There are some questions that seem to keep arising and sparking debate and inciting cliché quality inspirational monologues. One of those is “The Meaning of Life.” This is not an inspirational monologue, nor a debate. More of a curious ramble through the idea itself; and why it keeps coming up.
We are going to start our exploration with questions about whether meaning is something inherent to existence, something that is created or generated by human beings, or something that does not exist at all. We’re not going to answer these questions; we’re going to use them as interesting directions in which to explore the very appealing curiosity of “meaning” in life.
The existentialist school of thought in the mid 20th century suggested that meaning and significance are something we ourselves create. For them, meaning and significance are created through our individual choices; and our individual and collective humanity resides precisely in and is defined by the choices we make. We are the animals who make meaning. We take the essential meaningless flow of life and extract patterns from it, construct extensive labyrinths of thought, and conceive webs of ideas.
Just observing how we all go about life, some of us do create meaning through our choices, while others build meaning from the natural flow of life, birth, sex, children, food, work, death. The very substance of the process of life can be, for humans, deeply and powerfully meaningful.
Some generate a sense of meaning from accomplishments, some from engagement with the natural world, some from business or science or art. Each of us is unique in the combination of life's elements which we arrange in our particular life to create meaning. Some embrace an ethos which attempts to promote the essential meaninglessness of existence. Yet even that approach shapes existence with the significance of non-meaning.
We are beings who live in our minds as much as we do in the physical world. All but the most rudimentary living organisms have brains; the more evolved also have minds. We've just taken the natural order which we inherited and become totally obsessed with it until we became something radically different, a creature with a twin life: material and immaterial.
Humans are different from the non-human world not in kind but in degree. We have taken the various characteristics present in other animals and ramped them up to extraordinary levels. We have invested a huge proportion of our energy, time and focus on the construction of a nearly infinite variety of mental worlds which we inhabit, build, examine, and enjoy with the same relish that we do the material world. We are hybrid creatures; as material beings we live in and engage with the external world while as mental beings we live in and engage with the vast universe of ideas, thoughts, conceptions, theories, study, explanations, and speculation.
So where does this tendency to create, find, reject meaning get us. Where do we go with it or get from it? See post #2
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