Philadelphia Atheists Meetup Message Board Philosophy and Critical Thinking › What is the meaning of life?

What is the meaning of life?

A former member
Post #: 4
And Don't tell me 42 and propagating the species for the love of science!
Janice R.
janicerael
Clayton, NJ
Post #: 99
Why do you think that life has to have a meaning?
Anne H.
thebat137
Philadelphia, PA
Post #: 45
And even supposing that one decides to go around assigning meaning to something like life, why should there only be one?

In my opinion, "What is the meaning of life?" is a bogus question. It implicitly makes the quasi-religious assumption that meaning is some kind of physical property of life that we can go out and measure and get a single answer, rather than a quality we construct creatively for ourselves on an individual basis. Like many so-called "big questions" it strikes me as not so much deep as ill-posed.
George
george05
Philadelphia, PA
Post #: 229
It would be helpful to define the term "meaning" in this (or any) context.

x has meaning, x lacks meaning, x is meaningless. .. what do these phrases denote?

A former member
Post #: 20
I don't see one "meaning" to life. i think our lives mean something, to the extent that we give it meaning. I like what atheist Dan Barker said on this subject. And i am paraphrasing, he said something like, 'If you want your life to have meaning, do something meaningful.' Best, Scotty
Janice R.
janicerael
Clayton, NJ
Post #: 101
I don't see one "meaning" to life. i think our lives mean something, to the extent that we give it meaning. I like what atheist Dan Barker said on this subject. And i am paraphrasing, he said something like, 'If you want your life to have meaning, do something meaningful.' Best, Scotty
Reminds me of my favorite quote from Founding Father Ben Franklin:

If you would not be forgotten
As soon as you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worth the reading,
Or do things worth the writing.

stripey7
user 3095185
Philadelphia, PA
Post #: 98
Strictly speaking, "meaning" is a social relation in which the conditioned configurations of two neural networks correspond in the sense that they bind the same semantic sensory memory (e.g., the sound of a word such as life) to the same non-semantic sensory or motor memory or complex of sensorimotor memories. Such a correspondence develops through interaction between the two individuals of whom these networks are part.

The meaning of life mostly commonly agreed goes something like this: life is a system exhibiting the properties of persistence, metabolism, growth, and reproduction.

Of course usually when people speak of "the meaning of life," what they really mean is the purpose of life. But purposes are themselves only patterns in neural networks (those of primates for instance), and so there can be as many purposes of life as there are individuals with the mental capacity to ask the question (chiefly humans I suspect).

I think one can do better than merely leave it at this Existentialist level, however. Whenever a philosophical question is asked, simply debunking it as "empirically meaningless" is less interesting and potentially fruitful than attempting to answer the question of why it was asked in the first place. Both personal and social history are typically factors, but in a forum like this only the social aspect is accessible.

So the question becomes: why have people sometimes felt the need to question what the "purpose of life" is? Analytically one can see that such a person must have previously had a purpose(s) not consciously considered, because these purposes had evolved from their primal drives in a way that never posed any ambiguity. They would only "discover" that there was a question to be asked when some change in circumstances created such an ambiguity for the first time (as when they cease being completely dependent on their parents and start deriving some sense of identity from their peer group instead).

Empirically, one sees that such questions get asked only under certain historical conditions, generally involving previously homogeneous traditional societies coming in contact for the first time and relativizing each other's previously unexamined senses of meaning, especially if their transactions actually create instances of conflicting loyalties. Sagan, for instance, discussed in Cosmos the fact that surges in skepticism and secularism have generally occurred in commercial societies heavily involved in intercultural trade, such as Ionian Greece and Renaissance Europe.

One can take an even longer historical view and ask how senses of purpose may have first developed as humans became human through their interactions with each other on increasingly higher levels of cooperation and cognition. To the extent that these early ancestors were highly dependent on each other's cooperation for survival, there would naturally be a common sense of purpose and no one would think of asking "existential" questions.

As existence became more secure and both divisions of labor and class appeared, narrower feelings of individual or group interest would start to develop and tend to undermine the previously automatic communal solidarity. The Marxist philosopher George Novack offered a good overview of how this may have developed, as well as his vision of how it may be reversed, in his book Humanism and Socialism, which you can find here:

http://www.amazon.com...­

I reluctantly link to the antiunion amazon because it's not in the more labor-friendly powells.com's catalog. Neither does Prometheus Books have it (though they certainly should), nor even the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Anne H.
thebat137
Philadelphia, PA
Post #: 47
Heh, way to actually treat the question seriously and respectfully, Stripey. :)

I did mean my response as more than just a dismissal, though. It was a big revelation to me once upon a time to discover that life doesn't have to have one single universal capital-M Meaning, and that I'm free to make of my life whatever I choose. Along the lines of what you said in your comment, it was one of those moments where I was forced to evaluate previously unexamined assumptions, and I think my life was greatly improved as a result.
George
george05
Philadelphia, PA
Post #: 230
stripey7:

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Gaining insight into the nature of the question itself is a good approach.
George
george05
Philadelphia, PA
Post #: 232
And Don't tell me 42 and propagating the species for the love of science!

I'd be interested to know what kind of answer you are expecting?
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