“Be as a page that aches for a … a theme that is timeless …”

“Be as a page that aches for a word which speaks on a theme that is timeless …”
(words and music by Neil Diamond)

This blog focuses primarily on whether life and death have meaning—the fundamental concern of my lifelong intellectual search. The question of meaning, like all philosophical questions I ask, is informed by an evolutionary perspective, without which philosophical answers are woefully incomplete. This perspective has led to my attention to future technologies—which will probably either transform or destroy us—and to my interest in the future of cosmic evolution itself.

Nonetheless, it is hard to continually discuss such timeless themes. Sometimes I discuss other philosophical problems as well as politics, science, religion, daily experiences, questions from readers, or other topics not directly related to the meaning of life. Thus my posts often allow me a break from thinking about more substantive questions. Still, regarding any issue, I will bring a reasonable amount of analysis and insight.

There are two disclaimers I would issue regarding my blogging on topics other than the meaning of life. First, when I venture in areas in which I lack expertise, my thoughts are less measured and thorough. Regarding issues other than academic philosophy, I can only speak as a reasonably intelligent layperson. Second, I often do not have the time to fully research topics about which I’m not an expert. Many topics I address demand book-length treatment, but I have only limited time and blog space. Thus my conclusions about topics not thoroughly research are provisional.

Still, there is something valuable in thinking about topics about which one lacks expertise. First, it forces you to keep thinking and to practice writing at the same time. Second, such thinking grounds one to reality. For instance, if loved ones ask for practical advice or one reads about some important practical matter, then one should think about these things. Fortunately, I have received the kind of education that helps me to be a good critical thinker. Finally, virtually any topic connects to questions of meaning at least in some way, so thinking about almost anything is indirectly relevant. And it is easy to see why.

Consider topics that I sometimes blog about such as politics, society, work, education or economics. It is easy to see why the meaningful life depends on a good society and a decent education, as well as on a just political and economic system. It is also easy to see why issues of religion, science, technology, ethics, personal relationships, and philosophy are directly related to questions of meaning. In fact, these are the primary areas from which most persons derive meaning. So one can connect almost anything I blog about with the question of meaning, no matter how tangential my subject matter may appear to be from my primary concern.

I hope this explains why I sometimes deviate from writing directly about the most fundamental question for me, the question of life’s meaning. Evolution, transhumanism, science and technology, and all topics that have most influenced me do so ultimately because of my deep concern with life’s meaning. But life’s meaning is not only a theoretical or even existential question; it is a question that demands attention to the details of living. Oftentimes then, I will direct my attention to more mundane matters. Perhaps this is what Wittgenstein had in mind when he wrote: “… we could say that man is fulfilling the purpose of life who no longer has any purpose except to live.”

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4 thoughts on ““Be as a page that aches for a … a theme that is timeless …”

  1. Everything is connected to everything else. All the ideas in the universe connect together in one huge webwork of knowledge. The connections between different fields are truly impressive. For example I gained insights into linguistics when I read Braudel’s The Structure of Everyday Life, about consumerism during the Renaissance-Reformation period. I once used a trick I learned from Mayan mathematics (really weird stuff) to solve a problem in computer science. And of course the study of human evolution has given me all sorts of insight into human behavior. There’s a connection between patriarchy and the fact that women, not men, bear young. Karl Marx wrote something that helps explain Mr. Trump’s victory. It just goes on and on.

    Therefore, the desideratum is to know everything. Given our short life expectancies, this desideratum is unattainable, but we can certainly aim for learning as much as we can. Indeed, I would argue that the marginal return (in understanding) for study diminishes the deeper we go into a subject. I would suggest that, given the immense amount that you already know about philosophy, an hour of time spent studying, say, linguistics, or geology, or Japanese history would endow you with a better understanding of life than an hour spent studying more philosophy.

  2. Chris

    Thanks for the insight. In fact my wife and I had just been discussing this very point. I have always had the desire to be a generalist rather than a specialist, to have a synoptic philosophy if you will. Isaac Asimov, a true polymath, said something similar. So I think you are correct, and I’ll just keep learning. Still the cynic in me wonders if it will make any difference.

  3. It will make a difference. I agree completely with what Chris said and would only add the following observation. Years ago, in school or on the job, I sometimes encountered a subject or task that seemed irrelevant to my immediate and future goals. I wondered: “Why am I wasting my time learning and doing this stuff?” But I generally dove in and did as good as I could on whatever it was. Later, sometimes many years later, a connection would be made. What I previously thought was a “waste of time” turned out to have added some crucial skill or link of knowledge that made it easier for me to accomplish the current task. As I reflect back on my life, almost nothing I have ever done or learned was actually a “waste of time”.

    So I would encourage you not to be cynical. As you add new posts to your already marvelous and diverse collection of writings, you should have the confidence that sooner or later a connection will be made that gains either you or one of your readers a new insight or perspective.

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