The Absurdity of it all!


Tongue in cheek article by a good teacher trying successfully to get the students to reflect on provocative ideas. Her conclusion:

"The absurdity of human life poses a challenge to its meaning. Absurdity and meaningfulness don’t go together. This, however, does not mean that if life were not absurd then it would have meaning. Removing the obstacle of absurdity does not entail that meaning rushes in. But if we cannot remove the obstacle of absurdity then it will be hard to conclude that life has meaning or determine what that meaning might be."  - Rivka Weinberg, Why Life is Absurd, NYTimes, January 11, 2015


Below are selected reader responses from about 500..she did provoke.


Re: "Professor Einstein said, “In the world, there is time. And just as there is time, there is another thing: space. Space and time, time and space. And these two things, he said, are relative. “

Just a point clarification, that's not what Prof Einstein said. In face he said the opposite, that space and time are part or the same thing, related to each other, not relative to each other.

T.A. Morehouse

This is very good. The lesson is that all is not lost to the absurd that most of us experience in small ways and large. Sartre's view, in "No Exit," was that "Hell is other people." We only have other people, close to us and far, to be really concerned about. No matter what time we have, we can try to make life better and less a hell for them and for ourselves. Or, through ignorance or malice or other human failings, we can make it worse. If we have a choice, that's it, and it's not an absurd one..

Francisco Gonzalez

Life cannot be absurd. In the case of human life, regardless of longevity, time and space, life itself is its meaning and purpose. Our discontent is due to our consciousness. For we can spend a lifetime imagining and constructing versions of our lives, and worlds which, more often than not, will never materialize. And we have the ability (gift or curse) to accomplish all this while muddling through the routines and drudgery of what we do for a living, during our lifespan, including nothing. But then we realize that even drudgery internalized can be fulfilling, and, as Camus suggested, we can imagine ourselves happy, like King Sisyphus engaged in his eternal struggle with his great beloved rock. Could Sisyphus be troubled that his life is too long, or too short? Perhaps it is enough that life simply is.


Fairfax, VA

If our lives mean nothing, at least one's mind can rest easy that we are doing a half-way decent job of serving as repositories of that DNA. Also, we can't forget that special symbiotic relationship with all those nasty viruses that we have the pleasure of hosting every now and then. That bugger of a flu virus that I hosted a few weeks ago was very grateful for my existence.

Nullius N. Verba

Berkeley, CA

As a physicist with some knowledge of Einstein's Relativity, I must correct the notion that this article has anything to do with what Einstein was doing. Einstein was explaining the effects of relative MOTION between two observers. For example, do observers on a train moving RELATIVE to observers on the ground measure the same speed of light? This has nothing (= NOTHING) to do with the commonplace senses of "relative", like propinquity of birth, appropriateness, expected norms, etc... Please, philosophers, do not drape yourselves in robes that do not fit.


Most people prefer a certain payout in life to gambling for a larger payout under the most favorable odds. That seems absurd, but we think it is just the opposite. We don’t like to take chances, but when we have, they have proved our most meaningful experiences, not always good ones admittedly, which may be important. Life becomes absurd if we resist giving our life meaning. That is the long and short of it.

To paraphrase the late great satirist, Art Buchwald, the question is not whether life is absurd, but what are we doing here in the first place?

Jerry Blanton

This reminds me of the word "great." Architecturally, we have the Great Wall of China, and since it can be distinguished from from outer space, it is truly great; however no one lives in the wall and it has no use today; now it is absurd. Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world by the time he was 30 years old; Julius Caesar was upset because at 40 he hadn't done as much and was never called great: that's an absurd comparison. Ramses the Great began ruling at age 18 and lived to 92 during a time when the average person lived 25 years; therefore, he was considered a God, which is absurd, but comprehensible. When a toddler shows his parents his first stick drawing, the parents say, "Honey, that's great!" That's absurd, but empathetic. Ramses had over 200 children, but Genghis Khan had over 200 wives, which is so great that now almost 20 million Asians can trace their DNA to the Great Khan. That's absurd and has no meaning. Today if a person has one lasting relationship, others call that "great." The Great men I have mentioned would call that absurd.

Concerned MD

- I found your comment to be very interesting. I think it can actually be very comforting to realize that we are basically insignificant in the large scale of things. Takes the pressure off.


The degree of absurdity ("irrational/illogical") we find in our life is relative to our expectations and our experience of life. If we had no expectations, then there be nothing to feel absurd about. People who expect the most out of life feel that it is most absurd, and those that are the most content with what they have, feel that life is just the way it should be. When one has no expectations at all, then any gift, however small, is a miracle ("astonishing"). So the opposite of feeling life is absurd is to feel that life is a miracle.

from Germany

I find this contribution to be misguided.

Einstein's unification of space and time is purely mathematical, and has important applications in physics, but nothing to do with philosophy.

We know that purely material things such as stars are born, evolve and die. So their life times are long on human scales, but still finite. We also date the beginning of the universe. So it is also finite. Thus all inanimate, non-self-conscious things that we experience are finite. The adjustment of our thinking to any other level of existence (the infinite, etc.) are so distant from our experience that we do not know how to appreciate/interpret/understand these. So religion is the interpretation of such things by humans, and is unreliable, although possibly (still) real.

January 16

Finally some nice weather and the ground is dry enough to get out and about. I cut down a red oak tree and began sawing it into two foot  sections.  The cut pieces will dry over the summer and in the fall I plan to drag them to the shed and split into fire wood.  While I  was working I noticed the two geese had opted to fly about a 100 yards or so to the big pond.  However one goose did not achieved enough altitude to clear the barb wire fence at the  edged of the pond. He/she/it was suddenly hanging upside down tangled in the wire. Turned out the goose was not impaled on barbs, but one leg was caught between two twisted wires. I flipped him over, he came loose, and he ran honking on to the pond. There were some buffleheads swimming about and they remained unperturbed by the commotion. The goose seems no worse for wear.

ras Inclement weather and trapped in doors you make raspberry galettes and one night you need a stick to turn yourself over in the bed. 
Sunrise on the last day of 2014.


"Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water." ~Zen proverb


& if unenlightened, cutting fire wood is still a rewarding chore.

January, '15 and time to prepare for January '16. I begin with a couple of small red oaks just behind the corral, then move on to large doty red oaks behind  the big pond.