When I was a kid (I tend to imagine I was 12, but I might have been 10 or 13) my dream was to become a philosopher. I had read some of Jostein Gaarder children’s books and an intro book on Kant. I was taken by it, my mind came to it easily and hungrily, and it felt important.
I don’t know when or how I came to feel that this would not be a feasible or acceptable future to aim for. There is no one moment I can point to that set me off course, but when I went to university, I didn’t study philosophy. I didn’t even consider it. I studied other things, for reasons that I thought were right, reasons like usefulness, security, some vague notion of respectability. I studied things which had fixed paths into the future, clear directions for what I would do and who I would become. I say things, plural, because I couldn’t settle down. Whereever I was, I wanted out, I changed paths several times. None of the choices lasted very long before they got eaten up at the edges by doubt and listlessness.
I’ve never been very good at being sure. I question the most basic things, up to and including life itself. It’s a habit I’ve never found a good use for, it has mostly served to make my life difficult. Perpetual doubt is not a comfortable state of mind, but I don’t think that there is any certainty out there in which I can find an easy rest.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was also one of those kids who were seriously fascinated with space. You know, the kind of kid who talks with endless enthusiasm about galaxies and black holes, the idea that the stars you see are so far away that by the time their light reach you they might be long dead, etc. The vastness, the overwhelming numbers, a scope that made me dizzy, thinking of it gave me a joyful vertigo.
Even now, I often revisit the following series of thoughts: We are made by the same stuff as the rest of the universe. We are about 7 billion consciousnesses walking about on a relatively tiny globe, talking and thinking and observing ourselves and the universe, while at the same time being a part of it. In every one of us, part of the universe is conscious, is aware: We are the universe observing itself. I find both comfort and awe in this shift in perspective.
I am now finally and slowly making my way back to some incarnation of the dream I had when I was a kid. It doesn’t offer a clear path forward, and I am not sure if I am any more certain of my choice now than I have ever been. But I think it’s time I gave that 12-year old a chance. Wish me luck.
Thank you for all the stories. I would love to hear from you, to hear how you deal with uncertainty, and what you think is true and important, then and now. Feel free to mail me or talk to me on twitter, I'm @mareinna. I wish you all the best.
In times when I’m short on meaning or will I keep coming back to David Foster Wallace’s speech “This is water.” I recommend it, it's on youtube.