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Existential dread- Why bother?
As a philosophy student you will have experienced this at some time or another, you will look out at the world and it will look gargantuan, cold, inexplicable and utterly indifferent to your presence. When you study the universe in it’s strange entirety, you are bound to begin to feel small. This is a particular issue for those who don’t know what career to pursue like myself because I have been taught by my degree that there’s more to life than a 9-5. Douglas Adams wrote in relation to this about the total perspective vortex, a machine that makes it “in theory possible to extrapolate the whole of creation—every Galaxy, every sun, every planet, their orbits, their composition, and their economic and social history from, say, one small piece of fairy cake,” and this was done to prove that the worst thing you can do in this life is to ‘get some perspective because the machine destroys the mind of those put inside of it. While this may make the whole feeling of existential dread feel rather comical it is a niggling problem for some people because if the universe is so big, why does anything we do matter? In this blog I am going to suggest possible solutions for overcoming the problems existential dread creates for philosophy students particularly at 9am when the thought of talking about the complexities of life can turn any hungover stomach.
The first one is to take the ‘ Afterlife’ (as in the Netflix show not any religious paradise we’ll address that in a moment). This is to take control of the fact that if nothing matters in the grand scheme of things then you can pretty much do what you want. This is of course a method to be used within reason because some things you may want to do would still matter legally. However, if you take into account that nobody else matters unless you want them to, then you can have a great time not caring what other people think and being more free. So if someone is holding you back from something, a new style, a new project or a career path ignore them because they are small and you have the potential to do something big.
Why not adopt a religion or faith? This is a common approach used by many to cope with the thoughts of our transience because if there is an afterlife or a greater plan then we all become a little more special and our presence is not ephemeral. Do some research and if non take your fancy you can make up your own faith, that seemed to work for the ‘flying spaghetti monster’ guys. Kant believed that if you simply practice religion enough you’ll eventually take on that faith so it’s worth a shot. But seriously the Chaplaincy at Warwick is actually a really peaceful and beautiful place that’s well worth a visit if you’re feeling stressed.
The main reason why your feeling this way is probably because you’ve found yourself in a rut. University can make days seem repetitive and when things grind to a halt you have time to reflect on what everyone and everything else is doing and you start to feel ill at ease. To overcome this you need to change things up! The way I do so is this; my hair is wild and often feels uncontrollable much like life has a way of feeling, so whenever I find things getting a little too stagnant I cut my hair short because then things change a little and things seem more manageable. Another strategy is to immerse yourself in a project, something that you really enjoy. This has two benefits; A that your too busy to feel existential angst and B, you’ll feel accomplished at the end for a while so you won’t feel so worried about what your doing with your life.
In conclusion existential dread is a mighty foe for a philosophy student but it can be defeated! Try to remember that this feeling can be good because you are in tune with higher thoughts and connected to your subject on a meaningful level. You also achieve a lot by being at university and every paper you submit leaves a mark both on those who read it and on your journey towards your next step in life.
P.S If your interested in the concept of existential dread have a read of Charlie Brooker’s article linked here it is very thought-provoking