As you are probably aware, I’m obsessed with Schopenhauer’s idea of the Will and how it overrides our rational facilities. In it’s most basic form, it comes down to this: we struggle through today so that we can struggle through tomorrow. Now obviously, Schopenhauer’s ideas predated Darwin and we understand why it is that we have this irrational compulsion to keep living: if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t have survived as a species. Still, we are not hummingbirds. We have rational abilities. Yet we let this primordial instinct carry us on through lives that are very often not worth slogging through. But the universe could surprise us.
I should be clear: I don’t find my argument for the continuance of life all that compelling. If I had lived thousands of years ago and believed that Thor created thunder, maybe it would be different. But I don’t. In the time scale of a human life, the universe is a very predictable thing. And though I may have superstitions about gravity going away, at the core of my being, I think that things will continue on as they have. And sadly, what I’m about to say does not help me because it is too intellectual.
A rational reason not to blow your brains out tonight is quite simple: surprise. It’s not just that tomorrow might be better; tomorrow might be mind blowingly better. It might be a combination of heroin, cocaine, being offered your dream job, and the best orgasm you ever had — or could imagine. You don’t know. It’s like Bertrand Russell’s story of the chicken. The life of the chicken is pretty great: you get to do what you want and the farmer feeds and cares for you. Nothing in your entire life has prepared you for the day when he cuts off your head.
So we don’t know. But deep down, I feel that I do know. When I was in graduate school, I was swimming in a sea of general circulation models (GCMs) — more or less computer models for predicting the weather. And with all that computing power — the 8 CPU 10 GFLOPS ETA10 and thousands of brilliant minds — we didn’t predict the weather very well. Indeed, we still don’t predict weather that well. I’ll give you the secret of predicting tomorrow’s weather almost as well as a supercomputer: look outside and say tomorrow will be the same. And if you have a barometer, well, watch out! (Here in the Bay Area, the pressure has been dropping — storm’s coming in.)
Tomorrow’s going to be like today. Sure, I know intellectually that the sun may rise tomorrow and be paisley. But I “know” in a much more fundamental sense that this is not going to be the case. And I’m glad! Because even though tomorrow could bring the greatest orgasm imaginable, it could also bring the greatest suffering imaginable. Surprise is a double edged sword.
Personally, I don’t kill myself because even my worst days aren’t that bad. Stevie Smith once said that when she learned of suicide as a child, it came as a great relief to her because it meant she had control. If life ever became unbearable, you could end it. I like that thought. But what really seems to separate those who do kill themselves from those who don’t is the feeling of hopelessness — a lack of belief in surprise — the idea that today is eternal. So be happy! Tomorrow could surprise you in a very pleasant way. Of course, well, you know the caveats.