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  • Writer's pictureArpan Dey

Here's What 2022 Taught Me

Updated: Feb 29

2022 has been a rollercoaster ride for me. Near the end of 2020, my mother had to be hospitalized and she was diagnosed with a heart disease. Then in 2021, I lost my grandfather to COVID. It was very difficult, but I somehow managed to be alive on January 1, 2022, and this year turned out to be much better in comparison. This year, I published an updated edition of my debut book Our Physics So Far, and I also enrolled at St. Xavier's College, Kolkata and began my undergraduate physics degree. But I don't want to bore you by listing what I have and haven't done this year. Instead, as 2022 draws to an end, I will reveal some of the biggest realizations that I've had during this year. Of course, I'm not claiming that all of them are true and correct, they just seem true to me.

So, here's the first (and perhaps most important) realization: Life is our quest to find meaning in an inherently meaningless world. Elon Musk (the man who inspires me so much during difficult times) said that he had an existential crisis when he was about twelve. I have had a minimum of 5-6 existential crises from when I was about fifteen years old till date and I can really relate with Elon when he says he was trying to figure out the meaning of it all. I have realized that there is no inherent meaning in life, there is no point to anything. But this doesn't depress me anymore. Nihilism is an impersonal way of looking at the world, it is not something that makes people depressed. I believe in nihilism. But I don't think that the world doesn't exist. I believe in the existence of an objective world out there. I just love the concept of nihilism because I can relate to the fact that life is meaningless. Also, nihilism helps me keep my emotions under control and maintain an indifferent attitude to life (which, I think, is very important). Nothing really matters in the end. We have to find or perhaps create meaning in our lives. That's life. Our quest to find meaning in an inherently meaningless world. I don't mean to say this quest is futile. Well, maybe it is, in some sense, but I don't ask you to commit suicide due to the fact that life is meaningless. That is simply the way it is. It is a mistake to expect life to have some meaning in the first place. As I have already discussed in a previous blog, and as Elon stresses, it is more important to properly frame the question. Finding an answer is much easier once we really understand the question. And "What's the meaning of life?" may not be a valid question in the first place, or perhaps one can say it is not a question worth spending a considerable amount of time on. This is true, to some extent. But pondering the meaning of life and the transient nature of existence is also important. It makes us realize the importance of time. It makes us wake up from the delusion that we have a lot of time left, and it makes us do more positive work in our lives. (I highly recommend watching this Veritasium video at this point.) And I think the key reasons behind Elon Musk's success are his never-give-up attitude (I get goosebumps every time I watch this: "When you had that third failure in a row, did you think I need to pack this in?"/"Never."/"Why not?"/"I don't ever give up.") and hard work. Work every waking hour. So yeah, this surely is one of my biggest realizations this year: there is no point to anything, but we should find some good cause worth fighting for and living for, and work hard (really hard) to achieve our dreams. It may be colonizing Mars and increasing the odds of humankind going extinct for Elon, it may be finding a theory of everything for me, and it may be something completely different for you. I want to make one thing very clear. When I say one of my realizations this year is that life is meaningless, I actually don't say the whole thing. We shouldn't expect life to have any inherent meaning, but again, that does not mean we should feel sad about it. On the contrary, we should accept the fact and create a meaning and/or dream for ourselves, and work hard to achieve it. You should be careful while choosing this meaning. Of course, there is no correct or incorrect choice. Do what is important to you. Another thing I've learned from Elon: If something is important enough to you, you should try to do it even if the most likely outcome is failure. But it is good if your dream is to work for the betterment of everyone, to work, as Elon says, to "expand the scope and scale of consciousness and knowledge." Before moving on to the second realization, I think I should also add something here. Some people will argue that it is better to stop searching for the ultimate truth and just live life. One last thing I have learned from Elon (and it's relevant here) is this: We tend to ignore the real truth and believe in something we want to be true (wishful thinking). It's a very difficult trap to avoid. Some people will say that ignorance is bliss. The truth is often terrifying, and perhaps it is better to remain satisfied with lies (have you watched the movie The Matrix?). But I would argue that the whole point of science is to uncover the truth, and also, I think deep down we want to know the truth. The truth maybe difficult to accept, but nevertheless, as my father says, nothing can be a substitute for truth. And science is everything to me because I want to know the truth. I'm pretty nonchalant about everything else because I have realized there is no point to anything. Nothing in this meaningless world excites me anymore, with the possible exception of the fact that science has been able to reveal so much about the bizarre nature of reality and there is still so much more to discover.

Here comes the second realization. Ordered complexity is a fortunate product of random processes. I know you've probably already heard this before, and from none other than myself. And it stresses the same belief as the previous realization. But the reason I keep saying ordered complexity is a fortunate product of random processes is that this simple statement actually explains a lot. It is entirely possible that there is no God involved in the functioning of the universe, and science has shown that spontaneous, random processes that occur without any purpose, over a very long period of time, can give rise to the ordered complexity that we see around us.

The third realization is very important. Science is cold and impersonal, but we humans are emotional. True, isn't it? Sherlock Holmes once said, "Whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things." Anyway, I keep coming back to the same point from different perspectives. Science is impersonal. There is no place for emotions in science. Science doesn't attach any special meaning to anything, science just explains the world. Science converges to the truth (while metaphysics, in my opinion, creates a world of its own and allows you to explore it, but it never converges to the truth). So anyway, saying science is impersonal is somewhat similar to saying that there is no inherent meaning in life, isn't it? And also, it's foolish to deny the fact that as human beings, we can't be impersonal in reality, no matter how hard we try. We are emotional beings. In fact, you would be surprised to know that I sometimes find myself hoping that I were a supercomputer instead of a human (a supercomputer that can do science by itself). While doing science, it is best to be as impersonal as possible. If you let your emotions and psychological biases enter the process of your scientific reasoning, you will never draw out the right conclusions. Suppose you have always believed hypothesis A to be true. And then one day comes some compelling evidence that hypothesis A is, in fact, false, while a counterhypothesis B, which you have tried to refute your entire life, is very likely to be true. Being impersonal simply means easily accepting this fact and not remaining stuck on your belief. Of course, it is important to be firm in your views and defend your views. But at the same time, keep in mind that we should consider every possibility, and not just those possibilities which we personally like.

Fourth realization. There's no feeling that can't be generated, at least in theory, by manipulating the levels of different chemicals in the brain. My fascination with neuroscience is a long story, and I have read quite a few popular science books on neuroscience (David Eagleman being my favorite author in this genre). Long story short, I think extra-sensory perception and all such phenomena can be explained by further research on neuroscience. It's all happening inside the brain. Consciousness just emerges from the brain, and that's it. See this article for my arguments on whether consciousness is fundamental or emergent. One more thing I'd like to say: I am aware of the fact that the brain is affected by a lot of factors (environmental, genetic etc.). But the point is, all these factors change the physical structure of the brain in some subtle way. I know it's not always possible to pin down these subtle changes, and often it is not a single change. So when I say there's no feeling that can't be generated by manipulating the levels of different chemicals in the brain, I don't mean to say that we can easily recreate all feelings artificially. All I'm saying is, it's possible in theory.

Fifth realization. Science is both a boon and a curse, and although we are making great advancements in science and technology, there are a lot of things to worry about. I will let Elon Musk do the explaining: "An asteroid or a supervolcano could certainly destroy us, but we also face risks the dinosaurs never saw: An engineered virus, nuclear war, inadvertent creation of a micro black hole, or some as-yet-unknown technology could spell the end of us." To be clear, I think science, in itself, is more of a boon than a curse, but it is our fault (not exactly fault, it is our nature) that we misuse science. And it is also true that there is always a chance of disaster when we are tampering with really big and deep things about which we understand very little. But, I should also add that I don't think we should stop (or even think about stopping) our journey of exploring the secrets of the universe. Just that, we should work out the ethics and consequences of new science and technology carefully. An important example that comes to my mind is Artificial Intelligence. I believe it is possible in theory for AI to take over us completely, which is a bad thing overall, but I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon. Still, I would like to iterate what Elon Musk says: AI does pose an existential threat to us and we should be careful in AI research. At the same time, it also appears to me that a society run by AI could in some sense be better than the present human-run society.

Sixth realization. This is very straightforward, and a bit controversial. The most important things you need to succeed in life are time and money. There's a reason you are told money can't buy happiness and that you should enjoy your life and spend your time happily: they don't want you to succeed. And if you don't realize the importance of money, time, and hard work, you're never going to succeed in life. And success matters. Success is everything. The rest comes automatically. Go to any lengths to become successful. When society plays a dirty game with you, it's no time to be a gentleman: you need to play back a dirtier game. It's always difficult if you are sorted out, but you can never succeed if you don't go against the tide. You're different, you're not like them, and you should be proud of that. It's better to walk your own path alone than waste your time doing what thousands of people have done before, and what thousands of people are blindly doing now.

And now, number seven. This one is a bit personal. My parents mean everything to me. I've realized that nobody, except your parents and a few others, actually care about you, so stop caring for people, isolate yourself (yes, this is actually good advice!) and love yourself (and your parents). In the end, it's you, and only you. Well, this seems off-topic beside the previous five realizations, but this can also be listed as a big realization of mine this year. So that's what 2022 taught me. Hoping to learn a great deal more in 2023. And let's also hope 2023 turns out to be even better, for all of us...

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