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No. 50 (May 2001)

What Does It Mean to Be You?
by Win Wenger, Ph.D.

Is it significant to be who you are and to do what you are doing?

Before I get too smugly existential about how I've hung in tough with seemingly important choices I've made and courses of actions I've persisted in (despite all the brickprints across my forehead!!!), I have to note just how dynamic and fluid were all the possibilities of my past. — how readily the interplay of chance and shifting factors turned me toward some unfolding directions and away from others.

Literally — I can see myself in Mother Theresa and in Tim McVeigh; in Gandhi and King and in Adolph Hitler. I can remember dark days in my childhood when I fantasized shooting everyone and/or blowing up the place. I'd like to think otherwise, but I can see all of these within range of possible expressions of my soul. My me. Who, then, is "me?" — And does identity mean anything other than mere continuity of memory?

How much of what I am today is me and how much is chance? Is there indeed anything uniquely ME which would have shown up regardless of what else was happening?

Are we but inhabitants of pieces of driftwood caught on various currents? Or is there essentially something unique to each human individual?

The question becomes even more cogent if, as some now hold, we are inhabitants of a quantum multiverse and not just of the unitary universe we grew up thinking we lived in. Or if, whatever choices we here are making in this particular multiverse frame, near-exact counterparts of ourselves are making different choices in THEIR frames.

So there is not only the question of whether we exist as anything other than eddy swirls of circumstance. We have also the question of whether anything we do at all, matters.

A quasi-existential consideration may bear here. IF we do proceed on the presently questionable assumptions that we ARE individually unique and that our choices and actions DO have significant meaning, we have at least a somewhat better chance of meaningful achievements than if we don't thus proceed.

Given those alternatives, the presumption seems justified on the grounds that, as of yet in this snapshot moment of unfolding civilization and history, we have yet to unfold the right questions, much less the right answers.

There is so little that we arrogant kings of the universe have found out, have thought through or worked through, we have so far yet to go! It would be foolish to forego our chances at meaningful lives and meaningful accomplishment, deciding it all now preclusively on the basis of such woefully inadequate information.

There are things your eyes have seen that no other human eyes have seen — thoughts you've thought (consciously or no), insights and appreciations you've arrived at. (Not that most of us ever pay attention to any of these.)

Certainly that's true of much of my own experience. Again, that may just be some of the mere fractalian swirl of chance circumstance. But if I assume that this has no special meaning, my life and my experience are infinitely poorer than if I assign those unique parts of experience special meaning.

Thank you, I choose to be the richer, pending further understanding on the topic.

I don't think this detracts from my quest for truth. I still readily entertain the possibility that I am about as significant as a scattering of sand that's clumped together in one pile. That hasn't detracted from my ability to hang tough with the goals and courses of action which "I've" (?) seemingly chosen, pending further information. I don't think that I am cultivating illusion by holding open richer possibilities rather than prematurely precluding them.

Along the way, though, I do have to wonder at our system of justice and of judicial punishment. Just who or what is getting punished, relative to the factors of causality, and what if anything does the punishment do about those factors? As crime caseloads and prison populations swell far beyond record numbers, it's clear that the system's operation as a deterrence to crime leaves something to be desired.

Two centuries of research in the science of behavior have shown us that even negative reinforcement is still reinforcement, that "you get more of what you reinforce." Literally millions of living and feeling human beings are rotting away behind bars in their own sense of self-worthlessness. The system is broken, and I don't yet know how to fix it.

At the other end of the scale, I see three sectors of boundless opportunity which we are woefully underplaying. Any of these could greatly increase chances of living well and long enough to discover better questions and answers, and better chances to in fact discover long-term meaning and point to our lives, if indeed there is any such meaning and point:

  • the raising and educating of our children.
  • The rapid development of space, in the solar system and possibly beyond.
  • Human life-extension.

Our Children
The better raising and educating of our children is in stark contrast to what's happening to most of them now. All those many things we know of but aren't doing and using, which would let our children grow up more completely themselves, more wholly human, with fewer of their high potentials sacrificed than is now the case...these are a paltry few of the various things we've been discussing here.

Development of Space
Stuck together on only the one fragile planet, we can at best realize only one human destiny. Everyone else's possibilities will have to conform to that or die. Space is so limitless that we can realize more different human destinies than there are human beings alive today.

Better systems of on-the-shelf technology and hardware have been proposed for decades, at least one of them (described at Space Launch far safer than the present shuttle system and less than 1% as costly, with declining long-term cost curves which would encourage a much more greatly and rapidly expanding usage.

Methodologies such as Beachhead have likewise been around for decades, which permit almost anyone, including you the reader, to discover or invent better systems and certainly systems far different, for the purpose of bringing a broad segment of humanity into the bounty of space. (Self-taught step-by-step sets of four different forms of "Beachhead" are provided in the book Discovering The Obvious.

Extending Life
Likewise, for decades we've been looking at both the above-cited methodology for making discoveries, AND at a potential system for extending the normal good, healthy, productive, enjoyable human lifespan by some decades at least (see Rejuvenatorium). This side of life extension, the same context and use of that "Beachhead" discovery methodology has shown us at least five basic, medically-significant breakthroughs which could be saving many lives today if these could even be noticed by "the appropriate authorities" (see the breakthroughs cited at Breakthroughs in Scientific Research). Two considerations for us:

  • Even living a few decades longer gives us a chance toward living a LOT longer as science and technology progress.

  • The extension gives us a better chance, in terms of this present article, for finding the right questions to ask and getting right answers, on whether we have meaning, on whether life has meaning, and whether what we do has meaning.
Maybe, like beauty, meaning is (only) in the eye of the beholder, or maybe there is something more. You tell me.


Comments to:
Win Wenger

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