Happily ever afterVirtually ever story

Happily ever after
Virtually ever story ends with 0ˆ8happily ever after0ˆ9. These happily ending stories shape many of our real-life hopes and dreams. Don0ˆ9t 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, you0ˆ9d 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 eternity0ˆ5happily 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 0ˆ8ever after0ˆ9. That is the first lie stories tell us.

I0ˆ9ve 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, David0ˆ9s human mother loves his as a human, and all was right with the world.

The blue fairy gave David0ˆ9s 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 we0ˆ9ll live happily ever after. But life is not a journey. I have no idea where I0ˆ9m going, or where I0ˆ9ll end up. I hardly have a grasp on where I am or where I came from. When I die, I0ˆ9ll 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 David0ˆ9s 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.

I0ˆ9d like to say something about love, or hope, or faith that gives us meaning or truth, but I can0ˆ9t. I haven0ˆ9t found those words myself. If I told you to look inside yourself and find what0ˆ9s true for you, I0ˆ9d be paraphrasing a fantasy. I0ˆ9d like to say that the world makes sense, and that I0ˆ9m happy.

And if I can0ˆ9t say I0ˆ9m happy, I0ˆ9d at least like to say I0ˆ9m depressed, but I can0ˆ9t even say that. I don0ˆ9t know if I0ˆ9m depressed, or if I like the thought of being depressed. I can0ˆ9t 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, here0ˆ9s a piece of truth that I didn0ˆ9t 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, I0ˆ9ll look back at my deeds and realize, in the infinite complexity of the universe, it0ˆ9s 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.

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