No Meaning to Life

Why are we here? Why do we live? What is the meaning of life? These questions are poorly phrased as neither “why” nor “meaning” has a distinct definition.

To begin with “why”, it can refer either to the cause of something happening or the purpose for which something was done by an agent. Causality vs. teleology, to use big words. And in the present context, the question “why” can be dismissed for both senses of the word. Teleology: humans/animals/plants/protists are not given life for any particular purpose and there is no agency involved. Causality: the answer to the question “Why am I here?” is “Because your parents had sex”.

What about “meaning” then? It can mean “message”, or “purpose”, or “justification”. We’ve already dismissed the notion that there is any external purpose to human life. As for justification, nothing alive needs justification since life is a spontaneously occurring thing. What is the justification of a pebble? As to the message of life or of a life, that’s up to each individual. Nobody made you alive in order to send any messages to you or to the world.

So to my mind, and I know I’m far from the first to come to this conclusion, the question of the meaning of life is meaningless. What is the meaning of life? What is the kliboque of zatanareho? Urdle boing foosu yukyuk? Who put the ram in the rama-lama-ding-dong?

To many people, particularly those of a religious bent (like so), the idea that there is no meaning to life is horrifying. They may associate it with suicidal, antisocial, homicidal tendencies. Not so. Even though there is no external meaning offered to us, we are all free to choose the purpose, message, justification of our lives. I live to have fun with those I love, taking care not to do so at the expense of others’ pain or fear.

Life just is. I just am. Now, you may ask “How should I live?”. That’s a much more cogent question, and one about which I have strong opinions. But I’m not going to preach about that.

Comments

  1. #1 paddy
    June 9, 2009

    That’s all fine, but what is the meaning of the “NOIBN” tag on your blog posts..?

  2. #2 Martin R
    June 9, 2009

    I got that from my old buddy Olle. “Not Otherwise Indicated By Name”. I slap that tag on any entry that represents a theme I don’t cover with my current tag repertoire, in anticipation of the day when I have enough entries on the subject to give it a tag.

  3. #3 Ld Elon
    June 9, 2009

    Although it may seem its not at anothers expense, it rarely isnt.
    Whether it is known or a known unknown, muhahahaha.

    For you to really have fun at noones expense you would have to be completely seperated from all the surroundings you know, would you like blasting into orbit, and outta the solar plains?

    We’ve already dismissed the notion that there is any external purpose to human life
    when was this done?
    how can one dismiss somthing they cannot know?
    your meaning, your opinion/my meaning, my opinion, have you touched the void of death to know life>?>

    Your, Elon Aquilieous Elusti ——–Osirus——-

  4. #4 Ld Elon
    June 9, 2009

    I forgot to add:
    Without understanding what life is, you will not find the meaning to life, this is obvious to some.
    Peace, Elon.

  5. #5 Martin R
    June 9, 2009

    The point of my blog entry was that looking for the meaning of life is like looking for the kliboque of zatanareho.

  6. #6 David Marjanović
    June 9, 2009

    Yeah. I’ve never understood the term “sense/meaning of life” either, and I don’t understand why people like Ms Kersten apparently want to have been produced for a purpose.

    have you touched the void of death to know life>?>

    Huh?

  7. #7 Martin R
    June 9, 2009

    Tell me truthfully, David: have you touched the rocket in my pocket?

  8. #8 David Marjanović
    June 9, 2009

    Without understanding what life is, you will not find the meaning to life

    What is life, then?

  9. #9 Mike Olson
    June 9, 2009

    1. “The question to everyone’s answer is usually asked from within.” Steve Miller, “Jungle Love.”
    2. “If you meet the Buddha on the road…kill him.”
    Personally, I believe in God and believe life has meaning. Unless you are engaging in behavior, or wish to engage in behavior that is harmful to others…you have to find meaning in life from within your own mind. Of course you don’t literally kill the fat man(Buddha) but you shouldn’t let others determine for you what your life means or tell you how to reach “enlightenment,” nirvanna or the gates of heaven. BTW, Martin, given that you enjoy your career and consider your job fun, perhaps you’ve already found a great deal of personal meaning(to life) there. Personally, I think, seeking knowledge, finding answers, reaching solutions and working cooperatively or to help benefit others is a large part of the meaning of life…but that is just me.

  10. #10 Ld Elon
    June 10, 2009

    A rock is life, be a rock and you’l know the meaning of the rock.
    <:0

  11. #11 Ulrich
    June 10, 2009

    Martin: I fully agree (and I even once thought about blogging pretty much the same as I found here). When questioned “What is the meaning of life?” I used to answer “42″, but nowadays this answer has become boring. Now I typically react with a much ‘easier’ question: “What is the meaning of a tree?” However, most people just think I’m crazy…

  12. #12 Jonathan Jarrett
    June 11, 2009

    To begin with “why”, it can refer either to the cause of something happening or the purpose for which something was done by an agent. Causality vs. teleology, to use big words. And in the present context, the question “why” can be dismissed for both senses of the word. Teleology: humans/animals/plants/protists are not given life for any particular purpose and there is no agency involved. Causality: the answer to the question “Why am I here?” is “Because your parents had sex”.

    The problem with causation is that it’s plural. `For what reason…’, according to Aristotle (and I’ve always found this useful), is actually four questions: Formal (what is it?), Material (what’s it made from?), Efficient (by what agent?) and Final (for what end?). These categories were designed more to help describe things than explain them but they still break things down usefully. So, if the question is why do human beings exist? then the answers might be:

    (i) Because these things that we see are defined by us as human beings [not very useful but opens questions for the theists along the lines of what level of humanity is required to be part of God's plan: Neanderthal? Cro-Magnon? chimpanzee/bonobo? If not why not, etc.)].

    (ii) because a body constructed like ours is a viable vehicle for life and consciousness [so, telling us that really we need to rephrase the question].

    (iii) `because your mum and dad had sex’, but also of course beyond that the question of evolution, chance or Grand Plan according to one’s convictions

    and (iv) either as part of a salvific eschatological divine plan (Christianity), another theological answer I’m not trained to describe (religions I don’t know so well), an end that we choose ourselves (existentialism), or none at all (atheism and nihilism).

    The main reason I point this out is that answers (iii) and (iv) should not be allowed to trump one another. The question you raise is no. iv, what is our Final Cause? The answer (iii) is true but not relevant. If nothing else, Aristotle clarifies questions like this.

  13. #13 Martin R
    June 11, 2009

    I’m curious as to why you would put existentialism and atheism at odds on this issue. They seem to coexist quite happily, at least in my head.

  14. #14 Jonathan Jarrett
    June 13, 2009

    Philosophically I think you’re right, really. I suspect it nay just be my natural gloom that led me to write that, because even thinking that making your own cause up will make life worthwhile seems like a faith position to me.

  15. #15 Martin R
    June 13, 2009

    It’s not a faith position, it’s empirically testable. You apparently do something with your life that in actual practice keeps you from staying in bed?

    But really, it’s the other way around. If a person isn’t depressed then they will automatically find something to do that feels worthwhile to them.

  16. #16 Don
    June 14, 2009

    In parts of North America, particularly in Indiana, the trenchant question is, “What if the hokey pokey IS what its all about?”

  17. #17 Martin R
    June 14, 2009

    To which certain camp town ladies reply, “Doodah doodah”.

  18. #18 jswissman
    June 15, 2009

    The brain uselessly attempts to answer questions of truth, morality and religion with retarded either-or logic (Aristotle’s Law of the Excluded Middle): A or not-A but not both. To believe God exists or doesn’t assumes the question must be phrased as a dichotomy. Skepticism in its healthy form is open-ended inquiry but we all like to invent the premises that lead us to the conclusion we’ve already swallowed. Most so-called skeptics are as dogmatic about their skepticism as are atheists in their disbelief and Christians in their belief. . . . see E. M. Cioran’s A Brief History of Decay.

  19. #19 Parker
    June 16, 2009

    “What is the meaning of life?”

    There can be many meanings. There can be a thousand answers to this question and all of them can be correct in some sense, in some level of understanding. But I don’t think there can be a single answer which can be said to be complete.

    Do we need a “meaning”? Meaning is only in our thoughts, there is no meaning outside of it. We create meanings because we think that our life should have a meaning. Everything else might be in peace without any meaning.

  20. #20 insanecarbonbasedlif
    June 29, 2009

    I ran similar thoughts through my head a couple of months ago, and came up with this thought:

    The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that “What’s the meaning of life?” is precisely the same question as “What’s the meaning of fire?”.

    (I originally posted it here) Unsuprisingly, I find I agree with your post completely.

  21. #21 Martin R
    June 29, 2009

    It’s a common misconception among children that everything is the way it is because somebody (probably Dad) intended it to be so. Part of growing up, in my opinion, is the realisation that most things are the way they are for random reasons. This applies even in many cases where some person has actually tried their damnedest to align things with some intention or other.

  22. #22 Difrint Drumr
    July 8, 2009

    The sad problem is, after more than 6,000 years of religious proliferation and enlightened scientific discovery, man remains completely incapable of unraveling the mystery of HIS OWN ORIGIN. Without a Creator, the theory of evolution infers that human life is a mere absurdity…a cold and purposeless existence totally without meaning. Yet we live on this rock, hurling though the frigid darkness of Space – with so many improbable, interconnected life sustaining systems. What if there IS a purpose? Even the slightest possibility that an intelligent Super-Entity exists places a heavy responsibility upon us all — TO KNOW FOR SURE.

  23. #23 Martin R
    July 9, 2009

    man remains completely incapable of unraveling the mystery of HIS OWN ORIGIN

    Certainly not. We evolved out of H. erectus in Africa and then spread across the planet.

    a cold and purposeless existence totally without meaning

    No, us atheists tend to lead fulfilling lives anchored by love and friendship and the simple joys of being alive.

    Even the slightest possibility that an intelligent Super-Entity exists places a heavy responsibility upon us all

    Haha, no no no.

  24. #24 Jc Webb
    July 12, 2009

    You know, I believe in God, he exists no matter what anyone else says or believes. To me it is blatantly obvious that some higher being with all power exists. What is the meaning of life? That is a question that people through all time have wondered. I will tell you because I know what it is whether you people will believe me or not, but I want you to hear this. The meaning of life is to have true lasting and eternal joy. How do you do that? It is extremely hard many times, I won’t deny that. The way you do this is to consecrate all things you do to God. People worry so much about themselves and what they want they are never truly happy no matter what they say. When you do everything out of pure love, charity for others, when you are doing all you can to live the commandments and the law the higher law that Christ established in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon Another Testament of Jesus Christ, then I promise you, you have found the meaning of life. You have found true and lasting joy. You will receive a celestial glory and be able to become like God. Another part of the reason we are here is to be tested to prove ourselves to God, that we will choose him. I love people, I am studyin to be a psychologist, and if any of you have any religious, emotional, spiritual, physical, or mental questions that read this, please email me at n_dependent@hotmail.com thank you for reading my brothers and sisters in spirit, I love you all, I say this to you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

  25. #25 Sal
    April 24, 2011

    There is no meaning in life. Nothing you do in your life will mean anything to you after you die. Life has meaning only to those lucky/cursed enough to be alive.

  26. #26 Jimmy James
    June 17, 2011

    Hmm……Saying the life is spontaneous oversimplifies things just a bit…….In has never been demonstrated that life can arise sponstaneously from non-living matter – The Miller experiment is certainly not proof

  27. #27 Martin R
    June 17, 2011

    Ockham’s razor. We have no evidence to suggest that it was anything but spontaneous. Religious texts obviously do not count as evidence.

  28. #28 CobraJitsu
    September 22, 2011

    The is no meaning to life. What is the meaning of a waterfall? What is the meaning of a bird flying? How can you give meaning to the meaningless??

  29. #29 Albert F.
    April 1, 2012

    Life = One huge scientifically brilliant miracle that we should just enjoy, we will all grow to accept death because as our body grows old our drive to live forever will be all but just a memory. I’m 20, and all I can hope for is science to figure out everlasting life by 2072, everlasting life would make us godly in a very realistic way. My mind set is “who’s to say we’re not the gods in our world.” Religion, and I come from a catholic family, is in-place for the sake of humanity. Who’s to say crime wouldn’t escalate if everyone thought like us. Many criminal minds think like we do in their own way, but they lack the respect of life, they have no fear of immediate consequence. So we need religion to just be out there for not so “out of the box” thinkers as I like to call it haha. I wonder how it must feel to see others perspective & hear their everyday thoughts. I feel as if there is no one else out there who is closer to self-truth than myself. Let’s go all out on stem cells, let’s go all out on establishing a living society on titan (in case our earth dies on us), let’s go all out on figuring out what’s REALLY inside a black hole (just for kicks haha, dare I say death penalty test dummies? let’s put their wasted lives to meaning for humanity’s sake.) IMMORTALITY = OWNING life, which would make us all god’s and not have to worry what’s on the other side of death ;)

    -Albert F. (vote for me in 2050 if you want to live forever) lol

  30. #30 TRUTH
    INDIA
    January 4, 2013

    There can’t be a GOD..not in any way…There are so many religious books and texts in the world but none of them explains why god created earth or man..what’s the purpose of our living.It’s said by doing good deeds, we can be free from birth-death cycle..but who is god to decide that and why he put us in this vicious circle.Why he created us, so that he can see us dancing like puppets….but I m sure if concept of god and religion vanishes..then people will be more cruel and inhuman than today..that’s why it’s going on and on from billions of years and will keep going like this forever.

  31. #31 Nihil sub sole novum
    April 6, 2013

    “What is the meaning of life?”
    The answer to the question, at least the objective answer; is to carry on your genes and die, as it is for any other species. Religion is created for those who are too mentally weak to come to this conclusion. (i.e; promise of an afterlife.) Any other answer or value other than the one mentioned above is a person’s subjective perspective, nothing more.

  32. #32 Brandon Edmister
    Washington
    May 18, 2013

    To the above comment~
    Any other answer other then the one you agree with is nothing more then ones subjective perspective…. How can you make a that statement, when you yourself have no idea about the “meaning of life”besides your own personnal beliefs and perspectives? Religion is a belief, just as you have come to the belief that the meaning of life is to simply reproduce. One way or the other, this does not make one “mentally weak.” There is no set meaning to life – Who is one to declare the overall meaning of anothers life? Where you go in life all depends on the choices that you make. The meaning to your life is what you make of it. This entire thread has many different viewpoints, most of it being from varying viewpoints. This one is speculative. There is no answer to the meaning of life, but that does not mean that life has no meaning. Who is to say that life doesn’t have multiple meanings? It does, because we all have different personal answers to this question…. and all of them are true, to that individual. ~

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