The Meaning of Life
The other day I was struck by the notion that I should blog on the meaning of life. Exactly why I am not sure since I usually don't think about it unless forced. The reason for that is probably that what I hear from others is some jazzed up religious nonsense. I suppose the fact that I am having a hip replacement surgery on Super Tuesday might have been the reason. How do you avoid thinking about death when you go into surgery? And contemplating one's death morphs quite naturally into a consideration of what life is about.
The question, "What is the meaning of life?" is not normally answered in empirical terms. The same is true of the question, "What is the meaning of death?" I Googled the phrase "the meaning of death" and got Death is the irredeemable loss of consciousness. This is an empirical fact but is not the sort of answer we are looking for. A site interested in the scientific and philosophic understandings of the meaning of death offered
-Death is an enfeebled form of lifeI confess that I don't have a clue what any of these things mean.
-Death is a continuation of life
-Death is perpetual development
-Death is waiting
One thing you do not find in discussions of the meaning of life or death on the internet is an explicit characterization of what the writers mean by "meaning." This is an important omission. If you have read my blog, The Meaning of Meaning, you know that the word "meaning" has a number of senses (i. e. meanings). The one of interest to us here is "significance." When you ask "What is the significance of life?" and "What is the significance of death?" you will, I think, be lead to think about different things than if you think about the meanings of life and death and your thinking will, I believe, be a bit more productive.
When I used Ask.com to search for entries matching the search expression "meaning of life," I got a book (What Its All About?, the title of which is ungrammatical for there is no way that a construction like that can be interpreted as a question. Not surprisingly, this book takes up religious topics. There are explicitly religious urls (Meaning of Life Ministry) and (Life's Greatest Question?), which is also ungrammatical unless the author means to question whether or not some unidentified other question is the greatest question. The third result (Soon you will understand .... the meaning of Life) is sort of fun. It gives a "divine recollection" Talmudic approach. It starts off saying
The Talmud teaches:Plato famously took the view that acquiring knowledge consisted of Divine Recollection or Illumination.
Just before a baby is born,
an angel shows it everything there is to know
and learn on Earth.
Then at the moment of birth,
the angel touches the infant’s upper lip,
and the child forgets everything.
We spend the rest of our lives
remembering what the angel showed us.
Religious views of the meaning or significance of life are just too easy for they are necessarily supernatural in nature and no one can say anything supernatural that can be proved. However there is another approach to the question of what life means (what is the significance of life) that is empirical and rings true to me. My last philosophy paper at Rice University was on Martin Heidegger's concept that humans (Dasein) are a throwness (into being) toward death (Geworfenheit zum Tod). I struggled with this paper to the point that I called the professor and said I was totally stuck and he said to just cut and paste what I had typed and turn that in. Everything would be fine he intimated. Instead, I had an epiphany as to what Heidegger meant and knocked out 12 pages, wadding up just one (which is what I did when I was blocked or stuck) in the process. There were times I could fill a room with wadded up paper.
The thesis that man is a throwness into being toward death needs no sophisticated exegesis. We normally have no recollection of our earliest years. At some point we come to be aware of ourselves. I don't remember that event and I doubt that you do either. We just find ourselves here. And we find that we and all that is around us is in motion. We grow. We do things. We are going forward as beings in the world. At some point we realize that where we are headed is toward death.
When we are young, the fact that we are headed toward death usually has no significance. However, as we mature (I think some never do mature) we come to realize that our time on earth is limited. If we are women we know we have this biological clock that ticks off the hours until one cannot conceive children. But any of us who are trying to accomplish something are to some degree I think, hurried up in this process by the certain knowledge we will die.
I was sure that I would never make it to retirement since I was a boozer and smoker and was overweight. I quit the first two -- easily as it turns out -- and from time to time would reduce my weight. I am now 69 and know that my time is limited. Now that I have a granddaughter I seem to be focused on maximizing my time with her. I love sports, especially Ohio State sports, and there are championships to be won and I want to experience as many of those as I can. I want to see as many great movies as I can. I want to be with my wife and daughter and son-in-law as long as possible. And I want to see a Democratic President and Congress straightening out the colossal disaster that has been visited on the country by Bushilla. Something impelled me to blog. It was guilt I think. It was due to my realization that I was wasting my time, the limited time I have before I die.
The unassailable fact is that we are here without having asked to be here and having no clear recollection of when or how we got here though we are told about the birds and the bees at some point. And we know we will die. This is a general answer but that is the best one can do. However, each of our lives can come to have meaning (significance) as a function of what we do while we are here. The meaning of your life consists entirely of what you make of it.