A-to-Z Challenge Day Twelve: Life, the Universe, and Everything
When I was a kid I wanted to be a mad scientist. I wanted the whole works: the lab, the lab coat, the vaguely fake-sounding German name (Von Derkenstein), the beakers of colored water with dry ice, and the lab assistant who serves as the audience to applaud my brilliance. The life of a mad scientist was alluring, mixing crazy Tesla contraptions with a 1950s art deco architecture to create, well, a geek’s heaven.
I think that, looking back on it, this was an extension of my natural scientific curiosity. Children like to explore and categorize the world in which they live, and this is a natural part of their development. It has been said before, but it bears repeating: we are each of us scientists in our own way. We interact with the world, and we learn how to live in it through experimentation and observation. I specifically have a memory of being a kid and doing experiments on the types of mud that made the best sculptures. A few years ago, my cousin Jordyn wanted to get some rain coats, go outside, and do “the mud project” and do science, probably for the same reasons I did when I was a kid.
So science and ordered explorations of our world are very important to us from an early age. And throughout life we rely on knowledge we gain from these personal explorations, and the products of more rigorous scientific study, such as modern medicine, electricity, and computers. We live in a civilization built on science and we can’t do much at all to escape the implications of that.
Sometimes we don’t look to science to give us answers to questions our philosophies ask. Perhaps this is because science isn’t able to answer the question (what is the meaning of life?) or maybe science has answered and offered an answer one might feel is objectionable (evolutionary biology). For my money, science is the best way to get the most reliable answers to the questions we ask that can be answered.
So what is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything? Well, I don’t know. But more than that, I don’t know that these are the right questions to ask. Why does life have to have a meaning? Why can’t life just be something to be lived? We have a scientific answer about what life is and what kinds of things qualify as alive, and how they reproduce and adapt. I think that, perhaps, seeking some kind of transcendental meaning to existence might be misplaced energy when we can find personal and communal meanings for existence.
Think about the things that you live for. Is it love? I would really hope that love, empathy, and compassion are qualities which define your life. What about money? It’s useful, but is it something really to live for? I don’t think so.
And I think this is what makes me remember wanting to be a mad scientist. I didn’t really want to channel any of that energy toward destructive ends, but ultimately toward creative ends. A mad scientist is often portrayed as some madman bent on world destruction of capitulation, sort of the end of a quest for power. But why can’t a mad scientist be a force for good? Eccentric, maybe a bit crazy, but ultimately exploring the natural world for the betterment of humanity?
And I think that’s my meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Making things a little less terrible for people and learning as much as possible about the universe. I’m not technically a scientist (I don’t have a degree in science and I don’t work in a lab), but I like to think of myself as one. Maybe I’ve romanticized it a little, but I think we all do that to some extent or another.
So am I bothered by any lingering questions, like why are we here? Well, a little. Wouldn’t you be bothered if you couldn’t answer a question like that? I don’t let it get to me, though, and I think that there are vastly more interesting questions to try to answer, like what in the cheese is dark matter?
No, seriously. What is it?