My World View – What It Means To Truly Live
This quote from Bertrand Russell can be found here
I love this quote from Bertrand Russell’s “The Conquest of Happiness,” because of how he uses the word “soul”
A man who has once perceived, however temporarily and however briefly, what makes greatness of soul, can no longer be happy if he allows himself to be petty, self-seeking, troubled by trivial misfortunes, dreading what fate may have in store for him. The man capable of greatness of soul will open wide the windows of his mind, letting the winds blow freely upon it from every portion of the universe. He will see himself and life and the world as truly as our human limitations will permit; realising the brevity and minuteness of human life, he will realise also that in individual minds is concentrated whatever of value the known universe contains. And he will see that the man whose mind mirrors the world becomes in a sense as great as the world. In emancipation from the fears that beset the slave of circumstance he will experience a profound joy, and through all the vicissitudes of his outward life he will remain in the depths of his being a happy man.
I want to talk about this and what meaning I get from it.
A man who has once perceived, however temporarily and however briefly, what makes greatness of soul, can no longer be happy if he allows himself to be petty, self-seeking, troubled by trivial misfortunes, dreading what fate may have in store for him.
Here he uses the term soul, but by reading the text and context we can understand that he seems to mean ‘human consciousness’ – the embodiment of what it is to be human. Yes, that is my interpretation, but I think that you too will conclude this when you read the text. The link to the text is above.
A person who manages to even glimpse what it is that makes human consciousness magnificent cannot ever be happy when they allow themselves to be mired in the pettiness of day to day human drama. When we bother ourselves with trivial worries like who won the game on Sunday or worry about the future, we cannot be happy in contrast with what we know of the magnificence of human consciousness. Note here that there is a significant difference between planning for the future and worrying about it. The trivialities of common human drama distract us from what we know to be wondrous and worthy endeavors. E.G. To pray for a certain election result while children starve is to ignore what we know to be a worthy cause by distracting ourselves with trivial and petty worries. In contrast to the wonder that human consciousness is these petty concerns prevent us from truly being happy. You don’t have to agree with that though I hope that if you think of it long enough you’ll understand that helping starving children is much more satisfying and gratifying than rooting for a winning team.
The man capable of greatness of soul will open wide the windows of his mind, letting the winds blow freely upon it from every portion of the universe.
When we find ourselves capable of contemplating the magnificence of human consciousness we often enough begin to see the universe differently, where we are but a miniscule part of a very large thing. We are stardust. We are, we exist. There is no more wondrous a contemplation than this in my mind. Those tiny holes in the firmament, as it was described by some, are the furnaces which created the stuff that we are made of. The trillions of cells that come together to be ‘us’ were spit from those furnaces in great explosions so large as to be nearly incomprehensible.
He will see himself and life and the world as truly as our human limitations will permit; realising the brevity and minuteness of human life, he will realise also that in individual minds is concentrated whatever of value the known universe contains.
As much as can be understood by the human brain will be understood when we understand our place in the world; when we see the reality that life is short, harsh, and without meaning on a scale that would encompass the universe we can see what life really is because it is then that we see it in contrast with all else, all other knowledge. All the meaning in the universe and any meaning that can be said of life, if such can be accomplished, is held within the experiences that we collect and the knowledge we acquire in our own lives. There may not be any way that philosophers can agree that we can know something or even anything, but there is what we know and have experienced for ourselves. This knowledge is all that there is for each of us and the only way that we can verify that it is not wrong, as far as we can know this, is to find out what experiences that others have in common with us; what experiences can be repeated and tested and verified. When we design to share our experiences and learn from the experiences of others and to experiment with things to find better ways to know things about the universe – then we are fulfilling the best of what Russell referred to as ‘soul’ and we have truly lived the meaning of life if there is to be any meaning at all.
And he will see that the man whose mind mirrors the world becomes in a sense as great as the world. In emancipation from the fears that beset the slave of circumstance he will experience a profound joy, and through all the vicissitudes of his outward life he will remain in the depths of his being a happy man.
When we are truly living in this manner, no matter the slings and arrows of life, we will be happy in the depths of our existence. When we reach for the stars in years to come we will not simply find extraordinary things. We will find a purpose and meaning that we had forbid ourselves to even have thought of previously.
UPDATE: John Zande of The Superstitious Nake Ape suggested this video. I can’t agree more.
When we see existence in this fuller way, we will know that in the time that it took to read this post maybe a dozen children will have starved to death. Do you know how long that takes? Try searching for it
Every day there are more people who die from starvation than died on 9/11 in New York City. Every fucking day! Look into your ‘soul’ as Russell calls it and tell me that this knowledge does not affect you. Use the brain between your ears, see the world as if visiting it for the first time and ask yourself what manner of beings live here? What does it mean to be human? Would you want to be human too? Would you invite these humans to your planet? Would you share with them?
Read that again. No matter that there are so many religious people and organizations on the face of this planet, Undernutrition contributes to 2.6 million deaths of children under five each year – one third of the global total.
I did the math for you, it’s about 5 children every minute, or one child died every 12 seconds. Not just for the last 12 but for every 12 seconds that you’ve been alive.
Did you watch reality television this week, or ask a god to help you find your car keys but never once thought about the children who died during your prayer or while you listened to the bickering of real-not-fake-big-money-housewifes? Is your world view really all that? Did your objective morality feed any children? Did your church make sandwiches to send to them?
Well, I can’t go to work and come home after and not think of such things. I will never be happy deep inside because for every happy moment I experience there are children who died. They starved to death in a horrible way – neglected; neglected by the rest of humanity. I can’t save them all, neither can you… well, it seems that way. To walk through life all happy and content you have to be able to not think of that and to me you are not truly living if you do that, and it might be argued that you deny yourself the wonder of being a conscious human, the wonder of being alive, the wonder of being at all.
But then maybe you thought he meant something else.
What are your thoughts?