As Louisiana State Police Detective Rust Cohle once said reluctantly in the front seat of a car driven by his partner:
“I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in human evolution. We became too self-aware; nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, a secretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody’s nobody. I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.”
Rust is a fictional character in a TV show, but damn is that not a phrase that perfectly encapsulates the nagging thought in the back of the minds of the unfortunate who have accepted the cruel randomness and nihilism of the universe. Humans as a species are about 20 percent too smart (random figure I made up) to live life free of existentialism. I look at the hard life of animals in the wild with jealously as their brains are hardwired to focus on survival and pro creation. Our brains confuse survival instincts and the programmed urge to pass down our genes with self-importance and meaning. We have just enough intelligence to make life more miserable.
Even in an age of the internet, scientific discovery, and space exploration, most of the world still believes in a god or predetermined plan for our life. Religion is a defensive mechanism that our brain created in our less informed days to generate a false blueprint on how to live life and to quell the feeling that our lives are meaningless. Most people do everything they can to turn that part of their brain off, to ignore the fact that we are just complicated hairless apes living on a rock orbiting a star on the outer string of a galaxy that is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the 15 billion year old known universe.
Forgetting the most primitive organisms, most species enjoy amusement in their short lives, but not to the level that humans crave. About 15 years ago I was standing on a large rock on the shore of a remote lake in Ontario Canada that surprisingly only contained bass fish. The bass lake as the locals called it is a place that I would spend countless hours fishing with my sister and cousin during our annual summer vacation. One memorable evening on that large rock I liked to occupy, I saw a group of otters swimming about 50 feet away.
An adult otter, in my mind I consider her to be the mother, was floating near the shore as 5 smaller otters were swimming around each other playing farther out into the lake. After several minutes of the children otters splashing and chirping at each other, the mom otter called out and the children returned to the shore.
I think most humans have an inherent appreciation for beautiful moments in nature like that one. Personally, I think that appreciation comes from a peculiar jealously for animals like that family of otters. Living in the wild is tough no doubt, but they have a singular focus in life. Survive. Watching those young otters play proves that animals also have the ability to detach themselves from the task at hand of surviving to enjoy the moment and have fun. Those moments for wildlife are briefer and simpler just like their lives in general, but that makes them even the more special.
Humans have a more complicated relationship with amusement and distractions from the real world. Our forms of entertainment have evolved into complex motion pictures, traveling the world, shopping centers, cooking, podcasts, video games, and countless other things.
I consume so much media daily that it’s a bit terrifying. I spend so much time in that distraction space trying to avoid forming the nihilistic thoughts that Rust Cole shared to his horrified partner. I have a podcast rotation that requires me to listen to them at 2x speed to keep up with, I have a movie collection surpassing 300 in number, almost 400 vinyl records, and close to a 1,000 video games. I enjoy tracking my media consumption through internet sites like Letterboxd, Trakt, last.fm, and my own excel sheets. Consuming media and tracking the metrics to analyze how good I am at distracting myself from the meaninglessness of life generates a strange enjoyment. I think I could compare it to leveling up a character in an RPG video game. Documenting adds a false sense of meaning and accomplishment to it all.
That bizarre rush of dopamine that comes with looking at my media consumption data has worn off a bit. I need something a little stronger and involved to bring a more powerful rush of those good chemicals and to continue distracting myself from life. A few years ago, I had an ambitious idea of writing a blog post about every movie, video game, book, and sporting event I consumed. That became too time consuming and I put my self in a cycle of disappointment by getting behind in my blog posts or writing something that was half assed.
Last summer I had the urge to play a childhood favorite video game of mine Gran Turismo 4. Instead of popping in the game and playing it for a few hours to ride a small pleasant wave of nostalgia, my brain said “you should start with the first Gran Turismo, 100 percent the game with every gold medal, document how long it takes to do each individual event, and write a detailed long blog post about your enjoyment of the game. Then do that for every game in the series.”
I even played the first Gran Turismo last summer, got a gold medal in ever event (minus some licenses test) and completed it to a level were even my OCD brain was satisfied. I didn’t keep track of how many hours I played the game though. That was a piece of data that I felt was needed to fully check that game off my list and make my way closer to Gran Turismo 4. I then became frustrated with myself and continued without writing a post. My media consumption and data collection of it has gotten to a point that I cannot satisfy without putting in a stupid amount of effort and documentation.
Starting in 2021 I plan to play through the Gran Turismo series as I explained above. Tracking the data as I play and writing a post for every Gran Turismo game is my Mount Everest, a stupid self-imposed challenge for the fleeting feeling of accomplishment.
I also want to write more, something that I have enjoyed for most of my life but do not do nearly enough. I plan on writing two posts a month, not too much, but enough to keep me engaged and on some kind of routine. I am trying to create a flimsy structure to fall back on when the overly complicated human life becomes unbearable.
After writing this post I have never been more jealous of those otters playing in that bass lake. Never has an otter had to deal with the mental obstacles that I have created for myself.
Writing while listening too:
Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow
Safe Bet – Joy, Find Me – EP