Albert Camus, Creativity, Dreams and Synchronicity: Why Create Through The Absurd?
It's December and we’re 9 months into a global pandemic. It's a rainy Tuesday and my bedroom window is stained with condensation and water droplets against a bleak gray background. My city of Toronto recently entered its second full scale lockdown in less than a year. As an introvert staying inside never bothered me, this is probably what I’d be doing regardless, but there’s a certain bleakness that accompanies a mandatory lockdown that forces you to question everything. I’ve been able to stay optimistic for the past few months because my reason and purpose always seemed self evident. I had a goal and an ideal I was constantly chasing, and the pursuit of creativity always seemed like the most obvious route to take. Yesterday as I was facing a writer's block I asked myself, why do I write? Its a question whose answer seemed obvious until now. Why create anything during unending turmoil?
In philosophy, "the Absurd" refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life, and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe. The universe and the human mind do not each separately cause the Absurd, but rather, the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously. As a philosophy, absurdism furthermore explores the fundamental nature of the Absurd and how individuals, once becoming conscious of the Absurd, should respond to it.
A pandemic is a form of absurd suffering, it's by definition cruel, illogical, disproportionate and inappropriate. Hospitals are packed with regular people of different races, ethnicities, classes and sexualities. The absurd is an equalizer, its indiscriminate and inherently void of absolute meaning. Everyday doctors and nurses are forced to make tough decisions on who to prioritize and who to keep alive.
In his essay titled The Myth of Sisyphus, the absurdist philosopher Albert Camus discusses the Greek myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was a King punished by the Gods for all eternity to roll a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll back down to the bottom when he nears the top. Camus claims that Sisyphus is the ideal absurd hero and that his punishment is representative of the human condition: Sisyphus must struggle perpetually and without hope of success. So long as he accepts that there is nothing more to life than this absurd struggle, then he can find happiness in it, says Camus.
In the past, people have been able to find solace in religion as a meaningful answer to the absurd suffering in life. We could easily reason away plagues as the anger of the Gods against the wicked tyranny of evil men. With the rise of science, religion has taken a backseat, and with science's ability to understand the mechanisms of reality, modern society has lost that inspiring sense of spiritual mystery, awe, and fascination.
Regardless of people's individual beliefs, the way in which modern society operates is mostly pragmatic. We want the general infrastructure and mechanics dealing with things sensibly and realistically, in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations. We want our vaccines from doctors and not mystics. This way of thinking has provided us with some of the greatest inventions in history like electricity, agricultural systems, railways, chemistry, vaccines, engineering and space flight, but modernism, the rise of technology and industry, and the prioritization of science has eroded some of the mysterious and inspirational aspects of human life.
Humans create meaning. In fact, it is a fundamental trait of humans to attach meaning to the objects we perceive in the world, to our relationships with others, to our own physical form, and to the various manifestations of agency encompassed by the category “self” – a trait that is as universal as that of language. The complex operations that characterize human cognition carry this meaning-generating function on many levels. Classifying an object according to selected criteria, attaching value to it, and judging its aesthetic appeal, are all mental operations that, in one way or another, give meaning to the phenomenal world.
Understanding the mechanics of meaning in life does not negate it. Our capacity to create meaning and understand meaning is the reason why we evolved into what we are and has benefited us in furthering humanity to think critically and communicate (and widely agree about) abstract concepts like ethics and morality. Language and symbols are how we have created our infrastructures and superstructures in every scale imaginable, by being able to create, communicate and understand the meaning of our individual ambiguous abstractions to the group.
A highly pragmatic view of life is able to get rid of the mystical nature of reality until you realize that however much we can uncover and understand, our universe is much more mystical and awe inspiring than we can imagine. Despite being able to create a vague map of reality and the cosmos, every piece of information we uncover holds a kaleidoscope of information within it that sparks infinite amounts of questions. Regardless of how much we rationalize it, the sun is still a giant ball of fire that we are hurling around at ungodly speeds, and we are conscious monkeys, made up of quantum waves, that have learned how to alchemize Earthly matter to make visions that appear in our brains tangible. The way we do that is by making meaning inside all of this chaos, and that’s why I write. Writing and creativity is the way we make sense from the absurd.
What makes us different from Sisyphus is our ability to create something new in the current moment that might add meaning in or help other people's lives throughout the course of their lives through the absurd, for generations to come. Camus coping through his existence by philosophizing has helped the lives of people for generations after him, that is the effect creativity can have. We create because creativity is a physiological phenomena that can compel us to alchemize abstraction into reality and bring forth meaning for ourselves and society at large.
Another reason to create is due to the intrinsic value it offers. A hyper-materialistic view of the world can lead to an extreme focus on the external world, hedonism and materialism for fulfilment. People can be motivated by external factors but we are also motivated, stimulated and fulfilled from within, by interests, curiosity, care, creativity or abiding values, that have tangible effects on the state of the external world. These intrinsic motivations and fulfillments are not necessarily externally rewarded or supported, but nonetheless they can sustain passions, creativity, and sustained efforts.
The interplay between the extrinsic forces acting on a person and the intrinsic motives and needs inherent in human nature is the territory of Self-Determination Theory. The theory states that conditions supporting the individual’s experience of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are argued to foster the most high quality forms of motivation and engagement for activities, including enhanced performance, persistence, and creativity.
Creativity is an act of relying on oneself, being mindful of the moment, learning a new tool, displaying autonomy, competence and embarking on a new adventure, it requires venturing into the unknown, facing failure and welding some meaning out of chunks of chaos. Camus believed that the creative act of asserting one's own perspective on the world epitomizes the revolt, freedom, and passion of the absurd man. Humanity and civilization is the totality of that rebellion. We’re generations of people that stood in the face of certain death and built something that lasted far beyond their lifetime, a symbolic immortality. Everything we see in our societies, including ourselves, were created by people who rebelled against death, decay and absurd suffering. Man evolved escaping predators, going through wars, diseases and dark ages and we were still able to imagine a better tomorrow for those that come after us and built new forms of agriculture, systems of social and political governance, art, architecture and space travel. We were still able to extrapolate beauty from the guaranteed suffering every human being must face and alchemize it to create a better and more meaningful society.
If we are seeking social, political, technological or economic change, the advent of the internet has given us the ability to exercise our creativity to connect with others and build new and disruptive models and systems that make the existing models obsolete. The internet is a spatial dimension, encasing amalgamations of the worlds most important creations. Everything, everyone and every piece of information ever, is a finger click away from any destination. That means the walls separating people have become brittle.
The creations of Bitcoin, Wikipedia, Uber and AirBnB are proof of the disappearance of old models that made certain levels of access and information exclusive to class and location based opportunities. No matter where you live, what faith you practice, what class you fall under, if you’re low, high class or middle, we have access to the same things and can widen the margins of success based on our skills and merits. Information and wealth are becoming decentralized. We’re all connected and a click away, everything is seconds away with instant precision.
If I’m proficient at functions like coding, and begin to acquire more information, I will have more access than someone who is in a better financial situation, because I would be aware of how to optimize different programs and carry out more efficient delegations, than someone wealthier and lacking information. It's an incredible invention that inherently attempts to make all opportunities accessible to every individual in every nation.
It's also given rise to what is the most creative time in human history. Everyone is a director, producer, photographer, author, at least partially. We’re all stenographers, we all share and capture footage. A rise in creativity is good for democracy and is undoubtedly a pathway to a more compassionate, intellectually stimulated society, capable of cogency. Studies have also shown that expressing yourself through art and creativity can help people with depression, anxiety, or cancer, too. And doing so has been linked to improved memory, reasoning, and resilience in healthy older people. The beneficial effects of creating aren't dependent on a person's skill or talents.
Miyamoto Musashi said "if you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things." When you learn anything, you elevate everything. In trying to learn and better any circumstance in your life, you elevate your existence, you make life run smoother and better, and seeing those results pushes you to continue creating, learning and elevating your life and the lives of those around you. When you have a situational problem and have solved it creatively, you can apply the process of solving to other problematic situations. You see everything as connected and it helps you keep an open and creative mind. That realization enhances your ability to critically think, discern, and solve problems in a creative and elegant manner. Everything from exercising, to writing poetry, making music, even juggling, if your goal is to learn and get better, you begin to excel more and more in all facets of life, you become more confident and are able to solve problems in other areas of your life, by learning the constants of practicing, learning, failing, adapting and innovating.
The more time you spend being creative and focusing on your crafts, you become more competent, mindful, you learn about life through the process, you feel an intrinsic fulfillment and you begin to experience flow state and synchronicities more often. Synchronicity is an example of our ability to create meaning in chaos that can have value and real world implications. Synchronicity is the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection. Psychiatrist Bernard Beitman, a psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences professor at the University of Virginia, and a coincidence researcher says synchronicities are indicators of an invisible network that connects everyone and everything. Beitman suspects humans transmit some unobserved energetic information, which other people then process or organize into emotion and behavior.
“Just as sharks have ampullae in their skin that detect small electromagnetic changes to help them locate their prey … it’s plausible, maybe even probable, that humans have similar mechanisms that detect coincidences,” he says.
There’s no evidence for this, but he’s not the first one to pursue this fringe line of thinking. Austrian biologist Paul Kammerer believed coincidences arise out of unknown forces, or waves, that he called seriality. He wrote a book on the subject in 1919. Albert Einstein even commented on it, saying it was “by no means absurd.” And in the 1950s, psychiatrist Carl Jung came up with a similar idea, his so-called synchronicity theory, to describe these bizarre occurrences.
In my personal experience, synchronicities are coincidences that our brain ascribes meaning to and can inform us about our lives in the current moment. It could be a quote in a movie, a song lyric, a verse in a poem, a license plate, that transcendentally connects directly to something in your life and has the ability to guide you and give your subjective narrative resolve and solace. Synchronicities can have transcendental qualities about them and can genuinely feel like highly mystical experiences being created by unseen forces, which might be true, but it's more than likely our brains.
Like flow state, synchronicities happen most when we are being mindful, and creative. Creativity is the function of pattern recognition and problem solving, and when our brain is constantly in that zone, we will try to make sense of the chaos and give ourselves deeper insights into ourselves that we are not consciously aware of. Our brains create our dreams and those have been proven to give deep and metaphorical insight and meaning into situations in our lives that we are consciously unaware of. Through our creativity, our brains are able to provide us with courses of action we should take, different fears and anxieties we might face, as well as resolutions and solace to our problems that we consciously don't know yet.
Our brains ability to create meaning is also behind the mechanisms of inspiration and idealism. Ideals are inspiring conceptual germs that nest themselves in our psyche and push us to evolve and create order and meaning as we aim for them within the absurd. Our ability to conceptualize and idealize modes of being that can make a more beautiful, ordered and harmonious world are as a direct result of our ability to create and understand meaning. Religions and our current nations are the summation of these idealistic germs that helped conceptualize a utopia better than reality in the present moment.
The reason I create is to create that meaning from the chunks of chaos, to receive the intrinsic fulfilment that comes with it, to practice mindfulness, and to conceptualize and aspire for an ideal of what life could be. Every single individual, inventor, innovator, artist and architect was inspired by something else, into this never ending kaleidoscope of inspiration that goes back to the dawn of man. Inspirations and ideas are part of the real invisible network that connects everyone and everything. Those inspirations become our ideals that we strive for and help us bring something into being that was not there before, all the way back to whatever inspired us to turn stones into tools.
Acknowledging things that inspired us, pinpointing those aspects we admire and then aspiring for them is called setting ideals. All ideals are imperfect conceptual germs that were triggered by creativity, that guide human existence. Our Universe is in a constant flux between order and chaos. As parts of nature, we are order and chaos making creatures. Bolts of inspiration are universal commands, the same ones that make a bee make honey, or bring a galaxy into being, they’re ineffable phenomena that just are. We can talk about the mechanics behind it but we don’t know why, it just is. Those inspirational germs are the ideals I aim for. As a person who has been deeply impacted by different pieces of art, literature and technology, I want to be able to create my version of the meaning I felt when I experienced my ideals, that have shaped and created the best aspects of myself and the world around me. We are the auteurs in the cinema of our life, our lives are the marble and we can either attempt to carve out a symbolic David from the chaos and add beauty and harmony to the world, or we can let erosion and entropy do its job to the stone.
All human creativity is an exhibition into nature's battle of creation and entropy. Every creative act, acknowledgement of inspiration, and proclamation of idealism is propelling the army of order and bringing forth more meaning into the absurd. Through our ability to create meaning we are able to use our creativity as an access point to the better and benevolent parts of our being. We try to learn, understand and express the fundamentals of what we are. We make movies and music and even structures, like La Sagrada Familia, with profound poetic and transcendental universal meaning, for others like us to perceive and extract meaning from. So I write because I am constantly trying to express my inner-world and achieve an ideal of the meaningful dopeness I’ve experienced. So create to continue making order out of chaos and aspire for dopeness, because that’s what the fuck we do.
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