Monday, April 12, 2010

Theories on life, the universe, and everything

(Re-posted from my personal blog)

I'm actually not at all a fan of the Hitchhiker's Guide "trilogy."  But it is a good phrase.

I just saw this blog post passing along a brief lesson in life from Kurt Vonnegut.

I used to--and, to some extent, still do--seek the sort of life that would make a good movie.  Walking home from high school on a rainy night, after staying late to work on newspaper layout, I'd think how good my surroundings would be for some melodramatic montage, and I'd imagine the minor-key piano music and whining vocals that would accompany such a scene.

We all do this.  (By "we all," I mean "most of us, I think.")  We expect life to reflect entertainment.  After all, entertainment reflects life, right?  But entertainment reflects only the dramatic (and, at its best, the profound) in life.  It's a skewed look that uses semi-realistic people, relationships, events and themes to create unrealistic patterns and meanings.  We see this, and we expect our life to weave itself into natural plot lines; we expect people to exhibit the consistency and predictability of a well-developed character.

But people are not consistent, and life has meaning and story only through interpretation.  Out of this cognitive dissonance, we create the drama we expect to see.

Vonnegut:  "[B]ecause we grew up surrounded by big dramatic story arcs in books and movies, we think our lives are supposed to be filled with huge ups and downs.  So people pretend there is drama where there is none."

The blog author continues: "That's why people invent fights.  That's why we're drawn to sports.  That's why we act like everything that happens to us is such a big deal.  We're trying to make our life into a fairy tale."

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