Motives: The Meaning and The Meaningless

“We’re often too entrenched in existing structures and are so primed to think that if we grew up with the values and the norms, they have to be correct.”

– Sebastian Thrun

Nothing in life is spontaneous. Contrary to the line of zen-thinking that explains life happening “all of a sudden”, everything that has ever happened has accumulated and developed. What comes before spontaneity is simply unperceivable to human beings, and if it is perceivable, it has been ignored. Simply put, we don’t always have the ability to witness buildup ̶  our senses may not allow for it. If we have the ability to see the buildup, and spontaneity still occurs, then perhaps we have not paid enough attention to witness it. This leads to the development of the assumption that things just come into (or out of) existence. Our perception is out biggest fault as human beings bound to this earth. It is wrong for us to assume that the way humans experience the world is the ultimate truth.

Red-green and yellow-blue are so-called forbidden colors. “Composed of pairs of hues whose light frequencies automatically cancel each other out in the human eye”. We have categorized these color combinations as being impossible to see simultaneously. The limitation results from the way we perceive color in the first place. So, it’s not that the colors don’t exist, we just don’t have the ability to see them. Our humanistic tendencies often categorize things outside of our realistic abilities as “impossible” or even non-existent.

The perception potential of human beings doesn’t halt with the five senses. Our ability to form unique, independent, conscious thought has allowed us to create “meaning.” We have assigned meaning to everything, and where there is meaning there is perception. Our perception allows us to detect meaning and to rank that meaning on various levels of importance and relevance. But what does the collective consciousness of humanity agree upon? The correlations of important assigned meanings are what call “norms.” Normalized behavior and beliefs are not always necessarily what’s right, but what we know best and what we have been told to believe.

And what is to be said when normalized behavior has no inherent, assigned meaning? What is motivating behaviors that react on reflex? Human beings as we know them today have not always existed. We were once uncivilized beings who reacted on instinct. Those primitive psychological reflexes and desires still exist in our brains. What cannot be explained through reason we can explain with these urges. Primitive psychological fears infiltrate our lives every day. Arachnophobia for example, rarely serves to protect us from danger anymore. It has left a large portion of humanity fearful of spiders for no good reason.

Normalized behavior and thought can be disseminated into two categories: learned and instinctual. Learned motives can be acquired through experience or taught to us without ever having used them. Instinctual motives behind behaviors once served to protect us from death but have remained dormant in our primitive brain. These explanations give us the ability to explain the root cause of any behavior. Human nature, through this lens, is formulaic and easily digestible.

But how do we communicate these ideas to one another? Primal behaviors are instinctual; nobody outside of our own mind provides us with that type of information. Learned behaviors, on the other hand, are acquired differently. The visceral answer to the question of idea transferal would be language, but that’s not always the case. We also learn through observation. The first years of our lives are spent absorbing information we have never been exposed to, with little comprehensible verbal exchange. Observation happens on a conscious and unconscious level. When we can’t recall how or when we acquired a belief, habit, or normalized behavior, it probably came to us through unconscious thought.

Behavioral motives are a basis for understanding why we exist at all. The jump to existential meaning may appear drastic. However, the small motives behind our actions and thoughts must be controlled and influenced by the greater meaning itself. This theory is based on the assumption that life means anything at all. Life has the potential to be a meaningless accident, and therefore, so do our motives. If humans in fact have created meaning itself, then perhaps meaning outside of conscious thought doesn’t exist at all. There is no substantial evidence in either direction, so one must continue to inquire.

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