Celebrating Life and Love

By coincidence, all day today, I was working at my part-time job, which places me in a position of interacting with a large number of random people, and as I am naturally inclined to be social, as the opportunity presents itself, I try to engage each one in a brief conversation, mostly as a polite way to greet them and maybe get a smile out of them. Apparently, marking this particular day as one in which we celebrate love in all its many forms; love clearly was on the mind of just about everyone. Most often, the exchange would be brief, and took the form of well-wishing and polite banter, but several of the exchanges, while also positive in nature, revealed a different layer of attention to the subject of love, including a few which required diplomacy on my part to acknowledge the gestures, without slighting the intention of the well-wishing, but also maintaining the appropriate demeanor. As I contemplated my responses in the brief minute or so in which they were required, it occurred to me that the subject was fairly challenging to address under these circumstances, and upon completing my shift, I began to consider the subject at length.

There’s almost no telling how love will unfold in our personal lives or as we move through the world-at-large. As we progress through our lives, we all seem to arrive at our own understanding of what it means to love someone. We learn first about love from our parents or primary caretakers whoever they end up being, and often it’s amazing to us as adults what sticks with us through all the changes and stages of growth we go through. In some circumstances, where our lives are most often in balance as we grow, we learn to appreciate the love we are given, and have a fair idea of how to demonstrate our love based on these experiences. For most of us, though, the balance is often tipped in one direction or the other, and it can take a long time to appreciate how other people might differ in their understanding of what it means to love another person.

It seems to me that, as a rule, we are far too rigid in our views of what reasonably might constitute a loving relationship between parents and children, amongst siblings, between extended family groups, and between the many different levels of friendship that we encounter as we age. Our best friend in grammar school can still be our best friend in our adult life, or they can vanish from our lives for any number of reasons, and every variety of circumstance can either contribute to the longevity of friendship or make it impossible to continue, just as every other sort of relationship can experience long periods of enriching and enduring affection, or be lost or mitigated by extenuating circumstances.

I have often encountered circumstances in my life, where people have inspired me to feel a loving connection in one way or another, but who have a difficult time understanding how it could be that such a connection is even possible. I have often thought that there should be some guidance in our educational system, particularly when children are approaching adolescence, to begin to appreciate the many different varieties of emotional connection that people feel, and to broaden the definitions of love across the whole spectrum of human interactions.

history of the world

The amount of time in which a life takes place, which includes everything from a few moments to, at times, nearly a century of life, is one of the least important measures of a life. Each of us is given a certain amount of time to live our lives, and none of us knows in advance how long it will be before we must relinquish our lives. This is the very nature of life–uncertainty. In some ways, uncertainty DEFINES life. If we knew about everything that would happen in our lives in advance, and the exact moment when life would end, there would be no mystery, no wonder, no sense of anticipation, no expectation, no reason to try anything. Because life is unpredictable, it is worth getting up in the morning to see what will happen! Life is about potentiality. When we DON’T know what will happen, or how long we will have to do anything, it’s up to us to discover how our lives will unfold. It is always sad, as an observer of life, when we see a life that is, from our perspective, cut short, before it has had sufficient time to unfold in the normal way. But really, each life, no matter how long it is, is precious, and worth every effort to live each moment fully, for however long we have to live it.

I do not claim to be an expert. I am not a scholar, or a magician, or a superstar quarterback. Even though I attended two universities for more than four years, I haven’t turned my education into a platform for expertise or exploited those opportunities into a particularly abundant life. What I can say about my life, given the measures we normally apply to accomplishments in education, in my case at least, the results were not especially impressive, but my life EXPERIENCES have been extraordinary.

Every memory I have is precious to me. I have been the father to six amazing children. I have served my country in the military, traveled to Europe for two years, and met many extraordinary people. I have experienced great joy, as well as terrible sadness. I have experienced hunger, deprivation, loneliness, bitterness, rejection, loss, and just about every sort of unhappiness imaginable, but I have also been a witness to and a participant in spectacular experiences of loving; I have attended feasts, and eaten at fine restaurants; I have vacationed in beautiful natural settings; I have attended family reunions with some of the most fabulous people on the planet; I have been satisfied in many different ways, and cried tears of joy as I held precious newborn children in my arms.

I could go on, but you can see from just these few examples that no matter what we accomplish in our lives, when it comes right down to it, what we EXPERIENCE is what means the most to us; it’s what hurts us the most; it’s what drives us and what slays us; what we experience is more important than what we accomplish almost always, and all the skills and knowledge we acquire, as vital as these aspects are in helping us to function in and to understand our world, we must BE IN the world and experiencing our lives in order to make any good use of any of it.

The dynamics of each unique personal relationship has always been a subject of interest for me, especially since I began to explore the nature of human interactions as they relate to our very human spirit. As we make our way through our lives, we probably encounter hundreds of other individuals through our educational and social circles, but normally only a very select few become particularly significant to us in one way or another. We generally become aware of these connections when proximity permits sufficient opportunity to do so, but proximity alone cannot account for the development of close, personal (and dare I say…spiritual) connections, particularly those which endure across great distance and long years. While there are many different foundations for our unique relationships, and much that is not necessarily self-evident regarding the psychology which supports them, the existence of a powerful personal and emotional affinity for another clearly infers a greater degree of connection not explicable by simple biology, psychology, chemistry or mere chance.

As is the case with the many forms and degrees of love which we celebrate today, there are also other more subtle and more mysterious forces at work in our lives, some of which we may eventually comprehend and predict reliably, and others that are part of the life of the human spirit within us. The power to alter our lives at any time is within our grasp. We have the means to evaluate and discern which choice is best for us. We can choose to act in our own self-interest, or in consideration of what is in the best interests of others. Depending on our choices, a whole variety of alternate realities are possible.

If our minds are simply and only the result of neuronal functioning and the basic electro-chemical balance in our brains, then none of us can be held truly accountable for our actions, since we are at the mercy of brain chemistry and the endowment of adequate neuronal functioning. My contention is that while we are clearly dependent on a nominally functional nervous system to interact in a meaningful way with other sentient beings, the delicate balance of brain chemistry and neuronal functionality only provides a platform from which we can launch our lives as cognitive creatures.

Our current social structure in the Western World has evolved significantly in the last hundred years or so, and we are beginning to understand and appreciate the value of our unique personal relationships as part of a broader and completely natural social adaptation, which has been part and parcel of our continued evolution as a species since upright humans first walked the earth.

10 thoughts on “Celebrating Life and Love

    1. You are so generous, Wendi, and I appreciate your comment and your visit very much. Sharing what I have come to understand is a natural consequence of the encouragement I receive from the readers here, and I do so gladly.

  1. “the existence of a powerful personal and emotional affinity for another clearly infers a greater degree of connection not explicable by simple biology, psychology, chemistry or mere chance”

    That is certainly my hope, my belief also. There is not much support for that belief from the scientists but who knows? Perhaps they are spectacularly wrong.

    1. I don’t think we should expect much in the way of support from the sciences when it comes to ideas which suggest the existence of non-material components that are, in some way, fundamental to interpersonal connectivity. The current wisdom is that if we can explain a temporal phenomenon sufficiently in scientific terms, no further implications are necessary. I find it reassuring in a way that this is so, since my own personal experiential history is sufficient to explain why I believe in a much more expansive explanation is warranted, and having studied these ideas at length, none of the science is entirely dissuasive when it comes to my own beliefs..

      Much of the 21st century science generally and neuroscience specifically is fascinating to me, and all such endeavors are worthwhile and deserve our earnest attention. Where we diverge is in allowing for the mysteries and the miracles of life to reach the innermost place within us, and being open to the full realm of possibility. To me, THAT is essential in achieving a greater understanding.

  2. I will continue to puzzle this one through and to read widely. Certainly many early 20th Century scientists would still have held true to this point of view. I suppose science has progressed greatly since then. Now, apparently, given the rise of the computer, we too are mere machines. Most explanations of consciousness talk of information processing by our brain but then of course in the days of Newton we were all supposed to be mechanical machines. I can understand this point of view and times move on but I can not help but wonder whether modern scientists are simply missing something. I certainly hope so. I really do not want to be a mindless machine!

    1. I think it’s safe to say that we are not merely human machines, in spite of the many aspects of human biology and body architecture which have parallels to mechanical machines. Living tissue exists in the physical universe and as temporal beings, we rely on our living tissue for our existence, which is subject to the laws of physics. Since we are the creators and architects and builders of our mechanical machines, we naturally tend to construct them utilizing the same physical laws to which we ourselves are subjected.

      In my view, there could be no clearer way of appreciating what separates us from machines, than the human subjective experience of consciousness–that keen sense of the awareness of being alive–that we know so intimately living inside ourselves. Whatever mechanisms our bodies utilize to provide us with access to the animating spirit which lives and sees and feels our world can still be PART of the mysteries and miracles of life, without being the sole answer to all our questions.

  3. John
    I am very much enjoying David Pearce’s Non Material Physicalism at https://www.physicalism.com/

    It is tough going because of many unfamiliar terms which I had to look up and who knows how the theory pans out. Of course Roger Penrose also had a well known quantum linked theory of consciousness.

    Obviously I am a mere child in the world of science but equally I think modern scientists are misdirecting themselves in their belief in absolute physicalism.

    Who knows?

    1. Anthony,

      Thanks for the link to David Pearce, and for your patience while I reviewed the material in order to respond. I admire your tenacity in slogging your way through Pearce’s ruminations, explanations, and exposition, and even though I may be a bit more familiar with the terminology involved, having done a fair amount of slogging myself over the years, it’s still quite a challenging subject to study. Attempting to ascribe some sort of temporal order to the metaphysical complexity suggested by the subjective experience of consciousness is a huge undertaking, and unfortunately, it requires one to take on a fair amount of mental gymnastics just to approach any sort of coherent position.

      Absolute physicalism is very appealing to “eliminative materialists,” like Daniel Dennet, and even someone as open-minded as David Chalmers often seems to have to contort himself into various knots at times, trying to justify his position. In reviewing many of the posts here at John’s Consciousness, you may have noticed a degree of “contortion” at times, and it is the depth and complexity of the subject that requires one to consider many different layers of meaning and information in order to make any sense at all when discussing subjective experience.

      It seems incomprehensible to me to discuss this subject without acknowledging the non-material or non-physical aspects of subjective experience. Each of us experiences our moment-to-moment existence in a manner that defies materialistic explanations, in my view, and even simply on the basis of the strength and potency of my own personal experiences, I cannot accept that it’s all just neurons and circuits and parallel processing in the brain that produces such visceral and vivid experiences, including those which strongly suggest a metaphysical component.

      I believe that Pearce is on to something though, and will be reviewing his material further as time progresses. Your own recent ruminations have been compelling in a number of ways, and I hope to respond shortly to some of them. Thanks so much for your visit and your thoughtful comment.

      1. I am glad that you feel the way you do about the world. Dennet’s point of view is one that I simply can not accept. Re Pearce, there is so much to his thinking which I find compelling. Leaving aside any questions of science, I love his Abolitionist Project. The elimination of suffering for all sentient life. Now there is an agenda I can really get enthusiastic about. I must give him a call and meet up with him. He lives only about an hour or so away. I would love to chat.

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