Class Warfare Blog

September 15, 2019

More on Meaning

In a recent post I said this: “I suggest that ‘meaning’ doesn’t really exist. Whenever someone asks ‘But what does it all mean?’ they are asking for a comforting story to wrap around events that makes them feel ‘better.’” That this opinion irked John Branyan is to its credit, I think, although I may have been too subtle; “doesn’t really exist” refers to the common understanding of the term. I offered a better definition of the term in my quote, so it “exists” to that extent.

People make good money dispensing “meanings” and I am not just referring to the religious. Our current political commentariat is riddled with people who are constantly telling us what really is going on, what this or that really “means.” We end up feeling as if we understand the political situation and thus feel more in control of our lives.

“Wishful thinking spill cleanup on Aisle 8, Please!”

As further evidence for my opinion, please consider . . . dreams. For all of human history (and I must assume the rest of human existence), people have felt and claimed that dreams “mean” something. Kings and other potentates took major actions based upon their dream interpreted meanings. An entire cottage industry, sometimes breaching over into academic psychology, was created to help people decipher the meanings of their dreams (and has done so for thousands of years).

But we have come to the realization that dream sequences are cobbled together from our very own memories. People have actually exerted some control over what occurs in their dreams (I have done this myself). Dreams seem to play a role in reinforcement of the memories we feel to be important and the pruning away of memories not thought to be important. A hypothetical process for this is for memories to be replayed in a dream and our emotional state is monitored by a subsystem. If there is a significant emotional reaction, the memory is kept, if not it is pruned. Pruning is quite important as it provides capacity for future memories. (Memory pruning has been observed as has memory reinforcement but this entire process is not fully understood as of yet. We are also aware that memories are very, very malleable and change more often than not.)

So, what do dreams mean? They mean absolutely nothing. The fact that people did and still do think they have “meaning” is evidence that “meanings” are what computer science calls “vaporware,” which is software for which there is marketing material, but there actually is no code operating.

If you want there to be meaning in your life, you need to create it. (You certainly do not want to leave this exercise to others, just as those who fear the biographies that might be written about them, often rush to get an autobiography into print.) This is a fiction writing exercise which creates a comforting story that you can wrap around the events of your life. It also has to ring “true” to your inner ear, so you can’t bullshit yourself in a major way, but minor exaggerations are always acceptable.

If the meanings most people think are real actually were real, the odds are we wouldn’t recognize them anyway. In a fit of retrospection I reviewed all of my speculations regarding why “so-and-so did what.” Somebody at work, for example, did a thing. On the way home or at home I would speculate upon why they did that thing. In reflection, I could not remember a time when my speculations were right (and I do enjoy being right so if I had been I am sure I would recall that). I was “oh-fer . . .. many” in this regard. After that, for many years, I continued to speculate as to why “so-and-so did such-and-such” and to date I have been oh-for-a-zillion, I think. I also tried to check on how good others were on determining the rationale or motivation for others’ actions and I didn’t find anyone any better at that than I was, which was abysmal. “Meanings,” as others claim them to be, seem much like reasons to me and as such are as opaque to others as I found them. This means we have no way to check whether another’s “meaning” is valid or even coherent. No fact-checking here, so I have very low expectations regarding what anyone says about the “meaning” they find in X, Y, or Z. I accept that they said something. What they believe and what is actually the case is not readily available.

 

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24 Comments »

  1. Whatever the case this experience is amazing. Bookended by two voids of the unknown, we are dropped into the experience. If we were truly eternal in nature, this would be the only experience that could possibly alleviate the eternal boredom of a collective that has all the information in the universe at its disposal, simply for a time…because right now, this moment, we don’t know. That makes it interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by jim- — September 15, 2019 @ 12:18 pm | Reply

    • And if you postulated a “good god” was in charge of this charade, wouldn’t you think it would be in its best interest for everyone to understand what it all means? Shouldn’t the meaning of life be stated explicitly, since is such a blip in the span of “eternity.” Ah but no, the attitude is “figure it out yourself, sucker” and when we do they just tell us we are wrong (it that meaning doesn’t serve their ends).

      If there is a god behind all of this it is a cruel mofo who enjoys chaos, confusion, and suffering and he must have a bet going “Watch, I will make them serve and love me … he he he he.”

      On Sun, Sep 15, 2019 at 12:19 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

      >

      Liked by 4 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 15, 2019 @ 12:44 pm | Reply

      • There is obviously no god or gods

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by maryplumbago — September 15, 2019 @ 12:47 pm | Reply

      • Well, first of all it’s just some ideas I have but believe none of it (why would it matter if I did) but in most scenarios no god is needed to make it so, unless you just like the idea.

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by jim- — September 15, 2019 @ 12:49 pm | Reply

        • Hence, I am a Freethinking Humanist Homo sapien from planet Earth!!! How can we collaborate together Jim, to make this short life better for you and yours and me and mine!? That and you MEAN a lot to me! 😉

          Like

          Comment by Professor Taboo — September 15, 2019 @ 1:57 pm | Reply

  2. Purpose and meaning…two different things..

    Purpose can be anything..reproduction, taking care of animals, inventing something, community service, being a Father, Mother, spouse, friend to someone and make a little difference in their lives. In doing these things, you give meaning to someone else, perhaps, in making their life better. But for you, it’s purpose.

    Meaning is more personal and allusive…and overall meaning of the universe, I suspect is nothing really.

    Meaning is derived more from nature, love, a sense of oneness with the universe and the feelings those give you. It’s more of an emotional thing.

    Liked by 3 people

    Comment by maryplumbago — September 15, 2019 @ 12:46 pm | Reply

    • Good point. Meaning and purpose are not the same thing and sorting things out can be useful. Or maybe purpose, on the physical level, could also be described as ‘role.’ Yeah? Also, maybe mean is simple [0].

      Like

      Comment by bootstrapKate — September 15, 2019 @ 5:23 pm | Reply

  3. Re ” It’s more of an emotional thing.” It is more of a fictitious thing is my point. The everyday understanding of “meaning” doesn’t seem to match the dictionary definition and seems to invite wishful thinking responses.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Steve Ruis — September 15, 2019 @ 12:58 pm | Reply

  4. John Branyan hasn’t ever been “irked” by any of your articles. To the contrary, I’ve found your writing to be quite persuasive. You’ve changed my mind.
    I am convinced me that there’s no meaning or purpose in anything you’ve ever done. Your life is meaningless.

    Like

    Comment by John Branyan — September 15, 2019 @ 1:12 pm | Reply

    • Oh man. You’re “mean.” 🔄 He, He.

      Like

      Comment by bootstrapKate — September 15, 2019 @ 5:27 pm | Reply

    • Finally, you speak some sense. How about your life? Does your life have meaning? Maybe to spread joy by telling jokes? If so, what is it?

      On Sun, Sep 15, 2019 at 1:12 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

      >

      Like

      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 16, 2019 @ 9:14 am | Reply

      • Your suggestion that life is without meaning is correct if Atheism is true. Life’s meaning is reduced to “what we do while we’re alive”. When we stop being alive, meaning vanishes.

        Spreading joy by telling jokes is not what gives my life meaning. The meaning of my life goes way beyond my mortal activities. My meaning extends into eternity, past my life on Earth. The book of Micah gives a decent summary of mankind’s purpose: “Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God.”

        Like

        Comment by John Branyan — September 16, 2019 @ 10:42 am | Reply

        • Ah, I see. Since I assume that you, like the rest of us remembers nothing of the time before you were born, you are betting on being able to express your life’s meaning after you die. Have you ever considered ‘What if you are wrong?” I tend to think that after I die it will be much like it was before I was born … blessed nothingness. My atoms will be recycled to become parts of pants and other animals or, maybe just the soil. In that I don’t see any “meaning” other than that’s the way the ball bounces in this universe: get recycled over and over and over. (Cycles and recycles are very prominent in what you call your god’s creation.)

          On Mon, Sep 16, 2019 at 10:42 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

          >

          Like

          Comment by Steve Ruis — September 16, 2019 @ 11:23 am | Reply

          • Yes. I consider the possibility that I could be wrong every time I make a statement. That’s the reason other points of view are important.

            Do you realize that your materialist doctrine fills young people with despair and leads them to suicide? Do you see that as meaningful?

            Like

            Comment by John Branyan — September 16, 2019 @ 11:38 am | Reply

            • You make some very wild claims. Can you back them up? Or are you just passing them through from other makers of wild claims?

              And are you claiming that an hypothetical afterlife is worth teaching because to saves lives?

              On Mon, Sep 16, 2019 at 11:38 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

              >

              Like

              Comment by Steve Ruis — September 16, 2019 @ 11:57 am | Reply

              • I do not need to back up the claim that a meaningless life leads people to despair. That is uncontroversial.

                Suicide is completely rational when one is convinced that life is meaningless. It’s a return to “blessed nothingness”. Are you squeamish about that for some reason?

                Like

                Comment by John Branyan — September 16, 2019 @ 12:12 pm | Reply

                • Re “I do not need to back up the claim that a meaningless life leads people to despair. That is uncontroversial.” It is controversial right here, right now. And you didn’t say despair, you said suicide. Post up some numbers god-boy or retract your claim. The “everybody knows” argument doesn’t hack it when such nonsense if being preached from pulpits weekly.

                  Here is what Wikipedia has to say about suicide risk factors:

                  “Factors that affect the risk of suicide include mental disorders, drug misuse, psychological states, cultural, family and social situations, genetics, and experiences of trauma or loss.[43] [44] [12] Mental disorders and substance misuse frequently co-exist.[45] Other risk factors include having previously attempted suicide,[16] the ready availability of a means to take one’s life, a family history of suicide, or the presence of traumatic brain injury .[46] For example, suicide rates have been found to be greater in households with firearms than those without them.[47]

                  “Socio-economic problems such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and discrimination may trigger suicidal thoughts.[48] [49] Suicide might be rarer in societies with high social cohesion and moral objections against suicide.[29] About 15–40% of people leave a suicide note .[50] War veterans have a higher risk of suicide due in part to higher rates of mental illness such as post traumatic stress disorder and physical health problems related to war.[51] Genetics appears to account for between 38% and 55% of suicidal behaviors.[52] Suicides may also occur as a local cluster of cases.[53] ”

                  They don’t seem to mention “the meaningless of life because of materialism” as a significant risk factor. And neither do any of the half dozen suicide organizations I checked.

                  On Mon, Sep 16, 2019 at 12:12 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

                  >

                  Like

                  Comment by Steve Ruis — September 17, 2019 @ 9:33 am | Reply

                  • If I asked you to cite another source to substantiate every line in your article word for word, you would rightly tell me to take a hike. A grown-up person (who used to be a teacher no less) should be able to piece together the implications of his philosophical proclamations.

                    What do you suppose professional counselors tell people contemplating suicide? Do you think they say, “Well, life is meaningless. What you do doesn’t matter.”

                    As I’ve tried to tell you many times before, even YOU DON’T BELIEVE LIFE IS MEANINGLESS. If you did, you would stop blogging about it because BLOGGING IS MEANINGLESS. It is astounding that a ‘philosophy buff’ such as yourself is blind to the glaring contradiction staring you in the face. You are a hypocrite. Your message is harmful to anyone who isn’t hypocritical.

                    Anyone who actually believes what you’re saying is true, will kill themselves. If you need Wikipedia to tell you that you’re not much of a thinker.

                    Like

                    Comment by John Branyan — September 17, 2019 @ 10:37 am | Reply

  5. Ah…the kindness of the Christian mind…

    Like

    Comment by maryplumbago — September 15, 2019 @ 1:29 pm | Reply

    • “I suggest that ‘meaning’ doesn’t really exist. Whenever someone asks ‘But what does it all mean?’ they are asking for a comforting story to wrap around events that makes them feel ‘better.” – Steve Ruis

      Steve is the one insisting his life is meaningless, not me. If that seems ‘unkind’, talk to him.

      Like

      Comment by John Branyan — September 15, 2019 @ 2:33 pm | Reply

  6. Wow. Goodness Steve! My own TWO meanings in life just took a MAJOR beating from you! Hahahaha! 😉 However, one took it harder than the other. “Two meanings” you ask? 🤔

    My own meaning about me is one. This one, my ego, I strive to keep healthy, balanced, and always adapting, learning, and evolving to maintain self-esteem, self-confidence. Sometimes a bit too much, sometimes lacking. 😉

    The other “meaning(s)” are those I receive externally from others. And with this one there are infinitely sub-meanings from those nearest, closest to me that have a value, the highest of value to me than say an acquaintance or long lost classmate from high school or teammate from college.

    No matter what, I feel/think you can NEVER have one without the other. Their relationship thrives off of each other. Does that make sense?

    Great post by the way. You really had my introspection and extrospection brains going with this! 😁

    Like

    Comment by Professor Taboo — September 15, 2019 @ 1:50 pm | Reply

  7. Consider this as whatever you want to make of it: “Mean” as a mathematical term; or average.

    So that: as an example – in our universe, mean [0] being where the four (weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force, gravity, electromagnetism) aspects balance; ours balances with just a wee bit more than less gravity for instance; as apposed to a possible other universe with a lot more than less gravity. Ditto on the other collective forces.

    Or possibly this?
    Mean is the beginning; only beginning doesn’t come in at an angle – it comes in from without, or out from within – wherever within or without is. Or maybe within and without are the same moment – time/space coordinates.
    So maybe the question isn’t so much what mean means, as what mean is.
    I think of two quotes:

    “Wherever you go, there you are.” ~ Unknown

    “All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.” ~ Joseph Campbell

    Agreed on many of the other statements you made (this new Internet razzle dazzle for instance really wearing thin);

    and like: if you’re searching for meaning: you already missed the point.

    Thanks, liked your post.

    Like

    Comment by bootstrapKate — September 15, 2019 @ 5:09 pm | Reply

  8. This post should be obligatory reading. Preferably in mid adolescence which is the point at which it’s incredibly important.

    Like

    Comment by The Pink Agendist — September 16, 2019 @ 10:07 am | Reply


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