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man's search for meaning
Posted: 10 October 2006 06:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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SeanK wrote

The obvious answer is that life meaning and significance doesn’t come from religion. Or rather, it is possible to foster such things outside of religion.

That would be the point of the thread.  I assume meaning can be found outside of religion.  The question still unaddressed is “what is the system?”  The fact that secular Swedes find meaning in life begs the question: “What is that system for meaning?”

Pointing out that religion offers systems for meaning, which usually boil down to “serve god,” defined and implemented in as many different ways as there are claims of divine revelation and sub-sects to those claims, in no way implies that ONLY religion can offer a system for meaning.  It serves, rather, to point out that such systems are the one thing religion has going for it.

“The End of Faith,” is next on my reading list, but if Harris’ discussion of the “human need for mysticism and introspection” offered a secular system for meaning I’d hope that someone would post it here and thus address in full the issue of this thread.

To be perfectly clear:  I’ve raised an issue of system.  Asserting a need is not the same as having a system for addressing that need.  Demonstrating that some people have met that need is not the same as outlining a system for addressing the need.

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Posted: 10 October 2006 06:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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Hey cpl, at first I understood your attempt to account for the human need for meaning as a search for significance fully outside of religious dogma and faith.  But your response to my first post on this thread seemed to indicate that your search did indeed aim toward some kind of “cosmic” significance rather than an everyday, mundane kind of life meaning.

When I mentioned that science gives us our ‘place’ in the universe, you seemed to interpret that as a goal oriented sort of placing, you even went to suggest that there might be an aim to the process of evolution.  If you are familiar (you seem to be) with the science of evolution, such a teleological aspect is specifically denied in the theory (infact this denial is essential the thesis itself).

Anyway, you bring up Existentialism and quote Camus in regard to our ultimate insignificance in the greater scheme of things, and in contrast to those postings you have now reworded your inquiry as “the search for significance” rather than meaning, as such.  You appear to be caught in the usual dilemma of daoist proportions in coming face to face with your ultimate and complete insignificance, you are searching for significance.

My question to you is, “do you accept (as a starting point) your ultimate insignificance as given by both science and existential philosophy or is your search an attempt to show that those claims for cosmic insignificance are a mistake?”

(BTW, I’m not entirely sure where Sam Harris stands on this score, but I’m willing to bet that he does accept our individual cosmic insignificance and that he finds meaningful significance only in how our actions relate to the world around us - that we create our significance (which comes back to us as a reaction from the world) and not that it comes to us from something entirely outside of us??)

Bob

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Posted: 10 October 2006 07:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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[quote author=“cpl”]. . .
Pointing out that religion offers systems for meaning, which usually boil down to “serve god,” defined and implemented in as many different ways as there are claims of divine revelation and sub-sects to those claims, in no way implies that ONLY religion can offer a system for meaning.  It serves, rather, to point out that such systems are the one thing religion has going for it.

This is a good point, cpl. In my own Roman Catholic schooling (limited to 1st-4th grades), serving God was indeed all that we were told about why humanity exists. I ask you, Is that any kind of system that in itself initiates meaning of the sort you seem to be getting at? It did nothing whatsoever for me.

What system(s) giving rise to life meaning are taught by religous instructors, as far as you are aware of?

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Posted: 10 October 2006 09:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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Bob,

Here’s my current thinking:

The fact of the cosmic insignificance of genesis does not equal a cosmic insignificance of existence.  The difference is that of intention vs. effect.  The cosmos may have no intention, but all its component members effect each other and the cosmos as a whole in demonstrable ways.  Our “place” in the cosmos is meaningful, even though the fact of our evolutionary development is itself meaningless.

That our genesis is cosmically insignificant is, I think, why we experience what we term “free will.”  We exercise choice as moral free agents precisely because our genesis is cosmically pointless.  If evolution were driving us toward a goal, say “42,” then our choice would be constrained by our design to acheive that goal.

Now all the above is content, not process.

What I think Harris notes as needing to be developed is a process within which content can be developed and tested, remembered and taught.  As he puts it, “the power of ritual” to mark those events “that demand profundity.”  That’s the system I’m going on (and on) about…I think it goes way deeper than singing Happy Birthday as we blow out candles.

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Posted: 10 October 2006 10:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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The fact of the cosmic insignificance of genesis does not equal a cosmic insignificance of existence.

Gobbledygook. Pure and unadulterated gobbledygook. No defined terms.

The difference is that of intention vs. effect. The cosmos may have no intention, but all its component members effect each other and the cosmos as a whole in demonstrable ways.

Gobbledygook. And the verb is “affect” when used in that context. Interaction is not intention.

Our “place” in the cosmos is meaningful, even though the fact of our evolutionary development is itself meaningless.

Transcendental gobbledygook. Assertion above evidence.

We exercise choice as moral free agents precisely because our genesis is cosmically pointless.

I’m sure that must be it. Now as to its significance…

Now all the above is content, not process.

No sh1t, Sherlock. But what does this gain me.

mark those events “that demand profundity.”

To paraphrase Parkinson’s law, the profundity expands to fill the vacuum provided by ignorance.

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Posted: 10 October 2006 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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Is that any kind of system that in itself initiates meaning of the sort you seem to be getting at? It did nothing whatsoever for me.

If one accepts the premise that one was created for a purpose, then the meaning found in fulfilling one’s purpose is axiomatic.  As such those religions that posit divine purpose offer a system of meaning which is both revealed and self-perpetuating.  The faithful often mistake this mobius strip as a sign that they have found “The” truth.

What system(s) giving rise to life meaning are taught by religous instructors, as far as you are aware of?

Not an expert, here’s the rather quick limit of my knowledge.  I believe I know of two kinds of systems, one proposing a goal of divinity (heaven, paradise, reincarnation as a higher being) the other positing a goal of perfect nothingness.

If one rejects purpose in creation yet accepts meaing in existence, then what?  Is everything ad hoc?

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Posted: 10 October 2006 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
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The word for the day is:

Gobbledygook. Pure and unadulterated gobbledygook…Gobbledygook…Transcendental gobbledygook

Good thing it’s all about

“Compassion and respect for others.”

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Posted: 10 October 2006 06:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]  
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I’m trying to find a case (in history or fiction) where a belief in cosmic significance (for oneself or for humanity as a whole) does not lead to religious faith or ideological faith.  Maybe someone can help me out?

Persons like Jesus or Mohammed are definitely believers in their own cosmic significance and they belong to a system where the human species (or some small elite group at least) is chosen by a cosmic tyrant to fulfill his designed purpose.  They believe strongly in some sort of universal purpose.  But even in a lot of movies like those Schwartzanegger movies and some comic book heros there is always some character or central figure whose purpose it is to “save the world” -in the sense of purposely fulfilling a prophecy.  Hitler and Stalin were both completely convinced of their own cosmic significance, Hitler’s writings and speeches are peppered with these sorts of delusions.  Of course, oddly enough these historical egomaniacs have risen to become powerfully influential on human affairs precisely because they believed that their lives were actually playing out some sort of cosmic purpose.  Unfortunately the two examples I give are sad excuses for humanity, but perhaps Churchill or Roosevelt also believed in similar manifest destinies playing out in their lives?

Two figures come to mind who display a complete lack of belief in cosmic significance, Lao Tze and Siddhartha lived (or appear to have lived) their lives specifically denouncing the idea of such a master-plan philosophy.  At the very heart of daoist and buddhist belief is the goal of self-improvement and learning how to live truly meaningful lives, not only in harmony with all human beings, but in harmony with all living creatures and the environment as well.  In these two Eastern ways the cosmic aspect (the awakening to universal purpose) is something to be achieved in the moment, in the practice of everyday life.  For them there is no sense that an individual or that even the human race was created to fulfill some kind of great plan.  What it amounts to ultimately is for the practitioner to understand the utter insignificance of her existence, but to learn from that point of cosmic awakening how to achieve some kind of intimate communion with universal being.  So that’s the purpose and the meaning of life.  Of course the trick is that one cannot even begin that journey to discover the cosmic aspect of one’s own being, until one has understood the meaningless nothingness of the self - until one has experienced the stark reality of complete insignificance.

I’m afraid I might be out-gobbledegooking the previous postings, so I’ll just leave it there for the moment.

Bob

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Posted: 10 October 2006 07:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]  
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[quote author=“Anonymous”]. . .
The examples given are from rather common-place western middle-class life. . . .

I’m glad you understand me, guest (cpl?). That’s the society I grew up in. Successfully fitting in to that society means everything to a primate like me. I feel no need to combine elaborate concepts hinting at anciently derived cosmic connection.

Which reminds me of something I’ve mentioned once or twice without getting a response from anyone. Although I’m nonreligious, I’m a Christian in a certain very real sense because of the teachings I’ve allowed myself to accept and integrate as best as I could during most of my life. I don’t claim that such teachings are available only by way of Christianity—not at all. I also don’t claim to have fully integrated Christian teachings into my personality—far from it. But certain tendencies or attributes that came to me via Christianity are such a strong part of who I am that I have no reason or desire to attempt to detach myself from them. What I’m saying would appear to fly in the face of what Pinker teaches, but so be it. Despite his extreme confidence, he doesn’t know everything about what goes into constructing a personality.

Considering the usual things I say around here it may be surprising to hear me talk this way. In fact—and I hope at least Mudfoot if not Thomas appreciate this—I find much of what’s taught in churches today to be life-enhancing, some even inspiring. My objections to religion lie more with the typically black-white, on-off approaches to human existence that pastors, priests and dogmatic philosophers tend toward.

The fact remains that I was raised in a Christian home, inside a Christian nation, and I remained devoted to Christianity well into my adulthood. Certain resulting cognitive habits remain within me even if for the past 10+ years I’ve been extremely atheistically inclined. Looking back on my cognitive history, I now realize that I was always atheistically inclined but only became self-honest enough to realize it in my middle-class middle-age.

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Posted: 10 October 2006 11:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]  
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I’m trying to find a case (in history or fiction) where a belief in cosmic significance (for oneself or for humanity as a whole) does not lead to religious faith or ideological faith.

This time I know I wasn’t clear, too much editing I’m afraid.

My thinking has been running along the lines of Chaos Theory when considering the difference between meaningless genesis and the significant effects of existence.  That something is quite randomly and accidentally created does not render it meaningless in its existential affect.  Examples of this range from black holes to the “Big Splash” that resulted in the Earth’s moon to my sister. wink

Call it “primal gobbledygook” if you’d like.

What’s equally important is that none of these objects claim significance for themselves, but they are significant to the other members of the system.  The physical reality is that the cosmos is a changed place because of the accidental existence and effects of these things.

And so, in my gobbledygookish manner I can affirm both the randomness and accidential nature of evolution, and the meaning or significance of all that evolution generates.

Where’s the system for testing that assertion of meaning?

But back to CanZen’s post, what I think is being gotten at is what I think of as the “shortcut” that religion takes in creating systems of meaning.  The moment that one posits a primary purpose, a point to one’s creation, then one can quickly and rather simply set up a complex system centered around the creator and the fulfiller (who is generally and not accidentally the person who sets up the system) which radiates meaning out upon all else.  It’s the lazy person’s way to meaning, all that’s needed is faith.

this is already too long (and too early in the day), more gook, less gobbledy later….

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Posted: 11 October 2006 04:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]  
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Successfully fitting in to that society means everything to a primate like me. I feel no need to combine elaborate concepts hinting at anciently derived cosmic connection.

Hence no need for religion, per se.  However meaning…should go further than simply “fitting in,” shouldn’t it?  If fitting in were the end-all, then adaptive personalities would be healthy…

Although I’m nonreligious, I’m a Christian in a certain very real sense because of the teachings I’ve allowed myself to accept and integrate as best as I could during most of my life.

Nature/nurture is another way to put this one.  Who we are by nature is tethered to who we are by nurture.  Gotta love those studies of twins, they’re better than the gossip rags.

My question is be this:  Having been taught your place in the universe by nurture, and having rejected the faith of your Christianity (if not its teachings,) how has that informed your own understanding of meaning?  By this I mean more than the meaning of a “western middle-class life,” but what Adams summed as “Life, the Universe and Everything?”

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Posted: 11 October 2006 05:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]  
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My thinking has been running along the lines of Chaos Theory when considering the difference between meaningless genesis and the significant effects of existence.  That something is quite randomly and accidentally created does not render it meaningless in its existential affect.  Examples of this range from black holes to the “Big Splash” that resulted in the Earth’s moon to my sister. wink

Rather than just a dismissive “gobbledygook” remark, I will dive in and ask: What does chaos theory have to do with this? What possible intellecutal fortitude is offered by dropping a name like this into the conversation? “Chaos theory” is a phrase that has not been trendy in this context since, oh, say, 1995. If you are going to do some trendy-name-dropping, at least drop something with some more recent trendiness, such as “cellular automaton” or something to that effect.

Do you know how the solutions of nonlinear differential equations lead to chaotic time series? Do you know how “cellular automata” produce complex-appearing patterns from simple sets of rules? Chaos theory and cellular automata are the “string theory” of classical physics. For all we know, the complex phenomena we see result from the iterative application of simple rules, but there is not any real way to demonstrate it experimentally. And then you still have to incorporate quantum mechanics and all the other woo-woo stuff. I don’t see you tackling this problem in a rigorous way anytime soon, cpl.

To say that meaning emerges as a consequence from meaningless origins due to, gulp, chaos theory needs to be backed up with something, or else I will have to call it “primal gobbledygook”.

Call it “primal gobbledygook” if you’d like.

Okay. Consider it done.

What’s equally important is that none of these objects claim significance for themselves, but they are significant to the other members of the system.  The physical reality is that the cosmos is a changed place because of the accidental existence and effects of these things.

What, precisely, can be meant by saying that the cosmos is a changed place because of these things? What causality are you asserting? Hint: It’s not enough to go around with a bumper sticker saying “Sh1t Happens”. Although this is true, it helps me not a jot or tittle. You might wish to say “Sh1t happens for a reason”, but chaos theory is definitely not the way to get there. And using uppercase letters to get there is just tacky.

And so, in my gobbledygookish manner I can affirm both the randomness and accidential nature of evolution, and the meaning or significance of all that evolution generates.

And if you can affirm this, you can affirm just about anything you feel like. As long as it feels “significant”. What I object to is the implication that I must conclude there is a meaning, but due to my sheer obstinacy, I fail to see it. I don’t really mind if you extract meaning from it, but please leave me out of this scheme. I don’t see any point to you other than that which you assert for yourself. And you should be thankful for that.

Where’s the system for testing that assertion of meaning?

The moment that one posits a primary purpose, a point to one’s creation, then one can quickly and rather simply set up a complex system centered around the creator and the fulfiller (who is generally and not accidentally the person who sets up the system) which radiates meaning out upon all else.  It’s the lazy person’s way to meaning, all that’s needed is faith.

You get points for not installing faith as a necessary component of this world view. But I deduct points because all you have done is allow the individual to extract meaning from anything he sees. Of course, anyone is at liberty to do this, but what does it get you?

To see a World in a grain of sand, And Heaven in a wild flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour. 

William Blake

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Posted: 11 October 2006 06:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]  
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[quote author=“cpl”]. . . meaning should go further than simply “fitting in,” shouldn’t it?  If fitting in were the end-all, then adaptive personalities would be healthy. . . .

As I’m sure you already know, psychiatric terms for pathology do not always convey the “meanings” of converstional usage. A person who has borderline personality may be able to lie and fanagle his way into diverse social settings, but never quite fits into them in a normal sense.

I’m not sure how to answer your other question, except to say that my personal meaning has arrived by way of a measured view of how valuable and meaningful (again, that word) my cognitive habits are. Remember, I said that as a believer I had never completely bought into all of what religionists had taught me. I picked and chose, which is the case with most if not all religious people, since “belief” itself always includes a certain amount of doubt.

In other words, life meaning had always been self directed for me. And nothing changed suddenly, as I only gradually evolved away from it. I suspect that a sudden break from superstitious ways of thinking could be disastrous to a person’s mental health.

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Posted: 11 October 2006 08:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]  
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...life meaning had always been self directed for me.

Let me go back to the top of this thread for a moment, in an attempt to stay focused. 

“Letter to a Christian Nations” begs this question: Why does religious faith persist in defiance of the facts?  My 2c:

Faith persists in large part because in imbues life with meaning.

NOTE: Before everyone gets their autofills out again, I’m not suggesting that those who people who aren’t religious can’t find meaning, nor that people who are religious are care nothing about the facts.  I’m merely reporting things as I see them.  If it weren’t for the meaning that religious faith offers to people’s lives, there would be no religion.

The religious objection to Darwin lies in the notion that life is meaningless.  They totally understand the proposal that we are the result of a random accident, and take that to mean that there is therefore no meaning to existence.  Some in the “reality-based” community enthusiastically agree with this proposal.  (a hopefully humorous aside: It seems to me that the position that everything is meaningless is undermined by the use of symbols to express that position.  If there’s no meaning then it’s all Dada for real, and communication itself is absurd.)

Harris talks about ritual and profundity in a way that seems to recognize that religionists won’t be disabused of faith until there’s a system for meaning outside of religion.  That’s where this thread starts.

The problem I see with “self-directed” meaning is that, absent a methodology, it offers a Humpty Dumpty world in which life, the universe and everything “...means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”

...my personal meaning has arrived by way of a measured view of how valuable and meaningful (again, that word) my cognitive habits are.

Those “cognitive habits” of yours may be what needs to be detailed as a system.  Up to the challenge?

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Posted: 11 October 2006 08:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]  
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[quote author=“cpl”]I’m merely reporting things as I see them.  If it weren’t for the meaning that religious faith offers to people’s lives, there would be no religion.

This is very much akin to saying that if hot air did not rise, a balloon would not ascend. Hot air balloons go up. I’m just reporting things as I see them. When you poke a hole in a hot air balloon, it does not go up any more.

cpl, do you REALLY think that tautologies are invisible to those with whom you are arguing? Religion owes its entire existence to the fact that it adds meaning to people’s lives. The particular meaning it adds is a fantasy.

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