Saturday, April 28, 2007

How to find the meaning of life in a couple of hours

Just don't get lost in metaphysics


A really simple excercise that everybody should do sometime in their life: To find the meaning of life. Simple, because you really just have to speak to a few persons to find the answer. The hard part is the process of transcending what you know intellectually and make it a habitual pattern. In order to find the answer you will need to see a philosopher of language first. Ask: "What does it mean - the meaning of life?". Well, it can actually mean two things:

1. "The meaning of life itself" (or the purpose of life)
2. "The meaning within life".

Oh, really?, you say. Yup, the philosopher of language says.

Ok, so now you are at a crossroad. Road 1 leads back to the dude you just spoke to, because we really aren't sure yet what "life itself" mean (or "purpose"). Road 2 leads you to a positive psychologist. Let's just take both of them and see what road is the most reasonable.

First back to the philospher of language. Ask: In which ways can we answer the question "What is the meaning of life itself?". Well, that depends on what you mean by meaning. If you mean the function of life, then it may mean that life exists as a tool for something else to reproduce through darwinian selection. Here we have a natural explanation - so you should actually go see a biochemist for a more detailed explanation (which we will ignore here). On the other hand, you might want the question framed as in "Why is there anything at all?". Now you can either ask a philosopher of metaphysics (who will either tell you a lot of senseless things or not really answer the right question at all), a religious person (who will tell you that the answer is God, Jesus Christ or Oprah Winfrey) or you could just ask any ol' chap down at the pub (who will give you an answer as satisfying and reasonable as the other two - perhaps that there ain't any purpose in life at all!).

It seems as if only the evolutionary explanation made some sense. But in some ways Road 1 was a dead end. At least if we were expecting more than the answer that humans exists as the product of darwinian replicators (which we know - but somehow this does not satisfy us if we want to live happy lives). Let's move on.

Road 2 will take you positive psychology, where you will have the oppurtunity to ask "what the meaning within life is" - how one can find meaning in the continuum between birth and death we call "my existence". The answer to this can be summed up in: (1) Know the cognitive programmes and automatic bodily regulations which all humans have by design. (2) Know how to cultivate the programmes and regulators that makes you happy and gives you a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Our existence is pointless in the philosophical sense, but that does not restrict us from feeling the exact opposite. For now, I will not elaborate on the more specific theories of positive psychology (this will happen when I have the time though). In conclusion, it seems as if we can actually give a reasonable answer to the question which seemed unanswerable. It just needed to be framed and questioned differently - or basically just cut of all the metaphysical crap.

No comments: