I don't much care where
© 13 Jun 2011 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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Commentary on a famous quote from Lewis Carroll.


In Alice in Wonderland we find this memorable and oft-quoted passage:

“‍Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?‍”

“‍That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,‍” said the Cat.

“‍I don’t much care where—‍” said Alice.

“‍Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,‍” said the Cat.

“‍—So long as I get SOMEWHERE,‍” Alice added as an explanation.

“‍Oh, you’re sure to do that,‍” said the Cat, “‍if you only walk long enough.‍”

The Cheshire Cat is wrong. It is quite possible to walk without making any progress at all, ever. It takes unusual skill or external assistance not to walk in circles.

Getting Somewhere

The world is filled with people who are trying to “‍get somewhere‍”. Not exclusively, of course; there are people trying to get “‍away‍” without trying to get somewhere, people hoping “‍here‍” will become somewhere without them getting, and people with specific (though oft misinformed) objectives. But a lot of people I know are trying or hoping to get somewhere.

So, what is this somewhere we are seeking? Typically it is a place where we have purpose and meaning. Purpose means there are obstacles defined for us to work against; meaning means the obstacles are capable of being overcome and that overcoming them renders the universe more in line with our ideals. Without obstacles we find our lives dissipating into naught; without meaning we find our obstacles becoming a prison.

It is interesting to observe that, with this definition of somewhere, people who’s only goal is to get away from some situation are already somewhere: their ideal includes them not being in their current situation and they strive to achieve that element of their ideal despite obstacles. Thus Alice was somewhere when she was in the room with the bottle and cake, but once out on the road she was no longer somewhere and wanted the Cheshire Cat’s aid in finding a new meaningful purpose.

The Somewhere Paradoxes

There are a variety of seeming paradoxes created by the notion of somewhere, the place of meaning and purpose. I present here one of these in the style of two conflicting proofs.

Either you have a meaningful purpose, or you don’t. If you don’t, then your objective becomes to find one. But that objective aligns with your ideals and is obstructed in various ways, so it itself is a meaningful purpose. Hence, you always have a meaningful purpose.

The only meaningful purpose is the happiness of yourself or others, but without a meaningful purpose no one can remain happy for long. If your purpose does not includes providing others with purpose then your purpose is not going to be meaningful. If it does include providing meaningful purpose, then it must include providing others with this same purpose and hence it is either hopeless (and hence meaningless) or will be completed when everyone accepts it, after which no one has purpose. Thus, it is not possible to have meaningful purpose in a closed society.

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