Life and Meaning

15 01 2009

Daniel Dennett‘s response to the question, ” what is the meaning of life?” is this:

“The secret of happiness is to find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.”

Some less than savoury people (JT and Lopez, in particular) have asked me what my philosophy of life is.  I’ve kept this view since high school, because I’ve yet to find something better. Dennett’s answer is quite good, but lacks the whole “personal journey” aspect of life.

My answer is to live up to the compliments given to you. Most compliments given out seem overblown, and said more for civility than description.  In high school I was told by a school mate that I was noble.  After thinking about this, I came to the conclusion that this had to be wrong. How could I be noble? What does noble mean? Instead of leaving it at that – instead of leaving it as some fuzzy description of me by one of my friends (which I did not agree with) I thought that this would be a good goal to define and reach. I would eventually like to be noble. Since then I’ve collected a few other compliments that I’d love to have describe me accurately, such as “nice” and “smart”.

Oh, and the best definition of “noble” that I’ve come accross is this: living in such a way that most people respect but will not commit to themselves.

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3 responses

29 01 2009
lopez

This is a lovely life-principle. I have no criticism. That said — it is entirely idiosyncratic (something i think GerBear would readily agree to) … this is not a ‘given’, or universal, axiom, but merely a seemingly-appropriate axiom for the enigma wrapped in a paradox wrapped in a enigma that is GerBear.

Like many, i’d been struggling with this q (how to derive ‘ought’ from ‘is’) for years. Somewhat recently, i stumbled upon something which, it seems, happens to work quite well. It turns out similar schemas have been around in ‘mystic’ [i cringe at this term], esoteric religious traditions since time immemorial; so, accordingly, i lay no claim to it.

Essentially, begin by stripping away all assumptions, regardless of whether they seem true or not. This is in the spirit of pure logic; the ultimate rationalist approach to reality.

What you are left with, if you cross the rubicon of Descarte’s assumption of individual existence (i think therefore i am, etc.) … is, well, nothing!! No assumptions at all leads to a kind of metaphysical nihilism; emptiness; non-existence… nothing… 0 …(this might resonate with those familiar with Buddhist scriptiure) …

…now, how helpful is that for functioning in the world? Not very.

Ok, so let’s make the *next* simplest assumption…

…something… ‘existence’ … ‘everything/time/place/space,’ etc. … 1 … ‘the axiom’ … |reality| (note the similarity to the 1/0 binary system used in technology … its essentially choosing 1 over 0… this is a belief–an assumption… trust in existence, |reality|, |truth|)

…stop here! yes, stop!!

…Now, if you keep to this–|truth|–as the most ‘real’ assumption possible, how should you then act?

This worldview implies that our subjective experiences are merely miniscule, inherently ‘imperfect’ or ‘incomplete’ subsets of our primary axiom (i.e. 1, |reality|, |truth|…the set of all sets, etc.).

What we view as in our own individual interest, therefore, is most apparent to us, and we should not ignore it. But in terms of how we behave in a social context, it then follows we should try to imagine what others’ (social groups, humans, animals, etc.) ‘view’ as in their own interest , and act accordingly… if our actions are related to something more abstract, with less perceived ‘agency,’ like a landscape, or population of a given species, etc., we have to really exercise our moral imagination and act according to what *we* think is in our objects’ best interest … this, of course, has to be weighed with the interests of everyone/thing else of which we’re aware!!

That’s pretty much it.

Sounds simplisitic at first, but as you can see, the implications get quite complex, as we must constantly apply this principle to all the temporal and spatial contexts of our everyday lives.

This, in my opinion, is where religions (or personal philosophies, such as GerBear’s) have key roles to play … they’re basically heuristics for applying this rather daunting principle to the exigencies of day-to-day banality.

Along the same logic, certain religions/philosophies emerge, and catch on, in certain temporal-historical contexts.

A problem with this is that contexts continue to change… all these heuristics are only *relatively* true/helpful insofar as they are products of their time and place.

E.g. stoning adulturers to death may well have been the necessary execution of our |reality| in the socio-historical context of ancient Canaan. Today, obviously, this is no longer the case. Similarly, 1000 years from now our present-day norms may well appear ‘barbaric’ or ‘backwards’ … this is normal.. with respect to our axiom (|reality|), it is apparent that we live in a contingent, incomplete world (a factor, i postulate, of our perception of time as linear..but who knows)… change is a constant from our limited human perception (although rate of change is also subject to change) …

Where problems arise is when people mistake the temporally-contextually specific heuristics for the axiom they aim to approximate.

…anyway, these are just some thoughts on my inherently imperfect, incomplete heuristic for deriving the ‘ought’ from ‘is’ ; )

29 01 2009
Life, Meaning and |truth| « via ecobobble « halewistan | هلويستان | הלויסטן

[…] Meaning and |truth| « via ecobobble Jump to Comments On another blog i contribute to–ecobobble–i recently replied to a co-author re: the ‘meaning of life’ … Here’s […]

29 01 2009
GerBear

The moment you act in the world you’ve already moved beyond a single assumption.

I don’t see how what you say follows the initial assumption anyway.

It’s a nice attempt at justification for moral behaviour, but I have yet to see one that is really consistent (mostly because of the “is-ought” conundrum). I believe that such an explanation doesn’t actually exist, but that’s ok.

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