Existential Crisis

Why? What? How? Where? When? … Those five constitute the five fundamental pillars of the philosophical conundrum of life. Everybody seeks answers to these questions. And nobody finds an answer to these questions. Some formulate their own answers that satisfy their limited world-view and which seems to work reasonably well when applied to the limited context of their own lives. Yet others derive answers from external sources – most notably lending absolute weight and credence to divine texts from 2000 (or 5000 or 1700 – take your pic) years ago. Yet others simply give up and prefer to occupy themselves with the rigors and vagaries of everyday life. But even though a vast majority find self-fulfilling answers to these questions or simply ignore them altogether, a small fraction of people find themselves perenially gridlocked in the miserable pursuit to find them, very often at the cost of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Such people sacrifice their sense of well being at the altar of truth and for them, there can be no true happiness without knowledge, no true freedom without elucidation.

Existential crisis is a state where the mind is continuously preoccupied with the indefinite iteration of a set of inescapable facts – that human life is inconsequential and perhaps futile, that we are insignificant and irrelevant in the context of the cosmos. The term “cosmos” is a term which has several discrete levels of granularity – the result of finite quantization applied to a continuous greyscale in order to enable comprehension by our minds. “Cosmos” might refer to your city or your country, to the state of absolute corruption that exists in society, to the social and economic unfairness in the world, to the seemingly arbitrary nature of everything around us, to the Solar System, to the Galaxy, to the Universe and beyond.

Not coincidentally, people who undergo this condition, tend to set a high bar for being satisfied with a particular theory/recipe as an answer – and therefore, find it extraordinarily hard to find emotional and spiritual resonance with a significant body of mainstream spiritual/emotional thought. Such people are unable to accept simplistic narratives which reek of naivete and melodrama (but which they grudgingly admit might cause people to be happy). Eventually, the repeated rejection of all possible avenues for seeking answers leads to an exponentially increasing onset of cynicism and bitterness. And the more time one spends ruminating, the more difficult it is for the ego to accept a simplistic explanation, thereby admitting not only defeat but also self-realization of how useless the entire exercise has been.

If one were to go purely by Scientific and Rational thought, then such people would indeed be vindicated – for theirs is the only method compatible and consistent with rational arguments – especially by their explicit rejection of improbable and juveline notions about dieties, afterlife and such – and more especially by their explicit rejection to attribute the ontology and epistemology or morality to an ultimate creator. However, it is rightly postulated that “ignorance is bliss”, whose corollary implies that excessive rational thought and/or introspection and/or contemplation is counter-productive and disruptive to the process of life itself.

To paraphrase the Matrix:
Neo: I can’t go back, can I?
Morpheus: No. But if you could, would you really want to?

–ย Written by Guest Writer, Rajiv Iyer, as a run-up to this blogโ€™s 3rd blogoversary.

18 thoughts on “Existential Crisis

  1. I like how you have put things into perspective ๐Ÿ™‚

    It is not always possible to answer a “why”. Indeed it is sometimes better to not do it even when there is that possibility. However, I must stress that while the theological works only provide false gratification and temporary relief to this innate human problem of asking “why?”, it is only rational thought that will tell you that there is no need for a purpose for everything.

    Perhaps this video will help you understand what I mean : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mT4EWCRfdUg


    1. @Aamil: Aah yes, Dawkins! I thought I have seen all of his videos – but apparently not! ๐Ÿ˜‰ …. perhaps you misunderstood me …. I am an atheist. And I am a nihilist.

      And I agree with you. My original post said as much. Rational thought is indeed the right way to go.

      My point is merely that like everything, rationality has a price. And like everything, when done in excess, rational thought robs you of the ability to believe in ridiculous bull shit that makes you happy (and subjugated) and happily subjugated. And excessive rational inquisitiveness makes it hard for us to accept Occam’s Razor (or perhaps God’s Occam Razor) and sets us up for being dissatisfied with most (or may be ALL) explanations.

      The end of my post is especially noteworthy – where I contemplate on whether I would like to abandon the rational awakening I have undergone in favor of subjugating myself to farcical naive notions with a view to developing a more cheerful disposition.


      1. I don’t know man. I have been religious for the past 21 years, submitting to every little condescending subjugation that it threw at me; and we are talking of Islam, so it is the worst kind of subjugation imaginable! But being rational has brought much more happiness to me than that. Even believing that there is a mega daddy in the sky who loves you unconditionally* but wants you to worship him in return, never brought me the kind of bliss that is promised.

        Now that I know I am not immortal and that I don’t have a soul (BTW, all those who believe they “have” a soul are wrong anyway, as they themselves are supposed to be the “soul”), I try to make the most of my life and enjoy it. I have also gained tremendous respect for other people’s lives as well! Earlier I used to think – “Poor guy! God is testing him, but he will surely be rewarded in after life.. I will pray for him..” now, it is more on the lines of – “He doesn’t deserve to live like that.. can I do something to help him out?”

        It is a paradigm shift, and I can sense it.


      2. Funny how you need atheism to tell you that you need to think, “โ€œHe doesnโ€™t deserve to live like that..can I do something to help him out?โ€ It’s damned hilarious! ๐Ÿ˜€ Just goes to show how you learnt zilch while you were being taught. When I was growing up I was taught that if there is a stone or a piece of glass on the road I should move it o that it does’t hurt someone. There is a hadith about helping others, but I won’t waste it on you.

        Paradigm shift, you say? ๐Ÿ˜€ I can see it very well. Hope atheism makes you a little more human! Oh wait, I see it hasn’t as yet. But sometime later, maybe. I have faith.

        P.S: “Submitting to subjugation?” You’re very funny, you know. =D


      3. Sameen …. I can now realize why you never wish to discuss God …. it is perhaps too personal to your individual core.

        This is not the case with most rationalists and atheists. We wouldn’t felt a personal offense and froth at the mouth if somebody burns atheist books or criticizes our line of inquiry.

        Having said that, it is prudent to just make peace for now. I am sure no one is truly interested in carrying on this till the end of time and space. I wish you well in life and if God/religion adds meaning and semantics in your life, then so be it. As long as it makes you a better person, then it is a placebo which is worth it.

        I just wish that all religious people demonstrate a sense of maturity and detachment. We have every right to criticize a political belief or an economic school of thought. Some of us criticize capitalism, some communism, some both. Some of us passionately criticize libertarianism, some liberalism and some pacifism. My simple point is why should religion be excluded from criticism and rational thought? I hope that religious people are able to demonstrate better grace and better wisdom in understanding that we don’t wish it personally on them. That as rational human beings, we would criticize religion just as we would criticize a political/socio-economic philosophy which we disagree with.


      4. I do not doubt the sense of awakening in you, neither the new lack of encumbrances that religious dogma had placed on your shoulders.

        I wholeheartedly agree with you. However, as Hitchens himself said that an atheist could be a nihilist or a fascist or a pacifist or a humanist or a weird weighted concoction of several of the above. And he says that recognizing that is the first step in acknowledging human liberty and free will.

        For me, the existential crisis is not as associated with rational inquiry with respect to God/religion as it is associated with the gloomy realization that no matter whether I am a hard working software engineer or a cutting edge journalist – corruption and corporate oligarchy and financial plutocracy and social inequality is still going to exist and thrive.

        That no matter what I do (even if I help a poor blind man on the streets) – the world is going to be deeply deeply flawed, unfair and corrupt at a fundamental level. That is the major factor which fuels my nihilism and paralyses me into a profound sense of general melancholy and despair and drives me into an existential crisis.


      5. I have felt the same thing. Sometimes, I wonder if it is our huge population that is in the way of any reform.. It takes a lot of time for any change to permeate a group of people. Especially when they have conformed to it and all of them, albeit to varying degrees. I was reading a book called “The Stand” by Stephen King which talks of a post-apocalyptic world where there are very few people left. However, they start having supernatural experiences and some of them become evil (although they are convinced that they are not) while others do good. The book basically tells us that we are evil or good by nature and we can’t really help it. Although I disagree, I still feel that it must have been what people long back might have thought of. They must have pondered over their conditions and come up with codes to overcome the problems in society. However, over time as the population grew, there were disgruntled people who decided that they were being left out and took up arms. Slowly they gathered and grew in number and formed separate civilizations. Those prejudices have been passed on to us for so many years and new prejudices are being added to it every day. The reason why I explained all this to you is that I wanted to let you know what exactly I am thinking when I say this..

        We all are right according to us. Indeed, we humans don’t do things until we have convinced ourselves that we are right. Even psychopaths do that, using weird anmd downright insane explanations to justify their actions to themselves. Perhaps there is no way to change this entirely, but you can definitely influence people around you to do the right thing.. Some people get to influence millions, while some can only manage their near family. However, that is in no way a failure. When you change even one thing in this world, it may even be as small an act as having planted and cared for a tree, you have made a difference. Surely you have done more than that. Hence, your existence has meaning.


  2. I totally agree with the idea that too much of rumination on this topic leads to cynicism. It progresses steadily till one day, voila, you become a nihilist. It takes me a lot of effort to stay a cynic and not a nihilist, but that won’t last long ๐Ÿ˜€


  3. Your questions about Why what where how when is indeed correct.
    But then if you start questioning your existence then there is no
    meaning in life.
    As long as you are young and not having responsibility you would tend to get into these riddles and seek answers.
    Once you assume responsibility and are accountable for somebody’s
    life then your existence is not for you but for others.
    Then these questions you pose are easily answerable and you get
    a meaning in life.


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