The Cosmic Joke

Been thinking about this one lately.

Cosmic Joke meme


My tiny brain doesn’t really get that quote.

Is it saying, “Thinking about thinking and coming to the conclusion there is no thinker?”

The last sentence does lose me a bit. I like the part about not being separate from the whole. How could we be? In some very practical ways we we are separate, and our thoughts will cease when we die, but while alive, our thoughts are connected to what we ate, the temperature, light, everything around us. The sense that there is something in us that completely controls our thoughts is an illusion. Our nervous system produces thoughts, so we are alone with them in that sense, but that’s different than the traditional idea of us concocting thoughts out of nothing or out of some ether.

I think it is saying “Look at me. I can say things that seem cosmologically profound. Get high on LSD, mushrooms, or some REALLY good weed and it will all seem perfectly clear to you.”

Here’s a different but much more simple quote that much more my way of looking at things.

  • I wonder why. I wonder why.
  • I wonder why I wonder.
  • I wonder why I wonder why.
  • I wonder why I wonder!
    • Richard Feynman
[Three words repeated a bunch of times can have a surprising amount of meaning.]

The mysteries of the universe energize me. I can watch a documentary on some unsolved psychological question, and love that we’ve come so far as a species that we can even ask the question. People like Xian are somehow affected in the opposite way, and get emotionally lost and fatalistic as soon as there’s some inconsequential philosophical ‘problem’ that he can’t explain.


But green’s the color of spring
And green can be cool and friendly like
And green can be big like a mountain
Or importan like a river or tall like a tree
When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why
But, why wonder, why wonder?
I’m green and it’ll do fine
It’s beautiful and I think it’s what I want to be

– Joe Raposo

I would write the lyrics without the comma and sing them with a pause between why and wonder giving it the dual sense of “why wonder why” and “why wonder, why wonder”. I wonder if Raposo was inspired by Feynman?


Never heard of the guy so I looked him up. Found out he’s the genius who wrote Cookie Monster’s smash hit, “‘C’ is for Cookie.” So glad I got out of bed this morning!!

When I read the lyrics I was thinking of being silly and asking if that was sung by Kermit. Looks like I would have accidentally been right.

I saw some of you talking about Camus on another thread. I had never heard of him (I don’t read that kind of stuff, and have never taken a philosophy course, so that’s no surprise.) A quick read on Wikipedia shows he’s an accidental philosopher who rejects the very idea of philosophy. Sounds like a complicated guy.

One of his main points seems to fall right into the title of this thread- our innate and insatiable need to search for meaning is absurd because there is no meaning.

I suppose that’s been true for most people throughout history, especially prior to the advances made in science in the last 150 years. But I think that, more and more, people are accepting that there is no ‘why’ and are more than happy to use rational thinking to create meaning and live a good life.

So hopefully Camus’s point will fade into history as more of us are able to get past that seemingly innate need humans have.

Well there doesn’t seem to be any cosmic meaning of existence except maybe “Life happens. Until it doesn’t.”

But that there is no apparent cosmic reason for existence, does not rule out individuals assigning some meaning for their own lives. And why not? If Life happens, until it doesn’t, then why not assign some meaning and live accordingly while Life is happening? In fact we have been designed by evolution, it seems, to search for meaning. So if we perceive ourselves as assigning a certain meaning for our individual lives, it’s not like we are breaking some cosmic rule. There may be no cosmic meaning of existence beyond “Life happens til it doesn’t.” But neither is there any cosmic rule that says we cannot have some individual sense of meaning.

Franz Kafka said “the problem with life is that it ends”.

I agreed with that 100% at age 20. At age 70 odd, not so much.

It seems that some of us who are fortunate enough to become old, can gradually move toward acceptance of the inevitable.


Yeah, growing old in an affluent country is a privilege denied most of the world. I do not take anything I have for granted,

I’m beginning to suspect a gradual acceptance of one’s mortality may even be hard wired.

At 18- 20, we’re 10 feet tall and bullet proof. When one thinks of death, it’s something which happens to other people- I think that may bet why it’s so easy for cynical old men to con gormless young men into going to a foreign country to kill their gormless young men.

There’s a saying “when I was 20, I thought I would live forever. When I reached 70, I wondered how hell have I lasted so long?”

My father died in 2006, at age 87. My mother died in April this year; she was 92. With those genes, I could last another 10-15 years. Haven’t worked out how I feel about that yet. One of the things I’ve learned; there are worse things than dying.

I was thinking about Dan Barker’s comments on meaning. He says the question “what is the meaning of life” is not really a very good question, you’re asking, “what is the meaning of meaning?”. I couldn’t find that, but I did find a Jerry Coyne with Dan, and this little quote from him:

After our discussion, though, I wondered if the question is even meaningful. Does anyone really ponder the issue of “the meaning of their life”? Yes, of course, some religious extremists do structure their lives around God (I’m thinking of Orthodox Jews, many Muslims, and Mormons), but what about moderate religionists or the rest of us? Do we really have a good answer to the question, “What is the meaning of our lives?”

I’d maintain that, based on my casual observation, very few people conceive of a “meaning” to their lives, but simply, when asked the question, confect one post facto. That is, if asked that question, I would blather on about science, my friends, teaching evolution, traveling and seeing the world to enlarge my experience, and so on. But what I am doing is simply articulating the things that I like to do. I never think of these as the “meaning” of my life.

I think that’s pretty accurate. We might be a generation or two that thinks about it a little more than most humans have, since we are in a time when myths are being exploded and new information about the universe is coming at us quickly. There’s a good chance that will settle down at some point, or if life becomes more harsh again, we’ll fall back into more superstition. Anyway, it’s not a bad thing to think about, but it doesn’t have a lot of practical implications. It doesn’t even make you fun at parties. Well, some parties maybe.


Viktor Frankl thought about it enuf to write “Man’s Search for Meaning”, but he was in a Nazi Concentration Camp for a long while, (and he was Jewish). Idk if he was fun at parties after the war. One thing he claimed as an observation was that those imprisoned who had come up with some meaning for themselves, survived when others didn’t.

I’m surprised Frankl’s work is not more widely known. It is one of the most practical applications of the search for meaning I’ve ever seen, and I kinda go searching for that stuff. Somehow I managed to miss it until just recently. It was my niece, she is taking a graduate course in psychology that uses Frankl’s ideas as a basis for therapy.


I mean there is a thinker, in a sense and there is something that believes. What’s sad is thinking there is some cosmic joke.

Here’s a different but much more simple quote that much more my way of looking at things.

I wonder why. I wonder why.
I wonder why I wonder.
I wonder why I wonder why.
I wonder why I wonder!

Richard Feynman



I had to come back read this again, fun discussion all the way around, good comments.

I think the key is just not taking ourselves too seriously. I myself think the Cosmic Joke is alive and well. Tony Hillerman tells us about a Navajo thing: Coyote Waits fundamentally, don’t get too smug, because the universe (coyote) is out there waiting to fuk with you when you least expect it.

But seriously, humor is where you find it, - this one’s hard to explain - walking in the woods getting lost in grandiose thoughts, then tripping or walking into branch or some such Act of God reality smack-down. That’s a Cosmic Giggle to me. Or a string of, of course totally random, events that unfold into incredible situations. It’s all in our heads, if you want to have a personal experience of the universe, it has a great sense of humor, smacks one upside the head right and left, in rhythm to what’ happening in our lives, I know.

We just love making everything more complicated than it need to be. Hope you don’t mind me tossing this one into the ring again. :wink:

Which brings me back to Gould’s NOMA and his missing key.

The missing key is appreciating the fundamental “Magisteria of Physical Reality,” -

and recognizing that both science and religion are products of the “Magisteria of Our Human Mindscape.”


Science seeks to objectively learn about our physical world, but we should still recognize all our understanding is embedded within and constrained by our brain’s mindscape.

Religion is all about the human mindscape itself, with its wonderful struggles, fears, spiritual undercurrents, needs and stories we create to give our live’s meaning and make it worth living, or at least bearable.

As for acceptance of death, I’m 64 and i watched my mom into her 90s watching her own body fail with no hope of reprieve, it’s like lets get there already - she was ready for death and the long sleep - I fully relate with what Patrick wrote. We get old and worn out, when sleep becomes more appealing that getting up and around, then you know your turn is about up. It’s okay.

I hope you’re not planning on checking out soon, CC. Our world would be less without your persistent voice of reason.