Journal

On usefulness and the purpose of living

Earlier today, I was bragging to a friend of mine about having a little knowledge of Celtic music. I was lying, of course, I know as much about Celtic music as any other Indian (maybe a few songs, or is that extraordinary?), but what struck me was that my lie failed to impress him and he dismissed it as useless knowledge. He gave me his reasons: there is no use of having knowledge which you will never be able to put to use in your life. You know who is famous for exactly this thought? Sherlock Holmes!

I quote him here.

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.  A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands on it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic.  He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order.  It is a mistake to think that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent.  Depend upon it – there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before.  It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

I am a HUGE fan of Holmes and generally agree with whatever A. C. Doyle makes him say, but not this, because it hints at life having a purpose and I believe it doesn’t. Sure it is easier to live your life thinking that whatever you do would in some way matter. Sure it is easier to blissfully ignore the imminent universal oblivion. But it is also easier for some people to accept the hard truth and enjoy the benefits it provides. Once you realize this truth, you will be a happy man (or woman) and your life will be ruined for good.

Who are we, as mortals, to decide what is useful and what is useless? After a certain number of years, no one from our species will be around to observe the effects of our actions, if any. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to spread pessimism here. I’m just asking you not to judge.

But of course, I’m getting ahead of myself. People generally talk about their immediate life when they’re talking about usefulness. Whatever helps you make money, or accomplish your dreams, or get a lover, or any other benefit, is useful. There’s just one small detail I’d like to add to that. All forms of observations are valuable, and listening to some rare music from across the globe is an observation.

There was a side character in a book I read recently who blurted out a long suppressed thought of mine.

I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is inprobably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it – or my observation of it – is temporary?

So, there you have it; what I believe is the true higher purpose of life. Take in all you can in your few years’ quota. Everything you see around you, is for you.

Better yet, bring something into existence.

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