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man's search for meaning
Posted: 07 October 2006 08:28 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Faith persists in large part because in imbues life with meaning.  While it is a worthy thing to point out all the scientific evidence that stacks up for how wrongheaded every religious understanding of the physical world is, all that evidence doesn't begin to address the single issue of the meaning of an individual's life.

Many religious people have studied in our best universities, they're neither ignorant nor stupid, but they did not find a meaning for life in all the knowledge science provides.

It's interesting that Sam repeatedly brings up Zeus, as the Greek myths live on in our psychology because they tell us something deeply true about the human condition, the provide a context of meaning, no matter how fancifully they do so.  All religious mythologies survive for the same reason, they offer meaning and hope where all too often the alternative is despair.

I think the most cogent paragraph of the book is on page 88.  "Clearly it is time we learned to meet our emotional needs without embracing the preposterous.  We must find ways to invoke the power of ritual and to mark those transitions in every human life that demand profundity - birth, marriage, death - without lying to ourselves about the nature of reality."

Not to nitpick, but "profundity" and "emotional needs" are vastly different things, lumping them together seems rather a dismissal of both.  For whatever unintelligently designed reason human beings are wired to need meaning.  Meaninglessness leads inexorably to hopelessness and despair.  "Without hope the people perish" isn't just a nice saying, the truth of that statement is as verifiable as the truth of evolution.

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Posted: 07 October 2006 02:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Odd as it may seem in this age of media darlings, Sam is not the first pilgrim down this road. Neither, in all likelihood, is Viktor Emil Frankl, but 60 years ago, Frankl published a book also entitled (odd as it may seem)

Man’s Search For Meaning

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man’s_Search_for_Meaning

Yes. The title of this thread.

It is, in essence, the testimony of one who suffered to the extreme, but lived to tell about it. More articulate and thoughtful than, say, John McCain.

It is one of the most moving books I have ever read that can actually be demonstrated to have been written by a real, live human being. OK, Shakespeare’s better, especially if you count him as authentic.

Frankl’s book appeared 60 years ago, people. It is hard to come up with new stuff in this department. We pose our own puzzles. You do not have to adopt mysticism to understand that Frankl was among the best at posing them.

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Posted: 08 October 2006 06:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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It seems to me that rational discussion ceases when the gratuitous taking and giving of offense begins.  (I come from a generation before such non-informative “informational” programming as “CNN Crossfire,” so maybe I’m just being old-fashioned about this.)

The title of the thread is not accidental.  Ignoring the issue of meaning and/or reducing it to satiation undermines the claims made by science to enlighten humanity.

Frankl’s observations arise from his experience as a prisoner in the Nazi death camps.  There the issue of meaning was faced head-on; when all is stripped away from a person he found that it is meaning that made survival possible.  Where does one find that meaning?  Frankl observed that for many meaning was found via their different religions.

No-one would seriously suggest that meaning is only found in religion, taking Frankl’s observation that way indicates a fundamental closedness of mind.  Nonetheless, religion offers systems for human beings to find meaning in their day-to-day lives.  That’s why Harris’ comment about ritual and profundity is so important, and seems to me to the the elephant in the room.  We can agree that religion has taught many preposterous things and brought much evil into the world.  The question is: what’s the alternative?  Where’s the scientific sytem by which human beings can find meaning in their lives even when everything has been stripped away from them, as in the Holocaust? 

It seems to me that the reason so many religious people reject evolution is that they understand “accident” to equal “meaningless.”  If the fact of existence is essentially meaningless, then life itself is absurd.  So long as the position of science can be made to boil down to such absurdity all the scientific information on earth won’t result in the end of faith, but paradoxically will strengthen the grip of religion instead.

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Posted: 08 October 2006 07:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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[quote author=“cpl”]No-one would seriously suggest that meaning is only found in religion

No one, that is, except religion. Your point is well-taken.

[quote author=“cpl”]The title of the thread is not accidental.  Ignoring the issue of meaning and/or reducing it to satiation undermines the claims made by science to enlighten humanity.

Science, while enlightening, does not claim, however, to be able to make your particular chosen ontological state more “comfortable” for you.

[quote author=“cpl”]So long as the position of science can be made to boil down to such absurdity all the scientific information on earth won’t result in the end of faith, but paradoxically will strengthen the grip of religion instead.

Das ist völlig mir egal. It makes entirely no difference to me. The practice of religion will not counteract the absurdity of an existence it absurdly denies.

The Amish community still absurdly forgives the monster who brought them sorrow. All it does is stop the sorrow there. It is a step in the right direction but explains nothing, unless forgiveness is meaning.

[ Edited: 08 October 2006 08:10 AM by ]
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Posted: 08 October 2006 08:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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[quote author=“cpl”]. . .
Nonetheless, religion offers systems for human beings to find meaning in their day-to-day lives.  That’s why Harris’ comment about ritual and profundity is so important, and seems to me to the elephant in the room.  We can agree that religion has taught many preposterous things and brought much evil into the world.  The question is: what’s the alternative?  Where’s the scientific system by which human beings can find meaning in their lives even when everything has been stripped away from them, as in the Holocaust?

Cpl, I don’t know whether or not you’re an atheist, but my take on this question arrives by way of lack of religious teachings. I see humanity as an animal organism, special in certain ways, but no less “animal” than the cat playing in my front yard right now. A cat has no need for gods and neither do I. I get more than enough “life meaning” just by being the person who I am rather than pretending to be someone or something else.

I was indoctrinated into religion early in my childhood, but I eventually shook off the nonsense. I became able to recognize that fictitious stories do not need to be taken literally as Truth in order for any animal to have peace of mind and existential fullness. Certainly not an animal as sophisticated and imaginative as Homo sapiens.

Shake off the bullshit for C+#*t’s sake. Life meaning may not drop down from trees, but it can be found in abundance for anyone seeking it. Stop pretending you’re something other than an animal, for starters, and see what happens.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 08 October 2006 09:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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I like the way homunculus put it and I think that the recognition of our animal-ness is a crucial point in changing one’s perspective on things like “life’s meaning.”  I’ve read that we are the one’s who make meaning (or perhaps that it makes us - in the sense that there is some sort of communal meaning into which we are born that informs our individual reinterpretation of our own life’s meaning).  Yet in whatever way that “life meaning” comes to each of us, we are ultimately the one’s who formulate its content.  To say that religion or faith gives us meaning that we simply accept as given is a denigration of that individual’s meaning-making capacity.

Sam Harris may be correct in that we need rituals and reinforcements to celebrate and to stimulate new ways to make life meaningful - those are there in the science of evolution, as well as in all of the other sciences. The sciences don’t give “life’s meaning” dogma that we can just grab onto and adopt, but once you see your place in a universe as given by an encompassing scientific account, it will surely give you ample knowledge to find a larger meaning to your life - of course it won’t be the self-centered, chosen one, kind of meaning.  It will give you a more realistic blueprint upon which you can write your own meaning, and as someone said the most meaningful experiences in life are just the simple things that happen to you every day, not any kind of cosmic revelation.

Bob

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Posted: 08 October 2006 10:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“CanZen”]The sciences don’t give “life’s meaning” dogma that we can just grab onto and adopt, but once you see your place in a universe as given by an encompassing scientific account, it will surely give you ample knowledge to find a larger meaning to your life - of course it won’t be the self-centered, chosen one, kind of meaning.
Bob

My version: Life is like a big wilderness hike, except that you are not forced to pack out your trash when the hike is over.

Rules for life:

Don’t do any harm to other people that you have a reasonable expectation of getting back from them in spades.

Don’t expect people to love you just because you are not a total butthead.

Don’t put any more into the landfill than you absolutely have to.

Recycle your humor. Love. Sleep. Howl at the moon. Don’t be afraid of good-byes.

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Posted: 08 October 2006 01:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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It seems to me that the animalistic approach risks reducing humanity to the id, so that food, sex and a safe place to sleep should be enough.  So far as we know animals don’t have a drive to scientific or philosophical inquiry, and we know humans do.  Achieving satiation may address the cat, but if anything satiation of animal needs in humans seems to increase the urge for meaning rather than decreasing it.

I am intrigued by CanZen’s notion that it is meaning that makes us, and that we formulate its content in return.  This hints at an evolutionary goal, a target towards which evolution is aimed.  Douglas Adams’ “42” may not be far wrong!

I’m also interested by what it means to “see your place in a universe given by an encompassing scientific amount.”  Exactly what would that be?  We know how small we are in the universe, but the notion of “place” is quite different from that of size.  If science has answered the question of a person’s place in the universe I’m afraid I must plead ignorance.

homunculus’ statement that “Life meaning…can be found in abundance for anyone seeking it” echos the claim of every “true” religion and cult.  “Seek and ye shall find” is a recruiting slogan, not an answer.

If I had a solution to this issue I’d offer it.  I’ve raised it in hopes that someone far more informed than I would have worked this through, and my fear is that this is the one task that everyone punts to the religious and then pretends is of no matter.  Back to Harris’ observation, ritual and meaning are human needs.  Who in the rational world of science is doing that heavy lifting?

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Posted: 08 October 2006 03:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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[quote author=“cpl”]It seems to me that the animalistic approach risks reducing humanity to the id, so that food, sex and a safe place to sleep should be enough. . . .
. . .
Back to Harris’ observation, ritual and meaning are human needs.  Who in the rational world of science is doing that heavy lifting?

Sorry for being so abrupt, cpl. I suppose that since I’ve already worked through this question pretty thoroughly to my own satisfaction, the answers seem simple and obvious.

The fact is that we are animals, whether it seems risky or not. To ignore this fact works against us. People tend to ignore much due to our history of religious leaders insisting that we are something other than the animals we are. Yes, we have by necessity outgrown certain of our instincts, but this doesn’t mean we by necessity benefit by completely ignoring them when they pop up, so to speak.

P.M. me if you want a link to my in-depth take on listening to (and at times actively ignoring) our nervous and other body systems, otherwise this message will start to become too long. CanZen knows my views well enough already to have commented, and thanks, Bob.

Again, my apologies, cpl.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 08 October 2006 06:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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First I read of Salt Creek’s “life is like a wilderness hike” followed by cpl’s reference to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” -  is there some daoist “way” being expressed here?

Not being all that familiar with Adams’ “Puzzle 42”  which he apparently just made up for the fun of it and when people took it seriously he then devised some puzzles, I could not comment on the relevance of it to the thesis about making-meaning.  I would however venture to say that meaning is perhaps the most crucial human need (without meaning - how crucial is food or even water?).  Merleau-Ponty is famous for remaking Sartre’s comment “we are condemned to freedom” into “we are condemned to meaning” - how true.

As to how science is giving us our place in the universe . . . just examine how basic scientific knowledge changes the ways in which we perceive our place.  The theory of evolution (in all its mathless simplicity) certainly places the human being (animal - hominid) in a different location than does most religious dogma (consider the divine, ensouled superiority of christianity); biology, chemistry and physics further breakdown the human condition into its constituent elements; and astronomy certainly provides ample evidence that even in relation to the Milky Way galaxy, our earth occupies an insignificant and arbitrary place in the universal schemata.  All these scientific facts serve to define our place much more authentically than any other forms of knowing.  What an impact on life’s meaning to know on what a fortuitous serendipity each of us survives on a day to day basis (my own life propels me forward against all odds (stacked to a near infinite complexity) that I should rather be inert and unliving at any moment).  The thought that we are 86% (a guess) made of water, or that at the subatomic level my physical structure (considering the spaces between those electrons, protons and nucleii of which my body is composed) is 99.999% empty space; don’t these kinds of scientific references change the place we occupy?

Anyway, that was my point.

Bob

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Posted: 08 October 2006 08:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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The title of the thread is not accidental. Ignoring the issue of meaning and/or reducing it to satiation undermines the claims made by science to enlighten humanity.

Issue of meaning?  What are you trying to state here?  Most people on this board do not have any trouble finding meaning in their lives.  So your premise falls flat here, cpl. Maybe on another board people would get all dewey eyed with grandiose claims to life-meaning and the link you are trying to make using faith as glue.

It seems to me that the animalistic approach risks reducing humanity to the id, so that food, sex and a safe place to sleep should be enough.

It seems to me that you are reducing animals to simple satiation undermining all your claims to enlighten us.  Animals do search for more than these things.  They bond with each other.  They play.  Many seek thrill in sport. (e.g. the hunt) And with a small exception (primates) we are unable to tell if they appreciate beauty, but it is very possible that they do.

The question is: what’s the alternative? Where’s the scientific sytem by which human beings can find meaning in their lives even when everything has been stripped away from them, as in the Holocaust?

You exaggerate what science does for humanity.  It is akin to a straw man argument.  Science is observation of the real… and speculation based on that observation.  It is theories and postulates… hypothesis… testing.
Nobody, not even Sam, is making the steadfast claim that science directly brings meaning to people’s lives.  The alternative to religious faith is not science…. the alternative to religious faith is not to be religious.

You are on this very odd *meaning* kick.  What are you searching for?  What is it that you want us to admit to? 

Certainly you have validly stated that the religious see their faith as giving them significance… meaning… a purpose in life.  But this is the kind of unreason that we need to quell because the price is too high for all of humanity.  When people make extraordinary claims about this existence, we have to call them out.

The meaning to life should be merely to live it.  Live your life… enjoy it… be kind to others.  You do not need religion to make this happen for you.  The proof is all over this board. 

It seems to me that the reason so many religious people reject evolution is that they understand “accident” to equal “meaningless.”

It seems to me that the reason so many religious people reject evolution is because of the presentation.  Evolving is observable.  We see it in creatures in our own lifetimes.  When the religious toss out all possibility of evolutionary biology, they are truly blinding themselves to the observable.  Unfortunately that is par for the course…. keep ‘em ignorant and blissful with lots ‘o meaning. (such a superfluous word) 
Evolution has happened… the signature is there in bold writing.  Where the presentation fails stems from some people stating that the cause was accidental.  That is truly uknown. 
An analogy… we see the sun pretty much every day (barring clouds and the like)  Science recognizes this observation.  The sun rises in the east… sets in the west (from our perspective of course).  This happens regardless of whether or not a group of people close their eyes all day every day and say that the sun doesn’t exist because God didn’t create a sun.  (a made up group that has a holy book writen by mole people)
It is sheer idiocy to not believe the observable because your eyes are closed.
Everything that we can observe fits into my rational view of what God created. (again I am not an atheist) Religion wants people to keep their eyes shut to the observable.  Religion wants people to suspend reason for lunacy.  Religion wants to inflate meaning to perposterous stature.  Hence the call for an End of Faith…. and end to the kind of faith represented in the world today where fallacious claims are the foundational representation of our society.

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Posted: 09 October 2006 03:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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I think at this point in the thread it might be a decent idea to share my sociology professors meaning of life. If you disregard his understand that god a symbol and in essence “exists”, he is by all accounts an atheist.

His idea of the meaning of life was as follows, and I always found it to be pretty substantial:

“The meaning of life is to develop pleasureable relationships with other people, other sentient beings, and with the surrounding environment.”

By pleasureable he explained he meant relationships that are supported by the morality that people develop on the basis of interraction and need for future surivival. 

All we really have are our interractions with living beings and our environment. And if we can work to make these connections positive and pleasureable for ourselves, than we can truly enjoy our time on this planet.

To me, spending my whole life living by faith and book to achieve eternal (read imaginary) redemption is not pleasureable, it is in many ways sucking up. And, most popular forms of this kind of life harbor ideas that are in many many was unpleasureable to other beings.

Adam

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Posted: 09 October 2006 04:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“auryn0151”]All we really have are our interractions with living beings and our environment. And if we can work to make these connections positive and pleasureable for ourselves, than we can truly enjoy our time on this planet.

You miss some of the point here, auryn. It’s not just about us.

All of philosophy and every major religion is guilty of this mistake, and only science is demonstrably successful in counteracting it.

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Posted: 09 October 2006 04:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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It is all about us, in relation to everything we come in contact with. that is why we strive to make pleasureable relationships with everything and abide by social morality. Aside of that, what else is there?


Adam

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Posted: 09 October 2006 05:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Cpl makes a valid po9int and all you can do is counter with platitudes and innuendoes that he is a Christian (exception to you canzen. You sound like teilhard de chardin the jesuit anthropologist. He believed that evolution was bringing us to an omega point.)  I do not think cpl is a Christian but his point is reasoned and thoughtful. Frankl says and cpl reiterates that in the very worst of circumstances and unimaginable suffering people still find meaning in life and especially through religion. Scientism and naturalism (not science) hypothesize a meaningless universe that happened accidentally. Cpl suggests and I agree that such a world view is going to drive people to religion not away from it. It cannot be countered with such new age silliness as we make our lives meaningful or seek pleasure and avoid pain or be nice to each other. They are nice rules to life but hardly first principles.

I’d like the evolutionist psychologist to answer the following question. Why do all our appetites have ways of being satisfied (food for the hungry, drink for the thirst, sex for sexual desires, etc) yet there is no scientific answer for our appetite for the divine. Why does our desire for the supernatural exist unsatiated?

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Posted: 09 October 2006 05:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“frankr”]yet there is no scientific answer for our appetite for the divine. Why does our desire for the supernatural exist unsatiated?

Frank, I don’t know where your appetite for the divine comes from, but I don’t share it with you. Maybe my stomach is smaller, maybe I found something else to eat.

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