It’s a story that many people have lived through, from one side or the other. You’re a child in a busy department store, tethered to your mother’s side by her firm grip on your hand, your eyes constantly drawn left and right by the colorful displays. She lets go to grab something or talk to a salesperson, and you see an exciting toy or stuffed animal and run to it. After playing with it for a few minutes you try to walk back, but your mother is gone. First a wave of confusion hits you, but it is quickly overcome by dread. You are alone and lost in a sea of noise and people.
When great philosophers or authors talk or write of being “lost” they can mean all sorts of things, but few are as visceral as the feeling of being lost that a child in a situation like that can experience. Even if there’s a good chance the child is in no danger at all, the feeling of dread that accompanies feeling alone and lost in a crowded department store can be terrifying. Most people will have their first feeling of being lost as being literally, physically lost as children, whether it is in a department store, or in a large park, or simply down the next street. It makes sense, then, to start defining what it means to be “lost” with the experience of a child.
What about that deep, philosophical “lost,” though? When people say they feel lost (as opposed to being physically lost) they often are referring to alienation of some sort. One way that people address alienation that serves as a good comparison is religion. People who believe strongly in their religion will often feel like they are spiritually “in place.” On the other hand, if some tragedy or crisis of identity strikes, they might suddenly feel spiritually lost. The same dread that a child who can’t find his mother feels in the department store can be felt by an adult who experiences a tragic accident and loses their belief in their religion.
These definitions of lost could apply five hundred years ago just...