Musings on the Meaning of Life – Andy & Jeffrey
Why does all this sound not really that awesome? What is it missing?
<Insert a now, non-existent webpage about science, philosophy, spirituality, etc. here>
Not 100% sure what you mean but…
Maybe because when you think of a philosophy, you think something spiritual, or of something with profound meaning, etc… but what they are describing are basically the definitions of the views of non-believers and such. Since the definition of a skeptic, an atheist, etc., is pretty straight forward (give us proof, period) it can be kinda boring and lack purpose and clear meaning to one’s life. I think you hit on one of the biggest reasons why people shy away from skepticism and atheism because they feel like there is no meaning to life when you choose that life-path. The reason why people like us find it so appealing is because we choose to find the truth, and take the time to give it meaning. Bottom line is there is no meaning to life – you must make it yourself… and some people don’t wanna put in the work. They’d rather be given the meaning (brainwashed, if that’s not too extreme) to how to live their life and how to think versus discovering their own true purpose. In fact, it would probably be impossible to add perhaps even a collective meaning section to that page since again, we all define our own meaning which will no doubt vary from person to person. They should add a section:
“Meaning: (-or- How to Live Your Life): find out for yourself…”
Aye, I’m with you there, but you are polarizing the subject a bit too much. And, no offense intended, I do know what atheism/skepticism/agnosticism are. No need to preach to the choir on that!
It’s kinda crazy, but just today in my Pop Culture class, after staying up all night researching all these things, we had a lecture on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. If you’re not sure what this is, here’s a really simplified version of it:
Everyone (mass society, or even the young/unlearned/ignorant self, etc) lives in a cave, chained to a wall. There is light there in the cave from a fire, and all the people can see of the world are shadows on the wall. The light is a false light, and the shadows are not real forms, but merely figments of a true figure projected on a wall. Plato says that this is how the world is, with selfish interests of a few (politicians, businessmen, etc) keeping everyone locked in their ignorance, and with people living their whole lives thinking that what they perceive on the wall is the true reality of the world. Ignorance is the chains that keep them there, it is the cave in which they live, where they are led to believe false things about the true nature of the world. Now, Plato says, that education, skeptical/critical thinking, and experience is breaking free of those chains and walking out into the sunlight of the real world, where the true forms are, and where the true light shines on these forms. The problem he says, is that after living in complete darkness/ignorance, the truth is blinding, perhaps even painfully so. So some people go back down the cave, to seek the comfort in “the world as they know it” (think Christians blatantly denying evolution). The biggest thing for me though about this whole thing is that, he says that there is a moral responsibility for the enlightened and educated, to go back down into the cave, and try and free the others that couldn’t make it on their own. For me that’s a powerful image, and I think that’s what I’m talking about with all this stuff. What is the goal? What is the purpose? I understand skepticism, and atheism, and what they stand for, but what do they want? How do they think the world should be? And if you’re about to say that there can’t be an answer to this, then does that mean that the world, as it is now, is somehow ideal? What are the underlying motives to change it for the better?
To sum it up. Science/skepticism/atheism/
I think sometimes I understand a bit more of what Einstein meant when he said “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” I am asking not what the world is, or how it works, but where are we going? How should we get there? What do we hold to be important in our current form of existence? Science is blind to these questions, and rightfully so. Science does not tell us how to live our lives, and it doesn’t seek to do so. What it does, is gives us information in order to make decisions. It tells us where we are, not where to go (necessarily). Science does not recommend applications for it’s discoveries, for it has no opinion on the implications. It is lame, because it does not do the walking, it does the thinking and the seeing. Religion (and I think Einstein is referring not to organized religion, but more of something like humanity as a whole) does the walking, but needs science to do the thinking.
I do believe that there is more to this existence than just the pure pursuit of scientific knowledge. I believe that those who are enlightened should go back down into the cave, and bring the others from the darkness. It is a moral imperative to use the knowledge and power of science to save peoples lives, answer problems of human existence, and to better the human condition. I am just wondering why I even feel the need to do this in the first place.
Now, with all that said. Where does one start in deciding what is important? And what is the goal for humanity? Why?
As a disclaimer, I completely agree with you that I am oversimplifying and polarizing the question and my answer arguably way too much, but that’s just how I think. I guess that’s how I solve problems – I break stuff down to the simplest form to discover it’s fundamental functions. Is my method flawed? Perhaps. Is it the only way? Of course not. That’s why there’s so many different answers to this question.
Personally, I just don’t think there is an answer to your ‘why’ question. I don’t feel like there is any particular philosophical reason we do the things we do, or the things we think we should be doing. Ultimately there is no reason to do it at all. Somewhat depressingly, there is however a huge reason not to which is: in a few billion years, the atoms that make up you, me, the sun, our solar system, will all be dust in the cosmic wind. Even if there was a reason, it wouldn’t matter by then anyway because it’ll all be gone. So goes the old question, why not kill myself now then? Welp… why not? I agree. I could and it wouldn’t matter. At least in the grand scheme of things. But today, it does matter – and that’s where I live. Today. And yesterday. And tomorrow. Every day, until I don’t. I’m going to speak on behalf of all humans (since I happen to be one) through personal experience and say that we have evolved to live by two basic functions. One is logic. The other is feelings. I guess this is analogous to Einstein’s quote about religion and science in some ways. We gather information with one (logic) and decide our future decisions/actions by adding a dash of feelings – how good that decision is going to make us feel, or not. Some use one more than others, but that’s basically all there is.
I mean, let’s face it, there’s only so many things you can do here on Earth. And being human limits us drastically more. We have to eat, sleep, breathe, and sometimes procreate. Everything we do falls into one of a small number of categories… life support, entertainment, bettering ourselves, and maybe a few more obscure ones I can’t think of right now. But really, we eat, sleep, go to work, because we need to live. We go to the strip club because we’d go out of our minds with boredom if we didn’t do entertaining things. We go to school to better ourselves and maybe make life easier or more enjoyable in the future. But all of these things are driven by our logic and our feelings.
Now we can apply all kinds of intangible/metaphoric analogies and name these feelings (and ultimately the reasons) anything we want; call them existentialism, humanism, etc. but what I feel like it boils down to is that some people want to follow a certain path, others don’t. I enjoying bringing someone out of the cave into the blinding light for a reason no different than why I like pepperoni pizza versus anchovies. They can stay down there for the rest of their lives for all I care, except for no other reason than I like showing them. It’s like playing basketball or arguing politics. Other people choose religion as one of their forms of entertainment. They may think religion falls under ‘life-support’ since they put so much emphasis on it, but we know this isn’t the case. People can, and do, live without religion – they don’t need it. We do these things to basically entertain us.
Of course, being human, even I try to justify my actions and maybe give them more substantial meaning than perhaps they deserve… I like to say I’m doing it for the greater good to help humanity – which isn’t necessarily a lie!… and in my world view, does in fact help humanity with the benefits that science brings – but in the end, none of it’s gonna matter anyway.
I know it sounds disgustingly cliché – even to me when I say it – but I love Ella more than anything in this world. I can see my purpose personified. She’s easily the greatest thing to happen to me. But why? It’s because of our evolved nature of feelings; and more specifically, love. We have evolved to love. We have this innate trait/condition in which we can feel overwhelming urges of longing and pain and love because – to take all the romance out of it – of certain chemical transactions in our brains which are there to help us make decisions one way or another whether it be fight, flight, eat, dance, etc. We love and grow and protect our children so they can eventually procreate and pass on our selfish gene. If we didn’t, they wouldn’t, and we wouldn’t be here right now.
Why do we do the things we do? Because we want to. Why do we want to? Biology. If we were ants, all we would want to do is gather food and dig tunnels – we just happen to be human. Instead we ask, why are we here?
But since I know that doesn’t do it for you, I’ll keep going a little bit farther with a thought I already presented you a few days ago. To be completely honest, it (usually) doesn’t do it for me either since I am human as I’ve said before, and we need something a little more ‘deep’ to get us through life. I could expound tenfold, but to sum it up, I’ll reiterate my comments on space flight.
Gorillas don’t care how big the universe is. Dolphins and ants don’t either. As far as we can tell, we’re the only species that DOES care. Gorillas and dolphins and ants only care about how far away their food is and how much of it is there based purely on survival instincts. But I believe that’s what sets our species apart. We DO care about how big the universe is because we’ve evolved to. It is innate in us to want to know because that thirst for knowledge is what got us here in the first place. Do we care how far away our food is? Of course, we need it to survive. Furthermore, as a species, we don’t like to suffer and we don’t like to see anyone else suffer either. But there will always be suffering and famine and hunger in the world – hatred and evil are innate in us as well. The only thing we can do is learn from our mistakes and move on. Our ancestors wanted to know what fire was. We learned and understood it and found that it can cook food – which turns out to not only soften meat to make it easier to digest, but it’s also a great sanitizer. Will knowing how big the universe is help us survive as a species? Maybe. Maybe not. It could lead to nothing and serve no benefit whatsoever. But I would bet a certain young man playing with a petree dish and mold would insist on us learning anyway – because you never know what knowledge can lead to. Who knows, maybe an answer to a problem we faced along the way to discovering the size of the universe will lead to the cure for cancer, or help end world hunger, or any other challenge facing our species? Similar things have happened in the past (e.g. penicillin). We’ve learned from them and will continue to pursue such ‘childish’ ventures and the techno-haters can thank us later.
I apply the same idea to our ultimate purpose. Not only were we built to wonder, we were built to love as well. Love may in fact be the most powerful and influential feeling imposed on us. Most of us has experienced it to one degree or another but no one can argue it’s importance. If we had evolved to feel no feelings and kill, we would kill for no other reason than that is what we were built for. Evolution has built us to love. So what if one day everything will be gone and ultimately nothing matters? We’re here now aren’t we? I will embrace that fact and take full advantage of it. I know I said this before and I know you don’t really agree with me but I found Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘The Sirens of Titan’ to be the most inspirational and instructable story I’ve experienced to date about the meaning of life.
“The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody, would be to not be used for anything by anybody.” -Beatrice Rumfoord
“It took us that long to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” -Malachi Constant
But I think ultimately, I’m ok with Biology being the answer – and maybe that’s why I stop there.