the cockroach who saw purpose in Life

September 4, 2007

This is going to get a bit philosophical, so those of you who can’t exercise their grey matter can gladly avoid it and may be look at some lolcats to pass time. Something great happened today,  something that made made me think for a while. Earlier tonight, I had just finished reading some existential literature when I immediately had to goto the loo to answer a very important call. Just when I opened the door, I saw a cockroach looking for whatever it could find for its dinner there. My fear and disgust of them had long been gone, not sure when, but I can say with pride that I am no more afraid of those creatures. Some say the cockroaches can outlive us in case of a nuclear holocaust. Some even say that even when you cutoff a cockroach’s head, it can live for a week or so and dies only of hunger and thirst. This I believe has earned them my respect because they are nature’s great survival machines. Anyway, coming back, I knew I had to drive it out if I wanted to piss peacefully because I still dont like the idea of a cockroach crawling over my foot, that just gives me the creeps. I’m fine when its at a distance. Killing it was out of the question, I cannot in any sense do any harm to the harmless cockroach just minding its way, looking for a meal, surviving, one day at a time. So I had to scare it away to its dungeon. This is when the broomstick usually comes in handy, I just took just one small twig out of it and tried drive it away, you know just give ’em the scare so they wont be bothering you for the next 15 or so minutes. While I did scare the little fella (i’m just guessing its a guy), it accidentally fell into the water closet. It was a dreadful site to see the roach almost submerged, with just its two whiskers and one foot hanging out, holding on to the closet with a firm grip supporting its whole body. I wasn’t alarmed at the sight but I dint know what to do. I just dint have the heart to flush down one of nature’s successful “design”. So I took the same little twig and put it inside the water closet and like that dramatic scene in cliffhanger, I lent my hand, though not directly, to the struggling roach. That was all it needed, the zeal and excitement with which it climbed up the twig really amazed me and I could only imagine the how the roach must’ve felt being brought back to life from the brink of death. After that, he quickly ran off to his secret dungeon feeling pumped up with adrenaline or whatever roaches run on. After that I sat in peace and began to wonder about the cockroach’s struggle for life.  As you all should know by now, the loo is just one of the two places where all my thinking is done, the other being on my bike, when I ride it. But actually most of the thinking happens in the loo, I dont know if its the stink that drives to me think about something else, or the closed space, or you know the leaky tap that goes like a metronome counting away the time, thereby setting you in motion or something else. So I began to ponder as to why the roach in the first place held on with just one of its limbs, supporting its full weight, and NOT letting go. What prevented the roach from killing itself? Does it find any meaning in life like some humans do? I came up with possible 3 answers

a. The whole episode of drowning is itself such a pain, and since every organism is programmed to combat pain it just held on to it as long as it could. But how did the roach know drowning was pain? I guessed it could’ve been from a previous experience or just plain instinct. b. Survival could’ve played an important factor. Animals (which includes us) are not programmed to just let go or kill ourselves everytime we are faced a difficulty, we are programed to fight it, struggle with it, find out all the possible ways to deal with a life and death situation. If this were not the case, people would just end up killing themselves without struggling, whenever they were hanging off a cliff, or when by accident, they fell into a pool and hence they would not survive and produce off-springs.

c. On a more philosophical note, could the roach be possibly attribute a meaning to its life like humans do? Survival of human beings and his subsequent rise to the top of the pyramid can be attributed to man’s thinking that life is meaningful and has a purpose. Could it have possibly thought, “is this going to be the end of me? Was I born for this? Shouldn’t I hold on till some door opens?”. Though not so vividly as humans, but you know like how roaches might “think”. At this point I am obligated to ridicule myself for the common notion (not fact) that ROACHES DO NOT THINK, but how are we sure that they cannot?

 Here, in the case of an insect, I’m always inclined towards choice (b), though (a) is also a possible solution (but ‘a’ is just an offshoot of ‘b’). But nonetheless the last option (c) is what is keeping me awake so late tonight. Let us delve little deeper inside the roaches mind and in the process dig a little of ours too. But first, lets get the basics right. What is thinking? Is it just the firing up of neurons in the brain that happens in most of the species or is it more than that? What exactly forms a thought and is it confined only to humans? Questions google could answer, very subjective though, but I want to think it out on my own. Could the roach possibly “think” there’s a meaning to life? Not like us humans do but more like associating a happy state (such as eating, mating etc) with purpose in life . With such a little brain, I dont think the roach would be upto the mammoth task of giving a deep meaning to life like we humans do. Only humans can attribute so much meaning into life and define a purpose for it when in reality they are fooling themselves because the hard fact is that life in reality is utterly meaningless. Let us suppose that roaches could “think”, even though not vividly as humans. The roach could very well find meaning in life by associating life with happy states of being with its mate, reproducing, eating and wandering around, that sure is reason to live. But come to think of it, nothing comes easy for the roach, lets take mating, its not like the roach meets Mrs.Roach in the bar and they both hit it off from there. In the insect world, there’s competition for everything, from a mate to your dinner, everything should be fought for. And we all know fighting is a struggle, so why go through the whole routine of fighting for your mate, your food, taking care of your off-springs? (though not like humans, they atleast have to provide some form assistance for their offsprings to survive initially) Why not just let go off the hold and it’ll all be over quickly? Could it possible realise the freedom of dying? . The freedom from constant everday fight. Or is the roach so narrow-minded (or programmed that way) to see only the events that could follow immediately. Like, if it lets go, it dies a miserable death and it doesnt know what happens if it dies, whether its going to be happy or not (happy is defined by the roach as a state of NO struggle) after it dies. To the roach the next event of drowning, which is far more painful than the everyday struggle, is good enough to hold on and wait for something to happen.
  In conclusion I think that, though most likely the whole episode is answered by option (b) and to an extent (a), option (c) which is an answer that could never be proven false could also hold true (because we really cant’ say that ROACHES DONT THINK, We wont know unless we become one) . This just leaves me with one big question, “WHY do we (or the roach, though not known for sure) attribute a meaning to life?”, has it been born out of choice (b), that we are programmed to think life is worth fighting so that our species survives better? Or do you really think there’s an inherent meaning and purpose to life? Like service to god or to lead a prosperous and purposeful life and leave a rich legacy behind. If you ask me, I have to say there’s no purpose, and we’re all commanded by our “Selfish” genes to make the most out of our lives so that they (the genes) could live on forever in your children, your children’s children and so on.

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3 Responses to “the cockroach who saw purpose in Life”

  1. vicky Says:

    i have always thought to myself that dogs barking may be a language…and only dogs understand that.

    right?

  2. swamygee Says:

    yeah could be…i had the same doubt some years back.. i even went to the extent of devising an experiment where i record the dogs bark in each situation, like when it sees another dog (both sexes) or when it sees a stranger etc and compare the waveforms with other dogs. But as fate would have it my dog died a few days before the experiment began 😦

  3. howtostartafire Says:

    i agree — we are (mostly) motivated by selfish impetuses (even though there do exist some examples of selected altruism) mostly for biological reasons. it is evolutionarily efficient (in most cases) to care first and foremost about the self.

    i don’t think there’s a meaning either. i think we socially construct these things that are “important” to us as so to distract ourself from the “meaningless abyss”.

    happy writing.


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