Thought — 2 Min Read

A Brilliant Coincidence

by Case Greenfield, October 8th, 2023

Thought — 2 Min Read

A Brilliant Coincidence

by Case Greenfield

October 8th, 2023

We keep on telling ourselves that we are something special, despite knowing that we are merely a brilliant coincidence, a statistical speck in the universe. Maybe we should stop fooling ourselves.

There seems to be a growing consensus among scientists, that life in the universe is merely the logical consequence of the statistics of big numbers. During the many billions of years that the universe exists, chances are very likely that the exact congifuration of molecules in the exactly required circumstances to let life begin will have coincindentally occurred. And, that every required next step to result into life as we know it on earth will have occurred … coincidentally. Also, evolution (essentially a statistical process) did it’s work: the most adaptive have survived.

So, we are nothing more than a brilliant coincidence.

We are merely a brilliant coincidence

Sooner or later, statistically speaking, life in the universe just had to happen. It is the logical consequence of stochastically combining all possible configurations over a very long period of time. You can compare it with winning the jackpot. Even if the chances of winning are, let’s say, one in a thousand, if you wait a few billion years, one day the jackpot will fall on your lot.

And this is a problem for our brain, our mind. We are ’cause-effect’ thinkers. Everything must have a cause and a reason in our mind, a justification, if you wish. Everything must fit in our world of thinking. But again and again, this thinking turned out to be deceiving. Our world of thinking turns out to be very flawed. Again and again.

Here are some of my favorite examples. First we thought the sun circles the earth; Corpenicus showed us wrong. We thought we were special compared to other living creatures; Darwin showed us wrong, we are simply a branch on the evolutionary tree. We thought we were rational creatures; Freud showed that we are largely driven by unconsious emotions. We thought we were sort of a holy enigma; Crick et al. showed that our traits are largely stored in a molecule, called DNA (and the rest is epigenetics). Etcetera, etcetera. We keep on being demystified. The fairytales that we like to tell about ourselves all turn out to be wrong. Again and again, the emperor turns out to have no clothes.

Now, this says nothing about reality. It says everything about our thinking, more specifically, our mind models. The great mystery, to me, is: why do we need these stories about ourselves? Why can we not just live with the brutal facts, with the harsh reality that we are just a brilliant coincindence, a speck of dust in the universe?

We cannot live with chance, not even a brilliant coincidence

I do have an idea why we need these stories and cause-effect thinking. It is all about control, grip on our situation to increase our chances of evolutionary survival. It has everything to do with prediction. If I understand the cause-effect dynamic, I can control the process. If there is no cause-effect, ie. if it is all a random, statistical, unpredictable ‘chaos’, I cannot control the process. The brain – and other nerve systems – largely are prediction organs: it continuously tries to esitmate the situation we are in and predict the next steps so that we can optimize our chances of evolutionary survival. And the funny thing is, if we cannot analyze the situation exactly, we simply imagine the most likely situation and outcome, and try to bend it in our favor.

That is why we just cannot live with chance, not even a brilliant coincidence. We will always try to maximize control of our situation to optimize our chances of evolutionary survival.

By the way, an interesting observation is that with AI, Artificial Intelligence, we try to establish exactly this: predict the future from very complex sets of data, that are too complex for our brain to make a valuable interpretation of the consequences of those data. For instance the wheather forecast, one form of complex pattern prediction.

My Black Slate project

From the day I started as an artist, I have always said my last art project would be the Black Slate project. To be honest, I never exactly knew what the scope of this project would be. Now, I get a first hunch. It will be about exactly this theme: that we are merely a brilliant coincidence, a statistical event that had to happen one day, and how to deal with that apparently unbearable thought, the idea that there is no deeper cause, no cause at all, no universal purpose for our existence. We just happen to be here. The answer is 42, indeed.

The answer is 42, indeed

And that leaves us with a choice. Either we find peace with the idea that we are a brilliant coincidence, or we create a subjective purpose for our existence ourselves. If we choose to do the latter, than we must learn to live with the idea that such a purpose will always be subjective and situation-driven. It will not be a universal purpose. It will be a human, earthling purpose. So, we are our own purpose. The purpose of our life then is our life, and to warrant, to saveguard what comes after us. And that’s it.

And, by the way, it also leaves us with a problem. If life purpose is always subjective and situational, how on earth (literally and figuratively) are we going to live together in peace?

Anyway, It leaves me with the following question. Who is brave enough to live with this thought, that there is no universal purpose of life; especially when things in life don’t go as you wish or when things go completely wrong? Who is strong enough to create and truly believe and live their self-thought-up purpose, for better or worse? Who is strong enough to live without a god, without a universal purpose, without cause and effect logic, without a safe haven? Not in our lifetime, I am afraid. We will largely imagine, create our own safe havens, our mind models, in our cosy rabbit holes. For many of us, it is simply too much to bear, too existentially lonesome.

Art as the answer?

If there is no universal purpose in life, and we cannot live without something alike, maybe we then just have to create it ourselves. But not in the way we have done so-far. Not with deceptive fairytales. Knowing that we are a brilliant coincidence, we can still create our own cosy rabbit hole, can’t we? Something like: we know that there is a storm outside, but we can build a safe shelter to hide from it – knowing that there is a storm outside, but yet enjoying our cosy life inside the shelter. I think, that is what it will ultimate end up to.

So, to clarify, what is different then? We do not tell ourselves that the wheather is beautiful outside, only to find out we were wrong again and again when we take a look outside. No, we accept that the wheather is bad, but yet we create a cosy life inside.

My proposal is: let’s have art play a big, leading role in that. And that should begin with art that addresses the notion of mind models. And that is exactly what my art is about.

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