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The Existential Crisis

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chewybrian
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The Existential Crisis

Post by chewybrian » February 10th, 2019, 11:13 am

Exactly what is it?

What are the causes? Simply being alive and curious, or something more?

What are the symptoms or effects? Are many human activities activities often, or always, methods of avoiding or denying such a crisis?

Who has one? Everyone? Are some people more affected than others and if so why?

Does it have any purpose or benefit?

Can it be put aside temporarily or 'solved'? Should it be? By what means?

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Re: The Existential Crisis

Post by Alias » February 11th, 2019, 8:31 pm

chewybrian wrote:
February 10th, 2019, 11:13 am
Exactly what is it?
In brief - that moment when the void stares back. It's a confrontation with one's mortality. One wonders: "What's the point?" "What am I here for?" "Is there any meaning to my life?" That kind of thing. Sometimes people contemplate suicide; often, they consider drastic changes, such as entering a monastic order or moving to Brazil or becoming an itinerant street musician.
What are the causes? Simply being alive and curious, or something more?
A major disappointment may do it; disillusionment, betrayal, failure. For intelligent and imaginative young people, it's often a stop on their philosophical journey from taking-reality-for-granted to accepting it. For middle-aged people, a serious illness or injury may trigger a major re-assessment. For older people, there comes a time when they have to face the approach of death. For people who suffer chronic depression or schizophrenia, it can be a constant haunting presence.
What are the symptoms or effects?
One or more of the above. It's a deeply personal thing that manifests differently in each person.
Are many human activities activities often, or always, methods of avoiding or denying such a crisis?
None that are effective for more than a short time. Not even mind-addling drugs.
Does it have any purpose or benefit?
Purpose, yes: you're supposed to fix you life, or at least make it matter, or at least make it better. The benefit is whatever you derive from working through it and making a decision.
Can it be put aside temporarily or 'solved'? Should it be? By what means?
Yes, all of those. It depends.

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Re: The Existential Crisis

Post by LuckyR » February 12th, 2019, 3:42 am

By the above definition it is one part of the maturation process, and thus it is near universal and is routinely crossed successfully.
"As usual... it depends."

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Re: The Existential Crisis

Post by Hereandnow » February 12th, 2019, 12:45 pm

Hello Chewybrain, Look at Kierkegaard's Concepts of Anxiety. Some call it dread, but no matter: in this short book is the core of much of existential thought. Here is Sartre's Nausea and Being and nothingness. Here is Heidegger's analysis of human dasein. Kant runs through Kierkegaard, so you might want to look there first. In fact, existential thinking is a response to Kant's rationalism, while keeping his Copernican turn.
Of course, all of this is a rough go. How badly do you want to know the answer to your question? You'll not find it in a post. Serious thinking takes serious work. What else?

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Re: The Existential Crisis

Post by Eduk » February 12th, 2019, 1:53 pm

Am I the only one who found the op confusing?
I mean we start by asking what is X. But we never define X. We then ask lots of questions which seem to assume X is defined. Then people answer like X is defined.
I don't get it.
My first thought is which existential crisis? As there are surely billions every day?
Unknown means unknown.

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Re: The Existential Crisis

Post by Alias » February 12th, 2019, 4:46 pm

There may also be billions of cases of influenza, yet general questions regarding its diagnosis, causes, symptomatology, treatment and prognosis might not be inappropriate.
Those who can induce you to believe absurdities can induce you to commit atrocities. - Voltaire

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Re: The Existential Crisis

Post by Eduk » February 12th, 2019, 5:16 pm

I know what influenza is. I still don't know which 'existential crisis' is being discussed. sorry if this simple statement is confusing for anyone.
Unknown means unknown.

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Re: The Existential Crisis

Post by Hereandnow » February 12th, 2019, 5:53 pm

Eduk: My first thought is which existential crisis? As there are surely billions every day?
The matter goes to human alienation that underlies all of our affairs, whether we are physically ill or simply having a good time. It never leaves, not unlike the way a Buddhist will tell you that even in greatest moment, you are alienated from you true nature, which they say is nirvana (Kierkegaard is really not far from this, or, is very different but holds similar thoughts on what he might call redemption in God's grace). Several ways to go at this, but consider that when the effort is made to understand what it means to be human, to be here, thrown into a world, it is not the case that foundational truths present themselves so readily, as they would if you were to ask, what is a bank teller? or when is my retirement date? Such things have ready answers. But not so with, what is the nature, origin, or essence of being human? Why are we born to suffer and die? What does it mean to know something? What is Being? You find that in every comfortable knowledge claim the rests beneath the usual experiencing of the world, there is a threshold where meanings run out, and the assumptions that you thought all along commanded understanding faithfully fall away very quickly. Freud thought civilization was a thin veneer over chaos; Hobbes thought something similar when talked about the threat on the other side of the sovereign's sword. An existentialist has a different take on what threatens us: it is a structural feature that is built into just being here at all. Ask yourself Kierkegaard's question near the end of his Repetition:

One sticks a finger into the ground to smell what country one is in; I stick my finger into the world-it has no smell. Where am I? What does it mean to say: the world? What is the meaning of the world? Who tricked me into this whole thing and leaves me standing here? Who am I? How did I get into the world? Why was I not asked about it, why was I not informed of the rules and regulations and just thrust into the ranks as if I had been bought from a peddling shanghaier of human beings? How did I get involved in the big enterprise called actuality? Why should I be involved? Isn’t it a matter of choice? If I am compelled to be involved, where is the manager-I have something to say about this. Is there no manager?

Sounds like Kafka, doesn't it? I mean, his Castle where no one is "in charge"; and Gregor Samsa awaking to find himself turned into a bug (note Samsa's lack of astonishment, says Camus: That is US.

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Re: The Existential Crisis

Post by Alias » February 12th, 2019, 6:03 pm

Eduk -- I still don't know which 'existential crisis' is being discussed. sorry if this simple statement is confusing for anyone.
I don't feel confused. I tried to cover the most common types; Hereandnow covered the philosophical ones.
We could do a national one, if you like, but I didn't think Chewybrain meant to include that.
Or, you could pick one of your own to define and/or describe.
Or, you could say specifically what's wrong with my answer.
I can't answer your question, so that's a dead end for me - which is another viable option, of course.

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Re: The Existential Crisis

Post by Eduk » February 12th, 2019, 7:01 pm

it is not the case that foundational truths present themselves so readily, as they would if you were to ask, what is a bank teller? or when is my retirement date? Such things have ready answers. But not so with, what is the nature, origin, or essence of being human?
So, and allow me to paraphrase, your personal interpretation of what 'existential crisis' the OP is talking about is simply the question 'why am I here'? Don't get me wrong I like the perspective change of Buddhist thinking (some of it anyway). Certainly there is value to that. Doesn't begin to answer the question though. I can answer the question, the answer is unknown. And let us not overblow our sense of achievement which, thus far, amounts to very little. I mean we can all fool ourselves into imagining our questions have depth (even though our answers don't) but isn't that an assumption on our part? When we come to ask those questions out loud they sound so hollow compared to our feelings, maybe there is a reason.
Unknown means unknown.

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Re: The Existential Crisis

Post by Alias » February 12th, 2019, 7:33 pm

And yet, somehow, most of us muddle through.
Those who can induce you to believe absurdities can induce you to commit atrocities. - Voltaire

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Re: The Existential Crisis

Post by Hereandnow » February 12th, 2019, 8:27 pm

Eduk
So, and allow me to paraphrase, your personal interpretation of what 'existential crisis' the OP is talking about is simply the question 'why am I here'? Don't get me wrong I like the perspective change of Buddhist thinking (some of it anyway). Certainly there is value to that. Doesn't begin to answer the question though. I can answer the question, the answer is unknown. And let us not overblow our sense of achievement which, thus far, amounts to very little. I mean we can all fool ourselves into imagining our questions have depth (even though our answers don't) but isn't that an assumption on our part? When we come to ask those questions out loud they sound so hollow compared to our feelings, maybe there is a reason.
The depth of questions like this, why they are important, can only be answered by the experience of the inquirer. Ask Kierkegaard and he will tell you the reason the importance of understanding such things is vital lies beneath the veil ordinary living. All foundational questions are as irrelevant as the price of tea in China if you are not the kind of person who can exercise that sense of primordial wonder. But go into it, read with a deep desire to know and philosophy can be transformative, the world a revelation of new interpretative possibilities. I suspect from your response that you don't experience the world like this, otherwise the question as to the value of questioning at the level of basic assumptions would simply not occur to you. It is the world of day to day affairs that blocks one's vision. We are always already interpreting, when we check the time or muse about our stock options. To question annihilates the assumptions beneath all this and opens the world to see what we "really" are. Philosophers come to extraordinary conclusions (take Kant's Copernican revolution or Nietzsche's will) because they have in their investigations torn down a great deal of common thinking, finding it groundless. As Leo Strauss put it, one cannot endure believing in ideas that are supported by justification. Imagine, simple propositions like the
"cup in on the table" not being supported by justification.
But perhaps it is the intensity you don't see when you wonder what all the fuss is about. Ordinary life is comfortable. It is through crisis we see things break through the passivity of mundane conviction. Read, if you would, Wittgenstein's short lecture on ethics. Very telling: is ethics really about transcendental notions of good and bad? Or, consider being a woman condemned to be burned alive at the stake. Then, I would hazard, the question of meaning would rise to significance. It may not be actually happening to you, now; but it did happen a lot. What does that tell us about "where we are" and what it is all about? Is it important now?
The world as it is lived between tea time and dinner is systematically divested of its profundity and authenticity. I think this is patently true.

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Re: The Existential Crisis

Post by Greta » February 12th, 2019, 9:04 pm

As far as we know, humans are the only species to have existential crises. It is seemingly due to our additional sense, a greater capacity to sense the flow of time than other animals. If you perceive yourself with a past behind you and a future ahead that extends for years, then the question of meaning can arise. I expect out time sense is Adam and Eve's apple - a poisoned chalice, if you like.

This points to what Alias was saying about being out of touch with our nature - our simpler nature housed in the present moment that we share with numerous other organisms. The capacity to perceive the flow of time brings awareness of the significance of today's actions on the future. That puts pressure on us to pre-empt issues.

As a protection we have created an abstract, meta-reality - a human jungle we navigate that has been honed over generations to keep the most harsh aspect of nature (and our own nature) at arms' length. Fail to navigate this abstract world and you might be left to fend for yourself against the impact of nature and outlaw humans. That leads to anxiety because most city dwellers are not conditioned to cope with extreme poverty and homelessness experienced by those left behind. A loss of face to certain people can seem like life and death to many.

So there is anxiety - the sword of Damocles over people's heads - threatening to sever their connection with the safety and bountiful teat of greater human society. So people look at what they are anxious about. What they see is the world they have been living in - a world of human opinions, the abstract meta-reality - and at that point they might declare it BS, insubstantial. Thus people can feel as if they are spending their lives being anxious over BS, and from there one can see the value of Camus's acceptance of absurdity.

Breaking from that despair and absurdity involves the will to draw your mind away from the numerous threats and opportunities in the jungle of human opinion and actually pay attention to what is around you - like an animal or a child. This is about noticing that which is around you and seeing each organism and object as an entity with their own existence rather than seeing everything in terms of their usefulness in the game of human status and approval.

There is an internality to the "cure" for existential crises. The importance of relationships pertains only to optimal human function, not to necessary, or even happy, human function. We don't all have to be "optimal" all of the time, or any of the time, despite what the maxims may say. Thus, we don't have to focus only on the concerns of the group, despite the compulsions.

Work kept me focused on the abstracted social and professional aspects of human life but in retirement I am now noticing more what is around me - all those "insignificant" plants and animals. What of "mere" rocks, many of which were around before we arrived and will continue their slow journey long after we are gone? What of the technological objects around you? The marvels and costs of their creation and the journey of natural resources through numerous processing places around the globe, put together by virtue of some people's vision, will and persistence. Each individual entity has a history, an untold story of changing conditions.

Yet we largely ignore it all, being far too important to stop and bother paying attention to a mere rock, plant or insect. Take that trivia away! Yet, with that inflated ego naturally follows despair and a sense of meaninglessness because all you are left with then are human abstractions. Without grounding in our cosmic, planetary, biological and technological conditions, the abstractions certainly will look meaningless if they turn sour.

All that's needed is to settle down, stop worrying about what humans might cause us bother if we take your eye off the ball, and appreciate a little of the non-human. Not so easy after decades of conditioning by society at large to stay more focused on it rather than your own needs - but when you examine what society demands, the thought is always "well, they would say that, wouldn't they?".

Yet no such observations can ever make a mark on the human mind, to show similar respect to the non human to what which they give themselves. People will continue (as does any other species) to treat everything but themselves as mere utility and chug along, as per their compulsions. Then people start getting weird when death approaches. They will start to notice that which they ignored and trampled while being too busy and important to really acknowledge their actual physical realities all those years, but all it catches up in the end.

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Re: The Existential Crisis

Post by Eduk » February 13th, 2019, 3:51 am

@Hereandnow sorry but many theists would say the same of their heartfelt primordial wonder. personally I would say heartfelt primordial wonder is just part of the human experience. The question is does experiencing wonder have value? Or does it matter what you are experiencing wonder about?
Or you can demonstrate to me the results? In my experience those who proclaim the deep profundity of their views, without evidence, seem to experience the world no different to I. Certainly there is nothing obvious to show for it such as better marriages, relationships with friends, job prospects, ability to write, ability to express themselves, calm or any other positive attribute. To be honest my experience is very slightly the opposite of anything positive.
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Re: The Existential Crisis

Post by chewybrian » February 13th, 2019, 7:49 am

LuckyR wrote:
February 12th, 2019, 3:42 am
By the above definition it is one part of the maturation process, and thus it is near universal and is routinely crossed successfully.
I agree that it is rather universal, yet not that it is routinely crossed successfully. In fact, I would suggest that nobody ever resolves it. Rather, we put it aside through various means, by choosing to forget about it for a time, or finding a method of denial and focusing on something that we can't be sure matters at all because we are unable to know what, if anything, really does matter.

We start children off by helping them postpone it for as long as possible, through fables, religion, routine, tradition and distraction. Then we enable each other to avoid thinking about it through many different methods, some arguably productive and some not so. Aren't the great pyramids, Vatican city and the Super Dome simply monuments to our denials?
Eduk wrote:
February 12th, 2019, 1:53 pm
Am I the only one who found the op confusing?
I mean we start by asking what is X. But we never define X. We then ask lots of questions which seem to assume X is defined. Then people answer like X is defined.
I don't get it.
My first thought is which existential crisis? As there are surely billions every day?
My intention was to draw out a discussion without trying to direct it to my chosen destination. I've noticed that the latter method is not productive, and I imagine you've seen threads go that way. I could have declared that "this is what we are discussing, and this is precisely what it means", and then people would be focused on debating my stance rather than thinking about what it meant to them. I'm satisfied with the tone and content of the responses so far, and so I think this was the right way to begin the discussion. You are free to define it as you wish, and then discuss it in those terms, or to play off someone else's definition. It is always important to define the subject of discussion, yet not productive to try to force the definition on everyone else.

I won't claim to have the one true definition, though I do have my opinion. I think it is bigger than what most folks have laid out so far, and I would go so far as to say that it is the essence of human experience. Presumably, animals are behind us in terms of understanding and abilities, in delayed gratification, overcoming instincts and such, and therefore in needing to have a purpose to provide meaning. I would say there is a turning point in a child's development when they realize the ugly truth of their plight and they can never be the same afterward. And, I would say many human activities, beyond fulfilling basic needs, are focused on pretending to work this out, or avoiding thinking about it.

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