Chapter One - Introduction
What is life?: Introduction
What is life? : Introduction
The primary reason I decided to write this book was that I felt I wanted to contribute something of this nature to the world. By ‘this nature’, I mean a set of reflections - thoughts and feelings - which others in society may choose to take something from, should they wish. I was not quite sure what angle I wanted to take with a book until a sunny week in Spain. I had previously begun a steady introduction into reading philosophy, namely through the first meditations of Descartes. During my week in Spain, I read a book which provided a 2-3 page summary of 50 philosophy classics (Butler-Bowdon, 2013). After reading this book I realised that what people define as philosophy, i.e., the nature of questioning and reflecting on the various aspects of life, is something I think I may have been doing for years. Many of the authors in the book had decided to present their ideas onto paper without necessarily providing a story or narrative, and I decided that I would like to do the same. In one sense this was to allow me to excavate some of my deeper thoughts in order to enjoy the process of continually developing my personal understanding and ideas. But what I also liked was the idea that by presenting my ideas, I could present a somewhat contemporary perspective on many of the philosophical questions which have been pondered throughout human existence. Although I enjoyed reading Descartes’ meditations, I have not actually finished reading it. I find it difficult to sometimes comprehend what historic authors are saying, primarily because their language is from a specific period of dialect. I have no doubt that Shakespeare has written many master pieces that if I took the time to study, I would begin to understand. But as a child, I was always put off reading Shakespeare as I could not really grasp the ‘ye olde’ type of English. I experience the same challenge with many other historical writings. So this gave me the idea that not only could my words put a marker in the sand of what a 21st century human brain is contemplating about life, but also, perhaps my contemporary dialect may open the philosophical door to many more people of our generation.
Opening this philosophical door subsequently became the primary motivation in writing this book. I find it exciting to see how humans have developed, how life has developed, sometimes for the good and sometimes people would say for the bad. I find great enjoyment in engaging in philosophical discussions with people. I continually learn and develop a lot of my ideas during this time. I often find that people seem to equally enjoy the conversation (at least I hope so). Discussions on the nature of love, religion, and life, have seemingly provided many people with enjoyment as they develop their thoughts on such topics through interaction with others. As such, I feel that increasing the collective discussion of philosophical questions across people is potentially a way to continually increase the development of our species. I have no doubt that some people will not be interested by the things in this book, but, my hope is that some people will read it and will generate their own thoughts and feelings about some of the questions pondered within. Of course, by people, I mean you, the reader. By bringing these thoughts and feelings to the forefront of our minds, we will continue to see new and novel approaches to how we exist, through collective reflection.
I can only offer my reflections from a particular angle. I am a 30 year old, white British male; therefore my culture and my background will influence my viewpoints into a particular direction. I am pretty confident that an Asian person from a different part of Liverpool, yet alone an elderly person from China or a young refugee child fleeing from the Syrian conflict will have different perspectives on life. However, my individual perspective is not the key facet; it is the nature of the discussion which is the primary focus. There is no way that I can present an idea of what the ultimate truth is across life, I have so much to learn and experience. It is asking the question and undertaking the reflective process which is the key output of this book.
One way to describe the structure of this book is loose. I have spent a lot of my previous years producing academic writing which has required me to meet certain structural requirements. These requirements are often important in enhancing the quality of a piece of writing, however, sometimes they feel like they restrict the creative process. When I began this work, I decided that I wanted to write something which allows a free reign on my thoughts and feelings, whilst still trying to maintain some sense of structure. I would imagine that some people, particularly academics, may find this book a little frustrating. The only referencing I include is when I can recall a distinct influence from a certain author or piece of work. I have not attempted to base my reflections in existing research literature. The reason for this is that I want to present my reflections as they are within my brain. I am not attempting to prove or disprove my theories. Each of my thoughts and feelings will have been influenced from a source, but it is not possible to cite each source, I have been learning for 30 years. Some sources are my parents, people I have met on the street, life experiences growing up, and some from theories and books I have read. Often I have a thought and find that it has already been pondered by somebody, therefore it is hard to say who is the chicken and who is the egg, but for this work, I feel that question is somewhat irrelevant. One thing I have purposefully tried to refrain from is reading any more philosophical writings since I read the 50 classics introduction. I found that many ideas in that book were ones I had previously pondered, whilst some were new. This is why I was keen to write this book now, so that I can place a marker in the sand on what my current reflections are, before I become further involved in reading specific philosophical texts.
I am confident that many of my ideas will repeat previous people in the world, however I see this akin with music. The Beatles, Elvis, Etta James, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Adele – all of these people have written/sung songs about love, about life. It is not necessarily the subject which is important, it is how it is approached, using a different voice. This is why I make no apology for writing in a way that feels right to me. This is my way of communicating a set of ideas in my own voice, which I hope will make sense in a way that appeals to you.
Another thing that you may notice is that this book is not that long and that I do not necessarily excavate my ideas to finite conclusions, in fact at times, I enter onto a tangent, never to return to the original discussion. There are two points I would like to make about this. The first is a reiteration of the goal of the book; to continue the collective discussion of philosophical life reflections among society, and to undertake conscious processing of my own philosophical reflections. As such, sometimes I discuss questions of which I have no more particular thoughts and I have taken a discussion as far as I would like to take it, therefore the discussion may seem abrupt or incomplete. I guess my personality is geared towards sometimes sitting with what is not said, leaving space for reflection; so if you find a question unanswered, if you find I have not explained a point to a conclusive end, use this moment to reflect on where you would have liked it to go. I place intrigue into what you the reader does with the book e.g., are your thoughts similar, are they different, what different questions come up for you based on the discussions presented here?
The second point I would like to make is that there have been so many times I have read a book and by page 150 – 200 I feel it begins to repeat. You will notice that I do repeat topics within different sections as they all link and intertwine; therefore, I was mindful that I wanted to keep things short and sharp, to prevent them from becoming boring (hopefully I achieved this).
Within this book, I have attempted to answer the question of ‘what is life?’ through key topics of discussion. These are topics which I find pop up regularly in the reflections of others and myself. However, I accept that there are additional topics which provide unique angles on understanding life that I will not have covered in this book; again, take note of this, reflect on what you feel has been missed and how it impacts on your life, perhaps it will help you reflect on what the most important things are for you in life.
Following this introduction (chapter one), I present four chapters. Chapter two focuses on trying to understand romantic love; chapter three focuses on trying to understand friendship and occupation, and chapter four focuses on trying to understand God, fate and free will. In chapter five, I attempt to combine my reflections into some concluding remarks on what is life – a 21st century perspective.
Chapters two and four begin with a biographical type introduction to the category. I felt like this would be a useful process for these particular discussions, providing a background as to what, why and how my views on the topic under discussion have so far been formed. Chapter three leant itself less to this type of introduction, however, I do introduce my reason for choosing the topic of discussion. Following the introduction to each chapter, I enter into a free flowing reflection on the topic under review. To provide some order, both for you and for my own understanding, I have highlighted when I have shifted my focus onto a particular question. The question is highlighted in bold. There are primary questions, such as ‘what is love?’, and there are subsidiary questions to the primary questions. Subsidiary questions are highlighted in bold and italicised.
Although the book is quite short, I recommend reading it at a steady pace, taking time to acknowledge your own reflections on the subjects which are presented throughout. It is by undertaking this reflecting that your neural (brain) networks will restructure and your reflective learning will form. Perhaps keep a notepad or laptop nearby and write short sharp reflections on any thoughts or feelings that come up for you during your reading. Better still, if you have a partner or a friend that you can talk about your reflections with, I feel this will enhance your reflections and learning even further. I have a tendency to enter into tangents and to sometimes discuss topics in a way that may not make sense upon first hearing. Although I am trying to improve my communication skills, there may still be occasions upon reading this book that you find you are losing track of my tangents. I would suggest that in these moments, it is worth putting the book down and returning to it with a refreshed mind. It may be that there is a specific sentence or idea which has the potential to strike a chord in you, but if you have entered into a glossing over type of reading, you may miss such a moment. Please do not take this as a reflection of you. Even when reading this book back to myself, I have skirted over it a few times, lost myself and had to refresh myself before returning. If I have managed to lose myself with my own writing, it is certainly understandable that you may get lost once or twice. I have broken each chapter down into parts. This is to somewhat highlight that I have moved onto a slightly different discussion within the chapter, but perhaps more importantly, it is where I feel a natural break may be useful, allowing you to digest what I have discussed and to reflect on your thoughts and feelings.