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The meaning of life, the universe, and everything

From formspring.me: What is your theory on the meaning of life?

42

*bows*

…What, you want a real answer? Okay then. Life has no inherent meaning – it has whatever meaning we choose to give it.

*bows again*

…Alright, I really just wanted to devote the 42nd post of Blogathon to the meaning of life question because I’m a big Douglas Adams geek. Not only am I tired, but I hate answering these sort of philosophical questions when I’m awake. So I leave it to you guys:

When asked what is the meaning of life, how do you respond?

This is post 42 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Comments

  1. Sinbad says

    Haven’t settled on the whole God thing yet, but wherever I land on it, I’d say it’s to help figure out this wacky universe, in whatever subject you choose.And if you find The Doctor, you get 10 purple pony points.

  2. LS says

    As a guy who majored in philosophy, and is pretty outspoken about it, I tend to get this question a lot, actually. Usually phrased something like “Philosophy eh? So you guys figured out the meaning of life yet? Eh?”To which I respond essentially as you just did, Jen. Life has no inherent meaning save what meaning we choose to give it. (Important note, Meaning =/= Value.)A lot of people view this as a disappointingly bleak and simplistic outlook, but it is one which honestly fills me with excitement. I was raised with a static meaning of life. I can still recite it by rote: “To know, love, and serve God in this world.” Just typing it I feel my ears start to numb, they’ve heard it repeated so many times. The reality is that we are free. Our purpose, our entelechy, is not set. It is ours to decide upon and to alter as we grow and mature through our lives. And just as the dogma I quoted above numbs my ears, this freedom causes me to take a deep breath, and wonder at the possibilities of life. Our existence is marvelous.

  3. Jeff says

    I respond exactly as you did. There is no inherent meaning. We were born, and some day we are going to die. Its up to you to make the best of the short time you have. Personally I think that this is a much more freeing outlook than any sort of “destiny.” If you have a set “purpose” to your life, what kind of life is it.I’ve heard of some psychological studies about peoples beliefs about the intent of God and often people superimpose their wants on what they think God wants. God or no God, I think people will find a way to give their life purpose. The difference between atheists and those who are spiritual is the need for justification.Religions often teach people to be humble (or try to). However, they emphasize it too much. A healthy amount of humility is great; people with oversized egos are irritating. BUT, come on, give yourself some credit. I want to be a scientist. When I get there, it won’t be because some all-powerful being put me there, it will be because I spent 21 years of my life in school working at it. I want to be a scientist because it makes me happy. A religious person might say “I want to be a teacher because that is Gods plan for me.” (well, maybe, but its more likely that you enjoy aspects of teaching and your own interest is producing that drive, you’ve just been duped into thinking that god is responsible for your interests).I hate it when I see a status on facebook from one of my peers that something good happened and people are attributing it to all the prayers they received. I hate it because these people have spent countless hours working their asses off to get where they are and are acting as though success was never contingent on their work.

  4. StephenS says

    I honestly don’t dwell on the meaning of life. I do, from time to time, consider what (for me) makes life worth living. Why, for example, I am still awake reading and commenting on blog posts. Why I pursue my careers and my hobbies. What I do when I have nothing that I must do. Obviously, what makes life worth living is going to be different for different people.

  5. LS says

    You make a very good point regarding religious people being, essentially, forced to pass off all their accomplishments to God.Of course, all their failings are their own.I can see how this might create some problems with self worth.

  6. denature says

    For the unaware, if you enter “answer to life the universe and everything” without quotes in Google, there’s an easter egg that puts google calculator as the first result with the answer ’42′.I’ve also determined that when someone asks you the meaning of life, it’s important to determine their level of existential angst before answering ’42′.

  7. LS says

    Ya know, as much as I love Douglas Adams and all his work, I have very honestly become so exceedingly tired of seeing the number 42 that I would happily never see it again.So I guess you could say I rate whatever an existential angst meter would require for 42 to be an unacceptable answer. =PThough I probably see it so much, again, because of my background in philosophy. It’s like asking a cashier if the item that won’t scan is free.

  8. says

    The word “meaning” is contextual. Here, I assume it is synonymous to “purpose.” If so, my answer is: only if there is an end or goal, there is a meaning or purpose. Life itself is meaningless if you don’t know what you want or have long-term goals.

  9. MarcusBailius says

    Arthur C. Clarke once said, “the purpose of life is information processing”. He had his tongue slightly in his cheek when he said it… It’s in his book, “The View from Serendip” (chapter 24, The Second Century of the Telephone). He went on to say, “You may even retort, ‘well, what is the purpose of information processing?’ “…I’ll leave you with that thought…

  10. L.Long says

    Life is to be LIVED!! Nothing more. Feel-Do-hate-love -everything.And when it is over–what comes next will take care of itself.

  11. says

    I give a dictionary definition of life.When the other person points out that this isn’t what they wanted, I ask them to give a meaning of ‘meaning’?They usually swap the word ‘meaning’ out for something else that implicitly assumes some kind of metaphysical framework – usually God.At which point, I change the question: Given that the average human lifespan is less than a thousand months, wasting any single one of them is tragic. What do you think is a good way to spend those months, so that you don’t come out of it at the end with the sense of a wasted life?I prefer this form of the question.

  12. says

    I’m curious why you differentiate between “meaning” and “value.”Isn’t Value just a measure of the amount of Meaning in something? And, therefore, isn’t Life, the Universe, and Everything inherently valueless, too?Since meaning is something we subjectively attach to objects, don’t we have to concede that any meaning we find in life is simply a grand, emotion-fueled delusion?I guess my ultimate question is totally unrelated: “Given that you’re a philosophy major and would know this, am I a nihilist if I recognize meaning and value to be an emotion-fueled delusion but still revel in that delusion, anyway?

  13. Consonant vlgsjd Party says

    I think the meaning of life is to reproduce, as that is what my genes think is most important. I would probably generalize this to mean that to create is the meaning of life. If you have left some sort of positive legacy you have lived well.

  14. LS says

    I differentiate between meaning and value as philosophical ass covering. See, both “meaning” and “value” are ambiguous terms. We could spend hours actively discussing what precisely the terms actually mean, and still not come to any conclusion. I differentiated here because “Life has no inherent meaning save what meaning we choose to give it” is open to interpretation. One such interpretation is”I choose to give your life no meaning, and thus it is not unethical for me to kill you.”Rather than deal with someone making such a specious response, I threw in a second term–value–which can account for why it’s not okay to kill people. Here I might choose to define “meaning” as the purpose and good we experience via our life, and “value” as the measure by which we take stock of other’s lives. But that’s just pulled out of my ass.

  15. LS says

    And yes, you are a nihilist–in the same way you are the color of your hair.Philosophical labels are more like adjectives than definitions.

  16. says

    Well, I don’t particularly see anything wrong with the “I choose to give your life no meaning, therefore you die” approach…. I just reserve the right to arbitrarily place value on law and law enforcement, so it will at least be really hard for you if you try.I’ve always thought of both meaning and purpose as being our way of saying “I have a goal, and this meaningful or purposeful thing will help me achieve it.” Value, then, is how well or how efficiently it help you achieve it.But then, since goals are arbitrary, it all falls back to an emotion-fueled delusion. Anyway, that’s my take, I suppose. I’m all for devoting the next 20 comments arguing semantics :D

  17. says

    Yep, and you sure end up picking up a lot of adjectives as you run through philosophy. Atheist, skeptic, nihilist, metaphysical naturalist, hard determinist, pastafarian…… and now, it seems, “feminist” might show up on that list sometime soon. How bizarre and unpredictable life can be.Isn’t that the meaning of life, though? to pick up as many labels as possible?

  18. LS says

    I would argue that there is a value to a possible human without meaning in his or her life, because of the potential meaning.

  19. says

    I… I dunno how I seem like I’m mocking. I don’t mean to…?Maybe if I reworded it: “Yep, and one sure ends up…”? instead of “you sure end up”?

  20. LS says

    Probably me reading too much into things. I sometimes do that when I’m tired. And everybody makes fun of philosophy majors, even philosophy majors make fun of philosophy majors. It also may be a manifestation of my own philosophical insecurities. There’s a reason I’ve sometimes gone by the moniker PhailedPhilosopher. But yeah…the list of adjectives all of us pick up through our life can be pretty long. I still primarily identify as a geek/nerd though, and primarily aspire to be identified as a writer and ethicist.

  21. cathy says

    The worst one is ‘libertarian’ when discussing free will. Because I hate political libertarians. (note to non-philosophers, in philosophy, those who do not believe in determinism and do believe in free will are called libertarians).Though when asked if I am a skeptic, I usually ask ‘about what?’ I’m certainly not a global skeptic…

  22. cathy says

    “both “meaning” and “value” are ambiguous terms” Yes, and this is why as an autistic person (though high verbal), I have always hated questions like ‘what is the meaning of life?’ I am curious as to whether they want the dictionary definition, that’s my first instinct. My current conclusion is that the question is meant to be a begged one, i.e. it is meant to presuppose an answer in the question. The idea behind it is that life must come into existence and continue for a specific purpose, which is the life’s meaning. However, if you reject that assumption, the question makes little sense. It is not asking for a utilitarian (or other ethical theory) type analysis of the value of a life. It is not asking the old question of what constitutes a ‘good’ life. It can’t be asking about people’s general goals, because that would just require a poll. It’s just a ridiculous question, because it is only ever going to be persuasive to those who already hold a magic based worldview or who are really, really, guilable and uncritical to begin with.

  23. EdenBunny says

    I think life is just a game where we make up the rules, while we’re searching for something to say. Either that, or we are just simply spiraling coils of self-replicating DNA….

  24. MPH146 says

    I wish I had seen this earlier, as I believe I just posted the following in a different thread. There’s a moderately famous image called something like “The ascent of man”, or “The evolution of man”. It shows a shoreline in cross section, with the ocean to the left and the land rising on the right. In the ocean, at the far left, are single-celled organisms. As you progress to the right, they get more complex, become amphibian, and on the far right, you have a man. It is intended to show an artists conception of mankind’s origin based on the Theory of Evolution. Someone did a cartoon takeoff of it, in which each life form to the left of the man is thinking “Eat. Survive. Reproduce.”. Man is thinking “What’s it all about?”.The answer to that question is “To whom?”, which Jen answered by asking “what is YOUR theory on the meaning of life?”. To which one must ask “who’s/what’s life are you referring to?”. If it’s “life in general”, then I’d have to go with “Eat. Survive. Reproduce.”, since that’s all the vast majority of the life forms we know about are concerned about (either by total mass or population, humans are a very small fraction of the amount of life on earth).If the question is meant to be “what is your theory on the meaning of your own life”, I’d say “thanks for asking, but that’s personal”. For anybody else (in place of “your own”, you put a specific name in), I’d have to do some research. But I suspect I’d probably decide that for the question “what is your theory on the meaning of Joe Blow’s life?”, for most values of “Joe Blow”, my response would wind up being “To serve as a bad example” (nothing is ever completely useless, as it can always serve as a bad example of something”).

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