I have finally begun the journey of my Senior Exhibition. I started today by working on a few digital models of the computer parts I have so I can digitally model a case around them.
Existentialism is a sort of belief system, or attitude, that revolves around the notion that the world has no meaning besides the meaning we give to it. Those who fall into the path of contemplating these ideas typically board similar trains of thought, or begin with a similar cycle of learning. These individuals, usually of from backgrounds of high intelligence, start to contemplate their existence and why they are here on Earth, and what the meaning of it all is, if there is any meaning at all. This paper will discuss my understanding of existentialism thus far by including examples from relevant text.
Robert Solomon writes that existentialism is “a spirit of the ‘present age.’” He eloquently describes ‘the realization’ that existentialists share as “a philosophical realization of a self-consciousness living in a ‘broken world’” that we are “thrown” and “condemned” into. He continues to explain that one who has this epiphany about the world will then realize that the world appears to be “indifferent,” which leads the thinker to the next notion that the world seems to have no meaning. In this way, the cycle of existentialist realizations continues, with some variation from individual to individual. Solomon writes that this stage of the existential experience “begins with a disoriented individual facing a confused world that he cannot accept.” (Solomon) The cycle of existentialism is truly a cycle of self-discovery.
The recognition that the world seems to have no meaning stems from an individual’s belief that events in life appear to be contingent and random, with no real value or explanation. For example, when an event happens to an individual, such as getting cancer, or losing a cherished family member, they may begin to think the eternal question, “Why me?” One begins to wonder why they would get cancer or lose their loved ones instead of someone else, when maybe they believe they haven’t done anything to deserve this fate. This leads to the individual’s perception of the world to shift, as they begin to take on a sort of nihilist mindset. “If I didn’t do anything wrong, but this still happens to me, then nothing I do really has any effect.” This mindset eventually leads the thinker to believe that life has no meaning. The resulting sadness from the realization that nothing matters often leads to the individual suffering from great sadness. Unfortunately, as is human nature, this sadness will often lead to isolation from society, because most people do not want to be around other people when they are in a bad place. However, the idea that nothing matters is only partially existentialist, it is mainly nihilist. If individuals are able to move past this notion and discover that what matters in life is what they choose, then they can attempt to recover from their sadness, and rejoin society.
Don Manuel from the story Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr, finds himself uncovering the “truth” about the world, which is essentially this existentialist mindset of “nothing matters.” However, instead of isolating himself from society, he was able to temporarily forget his sadness by doing what he thought was the true meaning of his life, to help others. He spent his life aiding the townspeople where he lived, in Valverde de Lucerna. As a priest, he was looked up to by everyone in the town, and they all believed he was some sort of prophet sent from God. He ran the church meetings and, although it is not clear in the story whether or not he truly believed in God, he kept preaching about God and the bible, because he knew it was something the people of his town believed in. His main goal in life was to keep the townspeople happy, which included not letting them have the same realization about the “truth” of the world. He even turned down many opportunities to climb the ladder of the Church career, “because he wanted to remain exclusively a part of his Valverde de Lucerna.” (Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr) He had created his own meaning in a world without meaning. He had found his personal solution to the sadness and despair of nihilism, which kept him going in life. “The most important thing,” he would say, “is for the people to be happy; everyone must be happy just to be alive. To be satisfied with life is of first importance.” (Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr) This is another important quote from this existentialist text explaining what Don Manuel has assigned meaning to in life. He lives for the happiness of others, which brings him back to society from a place of darkness.
For many people, part of their existential journey includes the concept that once one dies, he or she will no longer exist in this world. Many existentialists have trouble confronting this viewpoint, and it can often be the reason that many existentialists are lost in a world of sadness. The concept that one has only the time from life until death on this Earth, and that there is nothing afterwards, could plunge anyone into despair, because this often leads the thinker to realize that with such a relatively short time here on Earth, nothing that happens really matters in the grand scheme of things. However, many people are able to move past this sadness, by creating new meaning for their lives. Many other existentialists instead pull themselves back to society out of the despair by basking in the knowledge of their own mortality.
The cycle of an individual’s exploration of existentialism begins with one feeling lost or confused and questioning their existence on this Earth, or their purpose. They wonder what the meaning of it all is, and move to realizing that events in life are so random and pointless at times that there seems to be no meaning at all. Individuals then often move to isolating themselves from society, because they do not want to be around other people with the sadness of their realization of meaninglessness. People will then often contemplate the vastness of the universe, and realize that is it so large that they could not even hope to learn about a fraction of it, “so what’s the point?” Nihilists will often be content with this place in life, whereas true existentialists will move past the sadness and isolation to begin to create meaning in life for themselves. Many individuals come to terms with the fact that life is so meaningless and the universe is so expansive, and they will begin to just focus on what is truly important to themselves in life. The end result is an individual who not only focuses on what is important and meaningful to them in life, but also who takes responsibility for their existence, because there is nobody there to pick up after us.
Our final assignment for my senior existentialism elective class was, after reading the book ‘Life of Pi,’ to either analyze the book and angle for existentialism, or write a creative existentialist piece about a character who experiences existential growth, or something similar. Being an artist, I chose the second option. Here is what I wrote…
November 20th, 2013
The branches on his tree swayed in the cool breeze of the evening. As the earth rotated slowly on its axis, the sun appeared to drop below the horizon. The tall grass in the field around his tree harbored his enemies, but he knew he was safe for now as he watched a snake slide through the mud towards the opposite end of the valley. He didn’t care about the snake though, or even necessarily being safe. If being safe also equalled the existence and growth of his food storage, then it was something he took a liking too. Other than that, it didn’t matter to him. This squirrel only cares about his food storage. Sometimes in the late evenings, however, he found himself wondering why he was put here, in this tree, surrounded by predators, his only job to collect. These thoughts only began to cross his mind when one day, long ago, he heard a violently loud bang from some distance off in the forest, and saw the turkey fall. The turkey had never hurt anyone, it even seemed that the turkey’s purpose was similar to his, to simply survive and obtain nutrients. He had watched the turkey for much of his early life, as it wandered the field and the forest, scavenging for food. The squirrel wondered if scavenging for food was somehow punishable by death. Fear was instilled at that moment, and he hid. He checked up on his stache, to make sure the killer wasn’t hiding there. He consoled himself by allowing one nut for “mental sanity.” After eating, he felt better, and realized that scavenging couldn’t be punishable by death, because how else is one supposed to eat if not for scavenging? The randomness of the turkey’s death made him wonder what the turkey had done to deserve such a punishment. If the turkey had done nothing, then why did his life end so abruptly with this fate? He decided that day that it didn’t matter what he did because he would no doubt die randomly like the turkey did anyways. And so, the squirrel devoted his life to his stash of nuts.
As the sun concealed itself again behind the trees as it always did at the end of the day, preparing to sneak through the trees so it could come up again on the other side in the morning, the squirrel scurried into his massive storage hole. He questioned how he had made it this long without losing his stash, but after thinking for a second, he decided it was trivial in comparison to his next task; adding to his stash. He set down the five nuts he had collected recently, adding to his pile of forty-three thousand, one hundred and seventy two nuts. He was now up to forty-three thousand, one hundred and seventy seven. He made a note of this mentally, then ate one of the nuts. He subtracted it from the sum. These were his nuts, so he made sure to know them intimately. He glanced back outside. It was dark, no moon. Rain fell, he didn’t care. He had his nuts.
The following day he decided it would be entertaining to travel further than he had ever before in his life. He didn’t really know why this distance called to him, but he did it anyways. He set off early, at sunrise, after a hearty breakfast of nuts. Forty-three thousand, one hundred seventy two. He made note. He took 4 in his mouth for the road. Forty-three thousand, one hundred sixty eight. He headed across the field the long way, checking his surroundings for potential predators every so often. He had taken the short route far too many times, and the long way seemed more enticing on this particular day. The air was brisk at dawn, there was a thin cloak of frost that adorned the tips of the grass, more so in the shade, as the sun began to liquify the frost it touched. The sky was perfectly blue, broken in the center by just a single small cloud that, to the squirrel, resembled the turkey. When he looked back down from the sky, the squirrel found himself standing in the crosshairs of a long, thin, green being. The reptile fixed her slivers-for-eyes on the squirrel, and he froze in place. The two locked eyes for a solid six seconds, and then as if someone rang a bell signalling the start of a great conflict, both animals sprang into action. The snake zipped through the grass towards the squirrel, who realized he had to think and react fast to avoid losing his collection of nuts. The snake, on the other hand, could not afford to lose it’s prey. In a fraction of a second, the squirrel snatched up a twig from the ground and held it vertically, perpendicular to the dirt. He did this so fast, having such a good reaction speed from being in this sort of situation frequently, that when the snake charged its prey with gaping jaws, the twig was rooted into the roof of her mouth. The squirrel’s genius countermove ended the conflict between the two animals. The snake could only attack with her mouth, which happened to be jammed permanently open, and the squirrel had no reason to attack the snake, because he knew that dead snakes do not turn into acorns.
He didn’t have any reason to interact further with the snake, who was writhing on the ground, desperately trying to snap the twig or spit it out. He felt like the event was so absurdly random that he did not even deserve to have it happen to him. Why should he end his collecting career just because some dumb snake wanted a snack? It didn’t matter though because he had won the battle with his quick wit and lightning reflexes. He quickly decided the best course of action, and the safest to protect his acorns, was to sprint up a large maple tree adjacent to the battleground. When he was out of sight of the snake, he absorbed his surroundings. It was perfectly still out that morning, and if there had been any breeze before, he did not remember. It wasn’t important anyways, wind did not affect the squirrel. He wasn’t like a bird that needed the air to fly, scurrying was his preferred mode of transportation. The squirrel set down his four nuts on a branch. The hawk set its claws into the squirrels back. Forty-three thousand, one hundred sixty eight. He had never seen the world from this height before. The squirrel glanced up at the hawk, who did not look down. The hawks eyes were angled straight ahead, suggesting it had a course, a purpose. The squirrel guessed that the hawk probably was not carrying him to a place full of infinite nuts from which he could expand his acorn stash. They glided over his tree in the opposite direction from where the squirrel had wanted to go a few minutes earlier. He examined his tree, the place where he had spent his whole life, his home, through a whole new lens. He didn’t like this angle because he couldn’t see his vast stash of nuts. He preferred the inside of the wood, the earthy smells and the warmth of the tree, to the colder experience of flying. He couldn’t say that it wasn’t an exhilarating ride however. He could see the whole valley from here, the wind rustling the leaves on the trees, no doubt harboring his precious acorns. The speed of the journey was unlike anything he’d experienced. His fur was blown back, the grain of it heading behind him. He took a moment to bask in the sun; its warmth washed over him like a wave from the ocean.
The hawk’s nest was crude and dumb to the squirrel. He hated it. There was only one acorn in view here, hanging from a far off tree, as opposed to the forty-three thousand, one hundred and sixty eight he had at home. He missed his acorns. He glanced at the hawk who was staring at him, no doubt deciding how to fairly divide its dinner between itself and its babies. He decided now was the time if he wanted to get back to his stash of nuts, as opposed to not existing. This adventure had proved nothing but trouble so far. He quickly thought up a simple escape plan; RUN! He pulled a three-sixty backflip, a move he had been practicing for some time, over the edge of the nest and scrambled for a branch to break his fall. Clawing at nothing, he felt like he was falling horizontally across the ground. He had never fallen in this direction before. Eventually his legs touched something wet, and his body followed immediately after. He looked up after surfacing, and quickly examined his surroundings. He felt a sharp pain in one of his legs, but it diminished soon after. He was in the middle of a large pool of water. It seemed logical then, that he should drink, because he was thirsty. The water was salty, a surprise that made him jump and quickly spit out the liquid. He hated it. He started to feel something resembling sadness. He glanced up at the last acorn he had ever seen, and saw that the hawk was looking down at him. Not directly at him, but at the water in general. The hawk had lost one of it’s collection. Forty-three thousand, one hundred and sixty eight, the squirrel remembered. He decided the best way to get back to his tree was to start moving. He swam with all his might, desperately looking for something that resembled land he could crawl up onto. The waves washed over him, the sea was somehow quite rowdy despite the calmness of the weather that day. He was struck several times by large whitecaps, sending him spinning under water. Each time he resurfaced he became continually more and more out of breath. His drive was the thought of returning to his acorns. Finally, a massive wave struck him and sent him deep underwater. He felt himself fading fast, consciousness seemed to be at a distance further than the edge of the field from his tree. Ocean swimming was not listed in the job description for a squirrel. It wasn’t something he had done very often in his life, as he had only swam in ponds on occasion, when he truly needed to, maybe to escape from a predator, or to avoid taking a far longer route. He also didn’t like the way water felt on his fur, it made him much heavier, and he could not scurry when he was in water. He realized that this was probably the last adventure he would ever have. He wondered if his life had been meaningful. Had he done what he was supposed to do? Did he miss something? He knew he couldn’t change anything now, his death imminent. But, hadn’t it always been imminent? This death, sinking to the bottom of the sea, was just expediting and inevitable process. What was next? He knew he didn’t have the energy to swim to the surface. The acorns that the squirrel spent his life collection were meaningless now. His tree, the field it lived in, meant nothing at the bottom of the sea. He concluded that all that mattered now was his experience, his memories, but only to himself. Nobody would know that a little squirrel once lived to collect forty-three thousand, one hundred and sixty eight acorns. But he had never cared about anyone else knowing, so it mattered only to himself. He felt accomplished. He had done all he had ever wanted to do, and lived well. It didn’t matter that it no longer mattered, because the experience was good enough. The water was green. He liked green, but wasn’t used to it being. The floor of the ocean looked like the field surrounding his tree. His eyes stung slightly, so he closed them. He’d seen all he had to see anyways. He’d done all he needed to do. The last breath escaped.
Welded steel sculptures that I’ve created over my four years at The Putney School. MIG and gas welding techniques were used and a secret finishing “sauce” was used to give each sculpture the dark sheen.
Over the last 3 or so weeks I have been learning Processing, a language based on Java, and developing a game called Tomahawk Tosser in it, where a small sprite runs around and throws tomahawks and other weaponry at other sprites, in a randomly generated world. You can download the game for Mac and Windows below:
Download the game for Mac: http://www.mediafire.com/download/hp4e0gecys4xwum/Tomahawk_Tosser_Mac.zip
Download the game for Windows: http://www.mediafire.com/download/15lnrqbyqk0kual/Tomahawk_Tosser_Windows_32.zip
Special thanks to my friend Julian Bloch, as without him this game never would have come to life. He programmed the monster movement, all the collision, and worked hard to develop ideas and squash bugs. Sorry I forgot to put your name in the game itself, I hope this thank you is good enough!
Download the Processing File as of 6/8/2013: http://www.mediafire.com/?xmcc768ppg0xskc