I'm 18 and since 3rd grade I was in a special class for gifted children. I know this feeling so well, from my experience and from those of my classmates and friends, it literally hurts.
I'm no psychiatrist but from my nonobjective personal experience depression in gifted children and your regular "normal" teenage depression are completely different, in symptoms as well as in cause, which I think the article illustrates nicely.
I think the people criticizing the article for focusing on children and on gifted children specifically don't understand it's a whole different world. There are whole fields of study in psychology, psychiatry, education studies and other fields that focus on gifted children because they need a completely different system to thrive. People, especially family and educators, need to know about this.
These people are also crushed to learn upon graduation that people don't automatically revel in their obvious greatness, and that they need to earn their place by actually delivering / 'executing' on some of that potential.
TL;DR: Smart teenagers tend to not realize they are still 99% teenager, 1% smart. That itself is a teenager like habit.
Humans have roughly similar meta-emotional makeups and thrive in environments that cater to this. Gifted or not, children and teenagers thrive where they can expand their social, intellectual, emotional, spiritual boundaries and capabilities in a trusting, safe, encouraging environment. Thus the 'system' is the same, the gifted merely require a different mix of 'content'. They may be advanced in certain ways but normal or behind in others.
Maybe we shouldn't delay the real world lessons of "there are plenty of people better than you, just in different ways" and "yeah you are great, you'll still have to earn it" until they grow up. In my view, that's another one of the failures of modern schools.
You are not a head in a body. Your mind is intertwined with your body and your body is what connects you to reality. Keep in touch with your body.
It's easy for you to focus on things to the exclusion of everything else and it's very easy to forget about your body. Don't.
I'm fairly sure that's also why the article mentioned hugging. Just let your canary in the coal mine be that if you no longer enjoy physical touch; you're out of contact with your body.
I blame Descartes and his mind/body dualism for much of the "brain-centric" view of consciousness :)
The human organism needs lots of physical exercise, movement, breathing, stretching, etc. to function properly. Along with proper sleep habits, your body's environment must be taken care of if you expect to feel "good" and expect proper brain functioning.
The most demanding cognitive activities require support of all the rest of the body's systems (mood, temperament, stamina) which can be kept in shape through proper physical conditioning and nutrition.
I think the only reason I got through high school was because of the immense amount of support I got when I was placed in a partially self-contained class with roughly ten other students with Asperger Syndrome and Autism.
The thing that always bothered me (and my "gifted" classmates) is that lumping all such children together is a Bad Idea(TM). We had unique strengths and weaknesses, and having us march in lock-step in a traditional Prussian-style school at double speed just made our weaknesses that much more apparent.
As for the latter issue, I suspect that this may fit into a broader work or area that the author presumes readers are familiar with--these issues are certainly seen in teenagers and afterwards.
As for the first point, a bit of a cliche but still accurate is the saying "The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike"; at some level, everyone I've met sharp or dull, gifted or not has run up against some version of the four issues (death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness). It may take until middle age and a house and a picket fence and seventy grand in debt, but it hits eventually.
One of the best realizations I've come to is that everyone, at some level or another, faces these problems in their own way and that I should try and respect their experience--because for them, their existential conflict is at least as severe as my own, their circumstances and stakes at least as dire.
What struck me as interesting was the author's specifically calling out touch as a mechanism for grounding and comfort--this struck a chord with me when I read it. It's part of the reason I have dogs: there is a very real touchable physical presence of pet, something to hold and hug and pet when you're mulling over some of the day's shittiness.
tl,dr; life's a bitch, get a dog.
I think that can be entirely attributed to where it is published -- the website of a 501(c)3 that solely focuses on "gifted children".
This paragraph explains why it is relevant to focus on gifted children.
I can attest to that as I still have rather vivid memories of standing on the edge of the roof berating myself for not having the guts to actually jump.
Needless to say, this can be very confusing and painful. It's not like anyone ever tells you "I'm acting this way because I feel threatened by you", it's always some stupid mind fuck and always your fault. I still would never say it hurts more than being stupid, and let's not forget the perks that come with being gifted, either... I don't disagree with what you said, but still: "just as dire" does not mean "exactly the same".
There are, by definition, more people who can understand the most stupid, than those who who can understand the most gifted, and the sadness of seeing how the world could be, and how it is, and how third-hand many of the excuses many people make are, that is not a feature of the other extreme. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. And just consider the likely very different reactions to "I'm sad because I'm more stupid than the people around me" and "I'm sad because the people around me are more stupid than me". Both are perfectly valid reasons to be sad, but only one of them tends to get a hissy-scratchy response, especially when it's true.
I found the following especially interesting:
Dąbrowski also described a group of people who display a different course: an individualized developmental pathway. These people break away from an automatic, rote, socialized view of life (which Dąbrowski called negative adjustment) and move into and through a series of personal disintegrations. Dąbrowski saw these disintegrations as a key element in the overall developmental process. Crises challenge our status quo and cause us to review our self, ideas, values, thoughts, ideals, etc. If development continues, one goes on to develop an individualized, conscious and critically evaluated hierarchical value structure (called positive adjustment). This hierarchy of values acts as a benchmark by which all things are now seen, and the higher values in our internal hierarchy come to direct our behavior (no longer based on external social mores). These higher, individual values characterize an eventual second integration reflecting individual autonomy and for Dąbrowski, mark the arrival of true human personality. At this level, each person develops his or her own vision of how life ought to be and lives it. This higher level is associated with strong individual approaches to problem solving and creativity. One's talents and creativity are applied in the service of these higher individual values and visions of how life could be - how the world ought to be. The person expresses his or her "new" autonomous personality energetically through action, art, social change and so on.
If you're not in the mood for a book, there's a great mini-series adaptation that was produced in Russia in the 2000s that takes about a week to watch. It does an almost perfect job of reproducing the book. I don't think it's available online.
Likewise, I've found friends with far worse actual problems in the developing world to be existentially happier. They derive great pleasure in being able to go to a rock concert, etc. The game dynamics still work for the majority. Lots of intermediary issues to overcome, bosses to beat. Threat of destruction (socially or economically) seems to be wonderfully stimulating. Game dynamics still work.
What I find far worse is the banality of the first world. That seems to evoke and ferment existential concerns. Kind of along the lines of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98LeLZ2crZE
In a way, it is the problem one faces once more basic things are taken care of. Hard to focus on existential angst when hungry.
At the end of the day, even though the universe itself may be arbitrary and doomed, I found that the only things that infuse durable meaning into us as humans is our love for each other, our desire to understand this universe, and our appreciation of beauty in all its forms.
And about first world banality - the book of Ecclesiastes in the the bible addresses this also:
"I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun."
I had the existential depressions when I was 19 - 24. I dropped out of college and all my parents knew to do (and did) was put me in a psych ward and 'treat' me with electroshock. That didn't work.
An even more disturbing take on this is that totalitarianism also gives some people a more sinister cause: the oppression itself. I think many people in the various surveillance agencies in totalitarian states actually believed in what they were doing, and many even enjoyed it.
Of course, they may simply all be gifted until they're hammered into their little social boxes; I've often thought that. Some of us weirdos just can't be hammered as efficiently, or break before bending or something.
You mean adults aren't intense?
Wow, now I feel lonely.
I expect children to be intense about nearly everything. Small boo-boos and set-backs are devastating, and small wins create enormous excitement in 2 and 4 year olds. That, to me, is intensity.
It's perfectly normal for the majority of things in life to be intense in kids (and have more understanding for others' kids now), but it's entirely abnormal (and frankly inappropriate) in adults. Adults can have selective intensity and I look for that as a strongly positive quality in people I want to be around. Non-selective intensity is simply fatiguing, IMO.
Interuption: "Dude!!! Are you guys out of toilet paper in the upstairs bath?! Because if you are, I just wanted to remind you that there's a lot of it downstairs." (Silently: "No shit, I bought it and put it there; next, care to interupt my reading in five minutes to update me on the stock status of dish washing detergent?")
Of course, even that preference for outward "quietness" over "loudness" is quite cultural. I'm betting you're from a Northern European or Anglo culture?
No, I really mind how excited children can get about everything - it's the first time for them! Their highs are incredibly high, and their lows are incredibly low, partly because they have no experience to know that after the high will come a low, and after the low will come a high.
But when my point was that the author seems to think only gifted children are intense, why do you immediately assume I'm telling you you're not? And feel alone? That's really kind of sad.
No, I had thought you were implying that adults are emotionally less intense than children, which made me feel alone because that's very much contrary to my experience. The big thing that freaked me out about growing up was realizing it feels much the same as being a child, except for having learned how to maintain a facade that it's totally different and I'm somehow actually as calm as I act.
It's not surprising when the dream of many is to have it easy. Being smart is easy. Working hard is hard. I remember there being a study where successful kids who were told they worked hard ended up working harder (and over time getting better results) than kids who were told they are smart.
I guess what I'm saying is everyone has impressive abilities, but the authority figures' guidance may be what will differentiate a lazy "smart" person from a hard working (successful) one.
Thank god I discovered literary science fiction, and soon thereafter Phillip K Dick. I found reading "unhappy" literature was comforting, and U.K. post-punk bands like Joy Division also lent a sense of not being completely alone. Also reading Malcome X was hugely uplifting, as a white Iowa boy. And the cyper-punk authors were just starting then; I remember reading Neuromancer when it first came out and feeling completely at home in the reality painted by that novel.
About the only "good" thing that came out of my elementary school teachers only allowing me access to "gifted" activities was their taking me out of math class and leaving me alone with the school's first computer (this was the late 70's) for 2 hours every day.
(sorry, to prevent spam)
As I've grown up, I still realize there's no way to prove the world around me is real, but I'm glad I encountered this theory so young because I've had a good while to be motivated by the fact that it doesn't matter if it isn't real. What matters is what I do with this experience and how much joy I get out of it.
Or maybe, in that thoughtful, existentially-depressed way, the author is just understatedly asserting that adults are just big children. That would probably be overthinking it.
This affects everyone sooner or later, thoughtful or not. I think this is basically just a case of the fact that everyone goes through more or less the same set of internal experiences, just in different orders and to different extents. Obviously though if you hit the dark night of the soul at age 7 then that's going to be somewhat problematic, not that it's easy at any age.
He's also probably assuming the reader has some background on PD and knows what it is a psychological theory not at all correlated with age.
The solution to existential depression is counter intuitive, which is probably why it isn't well known. Existential depression is caused by wanting to have meaning when a part of us knows that meaning doesn't exist. We grow up in a life where everyone around us jumps from one 'important' and 'meaningful' thing to another, never seeing the pointlessness of it all. We think this is normal so adopt the behavior, but we constantly fight ourselves because part of us sees how pointless it really is. Our base state is where we see how pointless everything is. However, this state does not create existential depression. It's the conflict between the pointless state and the part of us that wants meaning that creates existential depression. We enter suicidal states only when we are unable to find a solution. (i.e. we are unable to find something that has meaning.) The solution, which is now obvious, is to remove all feelings of meaning and importance so that we return to our natural state. If everything is meaningless than everything is unimportant. If everything is unimportant than nothing is more important than anything else. When the feelings of meaning and importance are removed, our existential depression disappears.
Basically it felt like the abstract notions I had been worrying over were indeed meaningless, but that the meaningful world from when I was a little kid was still around, when I could capture the same intense non-verbal awareness.
Do you not also feel that sometimes it's hard to consciously think that it is pointless and to feel yourself accidentally drifting back into a state of trying to find meaning... to feel this existential depression creeping back?
I find it takes constant awareness (not effort) to maintain an idea that it is all futile and pointless, to allow me to exist without any depression.
If I'm too hyper-focused on something (like coding) for too long though sometimes I'll still get a similar feeling. Haven't found anything to do in that case but wait it out.
At the moment I code, cycle, read sci-fi, takes photos, and am just about to buy an electric piano to add something else (as the coding was dominating again).
Over the years, I developed the worldview that as human body is formed by numerous of organisms working together, and how futile would it be for a "red blood cell", in all its consciousness, to ask "what is my purpose ?", the same way its futile for human to ask about his/her place in the universe. I started trying to live more like animals do (or rather, how a human animal would live if it only had nature imposing rules on it), copying nature for decision-making, and general wisdom (it even helps me with my work). We humans are basically nature forming a greater system , the human society, which then again competes with many other greater systems formed by other organisms, and till now, has been doing pretty well.
I also have given up trying to control my conscious thought and efforts too much. I trust the biological system that this consciousness came out of to provide me with a better judgement than I can come up with consciously.
Its been around 2.5 years since i cleared up the existential crisis in my head, and my growth since then has even astounded me. I have become better, much better in all spheres of life, and I can't remember a time I was more happier than these 2.5 years
I have a clarifying question:
Isn't human consciousness and troublesome curiosity -- things you seem to be minimalizing and attempting to tone down -- just as real as everything else? Could your view that questioning your place in the universe as futile not be seen as escapist/defeatist? Why do you trust the biological system for consciousness but not how that consciousness operates?
Rest of this stuff is revealed when you actually do something, and push your limits in it, the patterns that are revealed, and how the system based abstractions and patterns really transcend various fields of knowledge and practice.
Anyways. This is what I think, and since I am not rich or haven't "made it big", , I won't be taken seriously by many people. And when, and if, I get rich, people would try to "dig my brain", so to say. But I don't think a lot of this stuff is "portable". Everyone needs to realize this type of stuff on their own, come up with their own explanation.
One day we visited my grandparents cemetery,my boy started crying, and asked me why my grandparents are buried here while I said people went to heaven when they are dead. I had to say that our body remains here, but our soul/spirit go to heaven and we live there.
Then one night he tears again, then cry, when I ask, he said if it's just spirits/souls go to heaven, we won't even have a face there, our family will never be able to recognize each other, and we won't be able to re-unite in heaven.
I almost cried myself.
There's the strangest feeling I come across from time to time, and I think "come across" is the only good way to describe it. Everyone has bouts of doubt and melancholy, I think or would like to think, but there's something much larger that creeps up that becomes harder to relate. In spite of the difficulty to describe, I could imagine anyone might feel this way, not just gifted children.
I always called it "The Cosmic Sadness", which is a name that I came up with after experiencing the feelings while I was reading about heat death of the universe (and associated articles) on Wikipedia. This feeling ends up upsetting (not quite right, maybe disquieting) me much more than things like the death of a pet or a family member.
It doesn't only have to do with cosmological things, but I think it addresses the scope of the feeling, where you get this sensation of being so zoomed out, so encompassed by (perhaps) all that might be, that you have a hard time coming back down to being you.
It's like when you ponder the plight of some character in a novel you're reading, and you empathize enough to get a little upset, then you remember that none of that is real and its OK you've gone one level up now back to real life, no one is suffering like the character in the novel. You "snap out of it" - There's de-escalation, and some relief. But with the cosmic sadness there is no going up one level, it's all there to ponder and still real. No snapping out of it.
I was shocked by how this article ended because the only way of coping I have (other than mere time), to de-escalate this feeling, is literature and poetry. I tend to read several poems a day as a kind of cathartic ritual, and poetry brings a comfortable way to remember (or re-realize) the very meaningful and concrete parts of experience, so I end up surrounding myself with it, finding the most comfort in it.
 For example Where to Live, by Du Fu: https://gist.github.com/simonsarris/5472121
Du Fu is a favorite of mine because he lived during a time that experienced one of the largest losses of human life on the planet (an lushan rebellion), so a lot of his poetry dithers between bleakness and hope. Somehow this makes it easy for me to reflect (perspective) and draw some inner sympathy for everything.
I don't want to diminish the problem of existential depression in adults. I just want to point out that the problem is probably more accute and troublesome in gifted children as I think the author tried to explain.
I had exactly what was described in the article in response to a car accident (being hit while biking) that 'should have been fatal' at age 15.
The author's recommendation of a daily hug also resonates with me since if I had to describe, 15 years later, what happened I'd say that the accident caused my mind to retreat from my body and that it wasn't until I learnt to enjoy physical touch again 7 years later that I felt I had recovered.
While my experience probably was a bit more intense than the article describes, my guess is that it points to a failure mode in gifted (or let's say 'mentally oriented') children in which they focus on their mind to the exclusion of all else and lose track of their (physical) connection to the world.
There are two mechanisms to cope with this without discarding or distorting it. Both are linked to accepting and expanding the comical (and cosmic) smallness of our existences.
The first one I actually learned recently from reading Stephensons Anathem (which made me wonder if I'm reading that into his work or whether it was put in there from the same urge to cope). It's a bit hard to relay it without spoiling the book too much, but let's say it's related to the fact that even our understanding of the heat death of the universe is based on and limited by our human brains. There is hope in understanding it as a field that may still be ripe for discovery (top-of-my-head exmples: quantum immortality, parallel universes etc.) and that, as per usual, reality is always more fascinating, weird and grand than our brains can even begin to imagine. (And maybe these short term sprints of depression stem from being unable, for a short while, to muster an appropriate sense of wonder.) We're along for a ride and that ride is awesome.
While the first one is going one step ahead, the second is taking one step back: Even the fact that we are able to form thoughts about the heat death of the universe means that we are incredibly gifted and that it's a gift we should not waste on despair. We are part of a universe that is to all appearances without inherent meaning or even sense. Fine. It's up to you to decide whether you want to dwell in and facilitate the static and the cold, or whether you want to pump your energy into showering it with the most fantastic entropy that the universe hasn't seen yet. You are here because thousands of generations of humans have found ways to cope and carry on and make today into a better tomorrow. If they figured out a way to give a damn, you can, too.
> accepting ... reality is always more fascinating, weird and grand than our brains can even begin to imagine ... We're along for a ride and that ride is awesome.
Sounds like defeatism and resignation. Why resign yourself to the "ride" and pretend that there's something nice about the long, arduous journey when you know very well that there's not much to see at the destination, or if you believe that everyone is riding in the wrong direction?
> If they figured out a way to give a damn, you can, too.
Sounds like conformism. What if all those people gave lots of damns about things that actually aren't worth a damn? Perhaps we should not waste our precious CPU cycles on caring about worthless things.
How do you convince a mind that thinks on the scale of trillions of years to care about a few thousand years of human idiosyncrasy at all? I don't think it will be that easy. Daily hugs might actually work better, because a hug doesn't even attempt to engage the intellect and therefore doesn't need to respond to counterarguments.
Because I certainly don't know if these things are worth a damn or not, and I generally don't trust people who believe that they do know.
But this uncertainty about whether "any specific thing matters" cuts both ways, and I'm not sure it is clearly stated in another part of your comment:
kijin>Sounds like defeatism and resignation. Why resign yourself to the "ride" and pretend that there's something nice about the long, arduous journey when you know very well that there's not much to see at the destination, or if you believe that everyone is riding in the wrong direction?
I think that there are 2 defeat/resignations in your hypothetical. The first defeat/resignation happens at the point where you become convinced that "you know very well that there's not much to see at the destination". The second defeat/resignation is the one that you pointed out, when you make the decision to pretend that here's some destination.
skore>>it's related to the fact that even our understanding of the heat death of the universe is based on and limited by our human brains.
Skore is raising the question that maybe we DON'T "know very well that there's not much to see at the destination."
Some people believe that there is no way to know that "there is not much to see at the destination", and some people believe that there definitely is a worthwhile destination that is worth struggling towards. Religious people, anyone believing in transhumanism or "the singularity" to name the vast majority of humans.
Some people would lump everyone who doesn't commit suicide into this category: "If you aren't getting off the train, you're moving towards station."
Existential despair is when your brain decides to think up some Profound Issue instead of just admitting it needs some exercise and a hug.
Personally, I find the heat death of the universe comforting. That is, considering human society as it is now: no matter what, there will be no boot stamping on a human face forever. Those who "become one with the dust" cannot loose, those into accumulation of power and posessions can't win. That's kinda neat, after all, like a fail-safe. It's also the only real solid argument for things like compassion and irony I know.
You are here because thousands of generations of humans have found ways to cope and carry on and make today into a better tomorrow.
You could also say I'm here because hunger feels bad and fucking feels good. "Better tomorrow" sounds so self-righteous, and while maybe people in the past were that high-minded, I'm currently not seeing it. The US can't even close Gitmo because the people they abducted and tortured might take it out on them, wtf? We still live in the stone age in so many ways, and that's the supposedly advanced west. A few years ago in Germany, a girl was raped in the inner city of a small town while people just walked by. And so on. It could be argued that even one look at a flower justifies all suffering in the world, but it could also be argued that just one kid dying in terror and pain does not justify existence of life on the planet. It really depends on the mood, and for me on wether I had breakfast yet.
Remember when TV was thought to bring culture and information to people? Hah, me neither, but I take it there was a time when you could express such hope with a straight face. Then came the internet... yet the way 99% of the people talk on the web would get one hellbanned within 5 posts here. For every person with a book I see, I see 20 with their dumbification phone out. In the economy we consider shifting money to those who least deserve, but most desperately want it, as making money and admirable, and watch helplessly as our media, our food, just about fucking everything gets more and more consolidated into fewer and fewer trees of corporations and the corporations they own. All most people care about is what they need to do to get along, they just accept everything as given and go from there.
And yeah, then there's the people dreaming of actual immortality in all this mess. Just look at them. They've been creeping me out since I was a kid, not once have I seen a scientist talk about this who seemed to be a balanced human being.
Anyway, as Kafka wrote in his notebook, "Believing in progress does not mean believing that any progress has yet been made." But then again he also wrote this: "You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid."
But that's not what you're talking about, children dying in Africa, is it? Or people who just want to feel like they have some agency in their life playing Farmville? No, the universe is oh so exiting, it's an awesome ride... bleh. Don't get me wrong, I sometimes still stare at clouds or my hand or whatever and am simply amazed. But a sense of wonder is only one part of the story, the other part is human society, which is nowhere near the awesome complex miracle the universe is, but often rather banal, predictable, suicidal on good days and murderous on bad ones, with ads everywhere, just in case someone has an actual thought in a quiet minute.
I still agree that one should not give up, if that can be avoided. But I disagree that "if they figured out a way to give a damn, you can, too." -- so many people didn't figure anything out (how many natives are basically dying from depression in reservations?), and if they couldn't, why should I be able to? We live on a planet where Stalin and Hitler and Mao actually happened, where the US is actually a thing, and where there is no reason to believe power, control and deception will not be absolute and insubvertible one day -- until the heat death of the universe, that is.
People who don't give up do that for themselves; they don't don't owe it to anyone. Maybe to the people who love them, maybe to themselves, but not to any old random schmuck of the past. I think there is no logical argument you could make for why people "have" to be happy and not just mope or become criminals, and hugs are really as good as it gets.
When people no longer fear the power of government,
a far greater empowerment appears,
the Great Integrity,
which never needs to enforce itself.
Then, we will never again be driven from our homes
or be compelled to labor for the benefit of others.
We will all work naturally to fulfill ourselves,
and to meet our community needs.
In the Great Integrity,
we will all love ourselves and all others,
not as compensations for ego deprivations and defilements,
but as natural expressions of our humanity.
"work naturally to fulfill ourselves", or "ego deprivations and defilements", those are very few words for a whole lot of issues. When I was younger I was scared out of my wits of the idea that we might lock ourselves into them via technology without even realizing it, and now I do find consolation in two facts, that even if we do, it won't be forever, and that if we manage to get out of the solar system, given enough distance, at least diversity might once again flourish, that the dice will be rolled again so to speak, and more than once.
Actually, I think you were more on target than not, as it is very difficult to delink the two. The article discusses frustration about society or the "less-than-ideal" state of things as some of the preconditions leading up to the existential depression that some gifted kids experience.
Sure, there remain issues of our smallness, purpose, etc. However, I have often wondered what the Laozi quote you referenced crystallizes so well: what if we weren't all induced to participate in this "Matrix" of a society that pushes many of us into a life of subsistence while others profit from our efforts? What if instead we were more community than competitors and were more free to pursue what fulfills us and betters humankind? Would we feel as small and hopeless? Or would we be empowered and enlightened by our hand in creating and participating in a just society? And would the discoveries and progress that ensue as a result of so much effort and brainpower dedicated to causes other than personal economic benefit actually offset at least some of our sense of lostness and insignificance? That is, would we be more evolved and literally more significant or aware of our significance? Perhaps we humans are actually far, far more powerful and significant than any of us presently realize.
The world's resources would surely support such an arrangement if our mechanisms for allocating them were more evolved than "mere economics".
Surely, when gifted kids have such thoughts but are instead forced headlong into the Matrix, the temptation towards a more hopeless state and subsequent existential depression becomes highly possible if not probable.
Interestingly, besides that verse, Kohelet was considered too depressing for the Judaic Sages to canonize.
But neither is there a reason to believe they will be. If the universe has no teleology, that means it does not inevitably tend towards evil.
Yes, I agree with that, I just didn't know how to put it.
But still, the idea of complete autocratic slavery for a million years is such a bad scenario for me, that even just a small likelihood would be enough for me to welcome the fact that nothing lasts forever. Having that idea in a world where chickens are stuffed into dark rooms and have their beaks singed off so they don't peck each other to death doesn't help.
Maybe the universe doesn't tend towards evil, but power sure does. And newborns don't change; that is, humans get born as blank slates, but are faced with and molded by structures that can be arbitrarily old, complex and twisted. We no longer know what our parents know by the time we're 10; most of us wouldn't find out half of what is going on if we lived to be 1000. And it really only takes one sufficiently isolated generation to rewrite history into anything you want. And those who would want to do that, will make sure it's nasty and sticky. That doesn't mean it will come to that, but it really only takes one singularity event, doesn't it. So if it came to that, chances might be good it will not come to anything else ever again.
The Roman Empire didn't collapse because they thought "let's do something else instead, this is really petty and dumb", but because there was an outside, and because communication got slow as it grew in size. That communication changed a lot is obvious, and I would argue if you consider it from a class perspective, not from a nation perspective, there is no outside either, it's one huge blob. There may be an "outer lower class", but plenty of it identifies with and loves big brother dearly, and when push comes to shove, you don't really need that many faithful, you don't even need the smartest, they just need to be really dedicated and obedient and have the best weapons money can buy. And then there is robotics. I really fear that in a few hundred years tops it'll be _over_, if we keep on sleepwalking like we do.
Maybe I'm just pessimistic, and surely I read and watched too much dystopian science fiction; but I kinda think the reason we don't live on conveyor belts in a world made out of cast iron is because we're still building that world; but not because that's not exactly the world power wants, must want. Of course, such a blind lust for power is also by definition lacking in awareness, if not to say stupid. So there's that hope always, too, that it might trip over itself.
Well, it's like a hug, having someone that really sees you and shares
your feelings. :)
You said you've read a lot of existentialist literature so this might be redundant, but I'd check out Haruki Murakami's work if you haven't already: I can't think of an author who more immerses in -- and emerges from -- a sense of cosmic loneliness.
edit: to answer your question, I suggest The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. Murakami is overrated. Once you've read that one, you've essentially read them all.
"The tendency for entropy to increase in isolated systems is expressed in the second law of thermodynamics — perhaps the most pessimistic and amoral formulation in all human thought."
— Gregory Hill and Kerry Thornley, Principia Discordia 
As I understand, over the centuries, the usual coping mechanism for existential dread has been belief. Religion is often cynically thought to be a means to control the masses, but I think its central purpose is serving as a mental safety valve. I've chosen to believe in the power of technological progress.
"Yes, we did it, we killed the dragon today. But damn, why did we start so late? This could have been done five, maybe ten years ago! Millions of people wouldn't have had to die."
— Nick Bostrom, The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant 
I believe it's our duty to conquer death and bring heaven to earth, by fixing aging and developing machine intelligence.   Once this is done, there will be time to think about reversing entropy, or breaking out of the universe.
"THERE IS AS YET INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER."
— Isaac Asimov, The Last Question 
I believe it's our duty to conquer death and bring
heaven to earth, by fixing aging and developing machine
intelligence.   Once this is done, there will be
time to think about reversing entropy, or breaking out
of the universe.
The author gave a quick nod to the fact that it exists in adults in the form of things like mid-life crises, however, suggested that adults have a much better framework for dealing with it. I tend to agree with him, however, like you, I also found much of the author's advice applicable.
I also believe that as we get older, we understand that there are so many others out there with whom we might relate. In our teen years, it seems that all the world is monolithic and that there is only on acceptable way to "be". It is also a time when we are constantly smacking up the pressure to conform. In some ways, this reminds me of what we know of gay kids struggling with their sexuality. Many face feelings of isolation and despair. A key message to them from adult members of the community has been "Hold on. It gets better".
With regard to what you write about "cosmic despair", and especially with concepts like "having a hard time coming back down to you", I noticed that some of it seems to flirt around the edges of depersonalization. Perhaps it may be worth having a look at that and how it intersects with your experiences.
Years later I've found out that I'm clinically depressed and perhaps that's why I don't feel the sadness so deeply - it's not much lower than my mood set point. BTW, comparing this feeling to the sadness of a close being passing away is like apples and oranges - they both have a completely different flavor to me.
I still invoke it from time to time; for the serenity, sometimes for the detachment, and oddly, sometimes get sad to get angry and gain some motivation to change the world. I've found that attaining the state is now harder than it was when I was a child.
BTW, interesting tip about the poetry; I've been wondering why it's not as alluring as it used to be, and perhaps I don't spacetime out that often anymore.
Has a bit different effect on me. Somewhat like going ‘one level up’ per your literary example. The troubled character is myself—but Cosmic Sadness elevates me (other part of me? complicated!), giving an odd feeling of unreality and remoteness.
The Sadness, indeed, comes from the inability to move up completely. Continuing the analogy, you remember that the novel is not real, but you're trapped in its reality.
Myself, I treasure these moments, they are calming and meditative, and happen very rarely to me. I wish I could trigger them voluntarily.
Not odd at all. The concentration or severity of existential depression in gifted children is well documented if not well known. And Jim Webb, the author, has devoted a good deal of his life (30+ years) to understanding the needs of and helping the gifted, with a focus on gifted children . He also founded SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) .
Where is there any evidence WHATEVER that the severity of existential depression is any different for gifted people than it is for anybody else? I know Jim Webb, and I'm pickled in the writings of the gifted education movement. (I'll be spending the following two weeks presenting parent seminars on gifted education at Epsilon Camp 2013, so I keep up with all the latest literature on this subject.) I think "existential depression" is a euphemism used for "depression" among some but fortunately not all families who have gifted children--nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else.
Yes, it is crucial to help people who feel depressed, and I applaud anyone on HN who does so when depression comes up in submitted stories or comment threads from time to time. But I see utterly no evidence in the professional literature on depression that the manifestation of depression is much different in gifted people from its manifestation in all other human beings. Everyone who experiences depression needs to feel connected with fellow human beings who show compassion.
 The English translation is excellent.
The link I posted was a re-blog on a website with a nicer reading experience.
I do wish this sort of message could be part of an effective, formulaic prescription that could be doled out to web surfers who are suffering. "Depressed about things? Just keep scrolling down...watch this TED talk, heed this advice, read this article..." My friend who surfs the web all day and who tells me he has his suicide all planned out--I wish he could stumble on these things more often. Maybe instead of a "CSS Site of the Day Award" badge there could be a "Contemplating Suicide?" badge...
Another example, I wish I had learned before I became a film major that imagery is powerful, and that our brains can confuse on-screen trauma with real trauma. I suffered needlessly--and that sounds ridiculous and maybe funny, thinking about a film major with wide eyes wondering just what he signed up for--but I watched things that I will never forget, and that have become part of a mental burden I work to release now that I'm a bit more experienced in discerning what I can and can't handle.
I guess it pains me to think that while there are things we can do to ease others' pain, there are many extremely simple, almost thoughtless ways by which that existential depression worsens. Watch the wrong film. Read the wrong book. Make the wrong song lyric your mantra. (Wrong...well, maybe inappropriate is a better term; something that takes into account one's personal state) Traditions, cultures, microcultures...transcending that sort of thing is harder than most people realize, and certainly doesn't happen on autopilot.
(1) Existential depression, and
(2) Gifted kids have difficulties because adults don't talk to them as equals, and their concerns and thought processes are difficult for their peers to comprehend.
You do have to believe in a cause greater than yourself. All your passions and drives die with you, so if you want life to be meaningful then you need to contribute to something that will last.
I'm not sure how much being gifted has to do with it. Strangely, one of the things that has helped develop my framework for life is a fanfiction (Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality) , written by Eliezer Yudkowsky.
I think it's been recommended several times before on Hacker News, but it really is a great fanfiction. The protagonist is an atheist and transhumanist who wants to defeat death.
The author has also written many other essays that I find interesting and sane. I'm an atheist who has occasionally struggled with the idea of death and meaninglessness, and his essays were the first viewpoints that seemed to make sense.  
I really recommend that anyone here who has struggled with existential depression to read the above three writings. Of course, it's very possible that you'll still be depressed, in which case you'll need to look for other solutions.
But Eliezer's writing helped significantly in cleaning up my life views.
Well I just wanted to say that what helped later in adult years was discovering true love. I know it sounds corny but once you realize that life on this earth is short, and that short time can be used to experience great feelings of love and togetherness with other humans, you do feel less depressed about it.
I expect the same feeling after job "retirement" and expect it to last as long.
Who the fuck are you to judge why people get depressed? Someone I know got depressed because she was 70 and her cat died. The only other social contact she had in her life withered away. Is that a good enough reason to judge her?
> But one person can have an impact on the world: sometimes, a very pervasive, meaningful one.
Really? In the long run, how much does it matter? Oskar Schindler saved a bunch of people from the Holocaust. He died poor, broken; his saved people went on to create a state which is known for its war crimes. The cycle goes on.
> I fail to see why some gifted children can't appreciate the world and their existence enough to at least have a good time and explore it a bit. You only get to do it once, and you won't get the chance to do everything the world has to offer, but you should consider yourself lucky to be conscious in the first place.
You have never been depressed ever in your life, have you? This is like me going to a sad walmart employee and telling them they should be happy getting a job when there are people in Africa starving.
You don't need a "reason" to be depressed, and judging one as "pathetic" does nothing for anyone, least of all the depressed person.
"I admit that in the past I have become angry, or have lost my temper when things are not going right. I feel that this type of behavior happened when I was in my early twenties. I feel that I have better control of these emotions at the present times. I have also have gone through highs and lows in my life, and have felt depressed at times."
AFAIK Depression isn't something one reasons oneself into.
Then why are you commenting?
Since this isn't your usual teenage angst, making friends who are older than you can help a great deal.
Realizing man has pondered the same things, for hundreds and thousands of years gives you a chance, to access their thoughts in the form of books, literature, poetry.
I recently had a psilocybin mushroom trip that resulted in a bit of temporary derealization during which I needed one of my friends to hold me just so that I knew I was real. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life, but through it I learned that our existence in this world is entirely a perception of the mind, and that we create our reality through each and every action we take and each thought that we make. Particularly one of my most profound insights was that the concept of time is irrelevant, for there is only the now, and when one is able to perceive the now, then one can be free from the grasps of what if and can one see what is.
I find it difficult to convey these feelings with other people, as I often find them saying things like "yeah, that's interesting", but I can see that they do not truly understand. There are some that do however and for those who do I am grateful. For the children and those of you who find yourself in this "existential depression", I can only offer this...
Create. Create art, create music, create life. If you can leave something behind for the rest of the universe, then your life was not for nothing, for you created something, were a part of something. This at the very least is all that we can do, and that is okay, for even if all you can do is make someone smile, you have created a ripple in the world that will manifest itself as a wave in the lives of those who carry on.
Over the years I've become somewhat of a shill for the Teaching Company, which offers college-level courses on CD and DVD. Robert Soloman's "No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life" is an excellent introduction to existentialism. Highly recommended. http://www.thegreatcourses.com/tgc/courses/course_detail.asp...
In my mind, if we are going to encourage and nurture kids at both ends of the spectrum -- highly functioning and less functioning -- we should provide some kind of intellectual bedrock to allow the gifted an anchor to succeed.
- high potential for development
- innately aware of problems in the world
- drawn towards 'escapes' that help them grow
What elitist garbage.
If you don't believe in qualitative differences in thought, then we might as well just abandon education as a whole.
It is common that many of the "containment regimes" that are supposed to motivate children are more ruthlessly enforced on gifted children to "help them reach potential". And it is known that overly harsh rules induce depression too.
is there any evidence (beyond the author's "experience") that this is true?
"In essence, then, we can help many persons with existential depressions if we can get them to realize that they are not so alone"
And this is why I strenuously oppose the term "existential depression" as a supposed designation of something that is rare in most people and more common among people who are "gifted." There is no evidence of such a thing. Rather, treating giftedness as a condition of life different from what most of our fellow human beings experience magnifies the sense of aloneness that too much of the gifted education literature promotes among people identified as gifted.
When I was young, I read a science fiction story by author Philip K. Dick in which he made a statement I have seen made in much the same form by many of the lousier authors on gifted education: that if your IQ is high, you are as different from above-average people as retarded persons are from normal people. That's baloney. The social distance hypothesis of IQ has little empirical support, and seems mostly to be a cultural hang-up of twentieth century America. When I lived in east Asia (after majoring in Chinese language at university) as a young adult, I discovered a new cultural perspective, the cultural perspective that if a person is smart, there is hardly anything better to do with the smarts than to learn how to get along with other people. As Confucius said, 三人行，必有我師焉 ("wherever three persons are walking, my teacher is surely among them"). Whatever my IQ score, I have plenty to learn from essentially everyone, and plenty of reason to feel kinship with my fellow human beings.
There is, however, a kind of isolation of the gifted that must be specifically counteracted. And that is the isolation of the gifted education literature, like the article kindly submitted here (by an author I have met at several conferences on gifted education) from the mainstream literature of psychology. Most gifted education gurus, and the author of this article is a salient example, have their highest formal degrees in education, from schools of education (such as from a "directional state university" that historically was a "normal school" for training teachers). The most rigorous research on human psychology--and psychologists have recently been painfully aware that all too little research on psychology is rigorous at all--
is gained by persons whose highest formal degree is in psychology, from a major research university. Very little of the best insights gained from recent decades of psychological research seeps into schools of education, especially those schools of education that have programs in gifted education.
The late author Dabrowski mentioned promptly in the article kindly submitted here and in much gifted education literature is an admittedly obscure writer (as acknowledged in the only book that collects commentary on his ideas,
which I read part of recently) who produced essentially no testable hypotheses. Dabrowski's ideas are vague and open-ended enough to allow making up dozens of anecdotes when speaking at conferences on gifted education, but provide no guidance whatsoever to help young people face tough issues in personal development.
The bottom line: the term "existential depression" is a euphemism used in the gifted education community for the same depression experienced by many people of varied IQ levels. The correct statement in the article submitted here is the statement that you help people experiencing depression by encouraging them to feel less isolated from the rest of humankind. And one of the best ways to do that for gifted people is to emphasize their commonality with the rest of humankind, rather than their IQ scores or poor fit age-graded school programs.
I find that a lot of gifted children are opposed to authority, which causes frustration with non-stimulating class work assigned by poor teachers.
Gifted children are aware just how dysfunctional this society is.
They aren't fooled by shiny things. They look at the structure of things and analyze them.
Thus they're a high-risk group because while most people see a few scattered small problems, gifted kids see one big problem.
Naturally, there are solutions to that including contexting and acceptance therapy, but those are never provided.
I bet they'll find gifted kids have a higher suicide rate, too, especially as an empire nears its collapse.
I'm 25 now and after a lot of drugs and alcohol, I believe in God, again. I read the Bible, not as often as I should, but at least I read it. It makes me feel better.
For those of you who are 'former Christians', I recommend you try to bring it back into your life. It does help, I promise.
I was born again at age 24, after swearing it off for years due to the evil and hypocrisy I saw growing up in it. But I had just hit another near suicidal rock bottom - even though my life was very monetarily successful - and I finally stopped fighting God's call and being so stuck on myself.
I went to church and was blessed to meet my kind, flexible, and giving wife who is truly my better half. (PS guys, odds of meeting flexible and giving women is much improved there) It's been 9 years later and we have two wonderful sons. Even if God takes me home tomorrow, I know he made some good out of my life.