15 June 2008

Is loneliness a relative feeling?

If you were absolutely, positively certain that you were the only human left in the universe, would you feel lonely?

Or, do we feel lonely only when we know that we can be with other people, but we can't for whatever reason?

Several years ago I watched a movie called The Quiet Earth. The main, and for the most of the movie, the only character wakes up one morning to find himself alone. He entertains himself for a while, then starts searching and eventually finds 2 other people*. Ever since I watched that movie, I have often fantasized myself in a similar situation.

If the generation of satisfaction derived from being in the company of other humans has been built into our genes by evolution, then even the person who knew he was the only one left could still feel lonely. On the other hand, if the strength of loneliness is relative to the number of other people one could be with, then a person who knew there wasn't anyone else left wouldn't feel that lonely. However, like the hero of The Quiet Earth, one could never be sure that there still wasn't another person left somewhere on earth.

The 1st question I asked above cannot be answered.

Even Sam Magruder, the hero of the paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson's novella The Dechronization of Sam Magruder, who got transported to the Cretaceous, couldn't answer that question. Sam he knew humans would one day evolve and he actually attempted to establish one-way communication with them (and unknowingly succeeded).

Simpson, in fact, started his story by introducing the dilemma of absolute loneliness:

"What would you do," asked the Universal Historian, "what could you do if you knew you were going to be utterly alone for the rest of your life?"

"That's something, we'll never find out," said the Pragmatist. "The situation could not arise."
What would I do if I found myself alone on a quiet earth one morning? There would be enough dry and canned foods available (freely) to sustain one person for a long time. So, obtaining food wouldn't be a concern. I think I would just start traveling. One challenge would be to cross over to Asia. I couldn't fly a plane and walking across the frozen Arctic Sea over to Asia would be too difficult. But I could probably handle a small boat. So, I would probably attempt to sail over to Asia from Alaska.

But would I feel lonely?

*A man and a woman. Predictably, a love triangle develops and the movie loses its originality. But that's off the subject.


JasonR said...

In a similar vein, have you read Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood) or The Road (Cormac McCarthy). They are both a bit dystopian though.

Katie said...

Interesting idea. Although I am an introvert, I certainly would be lonely. Although certainly there would be no more conflicts.