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EXISTENTIALISM deals with one's existence, or "being-in-the-world," because he or she is already alive and aware of it. For us, to exist is to live. According to existentialism, this should be the answer to the idea of existence: we are something, therefore we come from something.
The name Existentialism derives from "Esse" (to be) and "Esentia" (essence). Existentialism starts with the questions "Who am I?," "What is the meaning of life?," and "What is our role in life?" The French used the word "exists" to indicate "to send out," "to be felt," "to live," or "to have animation."
Like anything else in philosophy, any question unleashes a flood of other questions that add new chaotic elements to the debate. Because existentialism seems to put everything in doubt, it is the richest chapter in question marks.
From the beginning there has been the question, "Is our life really ours, or do we just fill a void and serve as breathing objects?" This leads to the next crucial questions about what we know about reality: "Do we control events, or do the events control us? Do we make our choices in life, or does life make them for us? Does our existence come from inside of us or from the outside? " In many ways these resemble Effectological questions.
Existentialism is based on our perceptions. High in emotions and imagination, Existentialism seems to be the philosophy of the non-believers who exclude God's help, who deny the human condition and reality itself. It is more than meets the eye: just because something is not there, does not mean that it doesn't exist.
Obviously, if the world around us exists, we must exist as well. At least we can sense it with our senses of smell, hearing, taste, sight, and touch. Our senses are the foundations of our intuition, our experience, and our judgments about what is real and meaningful. To deny reality is to encounter an accident.
Existentialist problems arise when an accident happens, or when an individual is born without one of the basic senses. Obviously, a blind person will never know the difference between the colors, or know what the celestial universe looks like. Is that person entitled to deny that these things exist just because they do not exist for him or her? Or should that person understand and accept them as we understand and accept historical events that happened before of our existence? It seems as though there is always something we do not know. That something is always a part of something else, something bigger and more important, which ultimately is a part of the universe.
Splitting hairs is the art of philosophers. When talking about the universe, the dogmatists are confident in God as its creator. Once something is created, that thing must exist. The skeptics doubt the existence of universe and the values of any truth. To them, no convincing knowledge can prove existence. Adding to the confusion, the existentialists focus on the individual and what makes him or her aware of what is going on in this uncertain and unpredictable world. With or without intention, almost all philosophers are involved in existentialism, because it is a provocative challenge for their minds.
Upon closer scrutiny, existentialism is an intellectual uncertainty—a conscious denial of reality raising many questions and delivering only a few dubious answers. Avicenna believed that existence was the consequence of the essence of another existence. He implied that essential causality is necessary to produce action and generate an effect. According to him, God generated any existence, which in turn generated each other existence.
The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) was a genuine existential thinker who immersed himself with passion in human existence. To him, existence was a natural way to be subjective, which involves decision and ultimately guilt—a necessary condition of an existence with so many errors and achievements. Karl Jaspers (1883–1969) believed in the authentic of mankind existenz, meaning one's best living qualities during one's life. It includes the antagonism between good and bad, truth and lies, happiness and grief, solitude and brotherhood, freedom and oppression, progress and destruction, and of course, life and death. Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) came up with the crucial question of existence, asking, "Can human beings know anything, and if so, what and how?" The answer is still overdue from philosophers.
Existentialism speculates about everything, and the brain with its mind seems to be the favorite focus. The brain is probably the most complex and amazing part of our body. Its vital functions range from processing the visual, sonic, palpable, and other sensations, to memory storage. It is in the brain where all ideas, judgments, and skills are formed. It is one of the brain's function to anchor us in reality or fantasy.
Empiricists, rationalists, nihilists, and all other "denominations" of thinkers can come up with their own ways to interpret existentialism. But this book is not about them, it is about Effectology, and I shall try to explain its validity in existentialism.
Common knowledge tells us that for something to exist, a certain order is needed to allow that existence. Everything we see in nature must have a space and a time for its existence. Of course, we can ask if the entire cosmos exists in space and time, or if we created those dimensions for the sake of judging the universe. The reality is that the cosmos and its constellations, solar systems and planets existed before us and will continue to exist long after we are gone. Therefore they exist.
The undeniable truth is that we are in this world because the cosmos exists. Because not two objects can occupy the same space, each object, form or shape must have its own room in which to exist. This puts everything in a linear, circular, elliptical, or chaotic order, all of them accidentally created. The inventory of all these solid objects is proof of their existence.
As mentioned before, if space is material, then time is not. Newton considered time as intrinsically irreversible. The passage of time may not be so relevant to the cosmos, but it is to the condition of existence. Time is necessary in order for existence to continue its cursive order, as it gives the rate of speed. For us, time is needed to mark our existence and to indicate all the recurring events. After gravity, time is the second order in nature.
Since we do not live forever, our existence is strictly limited by time and dictated by accidents and their effects. Is an accident a random act of fate or an unexpected cause to change the meaning of our existence? Our very presence on Earth is proof enough of unquestionable Effectological answer to existentialism. After all, we must be the effect of most creative natural accidents, since we are the ones who judge the universe. Incredible as it seems, the human body shares the same main elements as the universe: iron, calcium, silicone, magnesium, water, and so on. Sharing that common existence is part of the universal matter existentialism tries to dispute.
Like anything else in the universe, we appear and vanish according to a calendar in which natural and accidental causes produce changes and end one's life. Just like any other natural objects, humans do not remain unchanged or eternal. That is because our bodies and minds are made of energy that must be drawn from the universal energy, also in a constant change.
Not too many people get involved in the complications of existentialism. Ordinary people live and work for practical reasons and are less inclined to analyze any philosophical controversy about life. What they know for sure is that everything in life and in the world can be changed, and everything has a limit. A full glass of water refuses to accept more water and overflows. It is a minuscule but meaningful accident, for it demonstrates a real accidental fact of life.
Ordinary people don't need to know about existentialism to run out of a house on fire. They enjoy the endless and generous benefits of the Sun and never think of its size, nor worry what stops it from melting our earth in seconds. However, humans cannot survive extreme cold or extreme heat, nor live long without water and food.
Humans also need a wide range of emotions, beliefs, and a support system in order to exist and function in a normal capacity. We cannot live based only on what we consider interesting, or ignore undesirable things as if they do not exist. Existentialism deals with our selected perceptions of reality, which may not be the best way to think in practical terms. Imagine someone driving a car according of what he imagines the road ahead of him to be like. Obviously he is heading toward an unavoidable accident. In many ways, life is like traffic in which one is never sure what lies ahead.
An accident is in most cases a reality check. Any accident affects the body and the mind as well. If anyone wants to experience in safe conditions how accidents can influence one's existence, a simple rollercoaster ride will provide an unforgettable experience of mixed feelings and emotions. Accidents can affect one's logical existence and distort one's perception of reality. They can also end one's existence.
The Effectological formula of Existentialism is:
Being × Thinking ÷ Accidents
Many times, life is like computer activity with neatly packaged files—when suddenly on the screen there appears a storm of incorrectly combined words in other languages, unrecognized signs and unintelligible commands. Obviously we pushed a wrong key, or a virus entered our computer and crashes it. The most orderly machine suffered an accident that destroyed the orderly files.
If the brain operates like a computer, then one can explain our dreams as part of our existence. Plato considered dreams as "visions within us, which are remembered by us when we are awake." Freud considered any dream as a real road to unconscious. The common agreement is that a dream is the result of our imagination working without our intellectual control. Because dreams have very limited lives and their "reality" expires when we wake up, they practically do not exist. Yet, they have powerful impacts on our lives.
Effectology can go as far as to call dreams atavistic accidents inherited from a previous existence, passed through the genes of our ancestors. This explains why we dream of falling from trees or experience situations we've never thought of. Therefore, a dream may be a deep-seated fear or desire, even a warning message from the brain's unconscious activity. Dreams may also be the effect of accidents happening in our brain, which create strange connections between the real and unreal world. For some people, dreams, and not reality, seem to be the real existence.
Dreams may rank next to intuition, which is when one feels deeply about something in spite of an elaborate judgment. Intuition is in fact an accidental conclusion based on nothing real, except a "gut feeing." Science should not overlook this formidable talent of the brain, the only one used to make predictions about our future existence.
It is rather depressing to think that we all live for the moment, and no one can anticipate what may happen next. A Romanian saying goes, Nu aduce anul ce aduce ceasul—"The entire year depends on the next second." It shows how fragile and unpredictable our world is. It shows that all orderly connections that keep our society and our lives in balance can break without warning because of a random accident. It shows that our existence depends on the changes that may occur in the next second, minute, or hour. In this regard, existentialism wins against any solid and rational philosophical thought.
One particular thinker, Franz Kafka (1883–1924), excelled in expressing existentialism's concept of guilt and the absurdity of it, only to fall victim to it. His literary works seem to be examples of how personal accidents affect one's life and thinking. Kafka was the son of a Jewish peddler from whom he inherited a strong ethnic heritage and an excessive moral code. After contracting tuberculosis and twice failing to marry, he left Prague, where he had been a German Jew among the Czechs. He moved to Berlin, where he was a Jewish Czech among the Germans. In both worlds he was Jew among gentiles.
Trapped in a clerical and meaningless job, Kafka defied his social condition by becoming a vibrant writer and a passionate lover. However, he was strongly handicapped by his sick body and unstable temper. On top of that, Kafka was a free thinker, rejected even by his Jewish community. Considered a Jewish liberal, he was pushed around by the German conservative and patriotic society.
Realizing that he was an outsider in any society, Kafka found refuge in his writing and focused his favorite topic: guilt. He found his work so heavy and convoluted that he refused to publish it. After his death, a friend published it, and the public learned how a sensitive and twisted mind can suffer through an existence crushed by accidental guilt, and the reality of social cruelty and injustice.
Based on the Effectology concept as described so far, I can simplistically say that existentialism is an interpretation of materialistic accidents and their effects processed in our thinking. Its level of interpretation affects our lives according to the importance we give to the unexpected. Accidents are necessary in life, for they allow us to experience the unmistakable feeling of a real existence.