Have you ever just looked up at the sky? Have you ever looked up into the sky and saw the blue flanking the clouds, looking farther toward the moon and farther still among the stars? Have you ever thought about what is beyond our sight, beyond our understanding, beyond our feeble minds?
I have, and it keeps me up at night sometimes. I think about the deep consuming vast of nothing beyond our sightline that makes the planet that we live on next to nonexistent in comparison. I think of the void surrounding our floating rock that is functionally infinite in a way that our meek minds could never comprehend. When I think of it too deeply it sends me into a spiral, questioning self, life, and meaning. With existence so vast around us what makes us more significant than worms, ants, or even bacteria?
Without a god, purpose, or higher power this thought can lead to a spiraling loss of self, motivation, meaning, or passion. A life without meaning to a human being can be worse than the most incurable disease, but I try my best to find it incredibly freeing. A life free from the shackles of common meaning and identity can lead to a sense of self that feels unapologetically personal and individual.
French philosopher Albert Camus was one of the first pioneers of this way of thinking with his branch of philosophy called absurdism.
Life, according to Camus, is inherently meaningless, and that the search humans take to find meaning will always be eventually fruitless, and therefore absurd, and any seemingly successful route to meaning was nothing more than an illusion that provides nothing more than temporary comfort.
Take religion, for example, another illusion to Camus, in which a God either does or does not exist. In the reality in which a god doesn’t exist it’s pretty obvious why said nonexistent god could not be the center of universal meaning. In a reality where a god does exist becomes increasingly clear that said god is either incompetent or psychopathic with the consistent and ongoing suffering dealt upon humans.
In response to the realization of an absurd universe, Camus writes in his book The Myth of Sisyphus, “There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” In saying this Camus was aiming to find an answer to the absurdity that life posed, he was trying to decide if the only sane answer in life was to commit suicide. Instead of suicide Camus found another route to life, the absurd hero.
The titular character of Camus’ book is a character in Greek literature that finds himself cursed by the gods to push a massive boulder up a hill only for it to fall straight back to the bottom of the hill, only for Sisyphus to start right back over again. Sisyphus does not despair in his predicament and even relishes in his daily duty. Instead of looking at the void and coming back with nothing but hopelessness, an absurd hero like Sisyphus looks into the void and laughs. To Camus, this is an honest approach to the human condition, where each of us is metaphorically Sisyphus with no inherent meaning in the actions that we do, that no matter how hard we try that we will eventually be left empty and devoid of meaning. To Camus, we have two choices for any sort of fulfilling life, and that is to laugh into the void like an absurd hero or to kill ourselves.