In one of the recent mediations, I landed on the thought that exploration is not only one endgame, it is probably the only one.
There is indeed a lot to do, but none of it is the endgame.
There are no places to reach, no goals to achieve, no deeds to do. None that
have any sanctity beyond keeping the entity occupied and directed.
In this vein, exploration marks the difference between the
repeated and the novel. Clearly, there are many things that are repeated in a
human’s life. There is a routine to most days – and often for the better.
But the preference and comfort of routine can actually take
a human being down the path of behaving like an automaton through and through.
There is a line that needs to be drawn – to ensure that routine is helpful for
providing a semblance of structure to the life but does not ossify all of it.
Coming to the more important element of exploration, once
the basic activities are routinized and taken out from the bandwidth
allocation, the rest is open for exploration.
Let us not get into what to explore and how. The central
idea of this article is to just highlight that exploration alone is necessary
and sufficient as the endgame of a human life. (Assuming here the sustenance
and safety aspects are already covered – partly in exchange for some
This seems like it may get teleological, but it does not. I
am not claiming that exploration is a higher calling of some sort. I am in fact
offering it as an alternative to the nihilist conclusion of any coherent
worldview that is built on what is known to humanity as of now. The modernist
position on this is that one’s life needs to have some purpose - e.g.
“achieving one’s true potential”, “contributing to the wellbeing of fellow
human beings”, “reducing suffering in the world” etc. However, once one has
become disillusioned with the claims of such modernist claims, one may to go
through an intermediate phase of nihilism – “nothing matters” – which can be
liberating or depressing. It is depressing if one is secretly still a modernist
but wants to desperately move on. It is liberating if one has indeed moved on.
Why would one be disillusioned with modernist ambitions? Not
everyone would. There are lots of people that go about their lives quite
productively with one or more of the modernist ambitions. However, take someone
who sincerely explores the foundations of these ambitions – including one’s
being, nature of self, the degree of control human beings have over their
circumstances. For her, these ambitions turn out to be mired in the unfounded ideas
of an era long gone. We are all dealing in memes that came about over last
couple of thousand years – there is as much sanctity to these memes as there is
to the fact that we have 10 fingers. Both are results of contingencies that
shaped our form, our brains, and our minds. What’s more, unlike the 10 fingers
that are honed over millions of years of evolution, the memes are relatively
recent in origin – not only are they open to questions, but also likely to be
fairly open to improvement in the evolutionary sense.
That is the only sense that has a direction, rest is
meme-driven and hence open to changes.
It is in this sense of direction that I am claiming
exploration to be the only endgame. It is continuation of the process that
blindly brought us into existence i.e. evolution. One can extend the idea to
evolution not only of intelligence and life on earth but of solar system and of
the whole universe itself.
In general, matter has been exploring design spaces –
initially landing on atoms and thus elements and then quickly moving on in
smaller niches to molecules and hence complex chemicals. One strand of organic
chemistry moved much further in complexity and led to life at least on one
planet as we know it. Within this strand, one sub-strand moved further in
complexity of social organization – creating a global interconnected system of
organizing about 7 billion individuals of the species.
It would be quasi-teleological to say that there is a
purpose to all this i.e. complexity is increasing. I wouldn’t even go that far.
To me, the blind exploration of design spaces that has been going on is enough
as a guideline. When matter first coalesced into hydrogen and helium, we got
stars. However, these were of different size – owing to various contingencies. Some
became black holes, other shone as regular stars of some size or other. Some
matter didn’t coalesce into large enough blocks but remained in orbit around
other large masses – giving rise to planets.
The story goes on. It is not necessarily of increasing
complexity but exploration of various possibilities from a given starting
point. That is how evolution happened. Such diversity of species suggests that
there is more than one way of being in the world – an elephant as well as an
earthworm. Human is yet another way of being here. It turned out to be a
starting point of larger complexity. Now we inhabit an interesting branch of
this march of exploration – one with a complex society, language, several memes
and spare time and energy for further exploration.
What we do with that is up to us. The reason I am not all
that enamoured by ‘happiness’ as an alternative to exploration is because it
gets boring pretty fast. Also, owing to the complexities of human brain and
human societies, it is often hard to predict and plan for. It just happens,
when it does. Also, the happiness logic is inverted in modern human societies –
evolution gave us the happiness phenomenon to steer our behaviour towards
survival and procreation. Now we are obsessed with that lever and we keep
pulling on it – to titillate our senses, although we are well-fed and
Exploration is a concrete and controllable agenda to pursue.
It doesn’t prescribe a lot and doesn’t have too many ‘key result areas’. It
asks a simple thing of its practitioners – avoid repeating and attempt to go
through the new rather than the old.
One can of course be thoughtful about how and what to
explore. But this can easily become mired in complex considerations which may
masquerade as simple improvement of exploration but are really driven by the hidden
agendas of the pleasure-seeking or novelty-fearing modules in one’s brain.
There is no major prescription. This is an attitudinal shift to bring about. This is also something to keep in mind to help liberate the brain from niggles of worries, angsts and so on – most of them quite irrelevant when seen from the exploratory point of view but major ones if one follows the modernist thought process of a purposeful life!