A big hello to all the unbelievers :) I'm new to this site- so to start off, I'd like to share some thoughts and see whether there are any other people here who have had a similar experience to me- especially if they have any advice.

What I'm referring to is what my friend and confidant has helpfully termed for me, the 'side effects' of atheism. I've been a confirmed atheist for about 5 years now, after a period of about 3 years soul searching, prior to which I was a Christian. I'm happy to be at this stage in my journey and in many ways, as I'm sure many of you will agree, letting go of delusions has been the most liberating and positive experience of my life. I might also add here that, as well as being an atheist (i.e. not believing in a deity) I am scientifically minded in other aspects of the 'supernatural', and don't believe in either an afterlife or the soul. I accept evolution, and universal chaos, as the ultimate reality. And most of the time, that sits fine with me.

However, I've started to realise why people are so quick to delude themselves. But since my mind will not logically allow me to do that, I have to learn to overcome these feelings rationally.  For me, there have been a few things that I am finding hard to 'overcome' and make peace with. Here we go...

-First, there is the slow realisation that we are all fundamentally alone. Has anyone else experienced this loneliness? No matter who we are with, or how many friends we have or how deep our relationship- we are all single units... we experience our deepest emotions alone. We are alone inside our heads. It probably doesn't help that I'm part of an atheist minority in a world obsessed with god. Anyway, I can only describe this recent realisation as an 'emptiness', and I'm not surprised at all that most people try to fill this with the notion of an all knowing, all loving father figure.

-Not only are we alone, but we are also incidental. Our lives are a mere puff of wind that will be extinguished forever in the amount of time that, in relative, universal terms, is the mere blink of an eye. We don't matter- and nothing we do matters. And I'm sorry to sound depressing here- it's reality, nonetheless- that we will all die. Everyone we love will die. As we get older, we'll watch them go, one by one- and then it'll be our turn. I really do doubt whether most people have actually faced this reality up front. It certainly takes some time to come to terms with. I think it could probably be rightly described as 'existential anxiety'.

-Since there is no god, all we have is the world we're in and our fellow humans that inhabit it. And here's where the main problem lies: humans suck. They kill and massacre their own kind, they lie, they discriminate, they cause animals to suffer, they destroy the planet, they steal, they rape... yes, these are extreme behaviours but even the average human- who may not necessarily be bad- is fundamentally selfish. Evolution necessitates that- we have to survive. Each to their own and each looking out for themselves. I can understand why this reality would necessitate a doctrine which calls us to love each other, and why this important truth has been clung to for thousands of years. I can also understand why people would cling to the notion of a beautiful, peaceful afterlife... oh absolutely. Because the reality of this world is pretty hard to take sometimes.

Perhaps emotion is a weakness in evolutionary terms.... I can tell you for sure that when I look around and see the state of the world at the hands of cold hearted humans, I feel more alone than ever. And sometimes I think, well- maybe after 70 or so years on this world, I'll probably be more than happy to turn my back on it.

Any thoughts anyone? Has anyone else been through this period of coming to terms to reality? I'd love to hear about your feelings and experiences and how, if at all, you cope with them.

Tags: atheism, death, evolution, humans, reality

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Daniel Rambling can open doors to interesting places. It can also let doors to painful places remain closed.

Put a few chemicals in water, add electricity, and let some time pass. Some research suggests that methane, not oxygen, made the resulting amino acids possible. Not lucky; inevitable.

You and I are alive because some big and strong cyanobacteria gobbled up the nearby smaller and weaker cyanobacteria. It was hunger, not luck.

If the nearby smaller and weaker cyanobacteria had collected allies they would have nibbled away at the big and strong cyanobacteria. Their offspring would have survived.

Where would that have put you and me?

"Put a few chemicals in water, add electricity, and let some time pass. Some research suggests that methane, not oxygen, made the resulting amino acids possible. Not lucky; inevitable."

Yes, the abiogenesis process works.  The luck is in that this little ball happened to contain the necessary elements (whatever they may have been; and methane is likely, since oxygen was originally toxic to early Life) in the necessary ratios, having a temperature that was just right for liquid water, and had an electrically active atmosphere.

Sure, when you put all of the necessary ingredients together, the result is inevitable.  Having all of the necessary ingredients in the first place is not.

Of course, the argument can be made that out of the unimaginably vast multitude of planets in our universe, due to probability there has to have been at least one (very likely a great deal more than one) that had the right conditions.  The argument can also be made that perhaps Life will also arise under vastly different conditions than we've observed (maybe Life does not require liquid water, maybe Life can be based around other, non-carbon-based molecules, etc.), but so far, that's just hypothesis, and our experience tells us otherwise.

But as for our particular story, we happened to be one of the planets that hit the jackpot.

"You and I are alive because some big and strong cyanobacteria gobbled up the nearby smaller and weaker cyanobacteria. It was hunger, not luck."

Perhaps, but it was luck that those organisms happened to be bigger than those around them, and then it was luck that all of the subsequent generations survived their particular set of hardships.  Hell, just a few generations ago within our current species, the rate of infant mortality was high enough that simply living to adulthood was a shaky prospect.  Our ancestors were the ones lucky enough to "make it out alive".  And in days before modern medicine, it often did come down to luck (lucky to not become infected with some then-incurable and fatal disease)

And then there's the luck involved in avoiding several extinction events (or being of the proper form to ensure your survival under the subsequent conditions).  There's also a HUGE amount of luck involved in the evolutionary process (yes, the outcome of mutations/adaptations are rigorously tested and proven by the environment, but the mutations themselves are random; it's not that a rabbit needs to be faster, so the next generation has a "fast" mutation; the "fast" mutation may or may not occur at any time... if it is advantageous, it remains by being passed on through the process of natural selection; if not, sorry about your luck)

"If the nearby smaller and weaker cyanobacteria had collected allies they would have nibbled away at the big and strong cyanobacteria. Their offspring would have survived.

Where would that have put you and me?"

Actually, since you've put it this way, we're likely only here because the smaller and weaker guys teamed up.  This is a commonly proposed hypothesis for the formation of the first multi-celled organisms.  They were originally colonies of single-celled organisms that banded together for the common cause of survival, and eventually began to perform different increasingly specialized functions based on location and need in the "body".

But even ignoring this, if we're here because the weaker organisms didn't team up to eat the stronger guys, then isn't that also an element of luck?

My point in all of this is that yes, obviously our particular outcome has occurred, so it was possible from the start, but it had to overcome a large number of obstacles on its way here, most of which are left entirely up to chance.

Hell, we're lucky every single day that an asteroid doesn't smash our planet...lol

Perhaps Life is inevitable, and it will find a way no matter what (we could be lizard-men today, or we might have been silicon-based lifeforms if that had happened to be a more abundant element on our planet, or we might live underwater, etc.).  But our current form and state and environment are only the way they are due to luck, and Life pushing its way through the odds.

And again, I find that to be infinitely more satisfying than saying that we're all here (and continue to be so) through the grace of a higher being.

Yes, the abiogenesis process works.  The luck is in that this little ball happened to contain the necessary elements (whatever they may have been; and methane is likely, since oxygen was originally toxic to early Life) in the necessary ratios, having a temperature that was just right for liquid water, and had an electrically active atmosphere.

I'm not sure "luck" comes into play. The circumstances producing life as we know it are fairly rare, it seems. A planet not too close and not too far away from its star such that water can exist in all three forms, but with liquid water plentiful and an atmosphere with oxygen in it, but not too much since pure oxygen is quite flammable. 

It's not the least bit amazing that we should be here. Here is where we would be were we to be anywhere at all! It's kind of like one mushroom saying to another, "Aren't we lucky there's some shade so that we could exist?" The other mushroom says, "Well, we can't exist out in the sun, so..."

When you talk about "luck," you make it sound like we were in some sort of waiting room passing the time until that lucky day when conditions were right. No, when the right conditions are met, life pops into existence. 

It wasn't luck it was chance. The term "luck" applies whenever someone places some sort of meaning on a chance event. 

When you get down to it, what's so lucky about being born only to discover that one's life is but a brief span of decades, that the human race is doomed to at most a few more 10's of thousands of years, and that ultimately the universe itself will die in a year so far off in the future that we don't even have a word for a number with so many zeros after it?

It's not luck, it's chemistry and physics. "Luck" is just a word used by people vainly trying to make sense of it.

I'll concede that this is perhaps a argument of semantics. "Chance" is probably the better word, and "lucky" is simply how I feel about the outcome.

Yes, our existence is short and brutal, but I'm glad to have it (though I wouldn't be able to experience the alternative; and no, that wouldn't have been some sort of waiting room, that would be non-existence, of course)

Obviously subjective, but I'd say that existence is better than non-existence (again, though ultimately impossible to compare), and to have  popped into it due to everything lining up just right is a fair bit more "lucky" than all of the possible combinations that didn't.

As Wittgenstein built his later philosophy on, a lot of philosophical issues are built on thinking that grammar somehow corresponds with reality. For example, when you say Obviously subjective, but I'd say that existence is better than non-existence (again, though ultimately impossible to compare), and to have  popped into it due to everything lining up just right is a fair bit more "lucky" than all of the possible combinations that didn't, you are presupposing that there is a waiting room full of beings biding their time to come into the world when the right constellation of conditions manifests itself, but that is absurd. And I said that already, didn't I? I guess it didn't sink in.

The point is, just because you can form a meaningful-sounding sentence or argument, it doesn't follow that there is any meaning beyond is merely sounding meaningful.

I'm not sure that I can agree that the sentiment "I am lucky to exist as compared to something that does not exist" has no meaning.

I can grant you that something that does not exist can't actually be compared to anything, because a non-existent thing by definition has no qualities in reality (hence the "(again, though ultimately impossible to compare)" disclaimer). But I would say that conceptually speaking, since nothingness is beyond our comprehension, our next best recourse is to consider nothing to be something with all qualities set to null.  So in this sense, "existing > not existing".

I'm not sure that I can agree that the sentiment "I am lucky to exist as compared to something that does not exist" has no meaning.

Of course it doesn't mean anything. A comparison requires the examination of two things. If something doesn't exist, how can one examine it in its nonexistence? It's absurd.

I can grant you that something that does not exist can't actually be compared to anything, because a non-existent thing by definition has no qualities in reality (hence the "(again, though ultimately impossible to compare)" disclaimer). But I would say that conceptually speaking, since nothingness is beyond our comprehension, our next best recourse is to consider nothing to be something with all qualities set to null.  So in this sense, "existing > not existing".

Nonexistence isn't a state of being because there is no specific being that doesn't exist. Simply because one can form a grammatical sentence, it doesn't follow that one is really saying or asking anything meaningful. "Sing me a few bars of Ivory soap." Your sentence about setting qualities to null is like that.

Daniel, your existence is a result of chance; it's short and brutal, and you feel lucky about the outcome?

Existence and non-existence are ultimately impossible to compare, but you insist on comparing them.

Sound and fury, signifying what?

Daniel, do you know the term "god of the gap"?

Xians use it. They see a gap in knowledge of evolution and put their god there.

You're putting luck in the gaps.

With this exception, your remark about silicon suggests that you have seen the periodic table and thought about it.

Much else suggests that with little or no thought, you're putting words into strings.

For instance, "...infinitely more satisfying...." Infinitely?

Welcome to life without a crutch. There are some pretty brutal truths when you can't blame god, or are incapable of hiding behind belief's protection. I personally live life through a micro and a macro view of humanity. Let me explain.

We are all part of humanity. When viewed as individuals the species is incredibly diverse, especially in it's knowledge and beliefs. As a whole the species is slowly but surely advancing toward the future. At present it is advancing faster than it's adapting, but adapting none the less. In your life time you will see proof of this for yourself, if you look for it and pay attention. This is my macro view, we are all an itsy bitsy part of humanity, and it's growth.

The micro view: Well that's you. Believe it or not, you have influence. You influence people everyday, your family ,your friends, people you meet. You may off handily say something that changes another thought on a subject. Your being influences how others live. When or if you have children your influence sky rockets and multiplies. Your influence on them become their influence on others. Kind of like the chaos theory, you know butterfly and hurricane.

So.. we're alone in our own heads(anyone who knows me ,is thankful for that) But we're not alone. We won't live forever but our influence carries on for a while, in some cases for a very long time.

Wow what a bunch of mush. My mush, get your own,oh ok,you can borrow it.

Sarah,
Well articulated & impassioned thoughts on pointlessness. Honest, too. Nice work. Here are a few personal conclusions of my own, in no meaningful order...

If everything is relative, would anything exist without it's opposite? Would there be a word for light, if there were no dark? If EVERYONE were beautiful, would anyone be? When I see an ugly person, I think about thanking them for making the world a beautiful place. Without them, it wouldn't be; beautiful.

Additionally, it would seem, there is at least as much LOVE in the world, as there is HATE, at least as much wonder as disgust. Ignore neither. Select a focus. Choose one to guide you. Whichever one you choose as your focus will shape your reality.

Happiness is a choice. Everyone gets a little bummed every once in a while. When I do, I stop & remember that I'm not required by law to dwell on it. I recall that no one is holding a gun to my head & dictating my thoughts. Then, I choose to think of something that will cheer me up. And it does. Often, I try to think of a solution to the thing that has me bummed. Sometimes, I even find one.

Sartre: (paraphrased):
The meaning of life is that which you create for your own.

Is life without meaning? The what will you do to change this for your own life?

Pointless? Or a blank slate? Everyone begins with one.

I was a bit saddened when I lost my belief in an eternal, magic sky daddy, sure. But, then I realized something:

I'm a talking monkey, sitting on a wet rock, flying around a giant ball of fire at 70,000 miles an hour.

I've lived in awe & wonder, every day, ever since.

Let me add one more dimension to those depressive things you think about - I am intelligent, and I am wise, and in my lifetime, I have learned a great deal. Add to that, that I hold in my brain, memories of my childhood, my parents, my relatives, my grandparents, and yet, when I die, all of that will be gone, inaccessible by anyone.

On the other hand, I enjoy being alone. I like being with select members of my species, but when those are unavailable to me, alone is good, as I am good company, both to others, and to myself.

But my thoughts are these - I am here by an accident of exponential proportions, and within a relatively short time, I will have used up whatever life force that has caused me to be here, and I must cease to exist, forever. There is absolutely nothing I can do about my arrival here, nor my departure, but I have a great deal of choice as to how I spend the short time I have, and I intend doing that til the fat lady sings.

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