Intelligence, Sensitivity, Pain, and Meaning

TW: a bit-very dark, in places

The first thing to truly acknowledge – to understand – then, is that this is not the Good Place. That many have tried – have tried to wage their wars for gold; have tried to build their castles and set up their kingdoms, empires –

In an abode, which, in terms of all the tangible, and/or ‘shiny’, things it contains – are false and fleeting promises, and will perish. Undoubtedly. The only things which will last – which are flavoured with eternity, whatever that means, and however it feels – are: love, and the things we do.

I want to write a bit about ‘intelligence’ and what I think it truly means. I think intelligent people are able to see things for what they are – are literate in varying forms of language (mathematical/scientific/geometric, lexical/emotional/interpersonal, logical/intrapersonal/visual…) and therefore can notice truths, and patterns: seeing things for what they are. As products of their parts, and as stemming from some particular essence.

Intelligent people might be well-acquainted with both the ‘paintbrush’ and the ‘painting’, so to speak. Albert Einstein, for instance, had mastered the laws – the patterns, the tendencies – of nature, of physics. He could see what many others could not; viewed the world via his own very eyes, and filtered and processed through his own brilliant (Masha Allah) mind.

Sylvia Plath, also. Master – or, mistress, but this just sounds a little strange, no? – of words. Of how they can sound, and what they can mean. What we can be told, through them, and of what we can tell others, through them. She, like Einstein, had used her particular forms of receptivity, literacy — intelligence — in order to generate her own phenomenal works.

Ernest Hemingway – another brilliant writer – once said that “happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing [he knows]”.

People who are, gifted by God to be, very intelligent do tend to be placed, rather easily, under the ‘neurodivergent’ category. One’s mind must work ‘differently’, in order to see things, and to be able to do things differently. Einstein is believed to have been on the autism spectrum; Plath, too perhaps. I know someone, who is seen as having Asperger’s, and who is prodigiously good at architecture – at the ‘understanding’ parts, and at the more ‘creative’ parts, Masha Allah. [Maybe intelligence is the ability to comprehend beauty – harmony, unity, and proportion – and, secondarily, to be able to create things that are themselves beautiful.]. I could write more about what I have come to learn about ‘neurodivergence’, and about individuals whom I think fit somewhere within the category, but that is not the point of this article. Also, perhaps it could be said that the term ‘neurodivergent’ itself has some negative undertones. Therefore, henceforth, I shall use the terms ‘neuro-ordinary’ and… ‘neuro-extraordinary’!

Intelligence and (emotional, intellectual, and maybe even physical etc.) sensitivity go hand in hand, without a doubt. The true reason as to why I am writing this particular article is because my uncle – with whom I love to discuss random things, including ‘philosophical’ and psychological ones – sent me the strange, straightforward, and overall quite chilling suicide note, which had been left by one Farhan Towhid, a young man who had, premeditatively and with the aid of his brother, murdered his family, and then himself.

His lengthy suicide note, replete with ways of expressing things that could evoke empathy, coupled with non sequiturs and sinister things expressed in chillingly matter-of-fact ways, can be read here.

I am no forensic psychological analyst, but judging by the way this letter is written, it sounds like the man in question had been sane, and yet utterly convinced of the moral justifiability of his actions.

Moreover, it sounds like he had been very intelligent. If a mind is intelligent enough to comprehend, for instance, computer programming languages so well, it is almost necessarily also intelligent enough to be deeply aware of its own shortcomings, inadequacies, the nature of the world, and how much reality falls short of the ‘super-realities’ that are forcefully, and without question, placed upon it.

I am not sympathising with a cold-blooded killer, here. Ultimately, I think it was selfish – and narcissistic, even – for the man in question to have also taken the lives of his family members, since he decided that they would have been ‘miserable’ for the rest of their lives without he and his brother.

But I am able to recognise, by evidence of how he writes and what he has written about, the presence, perhaps, of high intelligence and sensitivity, and… ensuing pain. He was a man in pain, and nothing at all seemed to help. No medication, no external ‘success’ factor, such as excellent grades or the presence of a loving family.

Most importantly, what his suicide note indicates that his life had been in glaringly-obvious lack of, is any sort of ‘spiritual tether’. He alludes to the human mind, consciousness – and, by extension, also his own mind’s ‘biological failure’ – to “nothing but a byproduct of evolutionary luck”. According to him, “neurons are just the biological equivalent of transistors in computers”.

So, in Towhid’s eyes, he had not been callously ending the lives of beloved human beings — encased with, entwined with, their own sempiternal souls. He had instead… merely been doing something ‘evolutionary’, merely prematurely switching off some biological computers, which had come about by pure chance, and without any higher meaning, anyway.

So morality, ‘spiritual value’, and all the rest of it, had probably just been… yet another hiccup of (itself ‘accidental’) biological functionality, anyway. ‘Survival and reproduction’, but if you are not ‘happy’, there is no point at all.

How can people live, without (reasoned) belief in the fact that they came from somewhere, and were designed and created, and that our lives ultimately do have Meaning?

How do people ‘just live’? Simply ‘chase a bag’ – make money, chase material indicators of material ‘success’, and proceed to show off with them: the designer clothes and bags, the cars, the mansion-like homes, of which they can only really occupy, with their beings, a small corner?   

Do what ‘ought’ to be done, but who, what, determines this ‘ought’? Traditions, values, which have stemmed from ‘nowhere’ and ‘nothing’? What gives anything any real weight at all?

A kind-of-while-ago, I had come across a snippet from a podcast, in which a university lecturer talks about how to live. ‘Just do the next thing’ had been the crux of her defence. She said she wakes up, is called by her biological need to eat, and then to use the toilet. Do what needs to be done, for work. And don’t think ‘too much’. Definitely, as New Atheists tend to instruct us to do, try not to ask ‘Why?’…

And when the ’big picture’ is deliberately, or subconsciously, blotted out – with the sex, the drugs, the rock ‘n’ roll: still, all the little details are obsessed over. Wealth, ‘prestige’, lust. And people cry over spilt milk, over scratched cars, and skin serums that go out of sale. Everything is about boasting, and about competition, and about collecting things; decorating outsides, and allowing ourselves to be desperately distracted. How do they do it?

Without intent to bring about a bout of existential depression in anybody, it is like that line in Joker (2019) – without belief in ultimate Purpose, Meaning, true Connection and Direction: everybody simply has to “put on a happy face”, and get on with it. Acknowledging Reality, somewhere, maybe deep within. But the mask is what matters, isn’t it?

The most intelligent people I know also seem to be the most sensitive. And this can open up the floodgates for a whole lot of sadness: a range of it, the very depths. When you see what this world, sans Objective Meaning, actually holds for the human being, and how people can hurt each other, and how bad things can get. ‘Over-thinking’? Or, seeing things closer to how they truly are?

Still: “Indeed, with [every] hardship, there is ease” [94:6]. Maybe, in the form of a loving family, and/or shelter and warmth, food, a beautiful masjid to frequent. And “Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear.” [2:286].

Dunya is not ‘the Good Place’. Investing in this world, without due consideration of what it is really all about, and about what – the eternity that – comes after it… is delusion. And it makes for a dark, dark place in which to be, really.

And if we maintain that this world is all there really is, and that “happiness”, here, is the ultimate goal… we are setting ourselves up for deep, deep disappointment. While contentment is desirable, and more-than-possible, here, and while moments of happiness do come — and go…

“What is the Life of Dunya (i.e. this fleeting, material world) except the enjoyment of vanity?”

— Qur’an, (3:185)

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

2 thoughts on “Intelligence, Sensitivity, Pain, and Meaning

  1. Existance is suffering (perhaps because we’re separated from our creator) but regardless I think without perpetual suffering we’d never improve. Suffering is when you murder your past self so your future self can live.


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