I had an interesting conversation with an old friend of mine last night, where we caught up on each other’s lives, reflecting on the past, present, and future.
We came upon the subject of spirituality and I described some of the things I was going through. He described himself as a nihilist, specifically seeing no purpose to life or any sort of clear moral system.
My friend is a smart individual (he’s in his residency at medical school) who has a generally open-mind, although he is also fairly conservative. So he was curious and inquisitive when I had mentioned that the purpose to life had become clearer to me, especially when it comes to morals. I was rather eager to share my thoughts because I do not come across many people open to talking about the nature of reality face-to-face.
Now I didn’t have time to dive into the depths of MBT for him, but I did try to share some of my thoughts and experiences. I talked about little pictures versus big pictures, evolution, order versus chaos, feedback, subjective reality, love versus fear, open-minded skepticism, beliefs, and other topics.
I didn’t want to force any sort of belief structure upon him, so I tried to point to things within his own experience base in order for him to see things himself. As an example, I pointed to the nature of our experience at that present moment. I noted how our environment seemed to be ordered and structured. He disagreed, stating that he observes lots of chaos. In order to come to common ground, I mentioned the dependable rule-set (physics) of our reality, and the fact that there is plenty of uncertainty in our lives. I told him that I thought that this observable order points to some sort of higher-level purpose. I think I made some ground with him at this point but it was still pretty shaky.
I then presented the thought experiment that Tom frequently gives in his YouTube videos, where he describes two groups of people, one being fear-based and the other love-based. My friend acknowledged that he would rather be in the love-based group (“I’d go there in a heartbeat if I could”), but that he observed our reality to be primarily fear-based. He saw the theory but did not see the applicability or practicality of it based on how our world is. With a small picture of just this PMR, he did not see this thought experiment as anything more than that (you can come up with any sort of utopian vision in your mind).
I discussed the subjective quality of the feedback (both internal and external) as a sort of moral compass for how to live. He rejected this stating examples of people taking pleasure in doing horrific acts (in his mind anyways). Without specifically using this word, I would have almost labeled him as part-hedonistic. I can’t remember the specifics of that conversation but he made a point of mentioning “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”. I mentioned that feedback was not only short-term but also long-term, such as when you regret having done certain things while you were intoxicated but are now sober. I mentioned how some people believe the pursuit of money as the highest goal, but thankfully he already sees that it is not the case. I also dived a little into the nature of subjective reality, noting that people are at different places so that what feels right for one person may not for someone else. I think this helped him see past the problem of people taking pleasure in acts he sees as wrong (such as murder or whatever).
I brought up the practical exercise of meditation. I had mentioned it to him in the past but he had rejected it after looking into it because of the eastern or new-age terminology that frequently goes with it.
At some point he brought up the “fact” that life will only go down-hill from here (we are 26). I was quick to point out that as a belief, but I did think it is worth mentioning here to give a greater impression of what state my friend is in.
I’m not sure if I helped him at all, but I like to think I may have helped him pry open his mind a little bit to something other than nihilism. I think he may believe he is a nihilist but based on my conversation with him, I don’t see that at his “being level”. However, I do think that his recent experiences, thoughts, and feelings to the nature of life have generally not been good. He was formerly quite a straight-shooter in school, but freely admits to taking various drugs now, drinking quite a bit, visiting a local strip club, etc. I can see that med school has taken its toll on him spiritually (seeking various escapes). I have another close friend in a similar situation (formerly a straight-shooter and probably the nicest guy I had ever met), who got into the military and has changed dramatically for the worse in my opinion (ex. Progressed into an alcoholic).
I’m not sure how representative this is for people at this stage of life but I can literally see how our work culture and a lack of a higher-level purpose and morality have been taking its toll on my friends. A common theme (goes far beyond just these two examples) is to just drink away the pain and escape from reality; promiscuous sex, drugs, rock and roll in the pursuit of maximizing pleasure to escape the pain and doldrums of everyday life.
Does anyone have any similar experiences to share or any advice to give? How do you think I did in my discussion with my friend? How would you try to point to a sense of meaning to life to a nihilist who has a mind just open enough to listen to you and consider your words?