Stalling: The Paradox of Meaning

“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”

—Vladamir Nabokov.

“What does nihilism mean? That the highest values devaluate themselves. The aim is lacking; “why?” finds no answer.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Meaning is the antidote to an inherently meaningless existence.

We need meaning to give ourselves a psychological footing to stand on. We need meaning to make sense of an incomprehensible universe.

We need meaning to feel that life is worthwhile despite the fact it ends with our inevitable demise – that nothing matters in the grand cosmic scheme of things.

This is how we keep the existential worm at the core at bay. Meaning gives us the mental footing we need to prevent us from falling into the psychological abyss.

Our reason for living stems from a refusal to acknowledge our mortality.

Now, this isn’t some crazy idea I’ve pulled out of my pilots hat! (Although I have a few.)

Ernest Becker raised this point in his masterpiece of a book, The Denial of Death, claiming the why of human existence stems from a vital lie – man’s refusal to acknowledge his own mortality.

And it is a vital lie. Because we are biologically hardwired for survival and yet we know death is inevitable

Biologist Ajit Varki argued the overwhelming fear of death would “be a deadend evolutionary barrier, curbing activities and cognitive functions necessary for survival and reproductive fitness.” 

If we didn’t have a way to keep our mortal terror at bay we would be unable to take the necessary risks to survive – we would be unable to find the necessary motivation to carry on living.

Otherwise the worm would lurch forth from our subconscious and swallow us whole. 

To manage fear we must feel we are valuable members of a meaningful community.

Terror Management Theory is an empirically oriented offshoot of Becker’s position. Authors Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski spent 25 years researching and testing Becker’s original hypothesis.

They presented the findings in their book, The Worm at the Core, showing conclusively that our unconscious fear of death and the desire to transcend it drives almost everything we do. 

They note to manage the knowledge of death humans call on two basic psychological resources:

“First, we need to sustain faith in our cultural worldview, which imbues our sense of reality with order, meaning, and permanence. The paths to literal and symbolic immortality laid out by our worldviews require us to feel that we are valuable members of our cultures. Hence, the second vital resource for managing terror is a feeling of personal significance, commonly known as self-esteem.”

They go onto say, “The twin motives of affirming the correctness of our world-views and demonstrating our personal worth combine to protect us from the uniquely human fear of inevitable death.

Modern psychology (and most of the self-help industry) is largely aimed at shoring up self esteem for this reason.

We have a massive problem with it in the modern world. Not just because we don’t value our own society anymore, but because the things our society values are fucked.

The cultural values of wealth and status in particular, and the humiliation of not having those things, are sources of anxiety for millions. It exacerbates the issue of heroic individualism – our desperate desire to measure up – that is causing us to all burnout and stall.

Not only do we need to feel good about ourselves, we need to see through ourselves.

But shoring up self-esteem is only part of the puzzle. I would argue this fixation on self-esteem is failing us on some fundamental level. It’s giving people relief – much needed relief, no doubt – but it’s not, ultimately, a cure.

It’s a bit like placing a bandaid on gunshot wound.

Unfortunately modern psychology often falls short of mentioning the worm at the core for fear of angering the hornets nest. I say we need to give the hornets nest a good fucking shake.

Even with the healthiest self esteem in the world, the worm is still buried deep beneath the surface. It’s still pulling the strings. While that’s better for the individual, arguably this is far more dangerous for the world at large.

The beliefs we use to protect us from our own fear of death become the things we are willing to die for.

Here’s where I flip the aircraft upside down and take the paradox of meaning to an even more absurd level.

We desperately need to understand that the meaning we give our lives is rooted in an existential fear of death. We need to understand where our need for meaning is truly coming from.

Otherwise we become incapable of challenging of our beliefs. We become incapable of updating them when we desperately need to.

Not only do we increase the risk of stalling, we run the risk of taking down an entire plane full of passengers with us – quite literally!

Now, the elephant in the existential room known as the universe here is God.

Atheists often deride a belief in God while failing to see the very real psychology security faith provides. Religious people suffer from depression and anxiety in far fewer numbers than non religious people.

The truth is God was an ingenious solution to what Buddha called the big problem of consciousness. 

The big problem of consciousness isn’t simply the knowledge we will die. The issue comes from taking the question of why to it’s natural conclusion. The eventual death of all things. Because nothing lasts forever. 

That includes the human race. 

Our cultures give us a sense of permanence that we crave, but that’s all it is. A sense. When you take the question of why to a cosmic level it finds no answer. Meaning falls away and all we are left with is a cold indifferent truly absurd universe. 

Here is where run the risk of throwing out the baby with the holy bathwater in the modern age. This is what greatly concerned Fredrick Nietche when prophesied about the death of God. Something that Viktor Frankl subsequently called the existential vacuum. 

God provided us with the belief that our lives meant something as a whole. It was encompassing. The big issue that nihilism presents – what I believe to be at the crux of the modern day mental health crisis – is that meaning of our lives becomes contingent. 

It’s contingent on you being a valuable member of your country, or community, or family. Of course theses things are important. They do give our lives a huge amount of necessary meaning. 

But the issue arises when we lose our job, when we get divorced or a family member dies. The issue comes when our health fails us – when we suffer a debilitating disease – because then what? 

If you can’t fufill your role as a valuable member of your community then what?

This is when the existential vacuum sucks the life out of us. This is when the worm eats whatever remaining life we have left for breakfast. 

Friedrich Nietzsche is regularly quoted as saying those who have a why can bear almost any how.

What if the only way to prevent the existential worm at the core from eating you alive is to give yourself up to something? Perhaps we need an unshakable why to counteract the crushing how of existence?

Now there’s a question to chew on.

One of the major things that people struggle with is the underlying sense that something is missing in their lives.

It’s just, they can’t put a finger on it. Even when they have everything on paper, they still feel something is off. The existential grumblings beneath the surface torment them. So much so they can’t even sit still for fear of having to confront it.

But confront it we must. As it turns out, the worm holds the fucking key.


This is part four of a series of posts on the subject of stalling in life.

Part 1: Stalling: The Aerodynamics of Life

Part 2: Stalling: Why We Lose Lift

Part 3: Stalling: Why We Lose Lift (2)

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You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

Is Science Not The Word Of God?

I‘m not going to sit here and tell you that science disproves God because it doesn’t. It’s just that it has nothing to point toward. Nothing to measure. Nothing to say equivocally one way or another about its existence. What it does tell us is that the earth definitely wasn’t made in 7 days. What it does disprove is the word of humans in the name of God.

So many people seem to forget that the bible was written by humans, not god. Word – the English language, any language for that matter – that’s humankind’s invention. So why not accept we got a lot of it wrong given it was written 2000 plus years ago by humankind in the name of God, but not by God itself?

The way I see it you can hardly sit at home while staring at your smart phone or flat screen television and tell me that science is wrong. The last I checked there wasn’t a blueprint in the bible about how the combustion engine works, how aeroplanes fly or how your iPhone or television are built. Science gave us these things. Humankind has been able to create these things because of what science has taught us. Of course science isn’t always right but it’s the first to admit when it’s not.

One of the big problems we have today – what I believe to be one of its major failures – is religion’s resistance to what science has to tell us. If it opened its mind to what science has to say and accepted that, as a consequence, it disproves a huge amount of scripture but not, crucially, the existence of a grand creator, I believe religions could go further in keeping people part of their respective faiths in the years to come. I also believe this would be mutually beneficial to both science and the world at large, convincing millions of the need to take what science has to say much more seriously.

Softening its stance toward science would also help shine a light for those who detest religion about why many of its moral principle’s are worth considering. Why a moral code is both important for living a meaningful life and for pursuing science within.

I might add that I believe it would help teach many about the dire need to question one’s own beliefs – to not take everything written in a book (and especially the Internet) as absolute. In my opinion religious fanaticism (or any form of extremism) is born from such rigidity. And I will say, in defence of religion, that the popular and pervasive Western notion that religion is the cause of all our problems (or wars) is one I strongly disagree with. As I see it extremism has nothing to do with a belief in God but a lack of questioning one’s beliefs (of questioning one’s own ego). People end up killing others not because they believe in God but because their egos can’t stand the thought of being wrong. Rigidity of belief is a bigger issue than any belief in and of itself.

Anyway why is it that so many religions view science as a threat? If religion is part of the same human desire to understand the world and our place within it, (which I believe it is), then why wouldn’t it take an active interest in what science has to say? Science is, after all, simply, “the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experimentation.” If you believe in God, are you not interested in understanding the world and the laws by which it created it? Is this not also a more accurate interpretation of what God actually has to say? I mean why not listen to the word of God in the form of far less disputable science, rather than the extremely disputable word of man? Logically speaking this makes far more sense does it not? 

And hey let’s!

Let’s look at what science currently has to say and what it currently fails to explain. As Amir D. Aczel points out in his fascinating essay – Why Science Does Not Disprove God“Science is an amazing, wonderful undertaking: it teaches us about life, the world and the universe. But it has not revealed to us why the universe came into existence nor what preceded its birth in the Big Bang. Biological evolution has not brought us the slightest understanding of how the first living organisms emerged from inanimate matter on this planet and how the advanced eukaryotic cells — the highly structured building blocks of advanced life forms — ever emerged from simpler organisms. Neither does it explain one of the greatest mysteries of science: how did consciousness arise in living things?” 

But get this! 

“Much more important than these conundrums is the persistent question of the fine-tuning of the parameters of the universe: Why is our universe so precisely tailor-made for the emergence of life?… How was all of this possible without some latent outside power to orchestrate the precise dance of elementary particles required for the creation of all the essentials of life? The great British mathematician Roger Penrose has calculated — based on only one of the hundreds of parameters of the physical universe — that the probability of the emergence of a life-giving cosmos was 1 divided by 10, raised to the power 10, and again raised to the power of 123. This is a number as close to zero as anyone has ever imagined. (The probability is much, much smaller than that of winning the Mega Millions jackpot for more days than the universe has been in existence.)” 

He goes onto state, “The incredible fine-tuning of the universe presents the most powerful argument for the existence of an immanent creative entity we may well call God. Lacking convincing scientific evidence to the contrary, such a power may be necessary to force all the parameters we need for our existence—cosmological, physical, chemical, biological and cognitive—to be what they are.” 

Now at this point I could counter with an argument about the possible existence of a multiverse – an infinite number of universes each with its own set of parameters making the existence one just like ours not only likely, but inevitable. And while that might solve Penrose’s particular math problem, it still fails to answer a number of other important questions including why it is that anything exists at all?

Anyway, without going down that particular rabbit hole, the major point I want to make is not a question of whether God exists or what it all means, but that such arguments are irresolvable. We will never know and, perhaps, can never even hope to. It’s for this reason I ask you open your mind to the possibility that you’re wrong, which ever side of the fence you happen to be. To show one another a great deal more respect as a result. Because whether you’re an atheist or a theist the fact is, we are ALL agnostics. 

I’ll close by saying one more thing.

We all live in a society where both science and religion will always play massive roles. For me a far more important question is how do we bring them closer together? How do we allow for a deep respect for both to exist independently? And while I would never tell someone they must believe in God (or not), I strongly believe we all need to give what science has to say a great deal more respect.

With that in mind, let’s take the premise that science is, in fact, the word of God (or the closest thing to it). If you do, then one must also conclude what God is telling us right now. That is, although I gave you the miraculous and highly, highly improbable conditions for the existence of life, I did so on a knife-edge and now, because of global warming, you are playing with the very fires of my creation.

Are you sure you want to keep ignoring what God is trying to tell you? 


(Thanks for reading once again everyone. I appreciate that the above is an extremely complicated and thorny subject but I am genuinely interested in your thoughts. I won’t judge you whatever it is you believe. I’m simply interested in the dialogue. Wishing you all the very best, AP2 🙏 )

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