Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The meaning of life.

What is the meaning of life?

Let’s get straight to the point. The question, whilst having been of sincere interest to many, even to the point of obsession, for much of human history, and having sprouted numerous often ridiculous solutions, is the wrong question to ask. Or at least it is the wrong question to ask first. An earlier question might be “is there a meaning of life” and even before that one would need to have answered “what would constitute a meaning”. By asking what would constitute a meaning one can define attributes that differentiate a meaningful meaning from a meaningless meaning and it is at that point that the entire chain of questions is undeniably subjective. Theists can claim “the meaning is god” but that’s still just their preference (or god’s if it exists – which it doesn’t) but why prefer god as a solution over for instance a potato? Both answers are equally meaningless, although at least I have good reason to believe that potatoes exist.

One of the problems with having an ultimate meaning of life is that the solution can always be followed by the question “why”. The other problem is whatever you posit as the meaning you can always ask “why not” of some alternative and that chain of questions will be infinite also.

In my opinion asking what is the meaning of life is rather like a 3 year old persistently asking why, although far less useful. Just as 3 year old eventually tire of asking endless why’s many thinkers tire of asking and just declare some nonsense reason to suppose that the meaning of life is god, love, or some other meaningless nonsense that really has absolutely no reason to be a better answer than potato.

What is the meaning of life? What’s the colour of existentialism?

Some questions are just stupid because the question means nothing. Face it. The meaning of life is subjective and therefore personal and you can choose what you want it to be. You can choose a different meaning every day if you like and there are no constraints in doing so because it is the meaning of YOUR life, for that moment and it has no greater significance than what it personally means to you. Get on with your life and enjoy finding the answers that are out there to real questions. It is a far more rewarding use of your time than head full of potato. I think that should be obvious.

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Mikhail said...

Eventually man comes to the point where he asks: "What do I live for?" In other words, one does not find any pleasure in this life anymore, or he only sees very little. One starts asking about pleasure, as well as about the meaning of life. It is because the meaning of life is to feel that one's egoistic desire is filled. However, if there is nothing to fill it with, then what does one live for?

chooseDoubt said...

I find pleasure in fulfilling curiosity. I seem to find more pleasure in that as I get older and what is this pointless search for a non-existent ultimate meaning of life if it is no a very common curioisty? I'd argue it's not a very good thing to be curious about since it's obviously a stupid question and that may well be why people lose the joy from their lives - because their curiosity is never fulfilled even a tiny bit because their question is unanswerable.

There's another way to look at that. Let's imagine I have an interest in life, which I do, and I want to know exactly how it started it. I want to know the exact chemical composition of the first self replicating molecules. This question may or may not be answerable, I suspect it is, but it's very unlikely I'll answer the question just by pondering it. It's very likely that by making no progress in answering the question I will eventually lose motivation and give up.

But there is an alternative. I don't have to answer the question. Instead I can take steps back through time by answering smaller independent questions about chemistry, evolution, genetics and study other life and experiment. I may never answer my original question but the curiosity I can fulfil in answering related questions can be immense and infact far more fulfilling than simply knowing a chemical formula for a molecule, no matter how important that molecule is.

The difference with the meaning of life is that there isn't one. There was a first self replicator so at least in theory my question is answerable. But who really cares when there are so many questions to answer along the way and so much more understanding to develop than just one simple answer that really means nothing when removed from an understanding of its context anyway?

I'm not going to suggest that everyone should live for curiosity but that's pretty much my reason and it works for me because my curiosity about the big questions is fulfilled by making progress on the little ones. And the more this happens the more I tend to see that the big questions are either meaningless or just one arbitrary step on an infinite branching network of questions that are only more significant because in my ignorance I decided (or learned) that they should be.