Does meaning matter?

I’m beginning to think of the quest to comprehend “the meaning of life” to be not unlike quantum mechanics. Much like the laws of physics behave a certain way on the macroscopic level and a different way on the sub-atomic and quantum scales, so to does the idea of life having an ultimate meaning or purpose.

On the human level, having a purpose helps us to make sense of the fact that we exist. However, in the grand scheme of things, “meaning” and “purpose” really have no bearing on anything on the cosmic level. In fact, without meaning, life would continue. The physical processes of the universe don’t care about whatever meaning and purpose we attach to them. They existed before we did, and they’ll continue to exist long after every human being has died.

So I have to wonder what the point of attaching a meaning or purpose to life is? Isn’t it enough that we exist? Isn’t it enough that in the seemingly infinite sea of the universe, your unique life came into being? That, given the scope of every possible course of evolution, you have the unique abilities and characteristics that you have? We’re just part of a system, ultimately. And while it’s certainly romantic to think that we as human have some grandiose purpose in the universe, perhaps we don’t. Perhaps we simply exist as we do.


5 thoughts on “Does meaning matter?

  1. Man is an inquiring creature. We wonder, ask questions, and ponder. Among the deepest and most important questions are those of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. These are the most important categories to explore if one truly wishes to formulate a worldview that corresponds to reality.

    Now, your question. “Why do people insist upon there being this cosmic purpose for all things? Why do so many demand that there be some intrinsic meaning to existence? And furthermore, why are people so threatened when those ideologies are challenged?”

    I think the answer to this question is, simply, “ideas have consequences.” When a person is told that they are a cosmic accident and a chance occurrence; when people are told that their lives have no meaning except that which they give themselves and that they have absolutely no intrinsic value whatsoever; when people are told that morality is a culturally subjective phenomenon and that terms such as “good” and “bad” have no definitive meaning; and when people are told that they’re destined for cessation of existence, what are they supposed to think? What does that mean for this short, chaotic, inexplicable, meaningless gust of wind we call life?

    Such answers affect the way one lives. Only a trivial reading of human history will show that our ideas affect our choices. When we seek to answer such questions, we’re not working with some suspended, dislocated philosophical platitude. The answers to our questions matter.

    “How do they matter?”

    Here is one example: If there is no justice in life, then all the wrong that has ever been committed (all genocides, murders, wars, lies, rapes, abuses, etc.) will never, ever be accounted for. There is no justice. In fact, our idea of “justice,” the one that we have been culturally indoctrinated with, is a meaningless word. Our cries for justice will not be heard, for the indifferent universe does not speak objective language. I submit that people cannot accept those answers because, frankly, they fail to make sense of reality.

    We cannot honestly expect to teach that those things are true and not expect people to go insane. Indeed, though he is said to have gone crazy due to biological causes, I suspect that Friedrich Nietzsche lost his mind primarily due to the fact that he realized that when an infinite-personal God is denied, insanity is the only logical deduction.

    1. Well, I guess what I’m trying to argue isn’t that meaning doesn’t exist. Rather, whatever meaning we human beings conjure up and operate under is only meaningful to us. My ultimate purpose was to posit that meaning only matters on a microscopic scale. Would I argue that a picture of a loved one has no meaning to me? Of course not. But it only has meaning insofar as I give it meaning. In reality, does that mean there’s some metaphysical, ethereal quality to it? In my opinion, no. The same applies to the idea of justice that you mentioned. Justice does exist, but only in a human sense, not a cosmological sense.

      What I’m mainly arguing is that people have a hard time compartmentalizing meaning and purpose. Meaning is a human concept, and applies to other human concepts (like justice, to harken back to the earlier example. There is no “cosmological constant of Justice”). It shouldn’t be romanticized or extended to non-corporeal physical concepts. It seems perfectly allowable to me that meaning has a duality to it, much like light exists as a wave and a particle, in which it has a function on one level but does not on another. In other words, why can not the subjective function within the objective?

      1. While you’re correct that there can be a distinction between “cosmic” meaning and “individual” meaning, there is still a deep connection between these two concepts. They can be distinguished between, but, logically, they cannot be separated. If my life has no objective meaning on a cosmic level, then whatever “individual” meaning, purpose, or value I place upon my life or the lives of others is only a subjective (one might say) delusion. If the universe came into existence out of nothing, for no reason, and its destiny is to die of a heat death in which all will die, in other words, if A and Z are meaningless, then whatever happens from B-Y is also without meaning, no matter how much I think it is.

        I might say that my life has meaning because I give it meaning, but, in all honesty, I cannot consistently convince myself of that when I recognize the utter absurdity of life on a large scale. It’s like saying, “Well, the ship is going down… Let’s stand on the bow and salute because it looks better.” Who would bother vacuuming the dining hall of a ship that is certain to sink in a matter of hours? Days? Months?… Simply extending the amount of time does nothing. If we have lost eternity, and we have lost all sense of intrinsic meaning, then we have lost absolutely everything that the human heart longs for. It is more intellectually honest to accept it then to try to avoid it (I’m not saying you’re doing that, of course. It just seems to me that this is the only consistent option).

      2. I certainly see the point that you are making. And I am not questioning the validity of it. I have no way to prove that it’s “wrong” or “incorrect” to find meaning delusional and therefore reject it. To me, that’s a legitimate option (even if I wouldn’t choose it).

        But I can also find no fault with saying, “Well, if it’s all going to end tomorrow, I may as well delude myself.” After all, the only reality is the one that I experience. I don’t experience a schizophrenics delusions, but to him or her they’re certainly real. Perhaps there is a shared, common reality; perhaps there isn’t. I have no way of making any conclusions about that as it stands. Perhaps emotions are an evolutionary adaptation to deal with reality.

        And as an aside, may I add that I have very much enjoyed our discussion. Thank you for the very much for the thoughtful exchange of ideas!

  2. Yes, I see your point.

    Of course, unless you’re a postmodernist, you wouldn’t dare say that “perception is reality.” In that case, we have utterly lost the conviction that men ought to submit to reality as it truly is. And if we lose the conviction that men ought to submit to reality the way it truly is, then what in the world is are we searching for? Truth? No. At that point, we have lost all intellectual honesty and have embraced a sort of cosmic indifference. I admire those who submit to Truth; whether it be attractive or tormenting, we must always insist, no, demand, that it be assented to.

    Side note: Yes, these have been some very fun dialogues, my friend! I wish that more people could talk about these concepts in a sincere, honest way. I want to compliment you on your approach to these discussions; you show character and open-mindedness. You make for a very, very enjoyable conversation!

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