Tom Caylor writes:
Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> Tom Caylor writes (quoting Bruno Marchal):
> > > > My whole argument is that without it our hope eventually runs out and
> > > > we are left with despair, unless we lie to ourselves against the
> > > > absence of hope.
> > > Here Stathis already give a genuine comment. You are just admitting
> > > your argument is "wishful thinking".
> > I was being too poetic ;) By "despair" I meant nihilism, the belief
> > that there ultimately is no meaning. I am arguing that the ultimate
> > source of meaning has to be personal. I'm just saything that my
> > argument is of the form, "If meaning is not ultimately based on the
> > personal God, then there is no true meaning, because..."
> I realised when I was about 12 or 13 years old that there could not be any
> ultimate meaning. I was very pleased and excited with this discovery, and ran
> around trying to explain it to people (mostly drawing blank looks, as I
> It seemed to me just another interesting fact about the world, like
> historical facts. It inspired me to start reading philosophy, looking up
> "nihilism" in the local library. It also encouraged me to question rules,
> moral edicts handed down with no justification other than tradition or
> where these were in conflict with my own developing value system. Overall, I
> think the realisation that there was no ultimate meaning was one of the more
> positive experiences in my life. But even if it hadn't been, and threw me
> deep depression, does that have any bearing on whether or not it is true?
> Stathis Papaioannou
It's interesting that in my observations quite a lot of people have an
eye-opening experience around the age of 12 regarding the meaning of
life. Perhaps it has to do with entering puberty and forming our own
sense of purpose. I guess you might know something about this from
your background, Stathis. For me it was when I was eleven, I think
triggered by starting to go to a boarding school and living away from
my parents. One night I had this overwhelming sense of God's presence,
a sense of ultimate love surround me and reassure me that everything
was going to be all right. And I felt a deep sense of gratitude just
for being alive. It was a strict boarding school (religious!), and
there was a real sense of competition, but when my mom asked me in a
letter how I was doing, I said, "I'm just fine, as long as they don't
cut my head off!" Anyway, from then on I felt "centered", or at least
I had a "center" that I could go back to, because I knew that I was
loved by the One from whom Everything/Everyone comes from.
My view of this is that we form our view of meaning as a process of
thought about whatever resources we have. For instance, someone could
look around them at the options for defining meaning, and choose not to
base their meaning on any so-called "ultimate" source. However, this
general process in an of itself doesn't seem to actually prove one way
or other that a particular basis of meaning is the "real" basis of
meaning, if such a thing actually exists.
How does this relate to the Everything List? That's a good question,
and is one of the questions I want to pose on this thread. Does the
Everything idea, or discussions at the Everything "level" have anything
to do with the meaning of life? Does it shed any light on the meaning
of life, or meaning in general; or vice versa: does the meaning of
life, or one's view of meaning, have any significant effect on the
Everything issues, and if so how?
Certainly in the view of many big thinkers, the meaning of life is the
central question of philosophy, and it seems that philosophy has a
central bearing on the topic of this List. For example Albert Camus,
in his The Myth of Sisyphus says:
"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is
suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to
answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the
rest--whether the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine
categories or twelve categories--come afterward. These are games; one
must first answer... If I ask myself how to judge that this question
is more urgent than that, I reply that one judges by the actions it
entails. I have never seen anyone die for the ontological argument
[for the existence of a god]. Galileo, who held a scientific truth of
great importance, abjured it with the greatest of ease as soon as it
endangered his life. In a certain sense he did right. That truth was
not worth the stake. Whether the earth or the sun revolved around the
other is a matter of profound indifference. To tell the truth, it is a
futile question. On the other hand, I see many people die because they
judge that life is not worth living. I see others paradoxically
getting killed for the ideas or illusions that give them a reason for
living (what is called a reason for living is also an excellent reason
for dying). I therefore conclude that the meaning of life is the most
urgent of questions."
Of course: questions of personal meaning are not scientific questions. Physics
may show you how to build a nuclear bomb, but it won't tell you whether you
should use it.
Besides the question of how meaning relates to this List, the question
of meaning itself can be asked at several different levels, so I'll
list a few:
1) Why does the universe exist? Why is there something rather than
2) Why do human beings in general exist?
3) Why do I exist?
These questions can be answered at the level of explanation and description
(i.e. scientifically) rather than at the level of meaning, i.e. I exist because my
parents met, humans exist because they evolved naturally, etc. The point I
have been arguing in recent weeks is, and perhaps here we are in agreement,
science cannot create values and personal meaning. On the one hand my will
to live is easily explained as something programmed into me by evolutionary
processes; on the other hand, what it feels like from the inside, the sense of its
importance to me can only be understood by *being* a person. This is the irreducible
quality of first person experience: consciousness is what is left when what can
possibly be known by observing an entity is subtracted from what can possibly be
known by being that entity.
Where I think I disagree with you is that you seem to want to reduce the irreducible
and make values and personal meaning real world objects, albeit not of the kind that
can be detected by scientific instruments, perhaps issued by God. But in proposing
this you are swapping one irreducible entity extremely well-grounded in empirical
evidence (I know I'm conscious, and I know that when my brain stops so does my
consciousness) for another irreducible entity with no grounding in empirical evidence
The purpose of listing these three questions is not to deal with all of
them on this thread necessarily, but to show that the question of the
meaning of life really is connected to the universal questions that
this list tries to address. One's answer to any one of these questions
can affect his/her answer to the other questions.
It seems that we all have to eventually come to the question of the end
of our lives. (Even if immortality, quantum or other kinds, is a
reality, the question of the end of our lives is a topic addressed even
on this List.) So as one man on United Flight 93 said before giving
his life to save others, "Let's roll!"
"You ask me about the meaning of life? Good Lord, I don't even know my
way around Chinatown!" - Woody Allen
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