Thursday, May 4, 2017

From The Influence List to Fractals to Nihilism

Recently, while downsizing some of my belongings and memory items collected over the past 10+ years, I came across the program from my high school graduation. The 17 students who participated in the ceremony each had two pages in the program: one for a brief auto-biography and one for a submission from one's parents. As a high schooler, I believed strongly in what I called "The Influence List." It was originally a book idea and I had started some preliminary work on the project at one point. The basic premise was this: everyone and everything has an influence on your life, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. It's like an interpersonal version of the butterfly effect, where a small change across the globe can have a significant effect on local weather. The brief auto-biography I submitted for my high school graduation program was a miniature verstion of "The Influence List."

I took a moment to pause and read this page...
I highlighted the particularly salient influences of an algebra professor at Penn State York, HOBY Leadership Seminar, a Bible class at Lancaster Bible Colleg, a Spanish class at Harrisburg Area Community College York, and everyone and everything: "In addition to the people, programs, and classes mentioned above, I also value everyone I've ever known and everything I've ever done because each person and thing I've experienced has influenced me in some way or become a part of who I am today. I honestly feel that everyone I know has made me who I am. Whether I have known you for basically forever or only for a moment, I appreciate you for what you have shown me, taught me, or made me understand."
...and I was struck by the fact that this specific area of my personal philosophy has shifted quite a bit, but I'm jumping ahead.

Toward the end of my first year of college, I dated a guy who was really into fractals. He liked them for the math and science side of them and I grew to like them for the aesthetic aspect. I also liked them because fractals are everywhere. Lightning bolts, rivers and deltas, trees and ferns, and our circulatory and nervous systems. Everywhere. I took this piece of information and added it to the memory network where "The Influence List" was stored and created a new belief: not only did everyone and everything have influence, everything was connected. Fractals remained an interest; I later purchased the book, Design in Nature, which proposes a new principle of physics to better-explain fractals; in early 2015, I got a circle fractal as my first tattoo; and at some point during summer 2016, I explained my fractal tattoo to a friend as being representative of my spiritual belief that everything is connected.

In January, I went to see the new Resident Evil movie. The combination of the closing scene plus situational stressors at the time prompted a bit of an existential crisis for me. I drove home with a dark cloud of thought: nothing matters, nothing matters, nothing matters. As I neared home, I broke through the other side of that cloud: nothing matters and that's good because the only things that matter are the things that I choose to matter. The situational stressors became insignificant. The only things that matter are what I make matter.

Two months later, during a bike ride, I was thinking about upcoming life changes and opportunities in light of recent let downs and frustrations. I decided that no one's opinion matters but my own and I can do what I want and create my own happiness. I also decided that life could be going poorly and I could use the fact that nothing matters to create a positive emotion and, conversely, that life could be going well and there would be no pressure to be 100% happy 100% of the time. Only I am master of my fate and emotions. There is always choice and it is always mine.

Wikipedia defines nihilism  as "a philosophical doctrine that suggests the lack of belief in one or more reputedly meaningful aspects of life; most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that is life without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value."

Life is without objective meaning. Nothing matters except for what I choose to make matter.
Life is without objective purpose. Nothing matters except for what I choose to make matter.
Life is without intrinsic value. If we take "life" to mean the day to day experience of living: nothing matters except for what I choose to make matter. If we take "life" to mean human life, that is where I am not a nihilist.

Wikipedia defines existential humanism as, broadly, the human struggle for self-knowledge and self-responsibility. Kierkegaard says that the best use of our choice "is to live a fully human life rooted in a personal search for values rather than an external code. Nothing matters except for what I choose to make matter. Sartre says that value is self-created. Nothing matters except for what I choose to make matter.

My beliefs around "The Influence List" and fractals still remain, but they are now expanded MY the belief that these things only matter to me because I choose to make them matter. That's the crux of it: CHOICE. Maybe choice is what is fully human, maybe choice is what gives us soul; what allows us to influence and be influenced by others, to see connections in nature, and to create meaning in our own lives.