Thursday, 1 April 2010

Our own insignificance

Amit Varma writes about how insignificant we are in the larger scheme of things (here and here), and there's one point that sticks out as remarkable, in my opinion. That is his thought on how global warming is projected as the end of the world, when in fact, it just means the end of our tenure on this planet. (One might add that global warming may wipe out nearly all of life on earth, but I don't think most of us are really concerned about all the other sundry poor beasts who share this habitable sphere when we paint gloomy post-apocalyptic scenarios to warn of the consequences of unchecked global warming.) The Douglas Adams quote about self-esteem Amit shares is just so apt, so I reproduce it:
Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.

I am reminded of Stanley Kubrick's quote about mankind and its utter helplessness here.
My godless self finds itself nodding silently in agreement. We'd cope with ourselves better if we gave up the comforting notion that everything is going on according to some pre-ordained fate.

It's not as bleak a prospect as it seems, though. Jacques Tati's extremely amusing and warm film Mr. Hulot's Holiday has an extraordinary sequence. The bumbling endearing protagonist, Monsieur Hulot, is painting a boat standing close to the water on the shore. The can of paint is by his side, and Hulot unconsciously dips the brush into the can after intervals. Unknown to him, waves come and go, carrying the can away with them and then returning it just in time for Hulot to dip his brush. Now, Hulot might not have been painting that boat by the seaside and still the tides would flow as they do. Yet chance, in all its magicality, places the can appropriately when the need arises. That is also true of our existence: we have been fortunate. (Talking of Tati's film, please read Roger Ebert's touching review. It's a must!)


Kush said...

Agree whole-heartedly - except on the last statement - the statement that our existence is a fortunate event is rather debatable. Dare you cite that to someone with strong post-modernistic opinions! :P

Sudipto Basu said...

I don't have a lot of idea of what post-modernism is (except that it sounds a helluva lot impressive on anybody's description).

However, to clarify the last bit, what I meant was: we are fortunate to have the right circumstances for survival (when we might have been left to cope in some unfavourable planet that would wipe life in a matter of seconds). I have doubts if our existence is fortunate for other species.

Vaishnavi said...

I absolutely loved the Stanley Kubrick quote!

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

Thanks, Sudipto. A new perspective for me. Indeed, why should the end of life as it exists today mean the end of the world?

If the human race actually self-destructs itself, and also countless other life forms, then a future intelligent being or a space traveller would certainly think, a posteriori, what a stupid species the humans were!

Kaushik Chatterjee said...

Funnily, I’m reminded of that old folk tale, I think we read in Upendrakishore’s ‘Tuntuni’ or Vidyasagar’s 'Kathamala' (?)- it was about that jackal who, stuck in a pit, was crying aloud frantically, “Oh! My goodness! The world is coming to an end sooner! There is no other way to escape it as I can see it, alas!” One of the passers-by, an old Samaritan, was impressed by the prescience of the jackal and asked him anxiously if anything at all could be done to forestall his prophesy of doom. “Aahh! You fool! First pull me up and I’ll tell you next!!” exclaimed the fidgety jackal with an ill-concealed urgency in his voice.
With great efforts and timely help of the well minded pedestrian, the jackal eventually pulled himself up. Now, asked about the possible salvation plan needed to save the world, he shrugged off rather nonchalantly and retorted with a glint in his eyes, “Haha, let me assure you, the world is absolutely safe now! When I was sinking, it hardly mattered what happened to the whole world as I knew mine was crashing down, sure and fast!!”