The Meaning Of Life
So many times do we hear the term, "The Meaning of Life". Be it in a jocular, serious or casual tone, its always perceived as somewhat of an unattainable perfection, but what is it really? Is it as unattaiable as it is believed? I have decided to write about the meaning of life, an ever-reccurent topic that has troubled humanity since millennias, one might even say, since the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, the wise man, as a species on Earth.
As one might well perceive, the subject itself is not only intellectually demanding(and very likely impossible in realisation), but also incredibly wide in its scope, for there is no single meaning of life, or should I say, there is a variety of kinds of meanings of life. For centuries the term has been used in so many instances and meanings that the meaning of "The Meaning of Life" in itself has become a source of confused perplexation among humanity. With that in view, it becomes obvious that prior to any attempts of explanation or contemplation of these meanings, the major varieties of the phrase among humanity must be outlined for more clearer understanding of the subject. One simply cannot discuss on any subject unless it is clear what the subject really is. For centuries the phrase has been uttered by poets, artists, philosopher and scientists alike and none really ventured to clarify on what it was that they really meant. This created a lot of confusion and today we must cope with the gigantic mess of superfluous confusion and chaos that the previous generations so carelessly prepared for us, the people of the XXI century.
Before venturing to distinguish the respective meanings of life that exist in the universe, it is wise, however, to determine, yet another, even greater, confusion, what life really is. For centuries the term has always been somewhat controversial, vague and all efforts to fully define what life is, what are the conditions of existence thereof have either resulted in utter failure, reaching no definite conclusion, or in even worse a failure, that is actually reaching certain conclusions. The latter being the worse since life is so broad a term that indeed all endevours to define it in a strict and closed definition must, by right of logic, reach no reasonable conclusion. Therefore it is mere idleness to claim one knows what life is, life takes as many meanings as there are people in the world, it is relative and any claims regarding its exact definition must be viewed as incongruous and immediately corrected. In order to prove the aforementioned, that is, that life is so inexplicably and indeed limitlessly complex in the broadness of the definition I shall give but a few examples of how life may be interpreted. For instance, the characteristics of life as viewed by a biologist are thus:
1) Living things need to take in energy
3) Living things grow and develop
4) Living things respond to their environment
5) Living things reproduce and pass their traits onto their offspring
6) Over time, living things evolve (change slowly) in response to their environment
Now if one were to take a survey and ask the participants whether they agreed with these, some 80% or so would
probably respond positively. This is because most of us perceive life, unconsciously, as something that walks, breathes and reproduces. Moreover, without further reflection most of us directly connect life to animals of all sorts, bacterias and otherwise "living" creatures. The more clever ones will venture to say that apart from the fauna the flora is also alive. And it would seem, at that point, that we have a very precise and concise and irrefutable definition of life. Indeed, it would so seem. But if you look further you might notice that we use the word life in more than one form. We can connect it with various other words to form such conjunctions as "city life", "social life" and so on. Therefore we already have two general meanings of life: the breathing organic type of life, and the more abstract construct where life is a somewhat intelligent, ever-evolving machinery(not strictly in the mechanical terms). True, a society meets a lot of the aforementioned requirements but not all. Indeed it does grow and develop, it may respond to the environment( that is under the pressure of other societies) and may indeed evolve. But we can hardly say that it requires energy to exist or that it needs to get rid of waste( its respective parts do indeed, but as a whole it has no such need). So you may easily now see that there is yet no definition of life as such and there could never reasonably be since the term life is a peculiar word, it has multiple meanings and is actually of its own completely useless and meaningless. On the other hand, when competently used in context it can take a whole plethora of meanings.
But let us take that from now on by life I will mean the biological existence of a living creature. Even when we narrow down the actual meaning there are is still yet some confusion to be dispersed. For life can have meaning external and meaning internal. That is, it can have meaning for the environment as well as for the actual life itself. Of the first I shall speak no further and proceed to the latter, more interesting for most of the audience I gather. Now comes the real argument, what is the point of living for any creature that humanity has so far come to observe, what is indeed the point of existence, the meaning of life. The views on this have are plentiful. Aristotle believed that the meaning of life is to pursue happiness and to this we can hardly object, it is the chief point of our lives to be happy and all that follows are just means of achieving satisfaction and thus, happiness.
Indeed the Indians shared the view and further extended it, saying that only on Earth can a man find salvation but the ways of achieving it are as many as there are people living on the Earth. This way they oppose all notions of religious martyrdom and took a very empiricist view of the meaning of life. One will see that all we do in life is purely egoistic and serves only to bring us happiness. It doesn't matter whether we directly indulge in various amusements or rather pleasure ourselves indirectly, by following various rules such as morality and/or religion. Its all there to make us happy or satisfied. We don't do this consciously, but even when we aid someone in need and commit good deeds, all this are just more elaborate ways of pleasing our selves. This is a notion that few find themselves able to cope with and unrightly so because understanding that morality is just a more elaborate way of achieving happiness is a crucial step in leaping for the ultimate freedom. There is of course a diffirence between sensless morality and Kholberg's last stage of moral reasoning. The latter, as the name suggests, is following certain moral rules using our own common sense and with a purpose while the first is entirely subconscious and thus, senseless. I believe William James' words emphasise the matter most profoundly:
"Moral questions immediately present themselves as questions whose solution cannot wait for sensible proof. A moral question is a question not of what sensibly exists, but of what is good, or would be good if it did exist. [...] "
One can see that unless we break of the chains of the subonscious, liberating our Egos from our own selves, there is no point in trying to liberate oneself from external chains. Of course freedom is not the only means of happiness and, yet again refering to the Indians' beliefs, it can even have quite the opposite effect on those who are not ready for such a burden, it can bring an individual from his or her sweet sleep of ignorance into an abysmal caveat of perdition, it can actually deter the individual from his way of achieving salvation. It is of course, I speak of this as a sidenote, crucial that humanity as a species should aim towards achieving this sort of freedom, this highest form of moral reasoning. While small individuals have their own ways, humanity as a general cannot govern itself by rules of morality. To refer to Nietsche's work, an indiviudual can choose his or her own philosophy and follow such moral rules as he pleases, but humanity as one gigantic construct, the abstract form of life that I have mentioned, must always direct itself by the notions of good and bad, never good and evil, lest it does not notice when the evil becomes good and the good becomes bad.
But one could go further and say that the meaning of life is that which brings happiness, that is, the means of achieving a relatively constant state of happiness. This too would seem sensible. It is, however, when mistaken or misunderstood, a major factor to numerous conflicts. For instance, various religions take it that the meaning of life is what makes them happy and content, following their own doctrine. This would be fine, its when these people turn to think that what brings them happiness must unanimously bring happiness to all humanity, that things begin to complicate. Christianity, for instance, finds meaning of life in praising god and serving their lord, that is what makes them happy and thus, by their logic, everyone must participate in their pursue of happiness. As a result of this mentality, spreading Christianity by means of violence and, very often, global warfare, was far too often excercised with the fullest peace of conscience so granted by this fallacious reasoning. There are more similar cases, the prosecution of sexual deviants for instance. Heterosexuals find happiness in what they are and go forth to reason that homosexuals, for the instance, cannot and will not find it possible to enjoy their sexual life as much as heterosexuals. It follows only natural that homosexuality is considered as something negative, contagious even and all efforts are made to push any signs of such abnormal sexuality to the very margin of society. Hitler used this kind of inclination in humans to gain support of his fellow Germans and, subsequently, to nearly wipe all sexual, racial and religious deviants(from Germany's point of view) from the surface of the Earth. As history has shown, this kind of ignorance can even bring more or as much chaos and suffering as the most deadly weapons of warfare so far devised by humanity.
Thus far it seems that any single individual has a meaning of life of his own and his only way of salvation. There is, however, a certain factor which leads us to doubt the sensibility of this assertion, the notion of death. We all have our own ways of pleasing ourselves, but when concsious of the notion, all these pleasures are entirely and inavoidably eclipsed by it. In order to regain the access to all those pleasures that we so highly treasure, we can do but two things, eclipse death as it has once eclipsed all other notions, or make it no longer as foreboding, as insidiously treacherous as it is now. These ways are only and invariable, unanimous throughout all humanity. Having reached this conclusion one can reason that the pursuit of happiness is a two-step process. First one must eliminate or neutralize the notion of death, then and only then can one proceed to follow one's own, one of a kind way of salvation that the Indians so avidly cherished.
While the latter part is quite clear, or should I say inevitably unclear and indeed something to be dealt with one's own and within rather than without, the first step is something to discuss. We can either make death disappear, by eliminating it from our nature or make it not as threatening as it used to be. As far as the eliminating is concerned, this is basically seeking to achieve immortality, a notion not entirely inplausible but certainly too abstract to speak of in these times. We can, however, make it less foreboding. To this there is one obvious way, that is the usage of various opium so as to either vulgarise the notion or simply forsake its existence. This course of action, however simple, is unadvisable since it involves a sort of psychological lobotomy. The process, here, is not so irreversible, but does indeed involve abandoning the way of reason, a horrible and unforgivable mistake when there is an alternative.
Having discarded any opium that might have otherwise proven useful in neutralising the notion, humans most often reach, a somewhat hasty, conclusion that life is indeed meaningless and vain. Many suicides took place on the behalf of such conclusions, and as my further assertions will show, those lives were vanquished quite needlessly and unreasonably.
Someone will say that humans should enjoy whatever life it has left, but it is a fallacious conclusion. We, humanity, have come into the possession of intellect and with it in the ability to predict. This is both a great blessing and a dismal curse, for, while it can aid us in life, it can also render it pointless. With this trait of predicting comes a very specific way of perceiving one's existence, we begin not only to evaluate our existence by the factors of the present but also by the factors of the future. One may look upon the myths of Ancient Greece for a good example of the chaos this perception can stir in a human being. In the tales of Oedipus, the mythical Greek King of Greece, King Laius is told that his son will one day kill the King. The king, so perplexed by the prospect of his death, commands that his son, Oedipus, be drowned in the river. In the end, however, Oedipus escapes the hands of Death and grows as an outlaw to one day, not knowing that the King is his father, murders Laius in a quarrel. This ancient myth serves as a perfect methaphor for the two-sided nature of this attribute of our's. So, backtracing to the topic at hand, when a human perceives impending death within the abysses of future his own existence is automatically rendered futile. What is present happiness compared to an eternity of non-entity? Yes, one could enjoy those few dozens of years but when one is conscious of the grim future, it is almost impossible without the help of opium to help us forget about what is yet to come. So that is our curse, we cannot normally enjoy the present without a sense of some future awaiting for us, without a time-cross sense of existence.
However there is a bright side to the matter. So far we have believed that after clinical death comes an inevitable state of non-entity. But it is, while very likely, only a supposition. We cannot logically assume that what we may call as our biological life is all that exists. Yes it is very likely, but there is no way to be certain, and paradoxically only death can give that kind of (dis)satisfaction. The fallacy of the assertion that biological death is followed by the death of our consciousness lies in the very nature of human consciousness, it is by logic unknown. From our bodies to our minds, all is suspectible to analysis, all but for consciousness, which is the very core and nature of our existence and which in itself holds the keys to the mystery of life. As far as we are concerned all that we call reality can be mere delusion, we cannot say if our consciousness of this reality isn't merely a fraction of a much greater, ultimate human consciousness that we have no physical ability of knowing in terms of our world without breaking free of its rules and thus abandoning our bodies and venturing upon the journey of death. Clinical death is a giantic curtain made of steel and only the dead can pass. I do not, of course, imply that there must be some haven outside of our Earthly existence. It can be anything at all, any kind of existence that we simply are unable to discover. Consider the notion of dream. When you dream, you are confident that when you die in that state of existence, for a dream is a form of existence on its own, you will die completely. But then you wake up, cold with perspiration and realise the ineptness of your former assumptions. We may very well be living a kind of dream, unaware of it but sometimes considering the possibility of it. To quote Shakespeare:
"We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep…"
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Now I shall come to the actual meaning of life. What is it you ask? My anwser is thus: in our present predicament we, humanity, cannot logically and within the boundaries of reason come to know the actual meaning of life. However, human life is always worth living because there is a chance that after death there awaits for us an extension of the former existence, that there is indeed some manner of life after death. We cannot be confident whether or not life is pointless and while that knowledge alone doesn't give our life on Earth any concrete meaning, it prevents them from becoming pointless. Unnerving though it may be, this time uncertainty comes to aid human kind. The true, ultimate anwser? Human kind may well never find it, within millenias from now, when humanity will have gained knowledge of all the mysteries of the universe, one mystery will still remain unraveled- the mystery of the meaning of life.