By Ho Yee Yuen
My most testing moments came as I pondered the question: “Why do we study so hard, only to continue working even harder for our careers in the future?”
I had no convincing answer to that question, and this existential crisis happened to strike during the preparation phase right before A-Levels. Such excellent timing.
I shrugged it off by browsing the Internet and that was when I came across this meme:
It gave me a good laugh for sure – not only at the content, but also at the thought that there might be full-time professionals trying to solve our problems of existence.
At the same time, something in me stirred and I took a deeper look at the question: “What is there?” It struck me as a question representing existentialism itself and that sent me into a frenzy as I churned out an essay response in an evening of inspiration.
After 4 hours in and 700 words out, I managed to resolve my own existential crisis. I am sharing my writing here, in the hope that it might shine a bit of light into your own life too.
What is there?
What is the true meaning of our existence? Does our existence have any meaning to it apart from the significance we give it?
People sometimes pass off these questions as ‘just a self-existentialism crisis’.
But to me, they have simply given up searching for the truth and settled for the facade we know as reality.
They will tell adventurers to ‘stay down to Earth’ when we have already landed on the Moon.
And they will tell future adventurers to ‘stay down to the galaxy’ when we have expanded well past the Milky Way.
Our present reality may offer refuge to many and that is perhaps respectable in its own right.
But for those of us who wish to press on to the truth, we might want to consider even the simplest questions such as ‘What is there?’
I understand this question only because the words have been defined that way and because I have been taught their definitions.
Definitions help make us make sense of reality and are the only reason why I am able to write this essay and share my thoughts with others.
For without definitions, there can be no meaning, only inexplicable phenomena.
Some may find solace in the knowledge that we can say something is there because we define it to be that way.
However, definitions themselves can often be ambiguous.
Concepts such as love, fear or communism are loaded with numerous differing interpretations, some of which could be entirely incompatible with each other.
For instance, some parents may believe that to love your children is to be disciplinarian and drill values into them, whereas other parents may believe that to love your children is to give them lots of freedom and let them live life on their own terms.
With regards to communism: some may see it as a noble attempt at social leveling whereas others may see it as the herald of mass poverty.
There will always be history books which claim to give the ‘official account’ of events that have happened. But even then, interpretations can vary sharply.
Ask one half of the world and they might tell you about the tragic fall of Constantinople back in 1453. Ask the other half of the world and they might very well tell you about the glorious conquest of Istanbul in 1453. Both refer to the exact same event in history.
We can say something is there because we give meaning to things. But even that meaning may not be shared universally or within the human race, because people live in their own distinct facades.
There is surely inequality in this world in terms of our ideas and perceptions of our existence.
And then you may wonder, how about inequality in absolute terms? Assume there is a fundamental substance; an atom/electron/quark that is common to everyone and everything. Given this common substance, we are still equal at our core. Variations in our perceptions are simply different arrangements of those fundamental substances.
I shall not seek to provide a firm answer on absolute inequality (or equality) simply because I believe we do not know enough to form a firm opinion on the issue.
We may not know the answers to all the questions. That’s fine, so long as we keep making progress.
Though mankind can be said to have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the world, all that may mean close to nothing when compared to the vast expanse of the universe.
I think the true purpose of the question ‘What is there?’ is to remind us never to settle for the facade we know to be reality.
Instead, we should focus on constantly refining our understanding of the world around us, hence moving from one facade to the next.
Even if we live in an eternally shifting delusion, we would still possess the thrill of exploring the unknown. This thrill is something irreplaceable, and in my opinion, more meaningful than simply knowing the truth in the first place.
To embark on this journey, you need only ask yourself the simple question: ‘What is there, really?’
So the next time you think you might be having an existential crisis, remember this magic phrase and go seek out the thrill of the unknown! You might just gain a new perspective or insight to carry you through life, as I did after I finally found the courage to pen down this article.
The author is an Accountancy Major who has completed his first year and is interning at the Advanced Remanufacturing Technology Centre. This article was born out of an existentialism crisis he had at age 18 and he hopes his writing can make a difference!