How can life have meaning in a mechanical universe?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Magical Realist, Mar 2, 2013.

  1. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    Doesn't meaning assume life has a purpose in the overall cosmic scheme of things? Explain how man has meaning in a universe reducible to the motions of elementary particles. Doesn't this imply there is no ultimate purpose to anything? That everything is ultimately just the byproduct of luck and chance? That your existence is no more necessary or consequential than the existence of paramecium's? Or are we defining "meaning" the wrong way here?
     
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  3. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

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    "meaning" is a tricky customer. A computer processes information but it has no meaning as such, it's just strings of 0s and 1s.
    When an entity (i.e. one of us) "observes" the output of a computer program, it has meaning in some context.
    So if we, as conscious observers, are just special kinds of computing device, then meaning is just another (context-dependent) output. It might be something we "need" to assign to information for reasons which are strictly evolutionary--the capacity is programmed in, so to speak, but otherwise it's just information being processed.

    That is, if the universe is just a whole lot of information, then strictly speaking so are we, and so is any form of life. So the question could be "what is information?". Well, it's pretty much whatever we decide it is.
     
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  5. Crunchy Cat F-in' *meow* baby!!! Valued Senior Member

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    Well that's just it, it's all abbout the defintion. If you want to go for an objective defintion that is used in science then meaning is the relationship of two or more variables. Within the scope of that definition, there is meaning everywhere you look. Your life has meaning... specifically it has a relationship with everything it can have a relationship with. While that may not be very useful or insightful, it is correct.

    Humans of course have invented a variety of subjective defintions for meaning, "purpose" and "importance" being the top two. Only a life form can assign purpose or importance to something. Are you more important than paramecium? Well I hope you are from your perspective, but the Universe has no perspecitve. It doesn't care. It doesn't have the means to care. It doesn't consider you important because it doesn't consider and importance doesn't objectively exist.

    So let's answer your individual questions now:
    Q: Doesn't meaning assume life has a purpose in the overall cosmic scheme of things?
    A: Only for people who use a subjective defintion of meaning but mistake it for an objective one.

    Q: Explain how man has meaning in a universe reducible to the motions of elementary particles. Doesn't this imply there is no ultimate purpose to anything?
    A: Correct.

    Q: That everything is ultimately just the byproduct of luck and chance?
    A: Not quite. Everything is a result of how difference interacts (i.e. it's the laws of physics). Luck and chance are caused by reality, not the other way around.

    Q: That your existence is no more necessary or consequential than the existence of paramecium's?
    A: Correct.

    Q: Or are we defining "meaning" the wrong way here?
    A: You have the objective definition. Subjectively, you can make it mean whatever you want.
     
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  7. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    Meaning when used in conjunction with life, as in "the meaning of life", has quite specific connotations. Nothing about it suggests some abstract relationship between variables. The experience of the meaninglessness of one's life is not all that uncommon in this day and age. And while meaning in this sense is indeed subjective, that doesn't invalidate it or make it any less real. It is in fact quite human to want to be connected somehow to the cosmic dance. To believe we have a significance beyond just being a fleeting configuration of dumb atoms. That there is a deeper reason to our being here than just that. Science cannot provide humans with this. In fact it isn't even in the business of trying to. And religion has all but failed to provide us that meaning too. What is left for us then? Why must we be left stranded in a universe that so coldly and impersonally excludes us on all sides? Must we surrender our humanity to adapt to our inhuman universe?
     
  8. Crunchy Cat F-in' *meow* baby!!! Valued Senior Member

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    There are people who don't have any of the issues that you are describing and there are people who do. If you have some kind of need to feel subjective meaning then you should find a way to meet that need that is right for you. It's not science's problem. It's not religion's problem. It's yours personally. Maybe a psychologist can assist with your own path to psychological satiation.
     
  9. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    I go to a therapist. She prescribes me happy pills. They work for me, but they don't give me meaning. I just have to continue my lifelong quest for absolute meaning I guess. Either that or finally admit to myself that this is as good as it gets. Gee I hope not!
     
  10. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    Not necessarily. I think that we can imagine our lives having individual purposes without necessarily implying the existence of any single cosmic purpose.

    If we go with the local goal-directed behavior in our lives as opposed to an over-arching cosmic purpose, then the question arises of what drives and steers our motivation.

    The Buddhists might derive our propensity to think of our actions and behavior as meaningful from dukkha and desire. They might say that we provide ourselves with our purposes in life by choosing and then pursuing goals that we imagine will finally deliver us the elusive lasting happiness that we seek. (Wealth, power, knowledge, sensual excitement, beauty, love, perhaps even peace and enlightenment...)

    Perhaps that man, composed as he is of an ever-changing process taking place among elementary particles, skandhas or dharmas, defines whatever purpose and meaning seems to him to exist in his own life by his choice of goals.

    After all, even if God (or the universe) does have a purpose, some transcendental teleological goal that everything is moving towards, that purpose will still be God's and not ours. We might still say -- "Yeah, it's great that God has a purpose in creating all this, but what about ME? What about my life??" (Maybe the universe is just a giant ant-farm that a juvenile God is idly toying with before throwing everything away.) Whatever grand cosmic purpose that might exist still won't be of any use to individual human beings until we can bring it down to our own scale and internalize it somehow in our lives, until we identify with it and make it our own.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2013
  11. Crunchy Cat F-in' *meow* baby!!! Valued Senior Member

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    Why not ask your therappist to help you understand what in your life can give you a sense of meaning? That's the kind of thing they shine at.
     
  12. spidergoat Liddle' Dick Tater Valued Senior Member

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    It might be human to conjure meaning out of nothing, but if it's false, then I want no part of it. I don't think there is any absolute meaning, but we can feel we are part of an ongoing process of pattern making that is unique. We don't have to value the things previous humans have valued.
     
  13. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    "Meaning" is a human enterprise, and possibly one that has less developed antecedents in (some) other animals. Our everyday representations of the universe can certainly have significances and purposes ascribed to them (since they're "in us", an external environment conditioned by the brain, or whatever). As well as our having the option to devise views or conceptions of the world that lack meaning, especially when trying to construct a "what it is like" for a version of the external world as existing independent of perception and thought. [Julian Barbour: "Physics is an attempt to create a picture of reality as we should see it if we could, somehow, step outside of ourselves."] But we never literally succeed in "stepping outside ourselves" anymore than we literally succeed in traveling back in time when we interpret archeological, fossil, and geological records. However, if it could be contended that the past is just as much "metaphysical" as a supposed transcendent version of the world "in the here and now", then possibly similar levels of accuracy (pertaining to the former) could likewise be asserted (in regard to the latter).

    The above being somewhat generic. Now a second approach to expressing the same, but this time via a specific, self-proclaimed "scientific theory".

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    If one accepted a seeming tenet of biocentrism below, that the manifested world would not be available without consciousness, then a certain level of life (like humankind) is outright responsible [important / vital] for engendering such.

    "...What you see could not be present without your consciousness. In truth, you can’t see anything through the bone that surrounds your brain. Your eyes are not portals to the world. Everything you see and experience right now – even your body – is a whirl of information occurring in your mind. According to biocentrism [...] Until we recognize the universe in our heads, attempts to understand reality will remain a road to nowhere. Consider the weather ‘outside’: You see a blue sky, but the cells in your brain could be changed so the sky looks green or red. In fact, with a little genetic engineering we could probably make everything that is red vibrate or make a noise, or even make you want to have sex like with some birds. You think its bright out, but your brain circuits could be changed so it looks dark out. You think it feels hot and humid, but to a tropical frog it would feel cold and dry. This logic applies to virtually everything. Bottom line: What you see could not be present without your consciousness."

    But the metaphysical realist need merely respond that his/her non-manifested world is where life originally evolved, the nervous / sensory systems of which eventually yielded a presented or experienced version of that invisible place. "Life" would thus only be "important" in life's own simulations -- the emergent experiences of and reflections about that primary existence which preceded its arrival.
     
  14. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    No. Meaning always derives from context, and there are many levels of context above "life". Maybe some God above it all is burdened with meaninglessness, but we aren't.

    The universe is not reducible to the motions of elementary particles.
     
  15. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    Well, she's not a REAL therapist. Just a nurse practitioner with the VA hospital. So I basically meet with her once a month and talk about my life. That's as deep as it gets. Posting here is actually closer to therapy than anything else. I am a contemplative critter and live in a world of ideas. The mystery of why all this is--myself included--is just the assumed question guiding my life. Maybe it's better to just live in mystery and keep goin from there.
     
  16. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    It wouldn't take a God for ME to find ultimate meaning in the cosmos. Just some sort of guiding order or pattern behind it all that makes it all worthwhile. Or at least exciting. Ofcourse a zombie apocalypse or alien contact would be nice. But I'll settle for more subtle orchestrations of everyday events.


    My experience in life has shown me that life WANTS to be meaningful in some transcendental sense. Things happen in my life and other people's lives that at times seem almost magical. And I'm always amazed when events like this happen. Example: A couple of years ago I was at the park feeding my squirrels minding my own business when this beautiful woman comes up to me and asks to take a picture of me for the Oregonian. I said sure. A week passed and I thought nothing more about it until I went to the laundry mat and picked up a sole Lifestyles page from an old newspaper. There was no other part of the newspaper in the laundry mat mind you. And there on the front was a big picture of me feeding a squirrel!


    Coincidence? Sure..But not when it happens over and over in your life. And you can't make things like this happen. They come to you out of the blue, when your energies are the most spontaneous and natural. I'm thinking of traveling more. Perhaps touring various spiritual and mystical sites around the world. Stonehenge. India. Mt. Shasta. Who knows? Would this give me "meaning"? Would this satisfy my thirst for something more? Not in any predestined sense. But I think I would open myself to a dialogue with whatever it is that makes amazing things happen in life.
     
  17. spidergoat Liddle' Dick Tater Valued Senior Member

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    Why do you want things to be meaningful?
     
  18. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    Because I can't live as a meaningless being. I tried that when I was an existentialist. It doesn't feel natural. It feels like being in bootcamp for your whole life, accepting the absurdity of your nothingness and being strong and stoic, but for what? A strong meaningless lump of protoplasm is no better than a weak grandiose narcissist who only believes what make them feel good. I think there is a third option. To not give up wanting an answer while not settling for anything less than what is true and certain.
     
  19. spidergoat Liddle' Dick Tater Valued Senior Member

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    A strong meaningless lump of protoplasm is infinitely better than people that accept delusions in order to feel good. It's free of delusion, for one thing. What makes you think you can't live like that? Why does lack of universal meaning mean that specific things can't have meaning within the context of human existence? Does a beautiful painting become any less meaningful if we know there is no point to life? In my view, just the opposite. In an indifferent universe, someone created a work of art that evokes what it means to be alive, which involves matter made self aware. The stars may not care, but other people might. I mean, there's a whole planet full of experiencing beings, and all you can think of is what the rest of the universe is about? How arrogant is that? It's not about you, that's for damn sure!
     
  20. Crunchy Cat F-in' *meow* baby!!! Valued Senior Member

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    A lot of humans have a strong pre-disposition for it.
     
  21. spidergoat Liddle' Dick Tater Valued Senior Member

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    I assert that this is the result of religious conditioning, even among people who have rejected religion. And by the way, I'm not asserting that there isn't meaning in human society, only that there isn't any universal meaning to life and existence.
     
  22. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    Don't insult me. You don't know me from Adam. You asked me a question and I answered it. If that pushes your buttons, that's your problem not mine. For starters, you should probably reflect on why a person looking for meaning in life makes you so angry.
     
  23. Crunchy Cat F-in' *meow* baby!!! Valued Senior Member

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    It's likely both. I suspect you have to have the predisposition for the conditiong to take hold. And yes you are correct that there is no objective meaning, but if your brain is both hardwired and conditioned to think otherwise then you have a problem.
     

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