What Am I Doing?
By Robert Wheeler
Most people sometime in their life wonder about why the are here, where they came from, where they are going, and what the value is of their daily struggles. We live in a cause and effect environment, and many wonder what the cause is of their life.
For many it is silly to dwell on such questions because we are just here, our purpose is to live and that gives meaning to daily activities. But unfortunately, for many that is not satisfying. This concern results from the amazing operation of the brain that produces a mind that thinks abstractly about one’s self and one’s relationship with the environment. It is part of managing existence most effectively. History indicates that ever since people have had the capacity to be conscious of self, these concerns have been major motivators. This is the ontological imperative: a requirement to search for ultimate being. Whether it was created within us or evolved through natural adaption is not as important as recognizing that it is there.
Because the answers to these concerns are nebulous, people tend to align themselves with established assumptions and beliefs of other people, institutions, or organizations. Such belief systems have formed culture and dominated societies. They range all the way from determinism established by a theistic force to existentialism that excludes anything beyond material nature. Psychology research indicates this wonderment is an innate need similar to a personality trait and could be called “ontological imperative” or ”ontossense,” or even the recently popularized “spirituality.”*
Even though this seems to be a universal characteristic, it is manifest many ways. For many people this need is not as pressing as those of daily life such as job, food, and entertainment. The less pressing question of why gets pushed into recesses of the subconscious mind where it either creates an unsettled feeling or surfaces unexpectedly. For many people it is met by subscribing to answers provided by a belief system already established, one learned in childhood or through subsequent experience. This provides many benefits such as belongingness, social support, moral guidance, salvation, and answers to ultimate concerns. For many other people, though, these established systems conflict with their own experience and knowledge, and they search for answers with varying degrees of activity and concern.
When a person is consciously concerned with this ontological imperative, two aspects become important. First, what is the imperative? What is the purpose in life beyond daily existence, what causes it, and what is its source? Much research is available about the role of an individual’s sense of meaning and purpose with their health, well-being, and performance.* The famous Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl helped set the stage for positive psychology by developing a therapy aimed at helping people uncover their purpose. What you think it is doesn’t matter, as long as you have one.*
The second aspect of the ontological imperative is the nature of this source that gives meaning and purpose for my life. Is it a divine force or great architect that designed and created our universe, or a cosmic mind from which emerged information, energy, consciousness, and matter? Personal experience and modern science have provided some support for theories, but there also are denials and conflicting theories.* Most scientists admit that it is not really known. The nature of this ultimate reality is currently beyond the view of science and can only be speculated. Even the revealed answers of religions are now recognized as interpretations of human minds. And, if it is the result of an unknown universal-cosmic-consciousness, it may be forever beyond the grasp of personal human consciousness.
In the meantime, we seem to have an imperative to search for the allusive source and its nature, what the ancient Greeks called ontos. Philosophy calls this search ontology.
Despite our improved standard of living with its comforts and entertainment particularly in the United States, there are increasing rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, and criminality. Many people are dissatisfied and have a nebulous feeling of meaninglessness or discontent from wanting something more. They are bombarded with media coverage about consumerism, crime, fraud, conflict, and terrorism. Educators cater to radical minorities and teach self-enhancement and material wealth. Politicians and community leaders push for power and self-interests. Nations pursue warfare, global conflict, and violence.
All of this could be replaced with cooperation and helpfulness if pursuit of the ontological imperative was emphasized instead of power and aggression. How nice it would be if our media, educators, and politicians would emphasize this most fundamental human need rather than immediate gratifications and thrilling events. For more information go to www.ontosscience.com.
* Support for this statement is in Climbing Higher: Answering Big Questions. (2019, R. Wheeler), described at www.ontosscience.com.