Why is finding intrinsic meaning such a difficult feat when we have an abundance of resources available at our disposal? How is it that anxiety, depression, the wealth gap, loneliness and stress related diseases are all on the rise as science and technology continue to evolve?
The call for meaning in our lives triumphs fleeting happiness, helps us sustain hope in the face of adversity and is the fire that ignites us all to realizing our legend. We are all born with a blueprint that has to be brought forward through natural curiosity and the activation of new genes through the exploration of art, culture and knowledge. The alternative is to ignore the daemon and suppress this calling leading to a fall into despair, nihilism and neurosis.
Our own personal motivations begin in hidden form, and remain that way, because we do not want to know what we are up to. The wheat remains unseparated from the chaff. The gold remains in the clutches of the dragon, as does the virgin. The philosopher’s stone remains undiscovered in the gutter; and the information hidden in the round chaos, beckoning, remains unexplored. Such omission is the voluntary refusal of expanded consciousness. After all, the pathway to the Holy Grail has its beginnings in the darkest part of the forest, and what you need remains hidden where you least want to look.
Peterson, J. (2021). Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life. [online] Portfolio, p107. Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56019043-beyond-order [Accessed 19 Jun. 2022].
Our sense of meaning in today’s modern age is being oppressed through an illusive form of instant gratification and the exploitation of our dopamine circuit and biases. Instead of gratifying ourselves using science with natural stimuli such as nature, touch, community and whole foods, we are drugged with an invasive form of superstimuli designed for us to consume false information from biased algorithms, a false sense of negative emotions through the comparison of airbrushed highlight reels, a false sense of fear through outrageously isolated news stories, a false sense of achievement from gaming, a false sense of touch through porn and a false sense of community through filter bubbles.
Nowadays more and more people, especially those who live in large cities, suffer from a terrible emptiness and boredom, as if they were waiting for something that never arrives. Movies and television, spectator sports and political excitements may divert them for a while, but again and again, exhausted and disenchanted, they have to return to the wasteland of their own lives. The only adventure that is still worthwhile for modern man lies in the inner realm of the unconscious psyche.
Jung, C. (1968). Man and His Symbols. [online] Dell, p . Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/123632.Man_and_His_Symbols [Accessed 08 Apr. 2022].
We have a natural bias to navigate towards the positive and recline from the negative. Meaning can only be found through the pain of expanding our comfort zone however the fear of pain leads us to escape through instant gratification from infinite scrolling. The illusive fear of pain is usually greater than the feeling of pain itself. The consequences of this insidious form of consumption leads to us to lacking motivation through a depleted dopamine circuit, a lack of energy and compassion from a depleted cortex and a lack of meaning through overstimulation. Meaning—our life’s task—is outnumbered and buried under this illusive form of stimuli and we need to save it for our sake.
One example concerns how much the frontal cortex has to do with willpower, harking back to material covered in the last chapter. Various studies, predominantly by Roy Baumeister of Florida State University, show that when the frontal cortex labors hard on some cognitive task, immediately afterward individuals are more aggressive and less empathic, charitable, and honest. Metaphorically, the frontal cortex says, “Screw it. I’m tired and don’t feel like thinking about my fellow human.” This seems related to the metabolic costs of the frontal cortex doing the harder thing. During frontally demanding tasks, blood glucose levels drop, and frontal function improves if subjects are given a sugary drink (with control subjects consuming a drink with a nonnutritive sugar substitute). Moreover, when people are hungry, they become less charitable and more aggressive (e.g., choosing more severe punishment for an opponent in a game).
Sapolsky, R. (2019). Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. [online] Vintage Digital, p.80. Available at: https://www.amazon.com/Behave-Biology-Humans-Best-Worst/dp/1594205078 [Accessed 21 Nov. 2021].
Through limiting, working through or annihilating our exposure to such manufactured forms of stimuli and returning to the science-backed ways of cultivating meaning, we can then begin to connect the dots looking backwards to unearth what was hidden all along. By removing stimuli that tilts us towards dopamine depletion or chronic stress we can eventually use our new found energy to explore our curiosity and return to a state of allostasis to see that the speck of light flickering, is guiding us on the path to realizing our legend.