More Comments on Meaning

“Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” by Paul Gauguin

My recent post, Why Does the World Exist? elicited some extraordinarily thoughtful comments from readers. I published those comments in my last post and this has elicited more insightful comments from readers which I reprint below.

Lilly wrote,

The reason I find the intellectual pursuit of “meaning” to be, uh, um, well, meaningless, is because a healthy life requires holding the tension between meaning and meaninglessness – sort of what Hegel was going on about, but from the standpoint of one who experiences both the crushing weight of pointlessness and the effervescent joy of grounded participation on a daily basis. For me it’s experiential rather than philosophical – I just happen to notice the back and forth, along with the all too human judgments, hopes, desires, and assumptions that go along with struggling to hold that tension. I dance and feel happy; I catch my finger in the hinge of the trolling motor, ripping skin and sending blood dripping everywhere, reminding me of my mortality and fragility; I bake zucchini bread and joyously accept the gratitude of the recipients; I look at the clock, see it’s now 11:00 at night, and feel like I did nothing with the previous hours but deliver myself one day closer to my eventual death. It’s all cycling through, all the time.

And while in the past, I would attempt to stop the cycle or at least control it by focusing my attention and my thoughts, so as to grasp its underlying point, that is no longer the case, seeing such a choice as being an indulgence brought on by fear and arrogance. Quarks and I are both merely fractals of the universe and as such moving within the truth that we cannot be observed directly without altering our trajectory. (I typed, “tragectory,” before catching the error – but I love that cynical idea that life is a tragedy in motion; I totally get that. But I also get that we are the Goddess, and the Goddess resides in each of us, and as such we are the light of possibility and beauty. To look at one aspect is to miss all that’s happening with the other – which is why it’s a matter of willingly holding the tension, out of respect and appreciation for both.)

And Cornelius shared these thoughts,

There is no meaning to life. Nothing concrete that is universally programmed within us. Common motivations are those seen in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, which extends to all individuals. Meaning could perhaps be entirely explained through the history we share through thousands of years of evolution. Once upon a time we walked the great plains and had to assert meaning to things we saw in order to survive. We had to communicate this meaning too. When humans looked upon the footprints of some unknown animal, we had to use our imagination (a powerful tool) to construct a story or apply meaning to it. This was done in order to avoid certain death. Imagine then, if we had not used this trait that grew out of natural selection. We would all surely be dead.

It seems that the great questions are not so great after all. They really only symbolize our inherent need to assert meaning to meaningless things and see patterns where there are none. Even being aware of our inherent need to see patterns where there are none, I can’t help myself. My journals are filled with diagrams, drawings, and explanations that I hope will unravel this uncanny feeling always following me.

Human beings are social animals. If one were to glance across various psychological studies one will observe a pattern (oh no, more patterns). During the lockdown, we saw the negative effects of social isolation. We can read about the damaging effects social isolation can have on our bodies. Some claim it shortens our life considerably. A recent study spoke of how we should contact old friends because it will have a positive effect. Even though we sometimes think it would not. The positive effects of being social and having close relationships are tremendous. It seems like the meaning, if any, would be to think of our most dominating traits as human beings, which is that we are highly social. Thus the meaning itself reflects our human nature. To live a meaningful life is to have meaningful relationships and to build social intelligence to guide you through.

Think about this blog as well. It is a social process. We read your articles and give responses in the comment section. Ask great questions and intelligent individuals give their opinion in the comments. Pull it all apart to the bare bones and we have social processes that are the basis of everything. That is why it seems to me that maintaining these relationships might be as close to a universal meaning as it gets.

It seems that all the poetry and grand analogies are connected to our social life. What is a grand analogy if you can’t share it? What are great thoughts in isolation?

I again thank Lilly and Cornelius for taking the time to think about these topics and for sharing their thoughts with me and my readers.


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4 thoughts on “More Comments on Meaning

  1. The societal future is with bots/cyborgs:
    I don’t think people will ever get along with other people…not until they are no longer people. Humans are social animals only in that they are animals—however without genuine Society. There’s no real civilization but, rather, controlled barbarism.
    It’s 2022, and Russia is still fighting pretty much the same war it fought eighty yrs ago. (Don’t even want to think about China.)
    In America, there are many citizens still not only angry about the Civil War; they are still fighting the Civil War. And on n’ on. We tell ourselves that we evolving, yet only our technologies are evolving.
    Hush this cry of civilization ‘til a hundred years have past.

  2. Whether one is artist, ecclesiastic, intellectual or anywhere else on a continuum of human experience and interest, we all have some sense of what is meaningful. This meaningfulness springs from belief(s) we hold, whether thrust upon us or adopted from our own volition. No two people believe the same thing in exactly the same way. Consequently, there can be no consensus on meaning. Davidson claimed beliefs were propositional. I think that is right. And for the reasons proffered, so it is with meaning. We look for it where we believe we will find it. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose.
    Machinery is not vital. ‘Cyborgs’ or, now, AI, have no need for meaning. They are circuitry.

  3. Humans have no need for meaning, only a purpose: in destroying the world so that cockroaches can take over the planet.
    As it is now, we are an evolutionary dead-end.

  4. Al, not only do we have meaning in our lives but also a need for having it. Today the world badly needs a serious make-over and by itself this is meaning enough. It is more reasonable and important that as a species that is sharing the universe (possibly with a few million similar kinds), that we play our part in making our world a better place. This applies even if the contribution to universal peace, love and happiness, are so far away that they seem to some as being of no account.

    Our thoughts not only prove our existence but due to the positive sides of them we seek a better place and a better way to see our future generations grow and evolve. Lonely or hurt and bitter people, whose thoughts for the absence of hope may pepper these columns, are yet even they are aware that not all of our minds feel the same thing nor work in the same way, and that we can still do our best to approach what is mostly an unknown state of heavenly existence. (Indeed one sci-fi writer has suggested that with this kind of evolution, eventually our future generations will all finish up perfectly as being angels!)

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