Rick and Morty’s Prescription for Life
What should I do with my life? What is my passion? What is the meaning of my existence? What is my calling?
These are variations of The Question: ‘What is the purpose of life?’
Many of us struggle to find an answer to this question. But before we subject ourselves to this grueling struggle, we should question The Question. Are we even asking the right question?
Problems with Purpose
Purpose is a philosophical concept, not a scientific one. There is no empirical data to conduct a study and arrive at a scientific prescription for Life. It is non-deterministic. That is why, ‘a 6 week program to find your purpose in life’ is not guaranteed to work.
Since it is philosophical, there is no panacea. The purpose of life is personal to each one of us. What worked for the instructor of the ‘6 week program’ might not work for you.
Your calling is a moving target. You are a dynamic being and so are your thoughts and your opinions. So is your purpose. Maybe you do find your calling in the 6 week program; but after a year, you might feel like that is not your calling anymore.
For all of these reasons, the pursuit of a meaningful life is disorienting. And it is a solitary pursuit. If you are sick and want to feel better, you go to a doctor. If you are overweight/obese and want to be fit, you hire a personal trainer. If you are lost in life, you need to fend for yourself. There are no experts who can give you a scientifically proven solution to pull you out of existential crisis.
So, how can we answer The Question? Rick and Morty come to our rescue.
Rick Potion #9
** SPOILER ALERT for S1 E6 of Rick and Morty**
For those of you unfamiliar with the adult animated TV show Rick and Morty: Rick is a mad scientist who drags his grandson, Morty, on crazy sci-fi adventures.
Here is the distilled version of Season 1 Episode 6 — Rick Potion #9:
Rick asks Morty to hand over a screw driver to finish up his Ionic Defibulizer (we do not know what it is; all we know is that its a device Rick was working on).
Morty refuses and throws a tantrum.
This triggers a chain of events and ultimately, all 7 billion+ humans turn into weird, alien-like creatures dubbed the Cronenbergs.
Turn into these creatures:
Rick tries hard to undo the damage but in vain.
In Rick and Morty, there are infinite realities. The reality that they have currently fucked up is called C-137.
So C-137 Rick does a little bit of scouting and finds an alternate reality (AR) where Rick (lets call him AR Rick) manages to find a solution and turn Cronenbergs back into Humans.
After undoing the damage, AR Rick asks AR Morty to hand over the screw driver again.
AR Morty hands over the screw driver.
AR Rick uses the screwdriver to finish up his Ionic Defibulizer. As soon as AR Rick finishes the assembly, the Defibulizer explodes.
AR Rick and AR Morty die.
C-137 Rick finds this AR during his scouting. C-137 Rick and C-137 Morty travel to the AR using the Portal Gun.
C-137 Morty freaks the fuck out at the sight of seeing his own dead body.
C-137 Rick tries to calm him down with the following explanation:
There’s an infinite number of realities Morty. And in a few dozen of those, I got lucky and turned everything back to normal. I just had to find one of those realities in which we also happened to both die around this time. Now we can just slip into the place of our dead selves in this reality. And everything will be fine. Now, help me with these bodies.
C-137 Rick and C-137 Morty bury the corpses of AR Rick and AR Morty, take over their place and continue to live normally.
They created an irreversible global genetic epidemic and what was the solution? Leave the 7 billion+ humans (now Cronenbergs) behind like their lives meant nothing. And find an alternate reality where Rick and Morty happen to die and take their place as if their own lives did not matter.
Imagine ruining 7 billion people’s lives, leaving all of it behind, burying your own corpse and continuing to live as if nothing happened.
The episode teaches us a poignant lesson: Life is meaningless.
Our ancestors subscribed to the Ptolemaic model of the universe. They thought that the the Earth was at the center of the universe and that the stars twinkled in the sky for them. But as we grew and discovered more about our universe and ourselves, we realized that we are not the center of the universe.
Instead, as Kurzgesagt¹ says:
We discovered that we are just a moist speck of dust revolving around a medium sized star in a quiet arm of an average galaxy in a galaxy supercluster. And this supercluster is just one of the many superclusters which together make up the observable universe. The universe could be several times bigger but we will never know…..But we now know that the stars don’t twinkle for us, they just do.
Like stars, we humans are not born for any particular reason, we just are. We are insignificant by-products of universal phenomenons like physics, randomness and noise.²
Nihilism is the philosophical belief that life is meaningless.
The show Bojack Horseman³ also has nihilistic undertones and it makes the following comment on the insignificance of human life:
“Be it horse, cat, human, or even lizard, our lives are but the briefest flashes in a universe that is billions of years old”
Nihilism seems gloomy, scary and tragic. Is there no reason for our existence at all? Then what are we supposed to do?
We might be a moist speck of dust in the universe but you can interpret this reality in a different way — we have a universe sized playground. There is no one stopping us (but ourselves) from becoming an intergalactic species.
Similarly, the meaninglessness of life can be interpreted optimistically. If life has no meaning, we get to define what it means. Optimistic Nihilism is the belief that we have the agency to dictate life’s meaning and its purpose.
“You are born and you have a whole set of sensory experiences, stimulations and lights and colors and sounds and then you die. And how you choose to interpret that is upto you.”
- Naval Ravikant⁴
What you choose to do within that small window between birth and death is also up to you.
A Non-Scientific Prescription for Life
For this reason, ‘What is my purpose?’ is an incorrect question. Because it implies that your purpose has been set in stone by something or someone and that you should spend your life treasure hunting for this stone with life changing engravings.
Instead, The Question now becomes ‘What should be my purpose’? Because you are in control and you get to set a course for your life.
And its not as if we do not have things to do. Contrarily, there are so many exciting things to do. Again, to quote Kurzgesagt:
Its not as if we found out everything there is to know. We don't know why the rules of the universe are as they are, how life came into existence, what life is; we have no idea what consciousness is or if we are alone in the universe. But we can try to find some answers.
There are billions of stars to visit, diseases to cure, people to help, happy feelings to be experienced and video games to finish. There is so much to do.
Life is a universe sized box containing infinite assortment of chocolates. Don’t wait for the “right” chocolate to find you. Instead, go ahead and grab the chocolates that you enjoy.
Alternative: Don’t Give a Shit
The purpose of life is not something you find, it is something you define. It is not a process of discovery, it is a process of creation; you decide and shape what the meaning of life is for yourself.
For some, this proposition is scarier than the proposition that life has a pre-defined purpose and meaning. This is understandable.
If that is you, then strive to be like this dude:
This guy is a Nihilist who does not concern himself with trivialities like ‘meaning of life’ or its ‘purpose’; he just chills and does whatever makes him happy.
 Optimistic Nihilism by Kurzgesagt. This video helped me through some of my most difficult times. I can testify for its effectiveness against sadness, uncertainty and existential crises. Please do check out the video — it’s beautifully narrated, thoughtfully animated and just impressively illuminating.
 Optimistic nihilism is not exclusionary. Optimistic nihilism and theism are not antithetical to each other. Nihilism simply gives you a blank cheque; you get to put in whatever you want in it. If believing in god makes your life meaningful, cool. If not believing in God is your thing, cool.
 Bojack Horseman & Rick and Morty stream on Netflix.
 Naval Ravikant’s quote from his appearance in the JRE show