An Inexpert View… On The Big Question
What is the meaning of what is the meaning of life?
Yes, you read that correctly - it’s not a typo - we are examining that philosophical classic. It feels like these days no one asks the question anymore. I don’t know for sure, it seems like such a twentieth century quest1. Like in current times everyone just distracts and ignores the issue. Well that is one way to tackle it. But it’s a bit of a head-in-the-sand approach.
Let us pick up and twist in the light this cliché of conundrums - not the meaning of life itself, but what does it even mean to ask that?
The first implication in making the enquiry is that life has or should have ‘meaning’. Which if you take human existence to be one of an animal who can talk in detail and about something out of sight either spatially or temporally, is a null and void search. We do exist, in common language that is something fairly safe to agree on. But on a plain, evolved organism level all we can say is that we have a desire to survive to reproduce. Perhaps that is meaning enough for some.
So why has it been a topic for discussion this passed century?
And what would count as a satisfactory answer?
The latter has quite a straightforward response: everything and nothing. The emptiness of solution thus further undermines the exercise. Not having any idea of what would consitute a satisfactory answer severely limits the validity of the question. Something that was famously satirised by the Writer Douglas Adams in a super-computer giving the answer “42”. The computer in the story was then re-assigned to the task of explaining what 42 meant. Their other option would have been in the other direction to ask what the interlocutor meant by the first task…
The obvious answer to why why - that is, why introspect, why ask? - is that the mechanisation and abstraction of human lives took us one or more steps from simply needing to ensure food on the table, a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and so on. The countless distraction and endless dopamine trail we have created for ourselves has since reduced us back down to a feeder, a direct ceaseless consumer of data, head down nose in the bag, endlessly grazing, scrolling, and never staring blankly into space. For what it’s worth, we have ‘closed the loop’ again and can subsist in a hand to mouth way once more. An immediate counter-argument to this would be that humankind has always searched for explanations and reasons why, along the way invoking all manner of deities, myths and legends. One believes there is a subtle distinction, however. A tale of creation is an act of story-telling and more closely related to the modern version: The Theory of The ‘Big Bang’2. Incidentally, this is closer in nomenclature to the Ancient Egyptian one, which could be irreverently described as the big wank3.
A very popular and somewhat dodging-the-bullet answer has been: Life has whatever meaning you give to it. Which is no less banale than the question in question - one just as vague and ill-defined in conception. A more detailed, and useful response in a similar vein comprises two parts:
1. Yes, seek out what your heart requires - eat well, socialise, fall in love. These simple things if not enough are a very good start.
2. Put down the question. Step away from the question. With your hands up! Seaching for meaning is nothing more than a pathology. Or alternatively, is just an indicator that you are disassociated, distant from truly living, breathing and feeling.
So go ahead. Dance. Sleep. Fuck.
Start with the basics, move on to fine art and literature or whatever as the mood takes you.
If you find yourself ruminating in this now old-fashioned style (we humbly assert that it is) then it’s time to step back - or rather step up. You are alive, for little more than a split second, think as you wish, but we hope you are persuaded that thinking alone has its limitations. Your purpose is to find what has been taken from you by emergent forces little understood and nevertheless as powerful as the moon’s tides4.
Be free, be strong, but don’t ask: what is the meaning of this?
Editor’s note: we are aware of the prescriptive tone that this piece develops, and we’re working on it…
This Ngram count of the frequency of the phrase “the meaning of life” in the English corpus doesn’t clarify matters any further. The general trend of occurences is definitely upward, but it is uncertain whether the instances are cummulative in the sense of referring to past titles for example. A chart for “Marie Curie” follows a similar trajectory. ↩︎
See The End of The Megamachine for more on this. ↩︎
∞ Last edit/update on: 19 / 3 / 2023