Years ago, I watched the late 90s movie “The Truman Show” with great fascination. In that movie, the protagonist thought he was living a normal life, but he didn’t know that he was part of a massive TV/game show shot in a gigantic studio set. There were hidden cameras everywhere recording all his moves, and the producers had orchestrated every little thing he experienced. He was basically living a lie, unbeknownst to him. The movie had such a profound effect on me, and for a short while after watching it, I often found myself looking out for potential hidden cameras in the trees, waste bins, and other obscure locations. My prevailing thought was: I hope I’m not in a similar situation. I hope my life is real. What if the sky is just a large sheet of fabric? Should I be questioning everything I’ve ever been told? What exactly is reality?
Have you ever felt that way at certain points in your life too? If you have, you must realize that such feelings are more common than you probably think. In fact, people have been questioning reality since the dawn of time. But there was one man who took such questions to much deeper levels than most of us have bothered to. His name is Arthur Schopenhauer, and he was a foremost 19th German philosopher and pessimist. He threw a monkey wrench into the gears of everything we seemed to know about reality, contending that the universe is by no means a logical place. One of his most exciting works is his book: “The World as Will and Representation,” which will be the subject of much of our discussion today.
Not one to mince words, Schopenhauer, aged 30 at the time, started his book with a bang. See his very first statement on page 1 of “The World as Will and Representation”: The world is my representation: this is a truth, valid with reference to every living and knowing being, although man alone can bring it into reflective, abstract consciousness. If he really does so, philosophical discernment has dawned on him. It then becomes clear and certain to him that he does not know the sun and earth, but only an eye that sees a sun, a hand that feels earth; that the world around him is there only as representation, in other words, only in reference to another thing, namely that which represents, and this is himself.
Summarily, he’s saying that no one can know what’s real or not. We only know what our senses seem to interpret to us as true. I liken it to a drunken man who thinks a piece of wood is his phone because that’s what his senses seem to be telling him. Nearby bystanders would look at such a person and laugh at his folly. But if we’re to take Schopenhauer’s word for it, we’re all like that inebriated man. We can’t know what’s real, and it doesn’t matter how confident we think we are. Everything we see, smell, hear, touch, and feel might as well be hallucinations. Isn’t that disturbing – the idea that everything is unreal and probably a figment of your imagination? Or does it instead give you a sense of relief? If nothing is real, then nothing matters, right? The fast-approaching project deadline? Are your final exams next week? Maybe we can finally put a positive spin to Schopenhauer’s submission – go on the rooftops and shout, “The world is my representation! Nothing truly matters. I’d love a glass of wine and a long nap, please”.
If Schopenhauer’s thoughts on representation make you feel dizzy, wait until you hear about his submission on the “will.” The will is a concept we come across upon further examination of his book. As he aptly explains, every human has a “will,” which is an expression of his desire to live, thrive, interact with people, enjoy life, and so on. Interestingly, the rest of nature has its will as well. For example, plants have their will to grow and absorb nutrients from the soil, and animals have their ‘wills’ to survive and procreate.
Sorry banana tree.
I never knew you had opinions.
We all view life in relation to our will. Each individual ‘will’ seems to give us a sense of purpose or fulfillment on earth. However, there’s a higher “Will” (capital W), which transcends not only all our individual human wills but also all the wills of nature. This WILL is so grand, yet unknowable by humans, and we neither know the place of our will in relation to it nor can we extricate ourselves from it. It’s like being forced into a big project without knowing what’s expected of you. Because we feel like we’re uncertainly groping in the dark, we experience misery and despair as a result.
According to Schopenhauer, there’s only one solution for us – one answer that gives some semblance of fulfillment: we must deny ourselves of our will to live. As depressing as this answer sounds, Schopenhauer posits that it’s the only valid one – that typically comes only after thorough introspection. This is a remarkably depressing take – but again, we’re talking about Arthur Schopenhauer, the philosopher of pessimism here.
What do you think about Schopenhauer’s ideas? Do you agree that “reality” is probably a figment of your imagination? Are you willing to follow his suggestion to kill your will to live because it’s the only path to salvation? Or do you instead think some nice steak and wine, with some good music, would have prevented Schopenhauer from spewing such gibberish?
How to Live Through Dark Times
Written by Laolu Ogundele
Interesting. We each create our own worlds based on how we view everything…that’s interesting.
Yes 😀 and it might be true 😱
Comments are closed.