Recently, my teammate AP2 published a touching post about life’s meaning. A major point he sought to make was this:
which he connects with the danger of losing a sense of meaningfulness, the danger of getting swallowed up by a personal existential nihilism, of becoming trapped in the darkness of perceived and felt pointlessness.
This is very close to a thought I’ve arrived at, again and again, over many years: life is not something that has a meaning bestowed from without; life is a set of conditions which allow meaning to occur, to take shape, to be found and be given.
Does that make sense to you? I wonder if I put it too technically when I write of “conditions”(?).
Besides writing, SeekerFive creates visual art and designs under his Leaf Town brand. Some of these can be seen on Instagram @leaftowndesigns, https://www.instagram.com/leaftowndesigns. Currently he is emphasizing face mask designs.
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22 thoughts on “A condition for meaningfulness?”
Meaning and meaninglessness are seemingly interwoven throughout our lives. 🕊
Not sure if I’m following you here, SeekerFive, but as an example of what I’m seeing with this is something like an object passed down from generations, where their lives gave this thing meaning rather than the thing itself? Like a wedding ring without a marriage has no meaning (usually). Or are you going Zen here, and just finding the tao of the Now? Or are you referring to the Meaning of Life, by Monty Python? One of my fave movies, which is another instance of giving meaning to a thing via circumstance. Great movie though. 😀 I think Ms Snapdragon was more concise.
I’m thinking more about how we sometimes feel as though there is no point to life, or when intellectually we try to find what it is all leading toward, what is the point of everything, and cannot find one. After all, we die, the earth gets swallowed by the sun, the universe patters out into heat death, etc. So it can seem and or feel as though there is no ultimate purpose, point, or meaning to life, whether considering life itself or one’s own life.
I keep thinking that the above conclusion results from a kind of “category mistake,” where we try to predicate a meaning of the “thing” — life — which makes meaning possible. Projects, relationships, etc., within life, have meaning. Life is the condition which makes it possible for such things to exist and mean. Life is not one of the things within itself which require meaning. So it is a mistake to ask what life itself means, or to conclude that it’s all pointless when no such meaning can be found.
I think perhaps we miss this in part because we may find overall guiding meanings for everything within our life, all our projects relationships and so forth, and we also speak of these large guiding meanings as “life’s meaning,” “the meaning of life,” and phrases of that sort. Not that such phrases are wrong, but we may fail to see that there is a difference in sense.
Even less concise! Maybe I should use this reply as another post, lol.
Meaning… is such a thing even possible in any objective sense?
We grow up. We are handed a meaning by our elders. Many of us accept that meaning without a thought. But growing up is also a time of rebellion and questioning for some of us. The presented meaning gets rejected. What do we settle on instead? Usually, something handed to us by our peers.
Devising your own meaning is a perilous path. By rejecting all the prefabricated meanings, you have to accept that there might not be any objective meaning to life. This can lead to despair, mindless hedonism, solipsism, amorality.
A paleolithic person understood instinctively that the meaning of life is to simply surmount the next obstacle. To live for another day, to have protected yourself and those close to you as best you could. The excitement of the hunt, the comfort of the fire, a belly full of wild berries and wildebeest, the closeness of family, the joy of mating, or the longing for a mate.
People whose lives are full of physical hardship and danger don’t surrender so quickly to existential despair. I suppose that doesn’t work for modern humanity.
The hunt is no longer exciting, it is aggravating and frustrating. Sysiphus would understand this. Pushing that damned rock up the hill is an analogy to the fate of everyman, condemned to work daily at a job that is ultimately meaningless. He was able to find meaning in the struggle rather than the result. Most people cannot make that leap.
A family is no longer an extended unit working together for survival and reproduction but rather a small group of individuals mostly living separate lives. We have the modern equivalent to berries and the wildebeest but we don’t have the hours of intense physical activity it took to get them. We’ve lost reproduction as a source of meaning and if bonobos are any measure, I suspect that most of us get a lot less sex than our ancient ancestors.
We look for someone to hand us a meaning, whether it is a flavor of politics or religion or burying ourselves in social media. We take on mysticism or hedonism or narcissism the accumulation of wealth and power or even hatred as a purpose. It all comes from losing all those things our ancestors drew their satisfaction in life from. It has to be replaced with something.
We are overthinking this. Philosophy and religion and ideology have failed us.
If there is meaning to life in the modern world, it has to be in the simple act of living. You are alive and that needs no justification or higher purpose to be rewarding. To live mindfully in the present with a nod to the future and the occasional reference to the past.
This kind of meaning is the best meaning of all because it enables us to craft our own “purpose.” The meaning of life is to laugh and cry and learn and forget and be angry and happy and sad and lustful, to be bored and excited. To shock people or be submissive or amusing or get into trouble or to win honors. To pursue personal goals that seem like being worthy of pursuing. To be amazed or amused or disgusted by the next chocolate you pull from the box.
That is the meaning of life – how you react to the events that life brings you. Nothing more.
The trick is to play the cards you’ve been dealt as best you can and experience everything fully rather than sleepwalking through it all or just folding. Treat life as a challenge and not a burden. Live a life of intention. As long as the meaning of life is to live it as fully as you can, you will always have meaning in it right up to the end.
Thanks Fred, I’m glad you’ve found an approach to meaning — or even a kind of cultivated non-meaning — that is working for you in the confusing modern world!
My strong suspicion is that the happiest and luckiest of people are those who never have to consider the meaning of life. And do not.
Those are the ones who leave no mark.
Who make no noise. Who do not write about it. Wish I were one.
“Condition” may overly narrow the definition. We don’t know the boundaries of life, or whether life can exist in different levels or dimensions and whether our concept of meaning applies there as well. I subscribe to Frankl’s argument that meaning and purpose are essential, and am grateful that we can move this discussion beyond a reliance on superstition for that meaning.
Thanks Vic. I like what you’re saying. Although, I haven’t quite been able to follow the explanation of ‘condition’ being too narrow a term here. Not disputing though! Were you thinking that there may be forms of life in which meaning is not found?
No, I was thinking that there might be forms of existence very different than what we know as life and which still might have meaning their inhabitants.
Oh, I understand now. I would (without thinking about it) regard those forms of existence as life, so that’s probably why I missed your meaning. But my understanding of the extent of “life” is surely shaped by the ancient philosophical notions and also by modern sci-fi, haha. So correcting for semantic differences, yes I agree, and thank you for pointing it out!
It doesn’t make sense but then it totally does, you know what I mean?
Life? Yes, I suppose so.
It makes sense to me – I believe meaning is something we give to life through necessity. The conditions are of course ripe for it. But even in the most brutal of times meaning can be found as Victor Frankl discovered in the concentration camp. Somethings may even be beyond meaning. Like looking at an extraordinary sunset – when you try to give that meaning it ruins it. It’s not something you should try to explain or conceptualise but simply marvel at. Often life doesn’t need meaning to be beautiful. Other times meaning is necessary for survival.
Right! As regards the sunset example, why reduce being to meaning!
Could it be a yin and yang thing? To find meaning you have to grapple with meaninglessness?
That has often worked for me at certain points in my life. In fact I often find myself oscillating between the two.
Hmm, that’s very interesting! I think yes, in order to have meaning within these impermanent, changing conditions which we are neither in control of, made worthy or unworthy by nor defined by, there would have to be the potential for meaninglessness and a certain absence of meaning. I love that suggestion. And I guess some oscillation between the two must be necessary both to survive and to thrive within life.
“life is a set of conditions which allow meaning to occur, to take shape, to be found and be given.”
in terms of yin and yang:
life is a framework, a recipient (yin) that can hold or contain what happens (yang).
just like a cup is a recipient (yin) to contain water (yang in this context) that can take any shape .
life is a stage for endless possibilities and we decide how to fill it 🙂
In the grand scheme of the universe we are small, and any changes we may bring about are seemingly insignificant. But without life in it the universe would take an entirely different path. I had a point, but I think it and I have diverged. I guess what I’m trying to get at, is in agreeance with what you say, that living in itself can be the meaning? Be present where we are with those around us and we will find more contentment than searching, and searching, and searching, for something almost impossible to find, in places we currently are not.