Black-and-white film screenshot of several people in a nightclub. A man on the far left is wearing a suit and has a woman standing next to him wearing a hat and dress. A man at the center is looking at the man on the left. A man on the far right is wearing a suit and looking to the other people.
“Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
~ Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in “Casablanca.”

I have written a short biography to introduce myself to my readers. But I want to make clear that the bio was meant as informative only—not to be taken as claiming any self-importance. I am mindful of how small both our lives and our thoughts are in the vastness of space and time. As I have written elsewhere on this blog,

Against [this] immense backdrop of speed, space, time and mystery shouldn’t we be humbled by our limitations and apparent insignificance? Who, other than the ignorant or delusional, would claim to know much of ultimate truth? I make no such claim; no one should.

Yet we live in a world where sports figures, movie stars, and the rich and famous have ghostwritten biographies asserting their importance. (By contrast, one of my intellectual heroes, David Hume, wrote a very brief biography titled “My Own Life.” It exudes humility even though he was one of the greatest thinkers in the history of Western civilization.)

We also live in a world where some of the worst people strongly believe in their own self-importance. I unequivocally disavow such claims. While I may be important to my wife or children, from sub specie aeternitatis I am insignificant.

Yet, I find this insight edifying. It helps us to care about values that transcend our frail, fleeting, fragmentary egos. In this way, we are enlarged rather than diminished. If our concerns are self-centered only, they will die with us. If our concerns transcend the bounds of our egos we attain a measure of immortality.

Moreover, by seeing ourselves not as individual atoms but as part of a process that, hopefully, progresses toward higher levels of being and consciousness, then we can find real significance as links in this chain. We are either part of a vast cosmic web—which may be meaningful—or we are essentially insignificant.

For we are (almost) nothing alone.

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4 thoughts on “Anti-Biography

  1. “We also live in a world where some of the worst people strongly believe in their own self-importance.”

    Now more than ever.
    Peculiar thing about Trump is that it isn’t about him,
    it’s about how after he is gone, his descendants and friends carrying on his name;
    his buildings carrying on his name written in large metal or concrete letters. An edifice complex.
    He means well in this respect: to help his family and friends in the process of doing so
    –too bad it has nothing to do with genuine goodness. Only the greatness that comes with a Caesar or a Napoleon. At best. And with so many attempting to build something permanent, the biosphere might be destroyed.

  2. I like your thoughts that we are (almost) nothing alone. My world view is that we are not isolated individuals, but we are groups of people. For example, Beethoven should not get sole credit for writing his symphonies. The credit should be shared with his teachers, his parents, the people who built his apartment and his piano, the people who grew the food he ate, the people who made the clothes he wore, his friends, the ideas of his age… I find it amazing how many people recoil when I tell them this. This idea that we are all isolated individuals is deeply ingrained.

  3. I agree with everything you say her Richard. Thanks for the comments. JGM

  4. “This idea that we are all isolated individuals is deeply ingrained.”

    Imbedded in our genes, probably.

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