"Some believers accuse skeptics of having nothing left but a dull, cold scientific world. I am left with only art, music, literature, theater, the magnificence of nature, mathematics, the human spirit, sex, the cosmos, friendship, history, science, imagination, dreams, oceans, mountains, love and the wonder of birth. That'll do me." - Lynne Kelly
Comment: - An e-mail exchange on
the meaning of life.
Check this site for Positive Humanism
I have seen your website. I am a man
on a search. Maybe you can help.
Obviously, you have been able to search into things a little more in depth than myself.
I come to you hoping you may have come across a possible answer to a question.
Of course, the question, "What is the meaning of life?" has become so common, that it
is even joked upon. Indeed, I myself often laughed at people so "stupid" as to wonder at
such a thing. That is, until the "question" gripped me, and in the depths of the "emptiness"
of life, I too began seeking the answer to this question. However, this is not the question
I'm hoping you can answer - I am saying all this to introduce the actual question. You see,
I have enough experience now to know that many people are willing to give me their
particular meaning in life. With all the different meanings, which one is the right one?
And if there is no "right" one, then which one is best for me? Faced with this, I have
decided to search for the answer to another question, hoping that this search will lead
me to the ultimate answer. The actual question is, "What is it inside of me that so desperately
seeks the answer?" Why do I need to have a meaning? What is it about me that even cares?
There is something within me that is desperate, and I can't even find out what it is, or from
where it originates. It seems I, of all people, should know at least this much about my
own self - but I don't. I also know that there have been millions before me, and there are
many even now, that experience this same condition. This tells me that I am not unique in
this way. If it has been common to at least some people, then maybe somewhere out there
someone can give an answer, and some pretty convincing evidence to support it. I also
realize that this question could be asked forever upon itself. In other words, "What is it
inside of me that needs to know what it is inside of me that so desperately seeks the answer?"
But, I won't go that far - unless I enjoy going endlessly that way. The fact is, my being longs
to know, indeed, I might even say it needs to know.
In the following I give my view, and also added the view of a
friend of mine, Christian Stuhr, who often has a different slant on things.
(1) My view:
>If it has been common to at least some people, then maybe
>somewhere out there someone can give an answer, and some pretty
>convincing evidence to support it.
I must admit I don't know what is the source of our intense desire to know.
There may be studies done on this type of thing, but I don't know of any offhand --
if you find a scientific study, let me know where I can find it (possibly on the internet).
I don't know the answer to your question, but like other people that think they know,
I can speculate about it.
>"What is it
>inside of me that so desperately seeks the answer?" Why do I need to
>have a meaning? What is it about me that even cares?
(1) Probably the source is genetic.
SPECULATING ON THE FACTORS ->Many people naturally set goals and objectives
for themselves in their lives. Many people naturally like everything orderly, including processes.
(The first group of people are not necessarily the same as the second group) Possibly these people
have a slight evolutionary advantage, developed during tens of thousands of years, over people that lack these
attributes. It seems to me quite natural that these people would also expect to have an intense yearning
for knowing what the meaning of life is.
This drive to know may also be the motivator for finding out about the universe and how
it works --
the scientists in all of us. This would also be an evolutionary advantage - to know our environment more deeply.
(2) When the brain becomes a certain size, it is able to think these thoughts
To find the answers to your questions, you will have to find it in the researches done
in neuroscience - in other words in a person's brain. This field is developing very rapidly
and many new finding will happen over the next few decades.
(3) People seem to need continual confirmation of their existence as part of a
community of people,
therefore their own importance in life -- that they are contributing something of value and meaning in
life is a need.
You might want to add to this list of possibilities!
>It seems I, of all people, should know
>at least this much about my own self - but I don't.
I also know that
>there have been millions before me, and there are many even now, that
>experience this same condition. This tells me that I am not unique in >this way.
You are right, there are many people that are like this -- I am one. I asked around and
that a lot of people didn't think the question is that relevant to their lives, suggesting that many
don't have this same need as you and I do -- it may be a matter of degree..
Even animals become depressed and bored when there is no meaning in their lives.
This happens to some animals when the only thing in their life is to eat, sleep and walk
around in a small cage all the time. I know our cat likes to have meaning in her life,
meaning in terms of her view of the world, otherwise she become very restless.
>"What is the >meaning of life?"
It seems to me that we put meaning into life. If you allow others or others' belief
determine the meaning in your life, then you are also vulnerable to these others or to these
others' belief systems.
2. Theo Meijer's reply:
The following is another response (Theo Meijer) to the "why do we have a desire to
the meaning of life" and the "meaning of life" questions.
Hello Hooge! Interesting questions from Andy.
There is certainly nothing stupid about the question of the meaning of life. Indeed, I
that at the core every religion is really an attempt to find such meaning. My problem with the
religious answers is that they are really not answers. Giving things names does not answer
anything nor make them real. Every thinking human being sooner rather than later cannot help
to at least consider this question and for many people their lives consist of the quest for the
ever elusive answer.
Remind me to show you a delightful booklet self-published by Hugh S. Moorhead of the
Bertrand Russell Society who is a philosophy professor in Chicago. Some thirty five years ago
he decided to send to well known writers and thinkers a copy of their newest published book
with a request to return it autographed and with their answer to the question "What is the
meaning or purpose of life?" Incidentally I am sorry he combined meaning and purpose because
I believe these to be different things. In any case while many did not respond, others did.
He found the answers so interesting that he decided to publish them. You find responses
by the likes of Steve Allen, Isaac Asimov, Alfred Ayer, Leonard Bernstein, Norman Cousin,
Francis Crick, Will Durant, Antony Flew, Martin Gardner etc. etc. etc.
I believe that the reason all of us have the urge Andy expresses so eloquently is a
evolutionary imperative. Once our brains evolved into the capacity for introspection and
awareness of cause and effect we needed some ideology to make sense of our lives and
to function in the world. Those with the cognitive ability to best develop and maintain such
capacity would survive more likely to pass on their genes. In other words it would seem to
me that we have a genetic predisposition to the need for a belief system or ideology. Our
early environment will likely provide a major "imprint" determining how this need will be
expressed. All this is of course rather simplistic but it would seem to give some basic
natural explanation for Andy's "desperate" search. Personally I have no problem with the
idea that the universe is a-moral and has no inherent meaning nor does it provide meaning
or purpose to us as humans. Meaning in life comes from what we do with it as we find
ourselves thrust into it and the manner in which we relate to others from those closest to
us in ever widening circles to our friends, communities and people at large.
End of sermon. Regards. Theo.
Thank you for your response to my questions. I am deeply grateful for the time everyone
has invested. You have definitely given me some things to think over and ideas to pursue.
Your kindness and honesty are immensely appreciated.
Recently Astronomers (Cosmologists) have concluded there is not enough matter,
both luminous and dark, for the universe to ever stop expanding. It will expand at
an ever increasing rate forever. The universe will never collapse.
In a very large number of years; the number being 1, with 65 zeros after the one;
all matter will have dissipated, including all the black holes, into an expanding sea of
radiation. No more sun, stars, planets, etc.
A quote (with the above number in mind) about existence from the excellent book
on Astronomy "The Dark Side of the Universe" by James Trefil (1988)
"It may be true that in quadrillion years the universe will be a cold, expanding
radiation. There may be no one to know how I behave tomorrow, no one to
remember what any of us did. But this is irrelevant. The point is that I will
know tomorrow what I have done, I will know whether I was the
best person I could be.
And in the end, my friends, that is all that matters."
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