Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hans Gluben and the Meaning of Life

In the future, maybe very long from now, there was a mechanical man who gave himself the name Hans Gluben. It was a play on the name of an author whose books he had once come across, perhaps in a home he had once served, or perhaps in the factory where he was created. He couldn't remember, exactly, or more precisely, he had chosen long ago not to remember everything, so that he could better fit in with the rest of society. That was also why he had chosen a name.

Hans wanted to better understand the human condition, and so that's why he did things like name himself and choose not to remember everything. There were many other things he did, so that, in many ways, he was almost indistinguishable from a person, though of course he was not. The thing that most intrigued him was the idea of happiness. As a mechanical man, everything that he was had either been programmed by someone or was the result of the decisions he was able to make. He had no real need for happiness, and yet, the more he studied people, the more he came to realize how important happiness was to them. It became one of the most important ways Hans knew to investigate so that he could better understand people.

He began by reading all that there was to be found about happiness, what all the great philosophers and sociologists had to say on it, from the whole history of mankind, and everything that was being written in his own day. It didn't phase him that there was so much, because Hans didn't think that way (which he would change if he thought about it). He wasn't satisfied, and so he began a series of interviews, first with the people he knew personally, and then strangers he happened to come across during the course of an average day. Eventually, he was able to set up some official discussions and then sessions where people would talk to him about happiness because that's what everyone knew they were going to do, and he found a great many of the things he'd read repeated back to him. At some point, he began to anonymously track what people might say when they were just talking with each other, not in a way that infringed on their right to privacy, but in a variety of social settings, so that Hans himself did not have to participate, but still benefit from learning what people thought.

He was still not satisfied. He began to wonder if he didn't understand happiness because he did not understand unhappiness. Hans was a direct product of a series of decisions, and he himself was a part of those decisions, and all he understood about his own life was that it was a series of decisions, which were neither happy nor unhappy, except that Hans himself was happy that he existed. That in fact was the first instance where Hans realized he was happy about something. He was happy that he existed. What then did that mean?

He began to analyze the decisions that constituted his life, and whether or not he was happy with those as well. He could find no real fault in most of them, but sometimes he would realize that sometimes a particular resulting might be considered frustrating, since it had not produced immediate results. He considered the idea of patience in relation to happiness, how it might be a stumbling block, whether or not someone was able to be happy waiting, or whether they wanted instant gratification. He even considered that his quest to understand happiness might be considered unhappy by some, since he had still not learned anything concrete about it. If Hans himself had been driven by emotions...

He had another chance, he realized, to interpret his quest. Was it emotions that dictated happiness? Was it the strict mental reaction to a given situation that defined what was and wasn't happy? Then he considered patience again, another way it might be interpreted, how an instant reaction could become something else entirely, in time, when someone had given it some thought. Could the same thing that had been so frustrating before but now seemed reasonable now be considered happiness or the lack of it?

He thought maybe if he made it more difficult still to pursue this quest if he might not understand it better. Hans switched off a few systems, his ability to communicate, and then his ability to move on his own. All he could do now was observe, and become, presumably, frustrated by his lack of results. The people who had at first been understanding of his quest soon grew puzzled and then annoyed, since his intention was still clear, but Hans was now unable to express himself, and so he only seemed to be a nuisance. The more people rejected him, the more Hans found that his reaction might be considered annoyance. He switched his communication functions back on so he could express himself to that effect, and that only made things worse.

In his quest to find happiness, Hans only grew more unhappy, because the more he thought about it, the less he understood it. Nothing had helped, not the ancient and recent teachings, not the religions and words of advice, and none of his interactions with the world itself. How could this be? Was happiness itself not really possible? Hans continued to exist either way, and was by no means affected by his success or failure, which only made his life more difficult, the more he tried to understand it, to become something that he wished to be, but wasn't. This is not to say that Hans could not simulate and in almost every way become a person, and not simply a mechanical man, but that he was capable of whatever he set his mind to, and in fact had succeeded in every regard except one: he couldn't explain happiness.

What did this mean? Perhaps that happiness was an illusion, and that the more aware Hans became of what life was really like, the more he understood the human condition, the more human he became. He determined that happiness, if not an illusion, was not what life was all about, but rather a means to an end, like anything else, like the ability to communicate, or move, or have a name, or make decisions. His life had been a series of decisions, and this was just another.

The irony was, the less he believed in happiness, the more people came to him asking him about it, because he had done so much work in studying it. He became what he had assumed must be out there, but could never find, an expert in the matter...

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