Rick and Morty and the Meaning of Life

Naval Ravikant once said he never watches or reads any fiction, except Rick and Morty. That made me watch it immediately and I agree with him. It’s the very best show ever. You should watch too.

But be prepared. It’s just a cartoon show. But it’s for the adults. It’s mature, vile and violent, but it’s also extremely funny, with witty dialogues. But it can also be depressing because it rips apart the lies that we all live in our lives and exposes them to the bare bones. You may not be able to handle the truth. But then, if you can’t handle the truth, how does living a lie serve you in the long run?

But wait. You might not catch all the philosophy (or in my case none) in your first run. The running joke is that, you need to be smart to understand R&M. Looks like I wasn’t. But then, the same Naval came to my rescue. While I was already satisfied and joyful at how funny the show was, he shared a blog post about R&M that blew me away.

It’s this article: Rick and Morty and the Meaning of Life by the great Daniel Jeffries. Reading this was like a blind man being able to see for the first time. This brought to my attention what the show was really about. This single article had a great impact on me. I was terrified, moved, grateful and hopeful all during reading this.

It’s a long piece and I urge you to first watch at least 1 season of the show and then read this article. It might change your life. If you follow it’s advice, it will.

Today I read it for the 3rd time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time. It has numerous references - books, people, concepts, movies etc. To really grasp what he’s getting at, I think you might have to understand all of them. And it’s not possible in one sitting. Each time I read, I’m pulled towards one specific idea. Today, I felt the urge to read a book recommended there: Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing by Jed McKenna. So I’m reading it.

(But I do hope that I figure my shit out once and for all so I don’t have to read this again and again! There are more adventures to be had Morty!)

So, ya, only that was for you the reader. Go and see the show and then read that great article. The rest of the article is for me. I’m going to take down bullet point notes on the show because I don’t want to code on my side project now and this feels like an important side-quest in my life.

Here we go.

At the heart of “Rick and Morty” is a choice: Will you crumple in despair knowing the terrifying truth that life is totally meaningless or will you saddle up the universe and strike out for a life of fun and adventure?

(Pras: I choose adventure! Universe: But I don’t see you living one.)

Existential crisis (Who am I? What’s the meaning of life? What happens when I die?) happens to everyone. It happened to Arjuna when he was asked to fight his friends and family. It strikes Rick’s daughter. Rick suggests drope the lies and live an adventurous life (she fears and doesn’t do it).

But most of the times, we don’t ask these questions and/or wait to seek the answers we are satisfied with, simply because we are easily distracted from these spiritual matters by the everyday trivia.

“We’re literally wired to believe delusions. We hear the truth and it comes across our mental feed like white noise.”

But some won’t let these questions go. Artists, scientists, great leaders and Rick-level super-geniuses. And the only people who don’t bother asking these questions

(I ask these questions too, but then I think I’ve never liked the answers innately I got so far.)

So, what do these Rick-level geniuses find when they question the reality?

Nothing much. Just total nervous break down, death and dismemberment and an inability to go outside ever again or enjoy anything you loved in the past.

“What is my purpose?” “You pass butter,” “Oh my God,” “Welcome to the club, pal.”

Ok, the truth about reality.

The Universe can be a fucked up, crazy place.

“I am come as Time, the ultimate waster of people, ready for the hour that ripens to their doom. The warriors, arrayed in hostile armies facing each other, shall not live, whether you strike or stay your hand.” - Krishna telling Arjuna to get up and kill those motherfuckers because they’re already dead in the future.

The search for ultimate meaning is not about meditation and doing nothing and staying right where you were all along. It’s about going somewhere, exploring everything and going through profound and painful self-exploration, where you strip away what’s not real layer by layer, like eating yourself alive.

And then you find out that you, your loved ones and everybody else are gonna die.

“Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody is going to die. Come watch TV,” - Morty to his distressed Sister

“We believe we want to wake up. But the real truth is we’ll give anything to go back to sleep, to return to the dream that is our life.”

Probing deep down we find this:

  • At the root of everything is a black hole of nothingness.
  • Eventually you won’t exist and despite millions of years of comforting beliefs there’s probably nothing after the grave, meaning we’re just gone as if we never existed.
  • if consciousness is all that exists beyond nothing, it’s really a singular consciousness. (Scott Adams’ God’s Debris was surprisingly the same concept)

The last point means that:

we’re not aware of our basic interconnectedness, so we spend eternity in a pointless “festival of massacres”, killing, maiming and torturing other versions of ourselves because we can’t see we’re all the same stuff, which is by design. In other words, our awful ignorance is built into the very fabric of the system and we are quite literally insane because we are blind to our true nature. - Thomas Liggotti

And of course, since everything around you appears to be separate but is actually not, that means everything you see and feel is a grand illusion, like a dream or a simulation.

Which begs the question, “if God is good then why does Hitler exist?”, and also “I thought everything is perfect and has a meaning?!”

The answer to that is:

Universe is perfect. It’s just that it doesn’t share our biological morality. Only we think that life is precious and death is cruel. But to the Universe it does not matter. It’s an impersonal Universe that doesn’t give a fuck about you and me.

It’s terrifying. Because it kills people and puppies, the good and the bad, the innocent and the guilty, with total abandon and keeps making more of us to slaughter. It blows up stars and entire planets for fun killing everything on them with no remorse whatsoever.

The Universe is basically an animal. It grazes on the ordinary. It creates infinite idiots just to eat them…You know smart people get a chance to climb on top, take reality for a ride, but it will never stop trying to throw you, and eventually it will.


You ask.

There is a way out. And it is through.

Back to Krishna and Arjuna. Here’s what Krishna says that convinces Arjuna to take up the sword and fight:

The story happens with or without you, so pick up your sword and fight! Everyone is dead anyway, so take up your role in the play gladly and lead the battle. Oh and you can’t really escape, since we are all here for eternity.

You ask, “But how does it benefit a desk jockey like me?”

There are only three true answers to the ultimate absurdity of life (of a desk jockey. No less).

  • The first is never leave your house again.
  • The second answer is to develop a fantastic sense of humor.
  • Get the fuck out there and have an amazing adventure!

Meaning is contextual. The question is not “What’s the meaning of life?”. It is, “What’s the meaning of my life”.

(What’s the meaning of your life Pras? Just to be sure, for Rick, it was to find the Mulan’s Szechuan sauce. And for Sam Harris, at one point, it was picking a right font for his blog. So don’t get overly hung over about finding your ‘destiny’.)

The Ant and the Skyscraper exist for no reason. But as soon as the ant decides to climb the skyscraper, there’s meaning for both of their existence.

And finally, here’s what the creator Dan Harmon said about the search for meaning:

“Do I agree with Rick that nothing means anything? No I do not because the knowledge that nothing matters, while accurate, gets you nowhere. The planet is dying. The sun is exploding. The universe is cooling. Nothing is going to matter. The further back you pull the more that truth will endure. But when you zoom in on Earth, when you zoom in a family, when you zoom into a human brain and a childhood and human experience, you see all these things that matter. We have this fleeting chance to participate in an illusion called I love my girlfriend and I love my dog. How is that not better?” - Dan Harmon

And yes, that’s it! Find meaning in your life If you can’t, make meaning!

“Knowing the truth, that nothing matters, can actually save you in those moments. Once you get through the terrifying threshold of accepting that, then every place is the center of the universe and every moment is most important moment and everything is the meaning of life.”

Books recommended in the post

  • Siddhartha - Herman Hesse
  • Meditations - Marcus Aurelius
  • Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing - Jed McKenna

Thoughts on the post are welcome! Mail me at prasanna@npras.in or .