I just read a post by a fellow HEthan questioning the meaning of life given that death is inevitable. This I believe is an existential question most intelligent people bump up against at some point in their lives, often several times, and for some this question arises very early. I would like to take a deconstructionist approach to answering the question after providing my on-the-spot answer to his/her post and I’d love to hear other people’s philosophies on battling nihilism.
“Everyone dies eventually so nothing matters? I’d turn your questioning logic back around on itself if I were you. What does it mean for you for something to have meaning? Does something have meaning if it lasts forever? If you personally created it? If you get to enjoy its existence whenever you want? Meaning is a slippery slope to duality. The idea that nothing matters because you will die is meaningless if you don’t think that way. Meaning is created by experience plain and simple. Your life can be the most profoundly meaningful thing if only you allow it to be. Your death, whatever it may be is irrelevant because you either won’t exist anymore to experience regret, or you’ll live forever in a different form giving meaning to some other reality. The concept of meaning is what you need to question, not the banal “realities” of this beautiful human life. You make meaning. God is in you, and you create the universe around you. Take responsibility for this incredible opportunity God has given you to just BE. Your actions don’t have to be recorded in history books to matter. You don’t have to conquer death for anything to matter. All you have to do is love yourself, love the universe, love existing at all, and all will become meaningful.”
While my post was rather long-winded and a little accusatory, I’d like to take a step back and consider the origins and and nature of the question at hand. I thank those of you who choose to read on.
“How can life have any meaning if I will certainly die in the future?”
I propose to examine the question grammatically.
We have a question of process – “how” can life have meaning? Through what mechanisms, designs, potentialities, beings, or actions is meaning accomplished?
This seems to be an incarnation of a world-perspective in which, for something to exist or occur, there must be a “thing-done” and a “doer”. Meaning must existence BECAUSE of something or someone. This implies not only a self or entity but also implies cause and effect, or time. Because of someone or something, life is given meaning. Eliminate time and the entire concept becomes irrelevant. existence either is or isn’t. Well we exist don’t we? Cogito ergo sum? The universe exists, past, present, and future. Our existence appears to be compartmentalized into matter and energy, there being no significant difference between a comet and a human child other than a humans awareness of its own existence. Do past humans not exist because of time? Do future humans not exist because of time? Then you don’t exist because of time. You are someone’s past or future. You are your own past and future. Becoming aware of yourself means letting go of the arbitrary way our minds process existence through the concept of time. You ARE, and for that matter always have been and always will be. Your atoms were once hyper-energized quantum foam which exploded into universal forces, photons, and present matter. One “day” your atoms will drift off into cold space. Time does not define anything but the perceived pacing of your current human experience. There are no processes, no doers, no things being done. The question how is as irrelevant as asking who it really is who is reading this post. An ephemeral shape having drifted together by incalculable potentialities only to disappear in mere blip.
Second is the problem of “meaning”.
Meaning is an abstract noun created by humans to represent the idea of purpose, or significance to a process, which can be explained through the question “how”. In our time-centered consciousness life is seen as a process over time which must come to some logical and significant conclusion. Life after death? A reward or punishment? Those we leave behind keeping our memories? Is it really true that for our lives to have meaning, there has to be something left over when that life is gone? I don’t believe this.
Meaning is only a thought. It is a problem, something for our minds to strive for a solution to. Like some sort of mathematical equation. In the end I believe it is an evolutionary mechanism developed in human brains to select for advantageous behavior during life. If some course of action or belief system has “meaning” then it is positive for our existence. It will help us survive, help us enjoy surviving, help our descendants to survive and coexist. At the end of the day though, “meaning” seems to be only that, a thought. Isn’t existing at all meaning enough? If you exist now that is good. If you don’t exist in the next second, who can judge if that is good or bad? If you exist forever then what is there to worry about. If your existence is suffering then should you end it? But if you exist forever then you don’t have any agency in the matter of your existence. What if death leads to more suffering? This brings out what little significance the idea of meaning could possibly hold. Meaning is to end suffering. You exist now, and whether you exist forever or not the purpose, as it were, of existence is to resist and end suffering. Your fellow humans suffer too. Maybe your purpose in life could be to end their suffering. Maybe your purpose in life is to end your own suffering. Either way, regardless of your philosophy or conception of metaphysical realities, or imaginings of divinity, “meaning” can be reduced to if existing is a pleasant or unpleasant experience.
Finally is a question of life and death.
What exactly does it mean to be alive or to be dead? Is being alive the state you are in now? Where you experience and are aware of your senses and thoughts? What then is life after death? When the physical body disappears, and if your consciousness remains, what brain is there for you to think? What body to feel? Your existence must seem to incorporate what information is available to your awareness then. And if death means ceasing all awareness because it is generated by your physical brain, then awareness is the criteria for life. Were you dead before you were born? Before circumstances came together and allowed for biological molecules to work in concert creating your conscious brain in your mother’s womb? Then we have all been resurrected! And 100’s of billions of individuals have come to life from death! You are Jesus Christ! You are God himself! from a state of death, you have been reborn! Do not scorn death as some evil end, it is but a beginning. I don’t believe in the philosophy of perfect materialism, in that death ceases all awareness. But even if that were true, then the preceding means every human being is reborn infinitely in infinite bodies until time evaporates into the beginning and end of the cosmos. Awareness is the criteria for life, and the intervals of time and space between become meaningless.
In the end I think it is our half-evolved brains which give us all the trouble. We think we’re so intelligent considering the meaning of life just because we can. It takes a truly evolved being to understand that meaning is for children. It is existing at all which is important, and accepting that it is not us who makes existence possible but God. If you don’t believe in a higher power or a spiritual power in any sense I’d ask you to consider existence. Not how, or who, or why, but existence itself. Atheists claim it is the physical laws of nature which gave rise to the universe, but physical laws exist. Agnostics explain they don’t believe in a specific God for lack of proof, and yet they exist. Religious zealots claim only one anthropomorphic God is up in heaven somewhere, damning the nonbelievers, all the while forgetting that they are here now, existing in this life. To be is to be God. In and through everything, defining every the most abstract and concrete aspects to reality, throughout time and beyond it, if it is then it is God. You want some meaning to life? Well by all means, go ahead and make it yourself. Peace
@stfrancis, I made a thread a while back about ‘meaning’ and about how I think that life is very meaningful.
If the meaning of life is grasped then it is trodden upon, because such an infinite thing cannot be held as stagnant or else it becomes putrid
Here’s the thread: https://www.highexistence.com/topic/does-life-have-any-meaning/
this sentence of yours seems confused though:
“Your existence must seem to incorporate what information is available to your awareness then.”
It seems to me that awareness does not consist of information, but dissolution of the things which have become barriers to love in ourselves.
I think “meaning” is essentially the projection of thoughts, emotions, prior experiences, and personal biases onto some aspect of one’s life, and even Life Itself. Nothing has any intrinsic meaning, but only whatever meaning we give to it. Meaning can be a form of attachment. When you become detached from a thing it’s meaning disappears for you. However, I also look at Meaning as a result of Creation. My creations have meaning to me because I created them and they are an extension of myself. If we are Creations of God, I suppose maybe we have some meaning to Him. Maybe that could be seen as intrinsic meaning, since we didn’t give that meaning to ourselves. We can create different meanings for ourselves, though. I guess it’s comforting to think that despite whatever meaning I give myself, or other people give to me, whatever I mean to God far surpasses it. I just hope there is a God for that to be true! If not, I still can create meaning for my own life if I choose to. I think the PURPOSE for life is simply to Create. The creation generates the meaning. Those who feel there is no meaning to life have simply not created it or realized it yet. Death may be an end, but the meaning is placed on the Journey, not the destination. The Journey is the Creation Process.
@backcase what I meant by that sentence which I probably should have elaborated on is a speculation about existence after death. My conception of our current circumstances is that our brain takes in information about the physical world and its own subconscious workings and formulates it into coherent patterns for our consciousness to experience. Music is only compression waves (information – amplitude, frequency, timing) but our brain interprets that information into music for us to enjoy. When we die it is difficult to understand what form consciousness will take with no localized brain to interpret whatever information exists around or through us. No retinas to process photons, no cochlea to transmit air waves into electrical signals, no nerves to sense the pressure and presence of physical objects, and no prefrontal cortex to contemplate any information in any human way. Most think about life after death in terms of their current life, but to tell the truth, consciousness after death might very well be an extremely alien and bizarre experience!
my philosophy, belief, or whatever you want to call it on this subject is simply this: Man is that he might have joy. if there is a meaning of life, it is simply to be happy.
my experience, and belief is that my happiness is entwined with how well i can serve others, because i always find greatest happiness in trying to bring happiness to others. God commanded us to be perfect in our love for each other. thats all. not perfect in judgement, not perfect in justice, not perfect in every sense that people usually think of perfection. all He told us to be perfect in within this mortal coil is in loving each other, and when we learn how to do that, we will find the meaning of life.