Monday, January 12, 2009

Life Questions

When I was a young man, much was made about a series of questions about the meaning of life. Perhaps this had to do with the screening of "Man's Search for Happiness" (created for the New York World's Fair in 1964).

The system of thought that I was taught as a child went something like this.

Q. Where did I come from?
A. You lived for a long, long time as a spirit child of heavenly parents, then were born into this world and forgot about your previous life.

Q. Why am I here?
A. You are here to learn by your own experience to distinguish good from evil, and to be tested to see if you will voluntarily choose good.

Q. Where am I going?
A. After you die, you will remember your long spirit past, and be judged on how well you chose good while on the Earth, with glorious rewards or lasting punishments based on that judgment.

After a few years of study*, I became familiar with another system of thought, which answered the questions in a different way.

Q. Where did I come from?
A. You are the latest in a long line of animals which grow up to become conscious thinkers and ask questions such as these.

Q. Why am I here?
A. There is no particular reason that you are here for a time, so enjoy it as best you can.

Q. Where am I going?
A. When you die you will no longer exist, except in the minds of those who knew you while you lived.

On a break between semesters, I went home to Canada and tried to discuss this with my father, a firm believer in the first system of thought. We didn't get very far before he stopped me with this challenge, "Show me something better than what I believe and I'll be glad to accept it."

As I mentally compared the two systems, I really couldn't think of anything that my father would find "better" about the second system. So, that was the end of that discussion.

After all, if you were free to choose between them, which would you rather believe?

*Ironically, I first learned about the second system at a school which is a bastion in defense of the first system.


Nancy said...

I would definitely choose the first school of thought.

And thank you for sharing Grandpa's words. It was nice to hear his testimony so succinctly and strongly borne in that one little sentence.

Myrna said...

I agree with Nancy. :o)

perlmonger42 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kelline said...

It reminds me of the arguement between a Christain and an Atheist (don't mind my spelling). Atheist insists that there is no God because you can't hear, smell, taste, touch, see, etc. The Christain then ends the arguement because he feels that there is no reason to carry it further with someone who has no brain. (You can't hear, smell, taste, touch, see your own brain!)

Bruce Conrad said...

Actually, Nancy, my fathers utterance was certainly much shorter, as he was a man of few words. Usually he spoke in aphorisms, except when he was telling a story. Too bad most of those are lost now.

He probably said something more like, "If it's better, I'll accept it." I put that in quotes, but I know that's not exactly right either. Whatever it was, it was pithy and to the point.

perlmonger42 said...

Thank you, Bruce, for removing my unkind words. I agree with you that people's beliefs are an important part of themselves, and I don't really want to offend anybody -- I let a spike of irritation get the better of me. Worse than being unkind, it's a terrible way to try to arrive at Truth.

So let me just state my own opinion: I want to know what the truth is, as far as I am capable of discovering it. Even if that truth is less appealing than the point of view I fervently believed for most of my life.

Bruce Conrad said...

Thanks, Kelline, for the funny joke. It makes me a little sad, though, as I know and love people of both persuasions. See my post on asymmetry for more on that.