“Why I?” An Essay on Existence
by Julien Haller
This post elaborates my understanding of some of the most involved questions concerning our reality and existence. Given the vastness of the scope here, I wanted to make three disclaimers before you began:
1) In the interest of time and space, I tried to make it as brief as possible. However, this might have resulted in me leaving out something crucial to the development of my assertions. I do not think I did, but will update the post with extra material should any of you point something out.
2) Much of this post was constructed using my knowledge of various sciences. However, I do not have a doctorate in any of them; therefore, I do not consider myself a true scientist. As a result, it is possible that I have made scientific errors below. Again, I do not think I did, but will make any necessary updates should any of you point something out.
3) My ideas concerning the broad issues discussed below are vast and more interconnected than you might imagine. As a result of this, I have often considered them to never be finished until I die. Therefore, it is not impossible that I might come to new understandings as new information is made known to me. So don’t be surprised if, in some future post, I make qualifications to the arguments below.
Beside all the disclaimers, I think you will find the below post unique and thought-provoking, and I cannot wait to hear what everyone thinks.
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My entire life I have delved into philosophical questions concerning life, the universe, and everything. I will not enumerate all of them here, but most can be summed up in a childish look at the world and asking, “Why?”
Over the years, the exact nature of these questions has varied. As a child, being raised in a Southern Baptist home, my questions often concerned God, such as, “Is God perfect because he’s perfectly in accordance with the Laws that supersede him, or is it that the Laws are perfect because God promulgated them?”
But once I evolved into a teenager (a rather irritating and cocky one at that), my questions were more political and social. For those of you who have read my book, you know that I spent most of this time as a raging libertarian.
Thankfully, I outgrew this defect.
It has only been in the past few years though that I have begun to address the questions of existence itself again, this time without the crutch of religion. Admittedly, I have come to few answers. However, I did come to a question that I think best expresses the springboard from which we can transcend the distance between our observable reality and the central, and unobservable, anchor, the fundamental existence, from which it derives.
This is that question: “Why I? Why do I see through these eyes, the eyes of Julien Haller, and not another’s eyes?”
It may seem a strange way to construct the question. Why not write, “Why me?” It seems more grammatically correct, doesn’t it? You are right there, but the two have completely different meanings. But, to understand those meanings, I will need to explain to you how I understand the difference between our subjective existence and its objective expression within the fabric of this, our observable reality.
Before I begin my explanation, you will need to know how I define “systems” and “entities.”
1) Entities: individual manifestations which cannot be subdivided. An entity can be thought of as a fundamental unit of “existence” as it is given within the fabric of this reality.
2) Systems: a collection of entities which constitute a cohesive whole. A system’s expression within this reality has less to do with the individual expressions of the entities which comprise it, and more with how they are interconnected to formulate a manifestation over and beyond that of any of its constituent entities.
Systems and entities can come in two different modes: spatial and temporal. Spatial systems and entities are what you probably imagined when I first defined the two terms. They are objective manifestations with spatial extent.
Physicists are still looking for the fundamental particle, or, as I call it, the fundamental unit of existence. The most recent development has been String Theory. But, the exact properties of this fundamental unit are irrelevant so long as you remember how they are defined: physical manifestations in reality that cannot be subdivided.
A spatial system, on the other hand, is easily pictured. Imagine an atom: it is a system of protons, neutrons, and electrons, arranged according to the laws which comprise the fabric of our reality. Or, for an even larger object, imagine a car engine. It too is a system comprised of fundamental units of existence.
However, the forms and states of these spatial entities and systems evolve through sequences of events; therefore, it is necessary to discuss temporal entities and systems as well.
A temporal entity, what I will define as a “moment,” is the smallest unit of time possible. It cannot be subdivided and within its extent there is no movement, or evolution. To imagine the whole of the universe in one moment, you could think of it as a snapshot of all forms and states of all entities and systems within the universe.
But things do evolve, so we also need to understand temporal systems, what I will define as “narratives.” Narratives are collected moments meant to present a picture of some evolution. If we wanted to know how the universe has evolved, we would take snapshots of each of its moments and string them together according to some sequence of events.
But in what order should we string them? Theoretically, we could create temporal systems, or narratives, in any arrangement we want (anybody see the movie Memento?). But the evolution of our universe is sequenced in a very specific way. It is the product of iterated sequences of cause and effect, where the effect of one cause becomes the cause of the next effect. So what governs this sequence of cause and effect within our observable reality? Time, which itself can be said to be governed by the flow of entropy.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that a closed system will always tend toward greater entropy, which is a measure of energy not readily usable for work. In its macroscopic form, this means that any “engine” (engine used here loosely just to give an accessible image) performing work by a given “amount” of energy will not use said energy with 100% efficiency, releasing some of it as heat into the environment. In its statistical form, concerning the atomic arrangements which allow for work to be possible, this principle states that all systems tend toward “randomness,” which decreases energy gradients necessary for the performance of work.
It has been suggested that entropy flows in the direction of time: as entropy in the universe always increases, time always moves forward. For an example of the parallel movements of these two abstract ideas, consider a box with a divider down the center and, on one side, you have hot gas and, on the other, cold. Once you lift the divider, the two gases will begin to mix, increasing the entropy of the system. Now imagine, after the gases completely mix, that they spontaneously separated again into hot and cold. Seems odd, right? It would almost seem like you were watching a video being rewound . . . and that is why the two are considered to move in the same direction.
Since entropy flows in a continuous fashion, and in only one direction (i.e. greater entropy), then time itself can be viewed as a system of moments strung along in a linear and continuous fashion, which is what allows us to determine cause and effect. If it were not linear, then there would be no before and after to give rise to cause and effect. If it were not continuous, then the sequence would have illogical “jumps” in it within which our causes and effects would be disconnected, and therefore not really be causes and effects at all.
We now have a picture of how the spatial expressions of existence evolve: in a linear and continuous sequence of moments that parallels the increase of entropy in the universe. However, this principle does not mean that localized systems cannot experience a decrease in entropy. This is perfectly plausible; it just means that the entropy of the system’s “environment” (i.e. the rest of the universe) increases by an amount greater than that of the system’s decrease. In other words, some evolution of natural processes can result in work being performed on a system, arranging its constituent entities in a state of higher potential energy and order, and thus lower entropy, but the total entropy of the system and its environment will still increase.
And now we are ready to talk about life. An organic system which we term “alive” is a naturally arising system which, by virtue of an accidental evolution where some form of work was performed on said system, has three key properties.
1) The system functions as a series of subsystems which work on each other in such a way that, in an effort to release their own potential energy and achieve equilibrium, they increase the potential energy and lower the entropy of their neighboring subsystems, which then do the same thing to their neighboring subsystems. The result is that the system as a whole is able to maintain low entropy levels for long periods of time.
2) The system must have built-in mechanisms which serve to search and consume external sources of energy as needed. This is what is called “metabolism.” These external sources of energy allow the subsystems to continue to function as described above. Once all the usable energy of the external source is extracted, the rest is emitted as body heat, excretion, etc.
3) The system must not use the energy it consumes for maintenance of its baseline functioning alone. It must also have mechanisms by which it can, by consuming extra energy, over and beyond that needed for baseline functioning, produce more of itself through the processes of reproduction, development, and growth.
An inorganic system meets the criteria of number one, but it is by virtue of number three and half of number two that these organic systems are differentiated from inorganic systems. I believe the difference between the two in the third property should be obvious, but the difference in the second property is a little more subtle. A car engine needs external sources of energy as well, namely gasoline, but the difference is that it does not have a mechanism by which it can recognize that need and search for gasoline on its own. It is an artificial construction made to serve a purpose, and it relies on external intervention for its continued function. But organic systems, the product of natural accident and having no purpose, have the need for metabolized energy coded into their construction. In the beginning, with the first forms of life, this was necessary for its continued function because, with no other systems aware of its need or able to intervene, it had to be reliant on its own built-in mechanism to trigger that need and fulfill it.
For an unconscious example of these mechanisms, consider heliotropism. By this mechanism, plants and flowers will actually grow in such a way that bends them toward light to maximize their sunlight exposure, and thus maximize their access to metabolic energy. This is achieved by sensory receptors which receive information from sunlight and then conduct cell growth and development in such a way that bends the plant’s stalk toward the light.
But what about conscious life? How do its mechanisms for metabolic awareness differ? Conscious organic systems have sensory receptors as well, but the difference lies in how the sensory receptors are wired.
In plants, the sensory receptors are directly linked with the outputs they achieve. Back to heliotropism, a plant’s receptors receive information about light, and this information is directly fed into the output of growth in such a manner as to maximize sunlight exposure. There is no central site in which all this information is collected, so the petals know not what the roots do.
This is not the case in most animal life. For most animals, all sensory data is shipped from the sight of reception off to a central site for processing: the brain. So billions of inputs all feed into one site and, at any given moment (i.e. singular unit of time), they crash together and out pops a singular manifestation of the inputs, what we call consciousness.
This consciousness is singular and incapable of being subdivided, much like how I described an entity, but it is immaterial. So, from a system of existential units arises not only a material system, but also a singular expression of sensory data which serves as a foundation to the impetus for an animal’s search for resources. Unlike the plant and its heliotropism, the inputs which give an animal data about his external conditions do not directly determine his outputs, or how he conducts said search. The inputs form a singular perception of his external condition which informs how he will respond, but it does not determine it in a one-to-one fashion between the inputs and outputs.
Obviously though, with regard to human life, that search for resources has broadened far past our metabolic needs, and can even clash with them (e.g. suicide). I will not illustrate exactly how in this post. In another document I have spent over forty pages and 25,000 words on elaborating what makes the human mind unique and still feel like I have yet to scratch the surface. Suffice it to say, the expansion of scope in the human consciousness is vast and what allows us to even consider the questions I am addressing here.
We are almost ready to come back to the original question that started this bafflingly long post, but the notion of conscious experience needs to be touched on. Consciousness is the vehicle by which animals are able to experience the existence of which their objective form is a manifestation. Inorganic systems, and organic systems without consciousness, do not experience their existence. Their system composition is an expression of existence no less than any animal with consciousness, but without consciousness they cannot experience said existence. This is so because existence in and of itself has no mechanism by which it can have experience, and animals only obtain experience by virtue of their specific form (i.e. an organic system with a brain), not by having a form at all.
So, starting from the fundamental unit of existence, we have come to consciousness, and now I ask again, “Why I? Why do I see through the eyes of Julien Haller and not another’s?”
(***NOTE: Due to the strict subjectivity I am trying to illustrate in the following paragraphs, my words might come across as convoluted and ill-constructed. I apologize for that, but it is inherent to the matter of which I speak. Subjectivity is the I-ness of which I speak, and can only turn upon itself by objectifying itself (i.e. looking at myself as ‘Julien Haller’) which is precisely what I am trying to avoid. In short, there really is no preexisting grammatical structures by which I can express these ideas, and thus I must feel my way through it and am bound to fail at times. I am sure you will appreciate the predicament here and grant me leniency.)
Hopefully you now understand why I stated it this way, but, just in case you don’t, here’s a quick explanation. I am asking about my subjective existence, that which animates my material and objective form. If I said “me,” I would be talking about the form itself, Julien Haller. It would be as if I, as a subjective existence, stood outside of my form as Julien Haller, and then looked back at it, pointing and asking. But I, as a subjective existence, want to ask why I, also as a subjective existence, inhabit this form, and not another’s, why I must experience as Julien Haller. Since this sort of question defies grammatical syntax, I felt it best to construct it in a manner that was openly defiant of grammar.
Unfortunately, big letdown, I don’t have an answer. The rules that govern the little slice of existence which inhabits our material forms are not a part of our observable universe; or, at least, we have not found them and I seriously doubt it is possible to find them. As a result, I cannot say why I see through the eyes I do.
But let’s assume there is a selection process by which our little slice of existence is given expression within our current reality. For me, the next logical question is, “Will I see again?” Once I die, or, more specifically, once Julien Haller dies, will I have form once more? Will I see, will I live, again?
I believe the answer is “yes,” but I will never be Julien Haller again. He is no more than an expression of this fundamental existence, a mortal one at that. His physical and perceptional arrangements will fall apart once the metabolic processes which sustain them fail.
However, the fundamental existence, that which animates us all, and which is no different from one expression to the other, will remain. It is the eternal and timeless aspect of us, that which, within the arrangement of a conscious being, I call the I-ness. So I believe that I will be “reborn,” or, more specifically, that I will see again, that there will be another expression for which I can be the I-ness.
It is not certain that my next form will be a conscious one though. Whether or not it will be has to do with the laws which govern the movements of the fundamental existence, a realm which is, as I have already mentioned, unobservable and thus unknowable. But if I am not reconstituted in a conscious being, then I will not be an “I,” and it is only by I-ness that time can be experienced. So, no matter how long I spend not being an “I,” it will not even be the smallest of moments from my perception, because I will not have a perception to know the smallest of moments.
And thus is my post concluded. If you made it this far, pat yourself on the back, and know that I owe you a gold star. It was long and involved, but still you weathered the storm of what I hope to be an adequate explanation, but admit might not be. That must be determined by you. And I hope you will leave comments and questions. If you do, I will be sure to answer them. For now, thank you for reading, and I hope this post has in some way bettered your experience of existence.