Is life precious?

By Katherine Sinyavin //

Consider the excited wonder of a child spotting a rainbow after a thunderstorm. Consider all of the mythologies that may race through her head as she looks at it: the pot of gold at the end of it, all the possible worlds it serves as a staircase into. Imagine another child looking upon a flowerbed filled with bright red tulips, soft strands of lavender, and star-shaped daffodils, and conjuring up a world of fairies, elves, and talking bees that live within it: an entire civilization forever hidden from the gaze of humans and the laws of science that would deem such a world utterly impossible and completely silly. 

Now consider the perplexity and amazement with which the Ancients looked upon what they called the heavens. Not knowing what existed on the other side of the endless blue sky, Plato imagined a world of Forms there: a beautiful ether of pure ideas where a worthy soul, finally freed from bodily constraints upon death, is finally able to engage with the truth of things. These Forms made life teleologically precious to the extent that life served as a philosophical preparation for the world of forms. Then the Scientific Revolution came along: Galileo pointed the telescope into the heavens for the first time. The discovery that the moon is not a perfect ethereal sphere but is in fact covered with blemishes and craters was the beginning of a transformation that would turn space from a place of wonder, awe, and infinite possibility to one that is governed by unfaltering and predictable mathematical equations; one that—to the extent that is has become known—has become boring and drained of its mysterious beauty. 

That which is contained within our lives—rainbows, the chemical reactions inside of the human brain, flowers, the species that exist on this planet, the laws that govern motion—is becoming more and more understood and is thus losing that which made life for the naive child and to Plato unquestionably precious. To the former, it was the immense mystery and magic that life offered that made it precious, and to the latter it was the access that living life granted to the highly coveted and mysterious world of Forms. In both cases, ultimately, it was mysteriousness that made life precious. Now, everything in life appears to follow predictable, deterministic patterns: patterns that bring each individual into a meaningless, absurd existence, and then by the same logic take him out of it. How can life, then, be precious? 

While we may understand many of the things that constitute the nature of living, we don’t, however, understand life itself: the parts don’t come close to explaining the mysterious whole. Why do we exist? Why is all of this here? Why are some things—the gentle orange of a winter sunset or a well-written novel—so deeply and inexplicably beautiful? Asking such questions can help recapture some of the mystery that is lost to science and adulthood. The inexplicability of these questions—of life itself—the wonder they evoke and the infinite possibilities they give rise to affirm that life must be so much more than a lifeless physical equation. These questions, then, by unveiling the hidden mysteriousness of life, reveal that like is precious, as it had been for Plato and like it is for children, and while science has been able to explain many things, such questions bring to the fore all that is wonderful, beautiful, and mindblowing life: qualities which—in the feelings and experiences they bring to our lives—will always make life precious.

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