Simplistically but accurately, all we are, and indeed all any living thing is, is a complex feedback loop driven by contextually-applied instinct. Our loop may be more complex than that of other organisms we know of, certainly complex enough to have gained a degree of self-consciousness, but it is a simple system at its core. Our sensory functions, both external and internal, create feedback that our organism uses to course-correct as it seeks to pursue its goals. These goals can be broadly divided in two, corresponding to the two types of instincts we have: the instinct to move away from things valued as bad, and to move towards things valued as good.
Our instinct away from badness corresponds to our goal to maintain homeostasis, stable conditions optimal for our survival. We move away from danger, and in the absence of danger we are free to do other things, or nothing at all as we like. Leisure, after all, is when we are theoretically most free to express ourselves, for we are freed from the necessity of escaping danger. Danger in this case is anything that threatens our homeostatic equilibrium: threat from another species, illness, hunger, thirst, or exposure. In this instance, we are like a very advanced thermostat, in a feedback loop constantly updating our model of reality to keep us within a range of ideal values and conditions. So look to a man when he is at leisure, that is his most free, and you gain a very insightful perspective of who he is.
What happens when we are more or less at a stable equilibrium of safety, however? Most people find it exceedingly hard to sit around all day doing nothing in particular. When we go on vacation, by the end we're usually ready to get back to work to escape the monotony and boredom. The big unless is if we have something to move towards in our leisure time, though freely chosen, but that occupies our energies and attention. We also have, after all, movements towards goodness. Goodness eventually becomes more than simply the absence of bad, and without this movement in our life, we cannot be said to be using the fullness of our humanity.
The question then is, why do we value as good what we do? What motivates our unceasing desires? Why can we not simply be quiet and happy in our rooms, as Voltaire asked? (And in fact wrote an entire book about, i.e. Candide). There is clearly another feedback loop here, one with no clear end, unlike our thermostat-like homeostatic drive. As soon as we reach somewhere stable, we are compelled to strike off again into the peril-fraught unknown. We are like a music scale: we can complete an entire circuit of notes and end up right back at the note we started at, but an octave higher or lower. Directionally for us, the only sure observation we can make is that we tend towards complexity of relating and relationships. One need only look at the general trends of development from child to adult, and from simple hunter-gatherer society to the internet-based society we have today. Indeed, what is a common fantasy or aspiration for many people? To do something that wins them fame, that is to say the admiration and good-will of an entire people, presumably for having done something that has deeply impacted the lives of so many. So we see a large number of relationships and with each one being fairly profound (if one way), with the profundity of that connection being deeper the more impactful the deed or creation.
Why should we tend towards complexity of relating, however? Why can we not simply tend our own garden, quietly? To a certain extent, this is a fact of life. Healthy ecosystems tend towards complexity of species, interactions, and relationships over time. It is tied to the fact that life, in its healthy expression, begets more life. All the universe is slowly unwinding, coming undone, headed towards entropic collapse into a vasty nothingness. The more complex the web of relationships that sustain an ecosystem- natural or purely human- the more we decelerate towards our inevitable doom. Rather than a free-fall at terminal velocity, we spiral gently down.
Psychically, we can say, as many mystic traditions and psychological theories have over the years, that when we are born we are rudely, abruptly, and with no choice thrust into a world where we are in a state of separation. To be conscious, to be aware, is possible only by differentiating between self and other. Yet this provides an imperative of sorts, a seeking that continues throughout our lives: the search for unity, for paradise lost. Yet we cannot go back the way we came, for innocence lost cannot be regained. The way is shut by the cherubim with the flaming sword. So we must approach the garden from the back entrance, requiring a long detour, a circling around and moving laterally (St. Augustine: "Only the wicked walk in circles"). Before, we had no relationship to anything, because we were one with everything in our mother's womb. To move laterally then, we try to create the richest, most complex relationships we can in both number and quality. In this way, we approximate infinity, the place where unity awaits once more. The path then back to unity is through expanding awareness, and all that this implies. This is important because it implies relating with others, in ever more complex ways, which ups the personal ante. Think about what it takes to succeed professionally now. It is not enough to merely be good or competent at a job. everyone has to have a brand, and be content producers professionally, and have an audience. New technology means new ways of relating, which means expanded awareness of who we all are in this world and what we must do about it- though, as for everything, there are healthy and unhealthy expressions.
...sees much and knows much