Nihilism’s fascinating solution to accepting reality
often struggle to find meaning in my life.
Sometimes I’m hit with a random reminder of my existential meaningless — that nothing matters and that we’re all going to die.
How can I make the most out of the life I have?
What is worth pursuing in life?
How does one live a meaningful life?
I still don’t know why I ask myself these questions.
Perhaps it’s to re-evaluate my life and understand my own motivations better. Or maybe I just want to torture myself.
Regardless, my curiosity hasn’t let me stop asking questions yet.
These seemingly innocent questions have all led me to the conclusion that there is no objective meaning to life.
The philosophy that this idea belongs to is called nihilism — the belief that life is meaningless.
Nothing really matters
We weren’t born with a purpose or destiny to fulfill.
Life is bizarre, random and unexplainable.
It’s unlikely that the one-hundred thousand million stars in the universe were made for us.
It’s inevitable that you’re going to die. There will be a day where nobody will remember you. And that might be scary. Even the most famous people today will be forgotten with time.
On the other hand, there are certain benefits to our daunting, meaningless reality.
It means that every rejection you were dealt, every humiliation you suffered and every moment of loneliness disappears.
It means that there are no objective principles to life and that we decide what principles to live by.
It means that since there is no purpose to life, you get to choose your own purpose.
Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s going to die. Come watch TV. — Morty Smith
Yes, Rick and Morty taught me something about philosophy.
Insights from the Absurd
The conflict between a human’s inherent desire to find meaning and the objective meaning is what Camus labelled as the Absurd.
In Albert Camus’ essay The Myth of Sisyphus, he describes a king, Sisyphus who was condemned to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity.
Sisyphus pushes the boulder up and up the hill but as soon as he is about to reach the summit, the boulder rolls back down. Sisyphus then turns around and rolls the boulder back up again.
For most of us, imagining the repetition of a futile task for all eternity would appear to be an unbearable torment.
Camus projects that our realities are exactly like Sisyphus’ — futile and purposeless.
Wouldn’t that mean we should stop pushing the boulder and just give up?
Camus argues that we must imagine Sisyphus to be happy. That we must recognise the meaningless of our existence, accept it and move on. Only then can we find our own subjective meaning to life.
We can’t change our circumstances and the meaninglessness of the universe. But we can choose how to interpret our own lives.
The same consciousness in which we feel pain is the same tool we can use to create our own meaning.
“From the moment absurdity is recognized, it becomes a passion, the most harrowing of all. But whether or not one can live with one’s passions, whether or not one can accept their law, which is to burn the heart they simultaneously exalt — that is the whole question.” — Albert Camus
An Optimistic Response
It’s often seen that accepting nihilism means believing in nothing. You might instantly imagine a nihilistic person as depressed.
But that is just one response to nihilism — giving up. The other response is to embrace your freedom. Because we live in a world that is filled with new things to explore.
There is no reason to be depressed by the lack of meaning in the world because there are still things to enjoy.
Unlike other schools of thought, nihilism doesn’t ask what the meaning of life is. Nihilism isn’t concerned with whether or not there is a god or any order to the world.
It only asks if questioning the meaning of life is worth answering.
If you choose to accept nihilism as a philosophy and confront the perpetual randomness and meaninglessness, you’ll find that you get to discover your own meaning.
That might be your relationships with other people, putting your impact back into human consciousness or maybe it’s simply to watch TV.
“If we believe in nothing, if nothing has any meaning and if we can affirm no values whatsoever, then everything is possible and nothing has any importance.” — Albert Camus
Nihilism has been a central part of my life. It has helped me accept harsh realities, combat heart-wrenching depression and find joy in the things around me. It has stopped me from agonising over the meaningless of life by providing me with a tool to overcome it.