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Meaning of Life
October 1, 2004 5:29 PM   Subscribe

The Meaning of Life according to various rather famous people (Dennett, Fukuyama, etc). I'm watching the Dennett video at the moment and it starts rather weakly, but, by midway through, is rolling along nicely. With topics like "being good without god" and "the anthropic principle" it struck me as relevant to a couple of recent askmefi threads.
Dennett: [pause] i guess i'll say it again, more slowly...

(oh, and the player interface is rather delicate - give it time to load and click play a few times...)
posted by andrew cooke (17 comments total)

 
My then-8 year old child and her two friends answered this question. The meaning of life, according to this trio, is that, "You're not dead."

From the mouths of babes, I tell ya...
posted by davidmsc at 6:23 PM on October 1, 2004


very interesting--thanks!

I agree with Pollack the most so far--many of the speakers are being wimpy and excessively careful in their answers. The host is not that good at drawing real meat out of them. It also is very christian-centric on the whole.
posted by amberglow at 6:52 PM on October 1, 2004


tell me about Bright Faith...what's up with that?
posted by amberglow at 6:54 PM on October 1, 2004


Omid Safi is cool too.
posted by amberglow at 6:59 PM on October 1, 2004


Thanks for posting this, it's pretty interesting. I'm watching a couple of the speakers now, and will have to check back later for more.
posted by edlundart at 7:19 PM on October 1, 2004


brights (i guess i am one, in broad terms, but i hate the term and would only use it in a deprecating manner, in the same way you might use "happy-clappy" for a certain kind of christian).
posted by andrew cooke at 7:49 PM on October 1, 2004


i don't like it either. Why do such disparate groups need to share a name anyway?
posted by amberglow at 8:40 PM on October 1, 2004


neat. I'm a huge fan of Dennett. Thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by LimePi at 11:15 PM on October 1, 2004


Awesome post.
posted by weston at 11:27 PM on October 1, 2004


What do you all make of Dennett's defense of "free will"? I still don't see how he's resolved anything. Of course, one needs to define what "free" will is, any takers?
posted by Gyan at 12:20 AM on October 2, 2004


What a treat to watch intelligent people exploring ideas. Thanks very much for the post!
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:04 AM on October 2, 2004


This is fantastic, thanks so much. Having recently slogged through Darwin's Dangerous Idea, it's a real treat to see Dennett in conversation.
posted by chrispy at 2:22 AM on October 2, 2004


What do you all make of Dennett's defense of "free will"?
Just going by the interview, it was less than convincing. He seemed more to be playing with words and definitions than addressing the underlying issue as people generally understand it. But I'm sure the interview did not do his full argument justice.
Of course, one needs to define what "free" will is, any takers?
I think the interviewer was pretty good on bringing Dennet to task on that when he referred to Laplace's Daemon. , i.e., a theoretical being that could measure the position and velocity of every particle in the universe aand thereby would be able to calculate the future. If freewill existed, then the daemon would not be able to predict your course of action. Freewill therefore is at odds with determinism. Freewill could be defined as the ability to act or make a choice independent of past events.
posted by Meridian at 5:32 AM on October 2, 2004


if you want to understand dennett on free will you probably need to read elbow room several times (i believe freedom evolves may be on the same subject, peraps a more popular presentation?).

anyway, i have read elbow room twice, and i still didn't get it completely. i wrote this (self link, obviously) after the second reading. unfortunately my memory is terrible, and i didn't understand it well enough to "know" it, so i can't defend it more than that. but it seemed reasonable at the time...
posted by andrew cooke at 5:40 AM on October 2, 2004


after thinking a little more, it does make sense, i think.

two ways i can explain it. first, it's common here in political discussions to talk about how the republicans frame a discussion. for example, there was an askmefi thread about whether or not george bush had actually said "mission accomplished", and people objected that, even if he never said the words, they were implied, but that, in the particular discussion that sparked the question, the person had become trapped into focussing on a distracting detail (whether or not the words were said) rather than the main argument, by clever framing of the discussion by the opponent.

similarly, dennett argues that dualists have framed the discussion of free will so that, even if you're not a dualist, you argue using their terms. and their terms include the implicit assumption that there is a separation between mind and body. instead, dennett is arguing for a holistic approach.

the second way to understand is to look at metatalk discussion. people often say that complaining about things in meta does no good, because nothing changes as a result. but that's incorrect - meta existing exerts a constant pressure that influences mefi anyway. if meta didn't exist, mefi would be different, because that pressure would be removed (it would be even worse!).

in other words, you can't separate meta from mefi. the two feed off each other in a holistic manner. similarly, the mind and body are two parts of the same thing.

in summary, his attitude is rather like stating "the mind and the body are the same thing" and, in response to objections, either showing that they are incorrect or, if they are rhetorical in nature, shrugging his shoulders and saying "so what?". that latter response might seem dismissive, but he goes to some lengths to explain that many of the objections rely on emotional judgements that aren't justified. if someone said "i have an invisible friend that doesn't like you", shrugging your shoulders and saying "so what?" isn't a bad response...

hope that helps. it's based on what i remember after reading my own comments in that link. i didn't listen carefully to the video during the relevant section so don't know how well it ties in there.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:25 AM on October 2, 2004


My then-8 year old child and her two friends answered this question. The meaning of life, according to this trio, is that, "You're not dead."

Thanks, davidmsc. I've read some of the philosophy and quantum science and spent plenty of time confused and obsessed. In the end "You're not dead" is the kind of answer that makes sense.
posted by Shane at 10:59 AM on October 2, 2004


The last time I debated this with someone; they were of the option that life had no meaning. We’d agreed by that point that by “meaning” was meant a “purpose” of some kind. If that that is what is meant, I’d have to ask for a definition of what a valid “purpose” of something might be. They responded by saying that since there is no such thing as a purpose they would be unable to give me an example of one. That sounded like a bit of a question beg to me but anyway.

On another note – I remember reading some Fukuyama a while ago which I think was in response to Dennett. It was a bit whack though, I thought.
posted by ed\26h at 6:37 PM on October 2, 2004


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