The *REAL* Meaning of Life
April 23, 2006 8:50 AM   Subscribe

What is the meaning of life? Answers range from pithy pseudo-psychological to the annoyingly flash based AND pseudo-psychological, the Christian, Muslim, and Sikh and other. Other people think they've figured it out, and their answer is different at least. Some people's answers just get strange and pseudo-scientific. And of course we can't forget Monty Python .
posted by sotonohito (45 comments total)
Mind you, personally, I've always thought that the idea of "the" meaning of life was pretty silly. People are different, so why would we expect all people to have the same meaning to their life?

I'll argue that life in and of itself has no meaning, but rather intelligence is what gives life, or even simple existence, meaning. Naturally, we'll all give life *different* meanings, and I can't see that as a bad thing.

Maybe two hundred light years thataway there is an amazing binary sunrise that make the most moving and beautiful sunrise ever seen on Earth look pale by comparison. But unless someone intelligent is there to see it and appreciate it, its meaningless. Or, that could just be my ego talking, I've got to admit that the idea that we are what give the universe meaning is pretty darn egocentric.
posted by sotonohito at 8:55 AM on April 23, 2006

Nope. I was just annoyed that the funny monkeys film didn't answer the question bobbyelliott posed so I thought I'd provide a few links to some answers. Nothing wrong with the funny monkey film, it was funny and it had monkeys (you can't go wrong with monkeys). But it didn't explain the meaning of life either.

Of course, we all know the answer is 42, but these other answers were also interesting.
posted by sotonohito at 9:05 AM on April 23, 2006

Monkeys, please calm down.
For me the idea of there being a "meaning" of life, the universe or everything neccesarily implies the existent of a god-level being, as meaning is always constructed by an observer, it's not an intrinsic attribute of things. Therefore, the meaining of any person's life is whatever she says it is.
posted by signal at 9:07 AM on April 23, 2006

"being happy" is the best answer I've found.
posted by 6am at 9:08 AM on April 23, 2006

Every time I read something about how the "Singularity" is somehow "different" from other millenialist cults of teleological illuminative transformation gone by I realise that we are really are doomed to endlessly repeat ourselves.
posted by meehawl at 9:14 AM on April 23, 2006

6am: Naah. I can make you be happy all the time by adjusting your brain chemestry, but I don't think your life would be more meaningful thereby. Happyness is great, just like funny monkey films. But it ain't the meaning of life.
posted by sotonohito at 9:14 AM on April 23, 2006

The "question" of the meaning of life is insensible without explaining exactly what sort of answer would be satisfactory.
posted by argybarg at 9:15 AM on April 23, 2006

Was everyone around here on drugs last night?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:19 AM on April 23, 2006

Shoulda previewed. meehawl: Well, its different in that they posit a human based origin for the "end of history". But yeah, there is a definite millennialist aspect to singularity theory and I hadn't really considered that before I posted. Damn.

Still, I'll argue the singularity crowd isn't truly millennialist. They don't have any genuinely supernatural beliefs, they don't preach any sort of salvation, they just say that if/when a singularity is created it would be impossible to predict what would happen after that.

Personally, I think they're full of it. Diminishing returns has to settle in somewhere, and increasing clock speed does not necessarily equate increasing intelligence. They're assuming that intelligence is iterative, and I think they're wrong.
posted by sotonohito at 9:19 AM on April 23, 2006

While there is no "answer" to the question that one could put into words, I'd say that there is a meaning of life that can be felt. Throughout history, there have been those who have felt their way to this meaning life, but have been unable to explain what this meaning is. It always comes out sounding like a contradiciton.

"the words of truth are always paradoxical" Lao Tzu

Kierkegaard claimed that we must learn to infinitely commit ourselves to every finite moment. While he claimed to have never consistently achieved this himself, I think that he was on to something. He was stuck in the period of infinite resignation, when one first must deny all beliefs, before true belief can be achieved.

While the meaning of life is not happiness, a byproduct of an empirical understanding of the meaning of life is contentment.
posted by Candide at 9:25 AM on April 23, 2006

posted by shnoz-gobblin at 9:26 AM on April 23, 2006

It has always struck me as the height of human arrogance and vanity to assume that human life has a "meaning". Does octopus life have a meaning? Bacteria? How about rocks? Does their existence have a meaning? Why should it? What is, is. What is not, is not. That's the nature of existence, but it isn't a meaning.
posted by Decani at 9:29 AM on April 23, 2006

*cough* 'ere.
posted by Miko at 9:39 AM on April 23, 2006

The meaning of life is the result of hundreds of thousands of years of killing those with opposing definitions of the meaning of life. Those who join a tribe and act consistently tend to survive. As a result, the earth is populated by ethnocentric tribes of killers who worship consistency. Occasionally some aberrant wingnut asks about the meaning of life. Either you are with us, or you are with them, asshole. Get in line.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:54 AM on April 23, 2006

Three pounds of flax.

This is not a question. The meaning of meaning, however, now that's a barrel of monkeys.
posted by unmake at 10:04 AM on April 23, 2006

I dunno about the meaning of life, but the great task of human life is to stop giving a shit about it.
posted by tkolar at 10:06 AM on April 23, 2006

The meaning of life is that there is no meaning of life. Thus, there is a meaning of life.

Since nothing matters, everything matters.
Since everything matters, nothing matters.

posted by Candide at 10:10 AM on April 23, 2006

Decani-- good point. I've always said, why are human beings so special in terms of ALL life on this planet Earth?
But I guess the Scientologists have it all figured out when they teach we're here as a result of aliens landing on this earth 75 million years ago.
So that should make all of us feel special I guess.
* the above comment regarding Scientology is not necessarily the expressed written view and belief of metafilter member GoodJob! unless of course Tom Cruise tells us all we're glib and the FDA can prove we're all aliens from another planet.
posted by GoodJob! at 10:11 AM on April 23, 2006

unmake: I'll quote from one of the founders of my own religion, Malaclypse the Younger who once brought up that very quote. Here is the dialog between the Greater Poop, and Malaclypse the Younger (aka MAL-2):

GP: Is there an essential meaning behind POEE?
M2: There is a Zen Story about a student who asked a Master to explain the meaning of Buddhism. The Master's reply was "Three pounds of flax."
GP: Is that the answer to my question?
M2: No, of course not. That is just illustrative. The answer to your question is FIVE TONS OF FLAX!
posted by sotonohito at 10:13 AM on April 23, 2006

The meaning of life is to discern its meaning.
posted by moonbird at 10:13 AM on April 23, 2006

You are born. You die. And inbetween you try to find decent parking places.

Zen student once told me Eat when you are eating; breathe when you are breathing etc, by which she meant be a observer of each moment and stay with not wander in mind etc.
I asked here if this would change the quality of the environment, enable me to live longer, make me better enjoy life. Her answer: who knows.
posted by Postroad at 10:18 AM on April 23, 2006

What astounds me is the amount of energy people (especially folks in these parts) put into attempting to debunk the reasons that other people come up with.

Hint: when the major source of meaning in your life is tearing down the meaning of other people's lives, you're probably not on the road to peaceful contentment.

I'm just sayin'....
posted by tkolar at 10:18 AM on April 23, 2006

sotonohito, I think that was intended as a sort of ironic, anti-capitalist shaggy dog story. I'm not entirely certain that basing a religion on a piece of literature created to ridicule the very nature of organized religion itself is entirely advisable.
Especially if you're searching for some sort of "meaning" in your life.

That's kind of like basing your social welfare policy on "A Modest Proposal."
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:22 AM on April 23, 2006

I like moonbird's answer.

my two cents - the meaning of life is to give unto others the fruits of your good labors.
and Luke 12:15.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:26 AM on April 23, 2006

Nothing is True, Everything is Permissable.
posted by shnoz-gobblin at 10:50 AM on April 23, 2006

sotonohito: they just say that if/when a singularity is created it would be impossible to predict what would happen after that.

But impossible in a completely different way from the way it is impossible to predict what will happen now. Like one is real impossible, and the other is imaginery impossible, or something..
posted by Chuckles at 11:16 AM on April 23, 2006

metafilter - The *REAL* Meaning of Life
posted by pyramid termite at 11:20 AM on April 23, 2006

signal: For me the idea of there being a "meaning" of life, the universe or everything necessarily implies the existent of a god-level being, as meaning is always constructed by an observer, it's not an intrinsic attribute of things. Therefore, the meaning of any person's life is whatever she says it is.
this is a good argument: proving general meaning for the non-omniscient observer is impossible because meaning is based on subjectivity. But this doesn't relate to universal observer, as you said, to talk about universal meaning or purpose the argument necessitates a god-level being to interpret life universally. If a caveman wrote down something n years ago on a wall I wouldn't know the meaning. But only 'god' would know its meaning or intent. Wouldn't the god-being need complete access to thought and motive, so it would know the intent of meaning. Then it follows it would hold at least as much in thought as all souls that lived. If the being were only that and not more that object sounds like a perfectly remembered and accessed universal consciousness. If the sum total consciousness could be said to be close to a sum meaning of humanity, then the sum of these results could be called a generalised meaning. In the future this could be started to be collected by computer implants, and the results collected in an enormous computer, which could then be asked, what is the meaning? (Yes, this sounds familiar) However, the meaning would only be as good as the depth of thought of the populace of the time. And worse, their is no way of knowing if this is close to the answer we would get from the omnipresent being itself if it exists. However, the premise of a god-being having intent of some kind besides existing is ludicrous: for if it endeavors, it has wants. If it wants, it is human-like, and unfulfilled.
posted by uni verse at 11:36 AM on April 23, 2006

Baby_Balrog: The question about discordianism has always been: is it a joke masquarading as a religion, or a religion masquerading as a joke? I don't intend to answer that question, though I will state that despite my claims of being a discordian I'm really just an athiest.

However, just because the Principia Discordia contains humor, don't make the mistake of assuming that there is nothing worthy contained therein. What makes "five tons of flax" any less a real answer than "three pounds of flax"?

As I mentioned in my first comment I'm convinced that the meaning of life is to give life meaning (ooohhh, a chiasmus!) I see sentient life as the only source of meaning in the universe. Rocks, birds, octopusses, etc are great, but they don't produce meaning.

meehawl: I preferred Conan's paraphrase "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women!"
posted by sotonohito at 11:37 AM on April 23, 2006

For me the answer lies in how you phrase the question.

Do we mean "what is the purpose of having life anywhere in the universe?" or do we mean "Why am I, specifically me, here?" or something in between? Ultimately, we each need to answer this question for ourselves, since no one philosophy will ever answer it for every person.

As far as ducks and cats and octopus are concerned, I don't believe they are capable of the kind of abstract, self-conscious thought that this question requires and thus cannot be included in the discussion, but could be included in the solution.
posted by Parannoyed at 12:13 PM on April 23, 2006

The purpose of life may be to contemplate the unanswerable.

(don't know how to put in sarcasm tags. But if I did I would)
posted by notreally at 12:46 PM on April 23, 2006

I had a philosophy prof. once opine that, "the meaning of life" was a category error.
posted by Richard Daly at 1:30 PM on April 23, 2006

(conitinued from former post) However, if you allow a simplistic syllogism, the opposite of the inactive omnipotent is interesting. If we have the perfect omnipotent being that wants for nothing, it has no intent on the universe besides that which occurs naturally. The desirous or imperfect potent being is active, and has intent. Therefore if we quest meaning the being we search for has intent, and is therefore imperfect, or human-like in having wants. And then some might argue, well such a power couldn't be imperfect, thats the cry, the charge of the aethiests. But surely we cannot say if it is all-powerful or close to that. If that being is imperfect, it would be semi-present, intentful, and not necessarily all-powerful. This is similar to the force of a far advanced civilization impacting our world from afar. The difference would be in the intent, in the length of impact on us.
posted by uni verse at 1:37 PM on April 23, 2006

Its a loaded question asking for an answer that isn't there. For every pithy moonbird-like answer are the criticisms of proof and why this doesnt apply to the animal kingdom. We might as well be discussing what the true meaning of a long walk is. Or the true meaning of metafilter.

The meaning of life questions stem from the easy understanding of mechanical objects. We know what the meaning of a fax machine is. To send and receive faxes. Taking this line of thought to living things only gives us the proper answer to this question and its just boring old survival and reproduction, but it seems people aren't content with that answer so go off on feel-good philosophical and religious tangents. I guess it keeps motiviational poster vendors in business.

The level of vanity and smug self-satisfaction with the feel-good answers is almost shameful. I don't see why humans should get special treatment in this area. They resign pigeons and mice to the simple mechanics of live, breed, and die. Humans, of course, are super-extra special and have super-extra special meanings to all their typical fighting, fucking, and crying. Right deep thinkers?
posted by skallas at 2:26 PM on April 23, 2006

Also, I love how the monotheist god keeps cropping up when it comes to discussions of meaning and mortality. Its like some people when presented with these tough questions just have to scream "INVISIBLE SUPERHERO IN THE SKY" and leave it at that. Its amusing to see how the human animal is so caught in its ways while it supposedly is stretching its mind for some hard to find meaning. Just the same old rants from the same ol credulous crowds.

At age 78 Desmond Morris still seems pretty damn content.

Sadly, there's not even one link to Douglas Adams who addressed this much funnier and much more intelligently than any of the comments or posts so far.
posted by skallas at 2:33 PM on April 23, 2006

Jeez, skallas. Calm down.
Talk about self-satisfied.

"Humans, of course, are super-extra special and have super-extra special meanings to all their typical fighting, fucking, and crying. Right deep thinkers?"

Super-extra special? No, perhaps not. However, humans are capable of empathizing, which distinguishes us most severely from many of our compatriot Earth-dwelling creatures. We are also acutely aware of the fact that one day, we will not rise. We will not wake. We will be dead.
Other animals are not, to my knowledge, aware of this. Only that they do not wish to suffer injury.

"Also, I love how the monotheist god keeps cropping up when it comes to discussions of meaning and mortality."

Who has brought up monotheistic Gods? Has someone offended your pantheon?
You should also be aware that your shrill, capitalized epithet for God could be seen as incredibly offensive to some people.

Something akin to, oh... i dunno... SOULLESS, DAMNED ATHEIST WEIRDOS.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 4:38 PM on April 23, 2006

And, for the record, there have been several references to Douglas Adams throughout this thread, which leads me to believe you either have not read the thread, or you are unfamiliar with his work.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 4:39 PM on April 23, 2006

Well, if it's not three pounds of flax, than it must be "bitches and money".
posted by unmake at 5:58 PM on April 23, 2006

The *REAL* Meaning of Life

Healthy Happy Babies with Bright Futures
posted by taosbat at 6:16 PM on April 23, 2006

Confident predictions for a post-Singularity society:

1: A few arseholes will continue to fuck things up for everybody else.

2 (possibly a corollary): The new boss will be at least as bad as the old boss.

3: I will still not have my flying car.
posted by flabdablet at 6:33 PM on April 23, 2006

I remember there was a documentory about magicians, one said "the meaning of life is that it stops." I thought it was at least a good try.
posted by I Foody at 7:19 PM on April 23, 2006

Each one of us creates our own meaning.
posted by meringue at 12:10 AM on April 24, 2006

it is what it is...

In any event, if the answer to "what is the meaning of life?" cannot be explained in one or two sentences, then that answer is probably wrong.
posted by joshiz at 6:36 AM on April 24, 2006

There is no known objective meaning or purpose for existence, but there are many subjective ones. We have only ever seen how things behave, and have never known why.

One of the things that I have noticed that seems to affect everything, is that systems are always fluctuating between chaos and order. It is obvious that we are emerging systems of order. Yet, our brain produces an entity which seems to sit on the edge of chaos and order. With awareness we can choose which direction to take. I see morals as an effect of this emergence of order and ideas such as greed are effects of a move back toward chaos.

With that, my subjective meaning is to become aware of the things which can allow us to move further down this path of order just because I think humans in the future would probably like it that way better.
posted by Trakker at 9:12 AM on April 24, 2006

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