play it safe, live to fight another day. For after all, there is always another day.

And this is why I find nihilism liberating and emboldening. If you can really picture the nothingness that awaits you, then what is there to be afraid of? Errors and humiliations will be forgotten, but great achievements may not. We may have no meaning in the cosmic context of the universe, but we make our own meaning with each other. And this is the thought that leads to action. Your days are numbered. You don’t know what that number is but it’s finite, so: get busy with what it is that you want to do. Time is running out.

Which is my thought currently, and my current preoccupation.

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