I am sure it has a name or is covered by a movement, and I am sure that many philosophers have already talked about this, but I have this on my mind more and more everyday.

It is obvious, but how can we literally ignore the fact that we are in the middle of NOWHERE in space, floating and swimming in absolutely no idea where, and no one knows anything. Yet we need to be super careful how to eat properly with a knife and a fork, and we can disappear in a nanosecond if a big rock will crash into the earth, but at the same time, if I do not iron my shirt, it would be a disaster... How do we succeed to ignore what we ignore? Or do we need to make rules, and make life harder (iron shirts, sockets with the same colours..) to have the feeling that everything is under control?

Are there books or famous philosophers that discussed this?

  • 1
    Surely this has less to do with philosophy than biology. An organism whose behavior is dominated by thinking (or worse, worrying) about things it can't control is not likely to survive. In humans, chronic paranoia and/or neurosis doesn't usually result in efficient reproduction. "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die" is a successful strategy.
    – alephzero
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 23:57
  • Not worrying about grand-scale existential questions that aren't constantly in our faces, that have no immediate impact on our lives and that we have no ability to control? I would call that rationality.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Aug 1, 2021 at 9:41
  • Thanks @NotThatGuy the thing is that everything is constantly in our faces (leteraly) Commented Aug 1, 2021 at 11:44
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    @alephzero what if the thoughts arise only after the organism has produced offspring? (and perhaps raised them enough to be self sufficient). A midlife existential crisis.
    – stannius
    Commented Aug 1, 2021 at 14:02
  • Keep in mind your model of the universe is mostly hypothetical. The universe is, in fact, a non-classical object -- an interplay between perception and matter, woven together in whatever consistent framework we imagine.
    – Marxos
    Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 19:05

4 Answers 4


The first person who comes to mind is Albert Camus who won the 1957 Nobel Prize for literature, and authored many writings that contributed to the ideas in the philosophy known as absurdism.

"...refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life, and the human inability to find these with any certainty. The universe and the human mind do not each separately cause the Absurd; rather, the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously."

"In absurdist philosophy, the Absurd arises out of the fundamental disharmony between the individual's search for meaning and the meaninglessness of the universe. In absurdist philosophy, there are also two certainties that permeate human existence. The first is that humans are constantly striving towards the acquisition or identification with meaning and significance. It seems to be an inherent thing in human nature that urges the individual to define meaning in their lives. The second certainty is that the universe's silence and indifference to human life give the individual no assurance of any such meaning, leading to an existential dread within themselves. According to Camus, when the desire to find meaning and the lack of meaning collide, this is when the absurd is highlighted. The question then brought up becomes whether we should resign ourselves to this despair."

Many people may interpret these ideas as "a life without meaning is a life not worth living", and ultimately, the question is if we should consider suicide? Similar to the Shakespearian phrase "to be or not to be, that is the question" that we've all heard.

Camus understands this predicament and tackles this problem, and he comes to the conclusion that suicide is of little use, as there can be no more meaning in death than in life, and so the question of what makes life worth living arises.

  • 1
    I don't think that's quite what the OP is looking for. It seems to me that he's not asking about the inherent value of life, but humanity's tendency to focus on controlling the small things despite our inability to control the big ones.
    – nick012000
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 14:59
  • 3
    @nick012000: But that's easy to dismiss. "I cannot control X, therefore I should not try to control Y" is a simple non sequitur.
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 1, 2021 at 0:48
  • @Kevin "Should" depends on values or norms; its meaningfulness as a word assumes that those exist as part of the context. The idea that one should not spend time and energy on things one knows to be futile is an extremely widespread value: for example, it appears in the famous Serenity Prayer ("God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference"). Commented Aug 1, 2021 at 12:20
  • A good reading relating to this is The Denial of Death.
    – LoremIpsum
    Commented Aug 1, 2021 at 16:04
  • 1
    I am not a philosopher, but I read that it's part of Absurdism that you can either 1) go insane, 2) turn towards and embrace The Absurd, or 3) turn away from it and focus on little things you can control. If so, focusing on matching your socks and getting promoted at work is a coping mechanism (it's better than going insane and easier than embracing the Absurd).
    – stannius
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 16:59

Of course there is Plato's theory of ideas vs the thoughts & activities of those living inside the cave. As expounded in his many dialogues and epistles, I think that this theory suggest that there is a frame of mind much more comprehensive than the one most of us currently have and live with. But even if this is true, I think that our everyday things & activities like clothes, spoons, stones, flowers, speaking, walking, dreaming etc. are no less wonderful & mysterious than stars & galaxies. We should not let our familiarity with them conceal the fact that the mere existence of matter is a mind-boggling unexplained phenomenon, at least to creatures with the habit of asking the questions we do ask and value as 'fundamental'.
In this respect, you may also find useful the Confucian 'doctrine of the mean' as an interesting way of expanding the horizon of our common everyday activities.
There is also the Hindu concept of lila, the divine play. "In North India, the adventures of the god Rama, depicted in the epic Ramayana, are regarded as his “play”, implying he entered the action as an actor might engage a drama—deeply involved, but with an element of freedom that prevents his being constrained by the “play” of life as lesser beings must be" (quoted from https://www.britannica.com/topic/lila).


The best that rings a bell is the idea of "Maya" in "eastern" philosophies, or other concepts that were popularized by Alan Watts in the "west".

Maya basically suggests everything is an illusion, sort of like Plato's cave's shadows.

I'd suggest the "the Joker", though I'd also agree that Camus "Absurdism" tackles the idea that we face cosmic annihilation while simultaneously busying ourselves with trivialities.

Lovecraft should also get a shout out since his writings focused on the cosmos wiping us out of existence because we are less than ants relative to them.


This is a core problem discussed by many philosophers in different ways:

Platonism, Daoism, Buddhism (and many other classic philosophies) suppose that there is a more true, less chaotic level of Reality underlying the hard-to-understand superficial reality of the everyday world (the "Realm of the Forms" for Plato, the "Eternal Way" for Daoism, and "Enlightenment" or "Nirvana" for Buddhism). The strategy of such philosophies is to turn the mind to deeper, more stable, more eternal things, and away from the ceaseless trivial details of life. In particular skeptics such as Socrates, Zhuangzi and the Zen Buddhists use the paradoxes, contradictions and frustrations of life as a way to inspire people to look deeper.

Existentialism is a more recent philosophical tradition that takes a different approach, one that doesn't devalue or dismiss the paradoxes of life. In this tradition, Kierkegaard's concept of the "Knight of Faith and the Knight of Infinite Resignation" probably is the closest to the dilemma you are wrestling with. The Knight of Faith is someone who has glimpsed eternity, but is still able to travel successfully through the ordinary world --who can see the small details as being just as important as the huge ones.

  • Yes. For OP, asking about the paradox, probably the best approach is to move in to the paradox. Nonduality.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 2, 2023 at 10:17

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