Philosophy of the Absurd

10/31/2015 , , 13 Comments

It is beauty, in all its forms, life as it is lived, that makes me shed tears...

Early sunset in the woods. Credit: Linda Bergqvist

Is it all for naught, we ask. This cold and uncaring universe goes against our feelings, our wants and dreams of purpose and meaning. And yet we are nothing but a burst of energy in a void of matter, a blue dot, an experiment, a random process. All ideas of intention and free will is but semantics. Yes, it is hard to accept. But I do not feel less today than yesterday because of my realisation. 

Life is simply a philosophy of the absurd, a futile search for meaning and clarity in a world devoid of God, eternal truths or values. As such, are we condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task, is there no way out?, you ask. According to Albert Camus “The struggle itself [...] is enough to fill a man’s heart”, for what is life if not a series of experiences, of day by day living? So it is for the blue whale, the orangutan, and the arctic fox. We are not so special as we have come to believe. 

Upon insight, people react differently, some with sadness others with slackening life force or caring due to denial or intentional forgetfulness. But we don't have much of a choice but to accept the absurd and create a meaning of our own. No wonder that such a great number of humans today suffer from mental illness since they have nothing left: no nature, no culture, no community, no language...nothing that creates identity and thus meaning in our uncaring world.

We want to live and survive and yet if we continue on like today we will likely self-destruct. Prior generations only had to worry about one existential problem at a time (last time it was nuclear proliferation) but our current dilemma is the result of multiple converging crises, all life-threatening. Deforestation, ocean acidification, antibiotic resistant diseases, peak oil, ecosystem collapse, freshwater scarcity, resource conflict, economic collapse etc. 

Most people are not convinced we are in the midst of a collapsing global society, but a few of us are. And so if we follow the reasoning of Camus we have three different options, either 1) suicide, 2) nihilism, or 3) revolution. Of course number 3 should be everyone's option. Unfortunately 1 million people die each year from suicide, that's one in every 40 seconds, and WHO estimates it will increase to about one in every 20 seconds by 2020. And there are plenty of people in the nihilism camp, I would say a majority, but I can find few in the revolutionary segment. At least here, in northern Europe. But perhaps we are late, as we see movements in Greece, Spain and Portugal towards self-determination and decentralisation of decision-making. 

From ecology we know that crisis creates opportunity in otherwise rigid systems difficult to change. The question is one of timing, to see the window of opportunity and seize it. Of course, this will play out differently depending on scales and places. So far we have not reached a critical tipping point in social behaviour. But there is a great tension, a rising worry, more disorder as entropy exacts its vengeance.


Out of the ashes into the fire


  1. Nice, thank you very much. Timing is indeed key.

    (also btw, a misspelling, it should be "all for naught" rather than "all for not" in first sentence.)


  2. Just found an interesting study that kind of backs up my theory of 3 different responses to the idea of collapse, but they call it 1) fundamentalism, 2) nihilism, or 3) activism.

  3. The "philosophy of the absurd" was one of my first, several decades ago. I found its best use was to prevent untoward emotional reactions, because one could stop and reconsider that whatever was distressing may be all absurd anyway, in the sense of beyond human comprehension.

    Later, I developed a sort of megasynthesis of ancient mysticism's perennial philosophy, dressed up in the language of science, in ways that attempted to take the principle of the conservation of energy more seriously, as well as notice that an arbitrary minus sign had been asserted into the entropy equations of thermodynamics and information theory, which had effectively reversed the meaning of the concept of entropy.

    Energy is Spirit. Entropy is the scientific Satan. "Purpose," from the point of view of cybernetics, arises when some of the outputs of a system return as inputs. Since one may regard the Universe as defined as being that for which all outputs return as inputs, therefore, the Universe as a whole is the supreme purpose.

    Of course, human beings have been thinking about these issues for as long as they have been human and able to think at all. The main thing that has changed has been relative progress in physical science, enabling technologies to become trillions of times more powerful than ever before in known human history. There are intense paradoxes manifesting due to the ways that natural selection pressures drove the development of human artificial selection systems which are based upon the maximum possible deceits and frauds. Therefore, we are living inside of Wonderland Matrix Bizarro Worlds, where everything appears to be absurdly backwards.

    Peak Resources problems are particularly intense due to our political economy becoming based on POLITICAL FUNDING ENFORCING FRAUDS, which tended to require attitudes of deliberate ignorance, which drove their dilemmas that being able to back up lies with violence never stops those lies from still being false.

    Due to the entrenched, established systems being built on runaway vicious spirals of POLITICAL FUNDING ENFORCING FRAUDS, being stuck in the middle position of some degree of fatalism or nihilism may be regarded as realistic cynicism.

    Since civilization was actually being controlled by the principles and methods of organized crime, the excessive successfulness of doing that drove society as a whole to become more and more psychotically detached from relatively objective facts, or criminally insane, such as how quantum mechanics and the special theory of relativity enabled the develop of globalized systems of electronic monkey money frauds, backed by the threat of force from apes with atomic bombs.
    Due to POLITICAL FUNDING ENFORCING FRAUDS, the socialized losses had no effective ways to prevent those things from happening. However, as we approach the times of Peak Resources, we are forced more and more to face the facts that the accumulating socialized losses are added up to become greater than the previously privatized profits.

    There are reasons for how and why human beings and civilization operate as entropic pumps of environmental energy flows, in ways which became based upon the maximum possible deceits and frauds, which makes that world appear to be absurdly backwards. Some basic concepts of general energy systems are that the most labile components control the system, and the system will operate along its own path of least action, or least resistance. In human terms that means that civilization was controlled by the people who were the best at backing up lies with violence, and therefore, civilization developed along the path of least morality. However, none of that actually stopped the principle of the conservation of energy from continuing to work.

  4. In any true Philosophy of the Absurd, it would be equally absurd to realize the existence of God, eternal truth or meaning, as it would to say there is no God, eternal truth or meaning. And revolution will come, as sure as the sun will set and rise ;) A new Aeon.


  5. We are not threatened by peak oil, but by peak finance. Peak finance was reached in 2014, so now we're not able to add more debt without the system unraveling, and without debt it cannot continue, as the system is dependent upon eternal growth.

    This is called a deflationary collapse, which will start next year. By 2050 it will be all over, and nature can restart without humans.

  6. By the way, my friend Eivind Berge tried to explain why a deflationary collapse is unavoidable in this comments section (closed 23-07):

  7. Yes, I agree it would be equally absurd to find any eternal meaning but we homo sapiens are very much driven by our ideas of meaning, whether or not these actions are truly meaningful or not is another question.

    Well, the underlying problem is one of resource depletion that leads to peak wealth (finance), but we can change economic rules if we want to, not the laws of thermodynamics.

    1. Have you studied this graph by Tverberg:

      The economic rules must adapt to this situation. The energy per capita will be very small, as we are so many more people than before. In 2035 we will have only 10-15 percent of the energy we have now for disposition.

      This will happen not because of peak oil, but because peak finance.

  8. Yes I am well aware of Gail's prognosis and emphasis on finance, but we need to take such projections with a grain of salt because most "models" only work under current assumptions as mentioned by Dennis Meadows with his World3 model. It is true that most people will experience it as poverty and think its purely a financial problem, just like now, but that doesn't provide any insight whatsoever to the fundamental problem.

    1. Tverberg recently had a post about that model:

      I prefer to take her projections with a barrel of salt. Salt will become very important for surviving the cholera epidemics that will come when the grid is down, and with that sanitation. To survive cholera you need to drink a lot of water mixed with salt and sugar. Water alone will not help much. Further salt will become important again to store food.

      In Sweden you might don't feel the impact so well yet, as you are not an oil exporting country. It all depends on how long we can keep the grid operating? When the grid goes down all kinds of epidemics will get loose.

  9. Yes I agree that finance is important, the "operating system" and I very much respect Gail's prognosis even if I think it's very difficult to assess a timeframe for the downward spiral. It is true we don't export oil, we import from Norway, Denmark and Russia. Which is expensive and will soon come to an end. So I think transportation will get hit first, before the grid, at least over here. We also have huge credit bubbles so people don't perceive the economy to be that bad, yet. But that is probably on the verge of shifting. Sure we see collapse, but mostly in terms of a massive inflow of refugees that we don't have enough beds for at the moment.

    1. Yes, helicopters are very important in keeping the grid operating. So transport will go first.