What is nihilism exactly? Let’s keep this simple and practical. At its core, nihilism is the belief that life is meaningless. But how exactly does someone arrive at such a conclusion. Well, it’s a pretty simple exercise in mental gymnastics. We are all going to die. In a million years, no one is going to have the faintest idea who we all are, and everything we ever did in our life will be absolutely insignificant. As you can see, there is a clear and logical case for nihilism. Does that mean it’s the right approach to life? Hell NO.
If the above line of logic proves anything, it’s simply that some people are quite skilled at talking themselves out of life! Any human being can imagine a distant enough future where all their achievements can be seen as insignificant. But let’s get out of our heads for a minute and verify whether this philosophy carries any weight in real life. Let’s take the hypothetical example where your 4 year old child (imagine you have one even if you actually don’t) is very ill and is in immense pain. Will you comfort your child by telling them that all this is meaningless and it won’t matter in a million years? Or will you hug them tight and tell them that you will do everything in your power to help them heal and feel better? In the first case, your response is absurd and you are an idiot. In the second case, you have chosen to be fully engaged in life and you have committed yourself to doing your absolute best to relieve the suffering in the world, in this specific case, the suffering that your child is going through. That, ladies and gentlemen, is meaningful!
Regarding the claim that what we do will be meaningless in 1 million years, that is also an invalid argument. Most of us have heard of “The Butterfly Effect”, and those of us that haven’t have most likely seen the movie with the same title. The term was coined by the meteorologist Edward Lorenz, who demonstrated through a mathematical model how a butterfly flapping it’s wings in Brazil can influence the time and location of a tornado taking place in Texas several weeks later!! So we need to understand that our actions, no matter how small, will always have consequences. Just because it’s impossible to predict these consequences due to the unfathomable complexity of life and the world we live in does not mean they don’t exist!
Now that we have tackled the philosophy side of the issue, let’s discuss the ramifications of nihilism on the human brain. How exactly does your brain engage when you are working at a job you enjoy, or running your startup, or playing your favorite piano piece, or painting your masterpiece? The answer is simple. It happens through meaning. It’s because you view those activities as meaningful that your brain becomes so engaged and focused. Let’s take the opposite case. Take the case of your boss asking you to perform a task you see as meaningless and not adding any real value. You’re like to still perform the task out of need, but you’ll be frustrated, easily distracted, and less engaged than you could be. Let’s relate this back to nihilism, would you really want to view the world as meaningless, going through your life like a disengaged zombie, and never achieving your full potential?
There’s more. We have known for a long time now the importance of goal-setting as an individual and collective exercise. Goals light the path forward and allow us to focus our time, energy and resources on what truly matters. But they don’t just do that. Goals actually impact our brain chemistry! When we set goals for ourselves and achieve them, our brain produces more dopamine, giving us that good feeling of satisfaction! Dopamine plays a major role in motivation and reward, which is why goal setting can be so motivating! People who choose not to have any kind of goals whatsoever in their life are choosing to opt out of one of the most important brain mechanisms for positive emotions. But that opting out doesn’t make them more immune to the negative emotions, which they would still have to go through. So why choose to deprive yourself of feeling good, satisfied, and motivated?
To sum it all up, nihilism is detrimental to your life and your brain. Don’t let crafty words and logic patterns fool you into wasting your precious time. Say yes to purpose and responsibility. Say yes to life.