Happily ever afterVirtually ever story
Happily ever after
Virtually ever story ends with 08happily ever after09. These happily ending stories shape many of our real-life hopes and dreams. Don09t you want to have a tumultuous relationship, full of poignant irony, with your significant other, then realize you truly love him or her and live happily ever after? Or maybe you have an arch nemesis, whom once defeated, you09d live happily ever after. Art imitates life and vice versa. But life cannot fit into a storyline with a beginning, plot complication, climax and denouement. A story has meaning because we can see it in total. When the story ends, the universe of the story becomes static in our imagination, and we project the final moment of the story to eternity05happily ever after.
This presents a conundrum when our dreams arise from our imagined story worlds. Real life is more dynamic, vast, and unpredictable than any fiction. It is constant flux, so there can be no 08ever after09. That is the first lie stories tell us.
I09ve seen Artificial Intelligence twice in the past two days (this paragraph will spoil the ending). I love the questions it poses, not merely about technological potentials, but about what it means to be human. The protagonist, a robot named David, searches for the make-believe blue fairy from Pinocchio that can make him a human boy. To the human engineers that created David, the capacity to love and to pursue a dream is the essence of humanity. Humans, therefore, can love the mechanical David as a human. In this story, David finds his blue fairy at the bottom of the ocean, and with a little help from a group of highly advanced robots two thousand years in the future, David is reunited with his mom, David09s human mother loves his as a human, and all was right with the world.
The blue fairy gave David09s life meaning, but what is the meaning of real life? Why are our highest goals unattainable? We seek to create perfect happiness, to know perfect truth, to attain perfect understanding. These goals would give our lives meaning, would give reason to our existence. With a little maturity, we realize that we cannot realize these aspirations by searching outside of us, in science, teachers, or books. Our stories tell us to look within ourselves, that truth is internal. But these are the same stories that tell us life is a journey, and at the end we09ll live happily ever after. But life is not a journey. I have no idea where I09m going, or where I09ll end up. I hardly have a grasp on where I am or where I came from. When I die, I09ll be cheating myself to look back on my life and try to fit it into a superstructure of a journey. In reality, every person dies with hypocritical and contradictory details, with goals unmet and dreams deferred. If we attempt to perceive our lives as a journey, we have to neglect inconvenient details. Life is not a path; it is a sequence of choices, choices based on our perception of a past, present, and future that are constantly revised. The journey paradigm for life is the second lie stories tell us.
A.I. is a story about a boy who lives a myth. But in A.I., the David09s myth becomes truth. Why do humans tolerate these lies upon lies? Stories, beyond giving us entertainment, tell us if we shape our dreams a certain way, everything will work out in the end, giving our life validation. We cling to these myths because we believe that myths, while not literally true, reveal a deeper truth about our existence. But what is the deeper truth? That depends on which myth you believe.
I09d like to say something about love, or hope, or faith that gives us meaning or truth, but I can09t. I haven09t found those words myself. If I told you to look inside yourself and find what09s true for you, I09d be paraphrasing a fantasy. I09d like to say that the world makes sense, and that I09m happy.
And if I can09t say I09m happy, I09d at least like to say I09m depressed, but I can09t even say that. I don09t know if I09m depressed, or if I like the thought of being depressed. I can09t delineate between the thing itself, and its effect. Currently, that inability to distinguish the thing from its effect prevents me from loving myself, or anyone else.
Not to be completely morose, here09s a piece of truth that I didn09t get from a story: Whether we perceive the world as a horrific cesspool filled with tremendous injustices, or as a beautiful balance filled with amazing goodness is our choice.
Either way, it is very hard to bear. Existence is never comfortable. Life is never happily ever after. But, at every instant, despite perpetual change and uncertainty, despite being pushed to the very limits of what is bearable, despite the unknowable truth, the impossible goal, and the unfound meaning, we choose to exist.
Perhaps, at the end of my life, I09ll look back at my deeds and realize, in the infinite complexity of the universe, it09s impossible to tell whether my deeds were for better or for worse. I could only look back at every moment I chose to exist: the eternal affirmation, I am.