The concept of infinity is fundamentally incomprehensible. The existentialists had begun to lose their minds trying to label how impossible it is to fully understand reality, until they took a step back, and settled to label everything that gave them a headache with just one word: “infinite.” How easy it is to think, figured the philosophers, “reality is infinite,” rather than try to visualize the endless expanse of space that lies all around us in every direction. How unimaginable it is, then life without problems when we consider how infinite the nature of “problems” is.
Our minds weren’t designed to grasp the idea of infinity, and for many, the confusion we feel in regards to the topic inspires a unique and terrible fear. This is where optimism steps in, a safety net just below the cliff, a comforting sense that separates the nihilists from the hopeful. Optimism is simply a way to cope with problems like existential fear though it’s not so simple to conjure up.
Our mind is beaten and boggled at the image of blackness one hundred billion times bigger than ourselves, and relieved once we are bathed in the glorious glow of our palm-sized optimism. Well then, shouldn’t the feeling of hope be the pinnacle of human experience, the high we seek out the most that wonderful feeling so powerful that it could win against man’s philosophical nemesis? Not exactly. Ask someone what they want to have above all else, and they’ll likely answer; “a good job,” “money,” “love,” or some other success; though, when it comes down to it, we intuitively understand that these things are synonymous with happiness, and not optimism.
Happiness and Optimism are two sides of the same coin. Happiness is the output of our built-in reward system. It’s a simple system; when we take care of a problem, we are rewarded with happiness. If we are given some monumental problem, however, happiness seems out of reach and the solution is as impossible as the size of space. We, looking to make the best of things, turn to the uplifting power of optimism. Optimism, thusly, is inherently internal, and something born from the disappointment of failure. Our lack of ability to solve the problems of life creates a lack of happiness. When we fail, we now have two problems to deal with: the one we failed to solve, and then the one that hurts the most self-doubt. Overcoming doubt is difficult, and it takes a conscious effort to remain optimistic. Optimism is made from fear, and loss, and problems. Oddly enough, hope, for such a positive and rewarding emotion, ends up being one of the most infrequently felt, and we usually only turn to it in the direst of circumstances. It can be maddening; how dependent optimism is upon those pesky problems- just as its cousin happiness is forever bound to their solutions. Free from problems to solve, rewards and incentives like joy and hope are rendered moot, along with emotions we wish we could abandon like disgust, fear, or embarrassment. We must be confronted with problems, and often, to feel happiness and hope, or any other emotion.
So, what’s left for those in a world purged of problems? Firstly, considering that most problems stem from individual and group differences, our hypothetical world would have to be what is essentially a Utopian dreamland of identically minded, identically grown, identically bodied clones. This world must have no need for food, water, or any other limited resource. The people couldn’t procreate or ever expire. They wouldn’t need to compete, having nothing to compete for. All work of the past will have been dismissed as representations of now unrelatable victories or suffering, and all new creations would be contributed to equally by all people. There would be no unfairness, no worry, no jealousy no problems. Nor would there be a need for emotion. Haunting? Eerie? It sounds like something out of a horror story because it is a common premise for one. Was the image that came to mind one of cold, dim streets lined by identical, gray, blocky houses? Were the crowds of indistinguishable faces creepy, unsettling? What kind of monuments did they build? What shape could possibly be appreciated, universally, without debate? What accomplishment does the society have to celebrate when they have had to overcome no odds?
Our problem-free world is as impossible to imagine as infinity. We simply cannot imagine life where living isn’t necessary. Where feeling isn’t necessary. Where triumph doesn’t exist because challenge doesn’t. Every horror story with the message “be careful what you wish for,” was always just a variation on this grand, encompassing law of life: we must witness and embody bad in order to comprehend, and maybe even have a chance at feeling, good.