What is the Meaning of Life?Stephen Farah
This, my friends and only companions, is the question. In true paradoxical style it is both the most important and stupidest of all questions. And it is a question readily dismissed as meaningless by the bourgeois. Except possibly by some real dimwits who are simply too naive to realise how stupid (and dangerous) the question is.
Stupid- because naturally there is no answer, or at least no definitive answer. The question is nonsense, at least in the rational sense. We may as well ask how Achilles will beat the tortoise or who’s on fifth.
It is a question which as Ludwig Wittgenstein correctly pointed out is merely an extension of the Word Game. Or which Dr. Suzuki would answer, with an enigmatic smile, the stone dog barked and the wooden horse neighed.
Dangerous- because it runs contrary to the maxim: leave well enough alone. It is a question which has driven more than a few souls into the arms of institutional life, sometimes in the warm embrace of a straight jacket. Or to put it in more dramatic fashion I quote Nisargadatta Maharaj who says, let the seeker of the truth beware for it has the power to rip his flesh from his bones.
Still, with this proviso in place, let us approach this question, albeit with a sense of trepidation at both the danger and ridiculousness of our quixotean quest. But also knowing that ours is a search with a classical pedigree.
So let us be generous and concede our detractors criticisms and even concede that the question, in and of itself, may not be answerable. However we are still free to ask, are we not: does meaning emerge from the question? Well the answer for me, and those of us with a philosophical orientation, is yes meaning does emerge from the question.
Let’s take a closer look at what we mean in asking this question about the nature of meaning. Is meaning given to us or do we need to find it? Is it collective or particular to each of us? Is this meaning empirically verifiable, is it quantifiable? Does the Bishop of Rome know the answer or perhaps the dilly Lama?
Well the elusive nature of our prey is such that it is impossible and inordinately arrogant and naive to attempt an answer to the above, and to further propose that our answer is the final word on the matter. But possibly accepting that we cannot seriously propose any kind of collectively conclusive, not to mention objective (which proposal goes from merely silly to sublimely ridiculous) answer, gives us some insight into the nature of the beast.
The answer I favour is that meaning is particular to the individual.. Meaning emerges from a context, the context of an individual psyche placed in its world, its Umwelt. A world in which whilst the individual shares many areas of common experience with humanity as a whole, is increasingly differentiated from the faceless mass of humanity by the unique composition of its experiences.
Composition and contextual interpretation. And it is from this interpretation that experience become coloured in different hues and shades, becomes emotive, becomes the process whereby the individual asks and answers the why of its existence. This is not to say however that we may not have convergence with other individuals on the question
Value of asking the Question
Although we concede that the question of meaning is not a particularly popular one. It is equally true that every sentient being operates from a philosophical paradigm. A paradigm which is structured around the central tenant of meaning. (We can use the terms meaning and purpose here interchangeably). So whether or not one chooses to pursue philosophical investigation into the meaning or purpose of one’s existence, it is inescapable that one’s life or let’s say one’s choices are based on that meaning. The only real area of difference is that in pursuing this line of inquiry we make the unconscious meaning conscious and then are able to examine the previously unconscious assumptions in the light of consciousness.
So simply put then the pursuit of meaning- which is a religious process, in the original sense of the word meaning to closely examine and to bind together, is the process of making conscious that which is the fundamental driver of ourselves as cultural beings.
Or at least an attempt to, because this line of inquiry is admittedly met with various degrees of success or failure. And failure, for want of a different term, can lead in the worst cases to a complete ungluing of the individuals psychic life- which is effectively to say their life intoto. Hence the admonishment by many mystical traditions that the seeker of truth should beware of the road he intends to travel.
Then there is something else other than increased consciousness, although arguably it falls under its banner, which occurs when the sincere seeker finds his way. A new thing is born. At first fragile and rather intangible, but with focused attention it grows stronger and stronger- until at last it bursts forth into the world, and nothing is the same anymore. This then presents us with a new world a new reality. And with this new, more elevated perspective, we can see further than before, dream new dreams and imagine even greater Citadels into existence.
Towards an Answer
The attempt to amplify this question is the purpose of this Blog. And every post is dedicated to its answer. Also the answer is not static and as my understanding evolves so will my posts. However not to appear obtuse, I list, below, a few current ideas which I hope to amplify as this blog develops:
‘ Meaning is ultimately its own goal. That is to say the creation of meaning is the very purpose of existence.
‘ The amplification of consciousness.
‘ Evolution. Not in a strictly Darwinian sense but rather in a Hegelian sense– a movement towards refinement, towards transcendence. Life is a journey, a journey which is not random but rather has a very definite destination. Both individually and collectively.
‘ The realisation of the transcendent- direct contact with the Divine.
‘ A consciously created future.
Seven Questions to Consider on the Journey
. Does the question, what is the meaning of life, have an answer?
2. Is it necessary (or even different) to phrase the question, what is the purpose of life? Does purpose differ from meaning?
3. Does language describe the real? Is there a real independent of language? Or is language the most significant real we have? If so the question and answer must of necessity be language based and a language independent real is irrelevant.
4. Does the question, what is the meaning of life, have an objective answer? Or conversely is the answer, of necessity, always subjective?
5. Is there an inherent (or potential) value in asking this question? Does the search for meaning add value to my life and the lives of those I come into contact with?
6. If there is an answer, does anyone know it? And if you were the person who knew the answer or met the person who knew the answer- how would you know that this is the answer?
7. What is the meaning of life?
A good starting point to get a very brief but infromative overview and context for the question can be found here