The Phenomenon of Existence (preface)

By Will Baker


Okay, so I have spent a good deal of time writing a bunch of essays and posting them to the Internet (I know, "so-what"). I have also corresponded with a good many of you--on occasion at great length. I have also had the pleasure of meeting a few of you face to face, and during our interaction, invariably, our discussions have centered upon questions that delve into the meaning of life. And it seems to me that by virtue of this interaction we may have even helped one another.

Perhaps it is the strange times we seem to be living in, with the markets "tanking" as they are, or the spectacle of corporate executives being led away in handcuffs that has caused me to become contemplative. Or maybe it is the fact that this modest endeavor has reached a somewhat dubious milestone-that by sheer volume of manufactured tripe I have managed to demonstrate my total lack of a life, but for whatever the reason, I feel compelled to reflect on the project. So please forgive this old lecture.

I remember when I was first exposed to those famous words written by the Continental Rationalist philosopher Descartes: "I think therefore I am." It wasn’t so much the words that blew me away, but the context within which they were rendered. You see here was a man who was attempting to identify those things that he could be absolutely certain of. And in the end, the only thing that he could hang his hat on was the fact of his own existence, and the implications that flowed from that reality. In his opinion, everything else had its basis in faith.

God, love, work, trust, purpose: he could be certain of none of these things, only his existence, only the sound of his own thoughts. He knew that he perceived these feelings, therefore he knew he existed. And in articulating this idea he did me a favor, in that, for me at least he defined what it is to be human. You know it occurs to me that by extension one can therefore conclude, "we" think, therefore "we" are.

I do believe there is a meaning to life, and this meaning is personal and uniquely relative to each one of us, but I further believe that life’s meaning has something to do with achieving an understanding of our collective humanity. In addition, it seems to me that this cooperative understanding might represent a sort of event horizon unto our united actualization. Therefore, it seems to me that the real question isn’t why am I here, but rather why are we here.

So we know that we think, therefore we are, but gentle reader, what do we do with this thinking? Well, to state the thing simply, we live. I wonder is that then the meaning of life, to live as a collective we? One could perhaps further state that the meaning of life is to live "well" collectively, but it seems to me that notions such as wellness, like fairness, or good and evil are so subjective, that they really hold no collective meaning. For what seems fair to one person could seem very unfair to another.

Here’s to the notion that perhaps the meaning of life is to live collectively. Oh my, can it really be that simple? Well, it might be a simple ambition to state, but it seems to me the historic record of war and aggression demonstrates that it could be a difficult thing to accomplish. As we organize ourselves into political divisions and then go about the business of living our lives we look to our own self-interests--perhaps rightly so, but what if our own self-interests actually reside within the self-interests of the collective? And given the sad manner, in which we sometimes treat each other, would that not be an ironic thing?

Part 1: The Phenomenon of Existence


 (Essay Collection)