How can life have meaning in a mechanical universe?

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

  1. Cyperium I'm always me Valued Senior Member

    How do you know? If you look close enough you see that they are looking for purpose, it's a shimmer in their eyes, they can't talk about it, but it's there. Beyond all else. It is the base. In my opinion, it is the main striving force and the ability to reflect upon it is the agent.

    It wouldn't surprise me at all, if we all just strive to fulfill our meaning in life. I don't think such a strive is temporary. It is at the heart.

    Ok, so let's be honest, I've been drinking some. BUT it doesn't mean that I'm wrong. Look at the people out there, their hearts are true and honest. They wouldn't settle for the temporary! This isn't all in vain!
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  3. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I'm probably violating a Sciforums rule by doing this, but I thought that a post I just made on Rude Rabbit's 'Using Language' thread might be just as relevant as a contribution to this thread. So I'm copying the post here:

    I guess that in a nutshell, creativity consists of bringing something new into existence.

    Of course that's not sufficient as it stands. Time is change, and the fact of change suggests that every moment is different than the moment that came before. New states of affairs are appearing constantly.

    I guess that somebody might choose to define the universe as endlessly creative for reasons such as this. The universe is a system that constantly evolves new states that didn't exist previously.

    But usually, the idea of creation implies an intentional bringing something new into existence. The idea of creativity probably originated way back in paleolithic times, when early man was first crafting crude artifacts.

    And there's usually another qualification added on to that intention, that whatever new state is brought into existence is deemed valuable for some reason. People (or other sentient beings) can intentionally make any number of random changes to the world around them, but that's not typically seen as creative unless the changes are beautiful or useful or informative somehow.

    Relating this to the meaning of the universe thread, this addition of the ideas of intentionality and value to the original idea of the appearance-of-new-states, kind of pulls creativity down from the grand scale of cosmic fecundity to the local scale where creativity is relativized to us and to our human interests.

    Perhaps part of the motivation for religion might lie in many people's desire to push those local human-scale intentions and interests back up into the heavens and to imagine them as if they were cosmic.
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  5. Cyperium I'm always me Valued Senior Member

    I don't think that anything is really new. Things are useful to us but that's just us, it's not new to the universe and as such it doesn't really apply to the meaning of existence itself. Unless the purpose is to find the meaning of existence, not only for us but for the universe as well. That might be something worthy of a purpose, but it's uncertain if that knowledge actually changes anything, if it actually creates meaning in the long run.

    I think a downfall for meaning would be if it is true that destiny is fixed and we're just frames moving by like a film. If that's the case now then we have to find anything that is new. Then the film would be broken and the possibilities would be open again.

    Or we could trust that the film actually leads to the meaning. Then I hope that we don't have the potential to break it.

    BTW; the premise of the OP is that the film can't be broken. Purely mechanical. But it doesn't say what happens after the film, there might be a "ending", where the film stops and something has to follow. Or can the film ever stop? Does all mechanical have an end? If not, then I see no reason why we shouldn't live forever, then there is no death, because as existence stops then we stop. But if existence can't stop then what about us? Then again, I'm not even sure how existence can even begin. I just can't see how the beginning of existence can be mechanical, and if there is something else than the mechanical then I think that any possibility is open.
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  7. Grumpy Curmudgeon of Lucidity Valued Senior Member

    Magical Realist
    Mystery, awe and wonder are not higher cosmic meaning. Even us "cosmological nihilists" experience these things, that is not changed by the realization that the Universe does not even know you exist(and can know nothing at all). Religions use this experience in their way, but it is not the exclusive property of any religion or mystic ideas like purpose for existence.

    It didn't hurt my feelings, it insulted my(and this whole thread's)intelligence. According to many theists a nihilist should logically just kill themselves, as they can have no reason to continue this purposeless existence, your rant had that flavor about it. And your strawman and it's denigration is third grade, heels drumming on the floor ranting, not rational conversation.

    Like everything else in this Universe, it's all relative to your frame of reference. To the Universe as a whole the cockroach is as meaningless as you are. To the cockroach he is the most important thing in his Universe and survival to reproduce the ONLY purpose he has, to a human, who has an extremely intelligent mind, survival to reproduce is still number one, but the number of various ways that can be accomplished are near infinite(largely due to our intelligence), each way a "purposeful" one. Some of our basic purpose is hardwired(even a male and female child raised by wolves will eventually figure out how), some is the result of intelligence(fire, shelter, clothing, weapons, etc.), some is social in character(tribes, marriage, kinship, culture, country, etc.)and in the last few hundred years we have had scientific sources of purpose(medicine, astronomy, physics, metallurgy, chemistry). If you can't see the difference between that mass of meaningful activity and the simpleminded activities of a cockroach it is you who have a problem with the implications of a meaningless Universe, not I. But don't be hating on cockroaches, they were here tens of millions of years before man existed and are likely to survive our destruction(they saw the dinosaurs die, after all).

    So you also don't know the difference between belief(acceptance without evidence, or need of evidence)and knowledge(acceptance because of the evidence, all of it). Revealed truth is that which is handed down from a source of truth, one you cannot show exists. Knowledge is built from the ground up, and that's what science does. Authority doesn't enter into it, only what you can show to be true. We have a lot of respect for Einstein because he proved the things he said were true. But that gave him no authority to demand that what he said be accepted on faith, again, no such authority exists in science. Einstein was shown to be wrong several times, especially about Quantum Physics. Now, if you are talking about a person ignorant of and having no understanding of science, Einstein might appear as an authority, the kind they are used to seeing in their religion, handing down knowledge from on high. Some of those reject what science has shown to be true because they think scientific authorities are equivalent to priests of a new religion that directly contradicts the crap their religions have fed them all their lives. It is this later view of authority in science you seem to be speaking of, a relic of your previous religious experience, perhaps, but dead wrong.

    It is not philosophy, it is logic. Occam's Razor , Parsimony, not presuming that which is not in evidence, not adding non-necessary non-sense to your explanation. That I ALSO accept it philosophically is really irrelevant to it's inherent logic. There is no evidence that the Universe has a purpose, though it's very good at forming Black Holes, gravity you know. There is, on the other hand, lots of evidence of purposeful activity by humans, humans are purposeful despite the Universe being mechanical and purposeless. Oops, 4:00 PM, time for my doctor prescribed 1.5 ozs. of Maker's Mark. My purpose for the next little bit is to sit and sip, Ta.


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  8. Cyperium I'm always me Valued Senior Member

    Sorry to jump in like this in the middle of your discussion, but someone that actually experiences meaning in his life should have a say.

    Mystery and awe can indeed be indications of a higher meaning. Who knows why we feel what we feel? The feelings stem from sources that we don't know. We can track them objectively but what they mean subjectively requires a understanding of the whole system. Which is something that we don't have. Could be that the feeling of mystery really is mysterious, in other words something not accounted for by the system, something that could not be forseen even by the system itself.

    You're right, a theist should appreciate the meaningfulness of existence in all forms. It is through that meaningfulness that we exist.

    What if we don't know anything about the meaning of cochroaches? What is it that says that their existence is totally absent of meaning? If they don't have a subjective mind then I agree, they don't have any meaning. But if they have a subjective mind then they have as much meaning as their subjective can allow. To refer to lower lifeforms is not the way to pursue this. It says nothing about the subject at hand.

    Yes, knowledge should be evident, while belief can be anything in-between. But we have no reason to assume that what we know is all there is. In fact the opposite should be true, we should expect new knowledge to happen somewhat regularly, if not because we don't know it all and by scientific principle all we know can be questioned.

    There is a mistake that many do. And it is to grant knowledge to the present. Knowledge is never complete, to grant knowledge to the present is just as purposeless as your universe. Expect the change into forms you could never know. Expect the mysterious. That's what lies ahead.
  9. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Sure it is. It is the acknowledgement of the presence of a vast reality and deep order that transcends your puny little mind and enables you to suspect that there are very many more patterns connecting events and phenomena together than we can actually see or infer. Many scientists/philosophers are in fact coming to the conclusion that reality is fundamentally composed of information. That the universe itself is a plethora of information about information infinitely generating more and more new information like an endlessly unwinding fractal. That everything is nothing BUT meaningful to the extent that all information entails the expression and communication of meaning. But you wouldn't know anything about that in your world would you seeing that for you everything is just meaningless clumps of atoms interacting with each other?

    I have no idea how theists use the term "nihilist." I use it in the strictly philosophical sense as the position that there is no objective meaning in the universe. And that any meaning that IS experienced is entirely subjective and therefore relative and therefore totally illusory. Isn't this your precise thesis? That since all phenomena reduce to meaningless units of matter, then nothing really has objective or absolute meaning in itself, not even human beings?

    You're telling me all meaning is relative to a pov and then jumping on ME for suggesting this invalidates any sort of specialness or value of the human race over any other species? This is YOUR position not mine. You are the one perspectivalizing meaning and denying it any objective and therefore universally true significance. Own up to what you believe. Either there is real meaning or there is isn't. Which is it?

    Not a thing you have learned from science wasn't based on an implicit trust in the authority of the thinkers, the researchers, and the teachers you learned it from. Even the whole assumption that truth is only what can be empirically demonstrated is a belief you were taught to accept because, well, that's just the way it is and you shouldn't question your teachers. So in a very real sense science, at least to the extent that it is used by people like you as some sort of naturalistic worldview or metaphysics of what's real, is as driven by dogmatic acceptance and faith as religion is. It gives you meaning and purpose to hold onto this belief system against all opposition because it YOUR truth--a special priveleged knowledge about ultimate reality that sets you apart from the ignorant delusion-loving masses. The very suggestion that reality might really be uncertain and unknown terrifies you cuz then that means you lose the illusion of control your infallible "knowledge" is creating for you.

    The ultimate parsimony is to simply admit that you don't know the answers yet and certainly don't know that there is no meaning. You are the one making a special claim about the nature of reality- that it is ultimately meaningless. And that is one more extra belief than I have.
  10. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    He's also talking about a "knowledge" of something very real and transcendental to us:

    "A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds - it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity; in this sense, and, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man."
  11. Balerion Banned Banned

    Oh, aren't you special?

    All of us have meaning in our lives. The idea that there is no higher, cosmic purpose does not invalidate the meaning I feel in my life, or Grumpy feels in his, or you feel in yours. Even if you're wrong about it, that meaning is still valid in the sense that it's real to you. Suggesting that you believe in an ultimate meaning certainly doesn't make your life more purposeful than mine, and to suggest that it does is absurd.

    Not in and of themselves they aren't, and Einstein certainly wasn't suggesting that there was some higher purpose to life. In fact, by illustrating how little of the universe we can understand and the quasi-religious fear and wonderment it elicits in us, he was arguing for our insignificance, our irrelevance. But, as you guys are wont to do, you'll read it superficially, fail to understand it, and then make a ludicrous claim for his intentions. This is no different than the creationist who tries to hijack the same quote to show that Einstein really believed in God.

    This is an empty statement. What does it mean, "it is through meaningfulness that we exist?"

    There is no sign of meaning or purpose to life. Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, children are born with AIDS and cancer and live short, agonizing lives. Seniors lose their dignity, their self-reliance, their personalities. Other forms of life--like the cockroach--show no signs of purpose aside from whatever it is they do with themselves, basically existing as biological robots that eat and procreate and die. (which, incidentally, is exactly what we do as humans, except we can delude ourselves with silly concepts like "purpose" in the meantime) The very fabric of existence seems to be an accident of potential outcomes. Given all that, why should I believe that my life has some greater purpose than what I make for it? Why should I believe there's a design? The best answer you're likely to come up with is rooted in scripture, which means you've put the cart before the horse, and only believe in these concepts because you believe in agency, and I'm sorry, but that's not a logical answer to the question. Believing in mythology from Bronze Age Mesopotamia isn't any kind of solution.

    For one, saying that there is no design or purpose is not a claim to know everything. Secondly, it's not any different a claim that yours, which is that there is some design or purpose, so if I'm claiming to know everything by saying there isn't purpose, you're doing the same thing by saying there isn't. Third, I don't believe for a second you know a damn thing about scientific principles. People on your side of this argument rarely do...and that isn't a coincidence, or incidental to the discussion.

    Again, a poorly-worded straw man. No one is making claims of absolute knowledge. Read the posts you're quoting, or don't reply to them.

    He says nothing of patterns connecting events and phenomena together that we can actually see or infer. If they could not be seen or inferred, how could he possibly speak of them?

    Stop making shit up. You clearly don't understand what he meant, so instead of pretending you do, listen to someone who is smarter than yourself and take what they say on board.
  12. Balerion Banned Banned

    No idea why you're putting "knowledge" in quotation marks. And this says nothing of higher purpose, meaning, or agency. It's recognition of something we can't quite understand.
  13. Balerion Banned Banned

    We know enough to say that there doesn't seem to be any meaning to life. If there is, it certainly isn't apparent, and therefore is not worth considering.

    His claim is no more special than yours, which is that we do have meaning to our lives. And it isn't an "extra" belief, it's simply the opposite of one you hold.
  14. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    There are some forms of art that feature thespontaneous and accidentally-novel quite centrally in their creation. William Burroughs would often write lines based on randomly strung together newpaper clippings. Jackson Pollock was more about the uncontrolled spillage and splatter of the paint than about the intentional creation of a premeditated image. Composers like John Cage created aleatoric or chance-ruled music that many might liken more to noise than to pre-structured chords and rhythms. Photographers often come upon scenes so profound and meaningful that they try only to capture these moments when they come upon them. I feel like these extentions of the artistic into the real can support the possibility of a non-conscious creative process in the universe, especially seeing that every pattern is already half made up of the mind that is seeing it. See Rorschac blots...
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2013
  15. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    "What is the meaning of human life, or for that matter, of the life of any creature? To know an answer to this question means to be religious. You ask: Does it make any sense, then, to pose this question? I answer: The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life.”--Einstein
  16. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    LOL! What "he" meant? Who are you referring to? And was I referring to this same person?

    Tell ya what. Since you wanna talk like just another ignorant troll spouting off belligerent one liners about things you clearly misread, you can be treated like one too. Consider yourself hereby ignored..
  17. Balerion Banned Banned

    I'm sorry, were you under the impression that Albert Einstein was a woman?

    Color me unimpressed.
  18. Balerion Banned Banned

    Doesn't apply to me, since I don't claim to know the mind of any alleged creator. I say there is no creator, and it doesn't take religion to believe that.

    This doesn't apply to me either, since I say that life does have meaning, it's just relative meaning, not objective meaning, or anything to do with agency or design.

    That's twice you've quoted Einstein, and twice you've either misapplied his words or misunderstood them. As I said before, maybe you shouldn't be so quick to speak, and try listening for a while.
  19. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Equivocating idiot says:


    Must be some kind of troll zen: meaning but no meaning. lol!
  20. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    As the story goes, when Prince Siddhartha became dismayed by living as a prince and wanted to find a different way to live, one where he actually could find true happiness, his father and his friends came to talk him out of it, claiming that living as a prince, and then a king, was noble and worthwhile, and that so many people before him have contended themselves with this kind of life, and so should he.

    A similar scenario occurs nowadays when a person wants "more" from life, when a person finds the various material pursuits to be ultimately disappointing and not worthwhile. Ie., there come people who try to talk them out of reaching for the stars, and instead advise them to find satisfaction in chocolate cake, trekking around K2, having sex, doing charity work etc.

    So if you want "more" from life, chances are there will be many naysayers who will try to talk you out of your pursuits.
  21. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Even the most egomaniac person can't really keep to that 24/7, however much they may otherwise proclaim it.

    You can't push away the inevitable.

    How can a truth possibly be scary?

    Maybe partial truths are scary - but being partial, they aren't precisely truths to begin with.
  22. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    How come? Exploring your hang-ups about meditation may be quite revealing.
  23. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Sure. Most people don't seem particularly into philosophy, so sometimes they might not even hear the words they say ... and so don't notice any problems with what they're saying.

    Sure. It is sometimes said that not everyone experiences samvega in this lifetime.

    Or, perhaps like you've said, there are some more kind of poorly defined ideas around in one's mind.

    In some traditional Buddhist practices, they encourage people to first develop qualities like concentration, virtue and discernment, in order to train the mind to make it better able (or suitable to begin with) to reflect on complex topics.
    The idea being that without such preliminary training, one's mental activities are bound to be scattered and unproductive, and can even cause great suffering and damage.

    I think that in Western culture, we are not very well trained in disciplining our inquiries, so our efforts to answer our questions are often scattered all over the place, with not much to show for.

    For one, this seems to be precisely the case. It appears that without the conviction that we are somehow doomed, we won't have the desire to be saved.

    For two, there is something to be said about good faith and bad faith. I think that from some point on, one becomes aware that one is acting either on good faith, or on bad faith, and then one can also become aware that the quality of one's faith affects the way one will choose what to do, and then how one will experience the results of one's actions.
    The idea that "this one lifetime is all there is; we struggle and suffer, and then we die, and then it's all over" does seem like one in bad faith.

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