The Unanswerable Question


I didn't even realize I was smiling like a madman. It took a moment to remember I was sitting in my new favorite San Francisco coffee shop, Philz. People around me probably thought I was some lunatic ready to take the coffee beans hostage.

But I was smiling because Jason Silva had just retweeted me. Silva is a futurist, philosopher and the host of Nat Geo's Brain Games. He also happens to be an existential hero of mine. He creates "shots of philosophical espresso", or short videos to rave about the ecstasy he experiences over the wonders of the universe. Like Carl Sagan on speed.

And all I did was reword his original tweet about Gaspar Noe's new film "Love", and credit Silva at the end of it. A clever marketing trick, instead of the simple retweet, and 118,000 people were able to see my words. Boom!

Life goal achieved.

It was just the reminder I needed to remember that there are small wins in this world. I find it easy to forget about small wins because I'm often that kind of existential jerkoff.
Imagine winning one of those giant teddy-bears at a carnival and some mouth-breathing asshole behind you starts screaming, "Big deal, you won! Don't you know the sun is going to explode?" Yeah, that's me. A real fun guy.

Of course, I have fun. I enjoy life. Honestly! Remember, I'm the silly bastard smiling at the coffee shop over 140 characters. I'm working on it, but the real struggle is what happens between my ears.

I think about life a lot. How could you not? With all the wonderful possible things we could experience, there is no single answer to why we're able to experience it. Or what to do with it. Everyone is making it up. And even if Jesus or the zombies or a nuclear winter found us helpless, there would be still be at least one guy shaking his head, not sold on the one definition everyone else agreed on. Hell, it might be in our nature to never know. We can call it The Unanswerable Question.

And when I'm distracted by the magnitude of life, I start to think aspiring to small goals is a slap in the face to whatever brought us here. Like I heard the Buddhist ideas of non-attachment or the minimalist principles of Stoicism and instantly became no fun.

The arrogance is astonishing. I'm juggling the idea that there is no single definition for the meaning of life, and yet calling bullshit on something as fun as having your hero retweet you. 

To deal with this constant cerebral battle, I put my faith in the Butterfly Effect. The effect is explained by the idea that the flap of a butterfly's wings on one side of the world could cause a hurricane on the other. It just makes me feel comfortable knowing the world is far too complex and connected for me to call anything "good" or "bad", small goals or big goals. One greeting could mean a friendship. One date could lead to marriage. One sex tape could mean fame.

The only thing to do is surrender. My goal to experience a Japanese bar that fits thirty people max and celebrates wrestling on VHS tapes could inspire some brilliant kid somewhere to send us all into space. My goal to slap a plate full of food out of someone's hand could inspire some other evil kid to hunt me down and break my arm. We can't know.

What we can know is our small goals reveal our humanity. If someone wants to run a marathon or cook Thanksgiving dinner, it says something about their journey. They reveal what's interesting and important and even ugly about us. And with small goals, life becomes a choose-your-own-adventure novel every day. Why not flap your wings and cause some waves?