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Our existence and everything else that matters

Have you ever wondered, “why are we who we are?”

I started to question myself more recently. I wonder why I feel a disconnection between who I am in front of others and who I truly am. I know that many people also feel something similar. However, sometimes this kind of wonder makes me appreciate my life trajectory (so far), whereas sometimes such wonder confuses me and makes me want to withdraw from why I am who I am.

I feel more strongly recently after moving to London. I was proud that McGill and my life in Montreal made me someone slightly different, and I like who I am in that city and circle. In London, I need to know who I am. Am I a Canadian who is genuinely accepted as a part of Western society? Am I a Taiwanese who simply wants to know a greater world and finds the “Canadian” identity easier? I don’t speak like any of them.

If I simply consider the linguistic perspective, sometimes, French, Japanese, Korean and many other languages feel closer to me and better capture my thoughts than the languages that I am familiar with (Chinese and English), but I am not that good at speaking in these languages as well. If we assume that a language that the users feel closer to is closer related to their existence, does it mean that the languages that I am familiar with do not necessarily relate to my existence closer than the languages that I have limited knowledge of (given the fact that many languages feel closer than the languages that I am familiar with in different circumstances. Should I even consider the percentage of “familiarity” and “comfort” of one language to make such conclusion?)?

The languages that I know are a part of the knowledge that I hold, whereas my very existence is something more personal and fundamental to me… This means that my knowledge of any language and my knowledge of my very existence could have been associated but different subjects. I am trying to use my knowledge to acquire knowledge of my very existence. Some languages express some of my ideas closely due to the presence of some ideas in the languages, but not others. My mother languages may have limitations in expressing some thoughts that I have due to the absence of some ideas. I could have been a Russian-speaking person from Central Asia, a Latin American who speaks Spanish and anyone else… but these ideas will still exist in the same languages in this case, regardless of who I actually am. And regardless of who I actually am, I may still feel closer to these ideas since they will still exist over there.

All these wonders, confusions, sentiments and many other things remind me of a philosopher who ascertained that the only thing that he can be certain about (himself or his very existence or his knowledge). René Descartes once argued that “I am thinking therefore I exist“. His syllogism went as follows:

(Credit: A Discourse on the Method from Oxford World’s Classics)

Regardless of who I actually am, perhaps I can consider his arguments and account, and accept that my thoughts prove my very existence rather than disproving it. And having such foundation in my thoughts in mind, I can establish further knowledge on myself, ourselves, otherness and so on—to further understand our very existence.

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Why is it important to have our dreams? The Beginning of the “Thoughts Behind”

In a fast-changing and information-overloaded world, it is the first time in history that there are more people who died from suicide than people who are killed by crime, terrorism and war put together. In addition, it is the first time in history that obesity is a bigger health crisis than hunger globally, with the exception of people in sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite the technological advancements and other improvements in our living conditions, I often wonder how younger people like me, who do not have any urgent needs and worries related to survival and economic situations like people in the older generation, have to live in this time. True, I am grateful that my parents and other older people have established so much in the world and shaped the world order in the environments where I grew up. Many historical events experienced by them and policies implemented by these historical cohorts have made today’s world. Instead of worrying about safety, food and other basic needs in life, today’s world enables many people in the younger generation to have the freedom and safety to use the Internet and explore ideas and activities in the world.

With these established orders and stabilities, it seems that whether we contribute to it or not to these environments, there seems to be no big difference in this world. What are we here for, given the fact that our presence and contribution may not make a big difference in a relatively prosperous and stable world?

The same thought concerned me more and more during the pandemic. As a full-time student during the lockdown, I had the privilege to stay at home and use Zoom as the means to replace in-person activities. I did not have to worry about other aspects of life compared to many people around the time. There were many people who lost their jobs. There were many sick people who wanted to receive their medical treatments, but the resources were constrained. There were many people who were sad, depressed and hopeless. The people in power have different financial means and other impact factors, but they all seem as clueless as us. I realised that the real world is not as rich, global or peaceful as I thought before. Furthermore, not everyone in the real world around my age always has the experience to live in a rich and global world, and this truth was finally revealed and magnified to me.

With these existing challenges and difficulties, it can often feel like our actions and contributions do not make a significant impact on the world. What are we here for, given the fact that our presence and contribution may not make a big difference in a world in crisis and deviates from its normality?

My answer to these two questions is the following: our dreams. Why are we here for? We are here for happiness in our daily lives, visions for the future and many small or big surprises that can happen in our lives. These are all a part of our dreams. To elaborate my answer further, I would like to start with three points and a final determination.

First, what is a “dream”? A dream does not have to be a professional aspiration or a prospective job as many marketing contents promote. A medical student may dream to be a psychiatrist or surgeon, but not everyone dreams to be some sort of professional. A professional aspiration could be a dream, but it need not be. A dream can be a small wish or sincere hope for others, activities that we enjoy, causes that we are willing to commit to, as well as the actions that actualise and realise them. A dream is an object of thought that gives our lives purpose, meaning, motivation and many other delights. In other words, our dreams give us purpose, motivation, and happiness in our daily lives. As biological creatures, a dream is something that makes our daily lives less mechanical and soulless. It is an object of thought that differentiates us from one another and makes us who we are, even when we are all biological creatures who eat, breathe and perform other biological functions.

Second, what can one do with a dream? A dream is an object of thought that leads us to translate idealistic visions and vague understandings into concrete actions. It is the kind of thought that allows us to make the world a more peaceful and respectful place for more people.

To name a few examples, it is this idea of “dream” that provides Martin Luther King Jr. means to express his affirmed vision that, “all men are created equal” in his famous speech I have a dream despite many realistic factors may indicate that this vision is difficult.

It is the idea of “dream” that many like-minded people like Martin Luther King Jr. observed, mediated and acted not for their personal gains but for ensuring that the collective values and goods truly include every member of society.

It is the idea of “dream” that many curious individuals became scientists and discovered important findings that help us understand ourselves and the world surrounding us and save and improve many human lives.

It is this idea of “dream” that many creative individuals produced arts, stories and actualisations that give us opportunities to immerse in genuine aesthetic truths and enable us to feel, reflect and become understanding and satisfied.

Many great things have been started and motivated by the dreams of individuals, resulting in impactful achievements and fruition that changed the world.

Thirdly, what can one do when a dream seems to be neither realistic nor attainable? Throughout history, many people failed when they tried to chase and pursue their dreams. People failed many times when they are trying to accomplish what they planned. For instance, one may end up doing completely different things and staying in completely different places, rather than earning expected achievements at a due time and place. Occasionally, even when one succeeded and fulfilled many internal checklists and criteria, things just look at odds with what one once expected with excitement and joy.

This question may imply that not all dreams are realistic, and people may not have to chase their dreams in all circumstances. However, rather than the object of thought being incorrect, it may be the case that circumstances like these are opportunities for us to re-think and re-evaluate our dreams. Can we fulfil the same dreams in other ways? Do we have to change the course of our planned actions for our dreams?

For instance, if helping people as a physician is a dream, can this dream be fulfilled by helping people as social workers? If discovering facts in the world as scientists is a dream, can this dream be fulfilled by discovering truths in the world as journalists?

When a dream seems to be neither realistic nor attainable, it is an opportunity that one can examine and generalise the dream to find the most essential and substantially important aspects of the dream and concentrate on these essential and substantially important parts. The journey towards achieving a dream may be difficult but rewarding, and failures could turn out to be a surprise or a lesson that re-orients one to the correct direction of achieving the dream in a more wholesome, complete, and satisfying way.

If helping people as a professional is one’s dream, perhaps the person who failed to become a physician can re-investigate career options, choose another career option such as becoming a nurse, psychologist, life coach, social worker, police officer, or lawyer that could potentially support people in needs, and do the career switch to another profession by completing the educational and other requirements.

If discovering facts in one’s career role is one’s dream, perhaps the person who failed to become a scientist can re-investigate their thoughts on “discovery” and “facts”. The person can narrow down the content, settings, methods, and other things that allow them to discover the facts that are fascinating and important to the person. Perhaps doing scientific journalism during one’s spare time is a more ideal and realistic option than doing academic science full-time. Perhaps historical and social facts are equally important and interesting to the individual.

Finally, as a person who is having these reflections, what do I want to do? I want to create this platform called “Thoughts Behind”. As I reflect on my journey, I once found living in a fast-changing and information-overloaded world overwhelming and insignificant. After discovering my dreams, I also once realised that they may be proven to be unattainable. Instead of giving up on these dreams completely, I tried to rethink the most fundamental aspects of these dreams and change my plans, interpretations and mentality to find a path to achieve these dreams. I decided to re-discover my dream of being a writer and created this platform to invite you all to share the thoughts and topics that you think are important.

As a writer, there are many facts, tips, visions and dreams that I would like to share with you. I want to write about how inflation is calculated, the arguments for and against religions, the different MBTI personality types, world federalism and anarchism and many other random or non-random things.

I know that we may have different opinions, and not everyone may want to pursue writing to some extent as I do. However, I invite you to reflect on your own dreams and share your inspiring thoughts behind these dreams and other topics with us.

What are your dreams?