I was lucky to grow up with a mom that was…how do I say this…well, different. From the music she listened to, her fascination with testing her financial limitations, to the car she drove, she was different from any of the other moms I knew. She had an unwavering curiosity and sometimes a mild depression due to the harsh reality that was often casted over her unique idealism.
She would tell me things like: “I don’t want you to simply be happy, I want you to do more, to help the people of the world” and “You were made for this world”. These declarations were difficult to absorb being kid whose main objective was to fit in.
Today, her impact on me stretches throughout my life in all areas whether I like it or not. Some of her notions I reject while others I embrace; I believe she doesn’t want it any other way.
One of her passions in particular has always captivated me. She has a profound admiration for her heroes. Thinkers, artists, social reformers that she studies diligently. Books by Nietzsche, Aristotle, Carl Jung and others were consistently sprawled out throughout the house.
I often neglected one of her heroes for no particular reason. Maybe because he was a scientist, or possibly because he didn’t date back to antiquity or the enlightenment. However, Carl Sagan was never on my radar no matter how often she spoke about him in all his awesomeness.
Recently, I have bore witness to his awesomeness. His pleasant exterior patented by his combed over hair and softening smile, coupled with his syrupy voice made him science’s perfect ambassador. His ability to captivate even the most apathetic reader or viewer was a product of his tremendous storytelling ability. Sagan’s purpose was to integrate science into mainstream thought and practices. He challenged our beliefs all while strengthening our faith in our race.
One of his messages in particular struck me at my core.
Man’s search for meaning is a journey that pervades all of humanity. We have created gods, doctrinal stories, and religions to explain worldly phenomena and to give meaning to our lives. Institutions have been created to spread these ideas far and wide and to establish a sense of community that fortifies these ideas. Some people cultivate a more self-derived sense of purpose, which is a more postmodern approach that people like my mother harness to create meaning.
Sagan believed that manmade creations of meaning are often misguided. Science has constantly debunked comforting explanations of our existence; explanations that lead us to believe we’re in control of the universe. Science has the agency to scrutinize everything from concepts we have been indoctrinated with to conclusions deduced by using the scientific method. This leads us to the question: what did Sagan believe science was telling us about our purpose?
He believed science tells us that there is no greater purpose. That life is empty and meaningless. That humanity represents a miniscule microbe of the universe and is therefore relatively insignificant.
This is a terrifying idea to entertain.
Our lives are made of meaning, reasons, and fate. Does this mean that we live in a perpetual lie? Or does it mean that we have to reject the virtues of science to live worthy lives?
What it means is nothing. This statement has no meaning. No meaning gives way to emptiness and emptiness gives way to possibilities.
We as humans should not fear the unknown, our insignificance, or the cosmos. We instead should embrace the emptiness that exists. We should recognize and leverage the unlimited possibilities that this empty space yields.
As Sagan put it: “We are the custodians of life’s meaning”. There is no comic creator of meaning; we are the creators and purveyors of our very own purpose. What can possibly be more empowering than this?
So embrace god, your family, your relationships, your life’s mission—in this world, the possibilities of meaning are endless. Live big and bold lives that extend beyond the imaginable and inspire the minds and souls of others.
“If we crave some cosmic purpose, than let us find ourselves a worthy goal” -Carl Sagan
Thank you to my mother for helping shape my life’s purpose. Your influence has given me the strength and wisdom to live beyond my ephemeral self.