One of my most vivid childhood memories is of my six-year-old self, walking up to my dad, and asking are you real?
My dad fortunately didn’t conform to the Chinese parent stereotype, who would have immediately sent his crazy daughter off to a psychiatrist, while waiting impatiently outside, tapping the tip of his leather shoe on the floor. Not to generalize of course. He patted me on the shoulder, his figure composed, – only now do I know that he was in fact quite terrified at the moment – and told me that he was real.
I stared at the faded pink sofa in our living room. Sometimes, I said, I just feel like I’m the only person alive, you know? I think everyone around me, including you and mom, are simply paintings hanging on the walls.
Then, me in the past would hum and go back into my room, skipping.
The idea that everyone around me was not real, haunted me every time my mother took me shopping. The eyeless mannequins followed me with their eyeless faces. The mere thought that everyone around me could be a mannequin was enough for my younger self to start having nightmares about those humanoid beasts coming to life.
Likewise, I am now terrified of dolls, puppets, and clowns.
After some considerable research on the matter in the past week – mostly done using Wikipedia and YouTube – I have found out that some psychologists believe that infants are solipsistic, but they eventually grow out of it as they get older.
*** A small definition ***
Solipsism (according to Wikipedia) is the philosophical idea that one’s own mind is sure to exist.
I am not a solipsist, nor will I probably ever be. I am not one of the conspiracy theory fanatics who spend late nights researching how aliens exist and control the United States government. I’m writing this blog because after I’ve done a considerable amount of research on solipsism, I read up on many more different philosophical ideas that intrigue me.
What caught my eye was nihilism, the philosophical viewpoint that rejects all meaning in life, which in turn reminded me of an essay I had read earlier last year, The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus. Camus takes on the Greek myth of the hero Sisyphus, pushing an enormous rock to the top of the mountain for eternity, and introduces the idea that life, in all of its struggle, lacks meaning and utility.
Naturally, I then binge-watched several videos on YouTube (not to mention late at night where the creepy scale of everything quadruples) explaining all the different philosophies that deal with the undeniable fact that a human being is nothing more than a speck of stardust in the seemingly endless universe.
Think of yourself as a dust particle for a minute, drifting through the hallways of a school or a workplace, floating amongst billions of other dust particles. Now widen the scale, make your school a speck within billions of other specks. Next, make the earth a speck. Then the solar system. The milky way. Still, that is just a small part of the universe
It’s unimaginably depressing.
To my greatest relief, I stumbled upon another YouTube video entitled Optimistic Nihilism, which I feverishly clicked on. The clock ticked to one, my eyelids could’ve sunk to the ground, but I watched on.
I watched as it first defined Nihilism with all the painful details, experiencing all the while as a brand new gush of fear washed over me. But then it proceeded to talk about a new approach to the situation, a new way of looking at Nihilism.
By acknowledging Nihilism, by accepting it, it gives us freedom – if the universe has no meaning, then we are to grant meaning to it. Picture yourself as a shark in the ocean, see the vastness of blue; now a falcon in the sky, feel the wind gushing through your feathers. Picture yourself as an astronaut, you are drifting, like the dust particle from earlier, but this time, picture all the images of stars and galaxies that you have seen on the internet. Picture yourself becoming one of them. The universe is vast, and humans like to think that we are superior to all the rest of the world, but Nihilism tells us that we’re not. We are just as much part of the universe as any other living or non-living being.
Accepting the truth sets us free.
I am thinking of all the small moments that I have been gloomy, joyous, scared. All these moments add up to mean something – that we are the part of the universe that is feeling and that is thinking. There are so many stories to write, so many new places to visit, so many books to buy, so many things to do.
It is in the struggle, that we give life meaning.