A couple years ago, a cousin of mine created a family tree on a free online geneology website. I looked at it a bit back them, but I stopped paying attention to it fairly quickly. I keep receiving occasional emails automatically generated from the site about updates, which I mostly ignore. Recently I received one that said that someone had joined my family’s tree. I was completely unfamiliar with the name, so I decided to glance at the site.

In the time I that had lapsed, my family tree had grown quite a bit. There were many more “second cousins once removed”. I had no idea who these people were. They were just a name. To me, they didn’t really exist.

I realized then that if these people looked at this same family tree and came across my name, they would probably have the same reaction. Something along the lines of “Who the hell is she?” and “Who cares?” To them, I would be a non-entity.

It’s been puzzling me lately why the human brain evolved so that we each see ourselves as the center of our world. It’s natural to see the world as a network with you in the center. It’s next to impossible to not see the world that way. We can try a bit with our imagination, but our natural inclination is to see ourselves first. I don’t mean in a moral or philosophical way, I mean in an experiential way. It seems to me these is why it is next to impossible to envision being dead. How could the world exist without you? You are the center of it.

Yet, to billions of people, you don’t even exist. So… do you even exist? Our lives seem so real and so important, but if you take into account the lifespan of the universe, we are only here for a blink of an eye. And we are important to those who love us, but 100 years from now, most of us will have been completely forgotten.

Still, it’s hard to not take the whole thing — our lives, I mean — so damn seriously.

U2 lyrically addressed this metaphysical problem about 30 years ago with the song, “A Day Without Me.”

I guess this was before Bono stopped pretending he was playing the guitar.


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