Does Life Have Meaning?

10/05/2015

I hear the same question from nearly everyone, deists and atheists alike. That is, what gives my life meaning? Everyone wants to know, since without that understanding living often seems futile. So, let me take a whack at it.

Animals, like say a zebra, have no purpose in life, other than possibly to sustain the feeding cycle for other animals. Neither are they even aware of the universe around them. Man alone, who is uniquely endowed with consciousness, ponders the question. After all, it takes consciousness to even ask the question.

Some people think that if they dedicate themselves to some cause, like making the world a better place, that this will give their life meaning. Props to you if you are one of those people but mere existence is ultimately meaningless, even if it leads to a better species. That is, towards what end does a species exist? To merely survive, even to thrive and to feel good about being alive? So having a purpose in life is one thing, but to have a life with meaning is altogether another thing.

That brings us back to the original question that people keep asking, even those of you who are “making a difference.” What is there about this question that is so elusive? Why do people from all walks of life keep searching for the answer?

To seek an answer to that question, let’s first start with Darwin. Evolutionary theory states that we are the by-product of natural selection of the fittest. So, according to evolutionary theory, then, we must be without plan or purpose, produced by random errors which are referred to as mutations. Darwin’s answer to the question why are we here is this: We are here simply because we evolved. Richard Dawkins further amplified Darwin’s theory. He stated that, Humans have always wondered about the meaning of life…life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA…life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

Aside: Of course, Dawkins never stated where DNA came from and exactly who designed it. We’re talking about trillions of cells in our body each encoded with instructions on how to operate and grow our bodies. The neural circuitry in our brains, alone, uses algorithms undreamt of in modern science, way beyond the capabilities of the most sophisticated supercomputer.

Scientific theory states that all the matter in the universe and all the laws of nature came into existence in a split second – out of nothing. As Michael Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago, put it, “If inflation is the dynamite behind the Big Bang, we’re still looking for the match.” Ah, the match that sparked the universe. So, since our universe had a beginning, it had to have had a cause (the match), and in that case a match lighter.

We are made up of atoms and since those atoms dissolve into the nothingness of the quantum world (according to the likes of Albert Einstein), what gives them any meaning? We can intellectualize all we want that we are real and that, being real, life must have meaning but the truth is that it’s the source of atoms that gives substance to our reality. Therefore, any meaning attached to our reality is predicated on that very same source.

I’ve compiled some thoughts on this matter from diverse fields of endeavor. Of course, I got to select them so I won’t apologize if they may seem slanted.

From the field of psychology:

“The decisive question is: Are we related to the infinite or not? The quest for the cosmic connection is a fundamental requirement of the self, thus the development of myths and religion”. – Carl Jung

From the field of science:

“Life is the most mysterious of all the wonders of creation because atoms have been assembled in such a way so that they can ponder their own existence.” – Astrophysicist Martin Rees

“Our brains mathematically construct objective reality by interpreting frequencies that are ultimately projections from another dimension, a deeper order of existence that is beyond both space and time….” – Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe

From the field of religion:

“If there is no God, then all abstractions are chemical epiphenomena, like swamp gas over fetid water. This means that we have no reason for assigning truth and falsity to the chemical fizz we call reasoning or right and wrong to the irrational reaction we call morality….”

– Douglas Wilson

From the field of philosophy:

“To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning.”

– Ludwig Wittgenstein

 

Epilogue

The source in question that I referred to above is beyond space and time, as obviously there was nothing in the instant before the Big Bang. Therefore, no one can say with any degree of certainty what “the source” actually is. Deists can’t prove that it is God and atheists can’t prove that it isn’t. One thing that we do know, though, is that there is such a source – something or someone so powerful that it created the universe out of nothing. Something caused the universe to come into being and that something, being incredibly intelligent as it would have had to have been, had awareness (unless it was a form of AI) and therefore a reason for its actions. That reason, whatever it is, is the meaning that our lives have.

I said at the beginning that I would take a stab at this issue. It was only just a stab. However, I only left out one detail. I’ll let you fill in the blank.

 

 

 

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”

Carl Sagan

 

 

 

 

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29 Responses to “Does Life Have Meaning?”

  1. babarahs said

    Why do people from all walks of life keep searching for the answer?
    And don’t all, or almost all look everywhere in ‘this world’ for the answer…when the only place anything can only come from, is from within their own mind, and since they can’t get out of their mind, then that is the only place to be searching for their answers to all questions of life and reality. AND that is just my personal opinion.

  2. Manuel Chukwudi said

    Man could give his daily life punctuated meaning, but without God life has no ultimate Meaning.

  3. Nan said

    For me, Sagan sums it up.

    We’re just here. At some point in time, we became part of the universe. And once our time on this particular planet has ended, we will return to that universe.

    Why must we believe there is a “something” or “someone” that plays a role in our existence … or in the existence of the universe? Why are we unable to accept that it just “is” and we just “are”?

    • chicagoja said

      The Australian aboriginals have a saying which mirrors your comment. They say that, “We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love…and then we return home.”

  4. I like the phrase “The cosmos is within us, we are made of star-stuff, as our bodies and everything inside them, reflect the universe
    As to the meaning of life, for if we accept that it just “is” and we just “are” then we also have to accept we as everything else was brought into existence be chaotic random chance
    More over there would be no point in learning – inventing – creating as they too would be a product of chaotic random chance

    • chicagoja said

      For those of you who like the Carl Sagan quote, I offer you the following:

      “You are here to enable the divine purpose of the universe to unfold.” -Eckhart Tolle

      “The universe does not exist ‘out there,’ independent of us. We are inescapably involved in bringing about that which appears to be happening. We are not only observers. We are participators.” – John Wheeler

    • Nan said

      So, graham, do you have a problem with everything being by chaotic random chance?

      • Yes I do, as I said if everything was & is by chaotic random chance – then even our intelligence and reasoning is by random chance and therefore all of our achievements are too

    • chicagoja said

      So why do you bother…learning, inventing and so on? Is there a point to your existence?

      • Nan said

        Perhaps, if we are honest with ourselves, there really is no point to our existence. We learn, invent, accomplish because it makes the life we do have more satisfying to us. But what end does it truly accomplish in the “Big Picture?” Does it change the Universe?

        I think Kia sums it up well..

      • chicagoja said

        It only matters if there is a Creator.

  5. For me there is no tangible purpose or meaning to life, however our lives have purpose and they have meaning, for having existed, we inadvertently shape and have influence upon humanities future and therefore the universe. The length of our existence when measured in years, months, weeks or even minutes is also irrelevant for even the anticipation of our existence as an unborn child shapes the present and future universe. If I were to conclude a meaning to life then it would be this. We are the foundations on which all things, that are yet to be, will be built.
    Great post.

    • chicagoja said

      Thanks for the comment, Paul. Yes, we are the foundation of things to come. However, the larger question that I was posing is” Towards what end? That question caused philosophers like Bertrand Russell, who believed that there was no ultimate purpose, to say that man should build his life on the “firm foundation of unyielding despair.” As for the subject of moral values, philosophers like Sartre believed that since there was no God, man had no standard of human behavior (moral values) and without any such values man’s actions cannot be judged to be either right or wrong.

      • Then I would have to you agree with Bertrand Russell that there is no ultimate purpose, for supposing there was a purpose then one could assume there was a ultimate plan, and I do not believe this to be the case. However I would have to disagree that man should build his life on the “firm foundation of unyielding despair.” For what is this despair about, in life, when there is no purpose, what benchmark is set to measure your despair against?
        Moral values are transient and have shifted with the winds of time. No doubt in the future our behaviours will be seen as either morally advanced or barbaric. Therefore, the moral values we live under now can only be judged in the context of our own existence and are neither right or wrong, ‘no standard’ they just are.
        Towards what end? Is it not our vanity that makes us ask this question? Is it so inconceivable that life has no ultimate meaning, and that death is the only end we are moving towards?
        I do not believe that philosophers or priests can give us the answers to these timeless questions but what they can do is open the doors for us so that we can ask yet more questions.

        Thank you for taking the time and responding to my comment. Sorry if this is a bit rambling.

      • chicagoja said

        Thanks for your comment. Hopefully, it will get people thinking.

      • for eternity I expect 🙂

  6. I’m glad you took a stab at this — many people are content to wander through life without ever asking, and that’s sad. As you observe, we are more than zebras: being able to think beyond the ability of a zebra, it’s a shame when we don’t do it.

    • chicagoja said

      The most uncommon thing that a person has is common sense. Certainly,lacking in critical thinking skills. The species, I believe, is actually de-evolving. Thanks for visiting.

  7. KIA said

    While we are here, we have the meaning and purpose we give our lives. When we are gone, others assign and decide.

    • chicagoja said

      You got it half right. Our lives do have purpose based upon the decisions we make in life. However, meaning is predicated on the nature of human existence. That is, why do we exist at all.

      • KIA said

        That why question has no certain or as such any truly meaningful answer. No one knows but god, and he ain’t telling

      • chicagoja said

        Very true. Some people have taken a whack at it, though.
        “The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” ― Carl Sagan
        “You are here to enable the divine purpose of the universe to unfold.” -Eckhart Tolle
        “The universe does not exist ‘out there,’ independent of us. We are inescapably involved in bringing about that which appears to be happening. We are not only observers. We are participators.” – John Wheeler, physicist
        “Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man….” – Albert Einstein

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