06 May 2007

The meaning of life


Hi folks. I'm not going to tell you The Meaning of Life today, instead, I'm going to talk about that age-old question:

"What is the meaning of life?"

This is a question that can, depending on what mood I'm in, either make me very irate, or very silly. In any event, it's not a question that I've ever seriously entertained myself, and I plan to discuss why, further down the page.

What does it mean? What is it all about? And what is its purpose?

I'm actually asking this about our question, and not about life, people. The question about the meaning of life is one of the slyest tools that proselytising theists like to use to ingratiate themselves onto freethinkers, and it's one that freethinkers such as atheists and agnostics prefer not to address.

But they should. This is a question that is not going to go away, no matter how hard we try, so let's have a look at it.

These days, usually whenever I hear this question, it's usually framed like this:

"Everybody thinks about the meaning of life."

I think that the presumption included within this one statement is breathtaking.

Let's have a look at some of the "leaps of faith" included within this sentence, and see if we can come to some sort of idea of what this sentence even means.

1. What do people mean, when they talk about the "meaning of life"?

This one has always confused the hell out of me. What is the meaning of life? I don't mean the meaning itself, really, I'm looking for someone to tell me about what they mean when they use this term.

I've heard a remarkably diverse number of answers on this very subject, but no one has yet been able to pinpoint a single definition that appears to have any degree of consensus.

Some answers include the following:

"What is my purpose?" - I'm uncertain of this as a possibility, as it appears to interpose a significant degree of vanity upon what is at first glance an answer about existence generally.

"Why are we here?" - This is a great example of a question that cannot be answered. If you were to ask me this, I would generally answer with the question, "If I give an answer, how are you going to prove me wrong?"

"What is our destiny?" - This is merely the first question with an attempt to remove the personal vanity. This is another great example of a question without an answer.

"For what reason are we alive?" - Finally, a question with a variety of possible answers. Personally, if this is given to me as a possible interpretation of the meaning of life question, I like to answer it with the most obvious answer there is - "A happy series of accidents involving mostly Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen atoms." Unfortunately, this doesn't cut it with our intrepid questioners, so we have to move on.

"What is life's purpose?" - Yet another question with no possible answer.

Now I could go on and on with this, but it would appear to be, quite frankly, silly to continue.

What we have is a potentially limitless series of questions without answers that are designed to obfuscate and dazzle the respondant into a situation where they are overwhelmed by this potentially unlimited series of questions.

A more meaningful definition of "the meaning of life" is one that encompasses all of these - and yet this has no meaning at all. Apart from the grammatical impossibility of all of these forming a single "meaning", we still have no firm definition of what this is.

This does my head in sometimes, but why would anyone design a question to have no answer?

Why not ask these questions one by one?

The answer is God. The questions of the meaning of life really have no answer, but this is not important to the theist. What the theist wants you to do is to be so overwhelmed, and so dazzled by all the implications of whatever it is that you think that the question is all about, that it is immediately plausible amongst all this confusion that God exists as a way to make sense of it all.

I call bullshit.

"The meaning of life" is a gigantic red herring that renders all other questions secondary - yet it should not. It is through consideration of what is essentially a bogus concept that proselytizing theists are allowed to push their worldview onto the rest of us, and I really wish that it would stop.

It is also, a question without meaning. Theists have been allowed to get away with this one for years - and if you allow them to ask it without pulling them up, you're not doing them any favours, either.

Put simply, the term, "meaning of life" means nothing.

2. Does everyone think about it?

There's a fair amount of anecdotal evidence that suggests that a lot of people consider this question, and we've seen from the first point that no one knows what problem it is that they're supposed to be solving, when they ponder the "meaning of life".

To be fair, we live in a world where at every possible opportunity, lots of people are prompted to think about this question. And not just by theists.

In his somewhat erroneously titled, Hitchhiker Trilogy, Douglas Adams came up with an answer to "Life, The Universe and Everything". The answer was, quite famously, 42.

Adams makes my first point pretty well, in that he made the point that the answer would make no sense until you could come up with a workable question.

In the real world, we're unlikely to come up with an answer until we've correctly formulated a question first, but it's interesting to note that the person doing the prompting of the reader to think about the meaning of life, in Adams' case, was a staunch atheist.

But in the examples we've used, the most interesting thing about them is that a third party has prompted the thinker to think about the meaning of life.

Nowhere do we have an example of someone thinking about this question unprompted.

So in this light, what do we make of the claim, oft stated by theists, that everyone thinks about the meaning of life?

It is implicit in the claim that people do this sort of thinking unprompted, however it is my view that the stats on this simply don't exist. And therefore, in the absence of hard evidence to suggest that people do think about the so-called meaning of life unprompted, the only reasonable position that we can take is that of the null hypothesis - that not everybody thinks about the meaning of life unprompted.

3. What use is the "meaning of life" question to us?

We've seen that the question itself is riddled with flaws as to its meaning, and we've seen that no one (to my knowledge) has ever produced stats that confirm that people naturally think about this question unprompted.

Our next question is about how the hell do we come up with some sort of viable use for such a question, once we have answered it?

The question, at this point in time is too vaguely worded to be of any use to us, and we simply have to accept that the utter meaninglessness of the question means that consideration of this question without any definable terms is an exercise in futility.

If it has any use at all, it is as an example of a completely useless question that should never have been asked in the first place - your archetypal unanswerable question.

Apart from this, it is inefficient to consider such questions.

4. How can God hope to provide the answers to such questions?

Theists are used to this sort of thing. No matter how ridiculously formulated a question is, if you ask it, He will be able to answer, goes the line.

Allow me to provide an excellent example:

"Ailwehfo;ihwe;ip' p owejf' eopj' wegopjwe wro[j wervg wegjo[asdoj skl;jsdv'phiasdf ojbvo?"

Believe it or not, a theist will maintain that there is an answer to this question.

Never mind that I formulated this question by just hitting keys at random, a sort of tactile version of glossolalia.

I've heard a theist, in exasperation, say, "Never mind the question: God will provide the answer."

The utter uselessness of this statement is staggering. How can God presume to answer a question that has no meaning?

And, more to the point, how can He presume that this question, to which I attach no personal relevance, will suddenly become more relevant after the answer has been provided?

Lastly, how useful would such an answer be?

No theist can seriously believe that God answers undefined and irrelevant questions that no one asked, really, do they?

And, one last point, can a theist really get away with the claim that everyone thinks about this "question" unprompted?

36 comments:

beepbeepitsme said...

I like Dawkins take on this which roughly paraphrased is that we are purpose and meaning driven animals. (This has probably been one of our greatest survival tools.)

And as we are prone to try and understand the natural world and how we can effect it and how it can effect us - we imagine that everything is purposed.

"We reach out in our search for meaning until we realize that it is we, who actually provide the purpose in a universe which otherwise would have none. Nothing else can do it. At least nothing we know of."

http://beepbeepitsme.blogspot.com/2006/12/richard-dawkins-big-question-why-are_03.html

Dikkii said...

Hi Beep,

The problem with Dawkins' take on this is that he accepts unquestioningly that people pose this question to themselves unprompted.

He does have a sound hypothesis, but he shouldn't really have to offer one - the onus is on the person making this claim as to it's veracity before we can start to hypothesise why.

Plonka said...

Dikkii: I'm sure a lot of people probably do. I also think it's probably reasonable to assume that anyone who thinks about this question unprompted also probably assume it to be part of the "human condition" and that therefore, everyone else probably does too. Personally, I only tend to think about it when the idea is presented to me, as it is here.

I think Dawkins may be onto something though. Purpose and meaning can only ever come from within ourselves.

Dikkii said...

Ted, don't get me wrong. As I mentioned, anecdotal evidence suggests that people do think about this sort of thing. Of that I have no doubt.

The unprompted thing is the bit that I have a problem with, though. I'd believe it in a flash if I saw some hard stats.

Imagine that you bring up a sample-sized bunch of children in controlled environments where they're not exposed to anyone suggesting deeper questions, or prompting anyone to think about deeper questions of existence.

Now unless all of them independently come up with deeper questions of existence, you've just defeated the premise that, "Everybody thinks about the meaning of life."

I would go so far as to say that if you were to predict that the slim majority of them started asking deeper questions of existence, you would be making what I would consider to be an extraordinary claim.

I'm going to appeal to science, here, and re-iterate that in the absence of stats - and we still don't have any on this to my knowledge - we have to, at least until these stats become available, accept the null hypothesis.

It's a principled stance - there's another extraordinary claim that you and I discuss occasionally that is floating around out there, also with fluidly indefinable terms, also lacking in hard evidence and also believed by lots of theists. And you know why we don't accept that one.

I think Dawkins may be onto something though. Purpose and meaning can only ever come from within ourselves.

And he's quite right, too, although the way you put it, he sounds like an Anthony Robbins or a Deepak Chopra video.

Plonka said...

Dikkii: I see your point and agree about the stats thing. What I meant was that Dawkins simply assumes you think about it unprompted, just because he does himself. He's only human though, so I'm happy to allow him that failing.

although the way you put it, he sounds like an Anthony Robbins or a Deepak Chopra video.

Lol...:) I couldn't resist.

Dig the groovy "comments" widget BTW. I might have to steal it...

MichaelBains said...

...we are purpose and meaning driven animals.

Yeah. Regardless of whether or not anyone else poses the question to us, I know that I've been wonderin' what the hell the point is for as long as I can recall.

'Course I was freakin' baptised RC 'fore I was 2 months old so...

Dikkii said...

Ted:

What I meant was that Dawkins simply assumes you think about it unprompted, just because he does himself. He's only human though, so I'm happy to allow him that failing.

Yeah, you're right about that. Personal bias is something we're all subject to and it can really annoy me when I suffer from it.

Of course, I like to maintain that I am the world's most average bloke, and therefore my biases are the social median. Heh heh heh.

Dig the groovy "comments" widget BTW. I might have to steal it...

Please do. Blogger went through a period where it was only notifying me of every second comment and that was really annoying me. It was kinda lucky that I had that installed.

Dikkii said...

G'day MB:

'Course I was freakin' baptised RC 'fore I was 2 months old so...

Dawkins classifies this as child abuse. I wasn't actually baptised - so I guess this makes me a heathen.

Given that my Grandfather was a Uniting Church minister of the Methodist strain, I wonder if this caused friction between my parents and him?

Sadie Lou said...

There is a lot of 'stuff' in this post--as plonka would say.
*sigh*
*deep breath*
Haven't you known any Christians that say, "I don't know?"
Man. That would be a shame if I was the only one. I say it all the time. People ask me all kinds of crazy questions and I think it would be insulting and rude to run around claiming "God has the answer!" ~or~ "God is the answer!" all the time.
Being a theist, I do get to say I know the answer to the meaning of MY life. I can't answer it for anyone else--but if they claim to be a Christian, I can assume to know what they would say is the meaning of their life.
Here's my answer--and again, it's *MY* answer--not yours.
The meaning of my life is to glorify God through my faith in Christ.
If my house burns down tomorrow--I would glorify God. It would be difficult and I wouldn't know why my house burned down but maybe that's why we say hindsight has 20/20 vision--sometimes out of tragedy comes beauty.
If my house burned down with my entire family in it--I would glorify God. Again, my faith would be tested and maybe I wouldn't "finish the race" so to speak. Maybe I would denounce God and I would walk away bitter and resentful.
Have you ever read the book of Job?
It's a good one.
So is Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. Funny 'stuff'.
Anyhoo,
I see life as a bit of a parade (a black parade if you're a Chemical Romance fan) and we see the middle of the parade. Maybe you see the beginning and maybe others see a lot of it--but God sees the whole thing. He directs things. The people in the parade don't know why they go left or go right and sometimes people push and shove and the whole thing gets off course but God knows--God sees and he directs the parade accordingly.
Good night!

beepbeepitsme said...

dikki:

RE: "The problem with Dawkins' take on this is that he accepts unquestioningly that people pose this question to themselves unprompted."

Yes, I agree. There is nothing to suggest that the individual would ask such a question if we did not come from such "meaning and purpose driven cultures."

Dikkii said...

Hi Sadie, nice of you to drop by my blog.

There is a lot of 'stuff' in this post--as plonka would say.

Apologies. I tend to do this sort of 'stuff' in essays.

Haven't you known any Christians that say, "I don't know?"
Man. That would be a shame if I was the only one.


Um, yeah, I do. Mind you, they're fairly weak theists - possibly even borderline agnostics. But I don't think you're the only one. I tend to generalise on this, these days, and that's pretty sad. Mea culpa.

I say it all the time. People ask me all kinds of crazy questions and I think it would be insulting and rude to run around claiming "God has the answer!" ~or~ "God is the answer!" all the time.

Sadie, this is why you're respected at the atheist blogs that you post at. You're generally considered to be polite and open minded. And that is good.

Being a theist, I do get to say I know the answer to the meaning of MY life. I can't answer it for anyone else--but if they claim to be a Christian, I can assume to know what they would say is the meaning of their life.

Oh look, I suspect that this sort of thing is going to be personal, but I was actually after the question itself, rather than the answer. I just can't begin to think about the answer unless the question itself is structured for me in more definable terms.

You've got an answer - great. But what was the question, and is it the same as what everyone else is asking? Based on my experience, I suspect it probably isn't.

You wrote quite a bit about finding the answer - but is there any way of finding the question to which you answered, and, more to the point, does it accurately represent others' interpretation of that question? This is so much like "42".

That was what my post was about, in part. I wasn't really attempting to find the answer, per se.

Have you ever read the book of Job?
It's a good one.


Job is actually my favourite book of the Bible. A tale of cruelty and sadism, but with a hero who defeats his Cruel Overlord and His fiendish sidekick with hope and general goodness.

Sadly, though, I use the Book of Job as an example of why, if God truly does exist, He's not to be trusted.

Mind you, this was written some time ago - God could have grown up a bit since then.

So is Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. Funny 'stuff'.

Totally.

God sees and he directs the parade accordingly.

Well, at least He does a better job these days. In the early part of the parade, He seemed to do a lot of trying to get into the main act. And things got a little chaotic when He did that.

He's much better at sitting back and directing. I think.

Thanks for dropping by, Sadie. Do come back.

Dikkii said...

Hi Beep, I probably should also have added that Dawkins' take on the whole meaning of life thing really only addressed his interpretation of the answer.

He didn't have a crack at the question - which is one of the main subjects of my post

Plonka said...

He didn't have a crack at the question

How many roads must a man walk down?

Dikkii said...

Well it looks like Blogger is still playing silly buggers with my comments, Plonka, as that was yet another one that I didn't get emailed about.

How many roads must a man walk down?

Oh, very good, Plonka. I'll add that one to the evergrowing list of possible definitions of the meaning of life, shall I? LOL :-))

Plonka said...

Well, I'm digin' the groovy widget I stole from you, so thanks...:)

Lol ;)

But I can't take credit. You should probably pay a little closer attention to your Douglas Adams Dikkii. It was one of the questions the mice came up with after Deep Thought was blown away...

Kathryn said...

I can honestly say the only time I ever contemplate "the meaning of life" is, in fact, in relation to Monty Python. The questions I constantly ask myself are generally far more practical, but possibly also far more selfish, such as:
1. Where Did I Put My Keys?
2. What Shall I Have For Dinner?

The question "What is the meaning of life?" seems very arrogant, and to me, revolves around the huge importance that humans place on themselves. I feel that those who seriously ask this question have the agenda of wanting to place themselves at the centre of what life means, ie. "What is the meaning of life?... I know it's all really about me (and my little group), so how can I come up with an answer that shows that?" Coincides with those theists who imply that their particular adherance to their particular Imaginary Friend [insert name of chosen deity here] is somehow closer to the "truth" (=meaning???) that the rest of us with different chosen deities, or no chosen deity at all.

When theists, or generally "spiritual" people, ask this question, it is really a rhetorical, or at best, loaded question, because the answer is "The meaning of life lies with (note: not "is") our deity, and the teaching put about by various fellow subscribers". So therefore, this question is most often wielded in an attempt to make the askee feel insignificant, and therefore vulnerable, and then ready prey for this particular flavour of theists.

I don't know if my life has a "meaning", I don't think it's the right question to ask. My life just is. I do, and I am. I started as a zygote and I've continued from there.

Well, there's a load of waffle. On a different note, I liked your attempt at "Typing in Tongues", Dikkii. I have distant cousins who are Pentecostal, oh yeah, they go in for the whole Jesus Jibber Jabber. This cousin's husband quite seriously claims he cured a guy in the Ukraine of blindness with a bit of Godly Goofy Gabble. More likely the guy was so sick of being miracled at that he sold his worldly possessions and took himself off to a cataract clinic.

Sadie Lou said...

Hi Sadie, nice of you to drop by my blog.

Of course!



Apologies. I tend to do this sort of 'stuff' in essays.


No apologies.

Um, yeah, I do. Mind you, they're fairly weak theists - possibly even borderline agnostics. But I don't think you're the only one. I tend to generalise on this, these days, and that's pretty sad. Mea culpa.


It's just faulty for anyone to think they have the answer for everything. Saying "I don't know" isn't a sign of weakness--it's a sign of honesty.



Sadie, this is why you're respected at the atheist blogs that you post at. You're generally considered to be polite and open minded. And that is good.


I just like to learn. I learn so much by people asking me questions or challenging me. Why would I want to just spend time hanging out with other theists all the time? I mean, the ones I do hang out with are challenging in a lot of ways but nothing like a good old fashioned debate. We Christians talk a bit about theology and doctrine but not the same way I talk about it with atheists.

Oh look, I suspect that this sort of thing is going to be personal, but I was actually after the question itself, rather than the answer. I just can't begin to think about the answer unless the question itself is structured for me in more definable terms.

I know your blog post was more about the reason behind the question but I don't want to waste time wondering if the question is valid when there is so obviously an answer--for me, anyways.

That was what my post was about, in part. I wasn't really attempting to find the answer, per se.

Sorry. This is just how I wanted to deal with it.


Job is actually my favourite book of the Bible. A tale of cruelty and sadism, but with a hero who defeats his Cruel Overlord and His fiendish sidekick with hope and general goodness.

Sadly, though, I use the Book of Job as an example of why, if God truly does exist, He's not to be trusted.

Hmmmm....



Mind you, this was written some time ago - God could have grown up a bit since then.


uh-huh. I don't think God "grows up". I think there is a very good reason the book of Job is in the canon of Scripture for generations to read and digest. It has nothing to do with formulating reasons NOT to trust God.

So is Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. Funny 'stuff'.

Totally.

British humor is just lost on people. I love "The Life of Brian".

Well, at least He does a better job these days. In the early part of the parade, He seemed to do a lot of trying to get into the main act. And things got a little chaotic when He did that.

He's much better at sitting back and directing. I think.

I suppose that's a statement for a future post, eh? You don't want to start that up do you?
*smile*

Thanks for dropping by, Sadie. Do come back.

Thanks--I shall.

Dikkii said...

Bloody hell. 4 comments. Only one email from Blogger. Something's just not right.

I'll start with you, Plonka:

But I can't take credit. You should probably pay a little closer attention to your Douglas Adams Dikkii. It was one of the questions the mice came up with after Deep Thought was blown away...

You're quite right. I'll let you in on a secret - it's been quite a few years since I read that book, and I guess it's time I read it again. Yes, I had forgotten but I do remember that bit. Wasn't Deep Thought the computer, not the name of the Earth?

Dikkii said...

Hi Kathryn. What a long comment you left. And I was copping barbs for being verbose. Never mind.

You wrote:

The question "What is the meaning of life?" seems very arrogant, and to me, revolves around the huge importance that humans place on themselves.

That would have been one of my points, had it not been for the fact that I can't find "meaning of life" defined anywhere

I feel that those who seriously ask this question have the agenda of wanting to place themselves at the centre of what life means, ie. "What is the meaning of life?... I know it's all really about me (and my little group), so how can I come up with an answer that shows that?"

Yes, very good, Kathryn. It's something I've noticed too. Those who say they have answers to the deeper questions of existence usually appear to cater their answer to a specific clique, i.e. theirs.

Coincides with those theists who imply that their particular adherance to their particular Imaginary Friend...is somehow closer to the "truth" (=meaning???) that the rest of us with different chosen deities, or no chosen deity at all.

I think you'll find that there is nothing coincidental about it. But also correct.

...it is really a rhetorical, or at best, loaded question...

Bugger, meant to mention that.

It is totally a loaded question - first of all, it presupposes that there is a "meaning of life". But rhetorical? I probably wouldn't go that far, although it is used as one.

...an attempt to make the askee feel insignificant, and therefore vulnerable...

My point exactly. Overwhelm the askee with limitless possibilities and as they swoon with dizziness, bang 'em over the head with the good book.

...I don't think it's the right question to ask...

You're one step up from me. Me, I don't even know what the question is.

...I have distant cousins who are Pentecostal, oh yeah, they go in for the whole Jesus Jibber Jabber.

"Jibber jabber", eh? And faith healing? As Mr T would also say, "Pity the foo!"

Seriously, I can't get over glossolalia. It's hilarious, and yet so sad. On one level, a bunch of kids getting in a room and building up to hysteria is a lot of fun. But then saying that Lefty did it is really sad.

But I'm keen to check out some of the weirder pentacostal/evangelical/charismatic shit out there - the golden sword prophecy sounds hilarious, and so does the Toronto blessing.

Not to mention snake handling.

Your comment made me laugh. Lots. And that's good. 'Cause I dug it.

Dikkii said...

G'day Sadie. You had some good stuff, too:

It's just faulty for anyone to think they have the answer for everything. Saying "I don't know" isn't a sign of weakness--it's a sign of honesty.

Very true, but later you wrote:

I know your blog post was more about the reason behind the question but I don't want to waste time wondering if the question is valid when there is so obviously an answer--for me, anyways.

Suppose that a conference is called between all interested parties where they debate how to word the question, "What is the meaning of life?" into a better defined and more specific question.

Suppose also, that after years of consultation, the best that they can agree on is this:

What is two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onion on a sesame seed bun better known as?

You're going to look just a smidge silly, if you suggest the answer is "God" to this one, don't you think?

uh-huh. I don't think God "grows up".

A somewhat disheartening thought, given the blatant immaturity shown throughout the OT.

I think there is a very good reason the book of Job is in the canon of Scripture for generations to read and digest. It has nothing to do with formulating reasons NOT to trust God.

I agree, but that's not how it comes out.

And it's not just in the Book of Job either:

Akusai's take on the Garden of Eden story with my executive summary here.

BeepBeepIt'sMe's take on the same story.

My really old post of Easter 1998 where I point out a number of really incriminating things about God.

British humor is just lost on people.

Not me!! Love it.

I suppose that's a statement for a future post, eh? You don't want to start that up do you?

*Groans* Sadie, you would not believe how much stuff I would like to post about at the moment. It's scary. And there are too few hours in the day.

Plonka said...

Dikkii: Ooops, ok, you got me.. When earth was blown away. But earth was still a computer...;)

I've been having to verify twice lately too...:(

Sadie Lou said...

Suppose also, that after years of consultation, the best that they can agree on is this:

What is two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onion on a sesame seed bun better known as?

You're going to look just a smidge silly, if you suggest the answer is "God" to this one, don't you think?


erm. I'm afraid you lost me.

The Rev. Jenner J. Hull said...

Great post, and not just because of the "H2G2" reference.

Although, whenever anyone has ever asked me, "What's the answer?" in a broad sense, I, without hestitation and in all honesty, tell them, "42." Then they ask, "What does that mean?" And I say, "Exactly." I've found it usually sums up the entire issue perfectly.

As for the "Meaning of Life" itself, I've found that that is a question with a million answers. I can find a multitude of meanings to my life (love, friendship, knowledge, charity, fun, humor, sex, creativity, etc.) yet, I suspect that's only because I'm an an atheist.

I'm sure the theists out there enjoy many things besides pleasing their god, but to relegate their very existences to that sole purpose is, to me, infinitely depressing. And also leads to the bigger question, "Why does God need love?" But that's a whole 'nother animal...

Dikkii said...

Plonka:

I've been having to verify twice lately too...:(

That's so normal for me now, I don't even blink when that happens.

Dikkii said...

Sadie Lou:

erm. I'm afraid you lost me.

Hmm. I chose a deliberately silly question in the hope that the point would be made pretty clear. I guess I need to be more specific. The point I was making was this:

Is it presumptious and silly to say you've got an answer to a question that hasn't been properly defined and refined?

And

Do you have the potential to look like a goose if the answer you've chosen in advance turns out to have no relationship with whatever it was the question turned out to be really about?

This blogger says "yes". And my example is evidence of why that is the case.

Not sure I can make it any clearer than that.

Dikkii said...

Jenner:

Although, whenever anyone has ever asked me, "What's the answer?" in a broad sense, I, without hestitation and in all honesty, tell them, "42." Then they ask, "What does that mean?" And I say, "Exactly." I've found it usually sums up the entire issue perfectly.

Jenner, that's so cool I want to steal it. The only problem is that most of the people I know know Adams backwards and would just smile along with the joke.

It works best on anyone who hasn't read any Adams.

As for the "Meaning of Life" itself, I've found that that is a question with a million answers. I can find a multitude of meanings to my life (love, friendship, knowledge, charity, fun, humor, sex, creativity, etc.) yet, I suspect that's only because I'm an an atheist.

You're one step up from me. I'm still trying to work out how the question is supposed to be defined.

I'm sure the theists out there enjoy many things besides pleasing their god, but to relegate their very existences to that sole purpose is, to me, infinitely depressing.

The thing is, I think that theists are as much in the dark about what the question means as the rest of us. The fact that theists have to constantly re-affirm their belief in a deity(ies) as the answer in spite of no solid definition of the term "meaning of life" certainly conveys a degree of uncertainty, I think.

...but to relegate their very existences to that sole purpose is, to me, infinitely depressing.

Not only that, it smacks of a complete lack of imagination.

And also leads to the bigger question, "Why does God need love?" But that's a whole 'nother animal...

Well, we all need love. God's just an egomaniac. Ever notice how the prophets (e.g. Abraham, David Koresh, Brigham Young, Mohammed) always need more lovin' than the rest of us, if you know what I mean? God's the biggest prophet of the lot. So, if you excuse the Led Zep reference, He wants us to give Him every inch of our love.

Sadie Lou said...

I'm an idiot. I keep reading your comment over and over again and I can't grasp it.

Is it presumptious and silly to say you've got an answer to a question that hasn't been properly defined and refined?

What if the question makes perfect sense to the person being asked? Who cares if 9 out of 10 people don't like the question--that one person likes it, gets it and has an answer--does that make the question more or less a valid question just because the majority of people don't think it's valid?

And

Do you have the potential to look like a goose if the answer you've chosen in advance turns out to have no relationship with whatever it was the question turned out to be really about?

So you're saying that the question:
"What is the meaning of life?"
Might not have any religious significance at all?
And therefore, a "spiritual" answer doesn't relate to the question?
Now that's presumptious!

Dikkii said...

Hi Sadie:

"I'm an idiot. I keep reading your comment over and over again and I can't grasp it."

Don't be like that, Sadie. I'm finding it just as difficult to put my point across, so I guess if if you're an "idiot", any observer would be finding it hard to tell the difference between you and I.

"What if the question makes perfect sense to the person being asked? Who cares if 9 out of 10 people don't like the question--that one person likes it, gets it and has an answer--does that make the question more or less a valid question just because the majority of people don't think it's valid?"

I wasn't querying the validity of the question - for all I know, it's a perfectly valid question. I just query the slippery indefinability of the terms in which the question is formulated.

And yeah, for some people the question is completely lucid. Unfortunately, one person's interpretation of the question is not the same as the next person, so we have a question that has no objective comparability between one answer to the next.

Unless, of course, definitions are agreed to in the question as to the content of the question. Or the question is worded better. One of the two. Or both.

"So you're saying that the question:
"What is the meaning of life?"
Might not have any religious significance at all?
And therefore, a "spiritual" answer doesn't relate to the question?"


Doesn't logically follow. A better worded closing question would have been:

And therefore, a "spiritual" answer might not relate to the question?

And I'm sure you'll agree that this is far less presumptious than saying that it definitely is spiritual, because it doesn't just entertain one possibility.

Kathryn said...

Yeah, sorry my comment was long and waffley. I'm too used to writing scientific stuff. If I don't have cold, hard facts to write about I get a bit lost.

With reference to HG2G quinogy, Arthur and Ford get a caveman to pull letters out of the scrabble bag to formulate the question. Anyway, the question they got for the answer was "What do you get if you multiply six by nine?" 54. This only equals 42 if you work in base 13. No, I didn't figure that out. Neither did Adams.

So I don't understand that question either. Some smug git once told me that it doesn't make sense and it shows life doesn't make sense. But then that guy was an idiot.

I'm glad I'm not the only one having to verify twice.

Dikkii said...

Kathryn:

Yeah, sorry my comment was long and waffley.

Don't apologise.

I'm too used to writing scientific stuff. If I don't have cold, hard facts to write about I get a bit lost.

This is probably also why the term "meaning of life" really irritates me. How flaky and vague is it?

With reference to HG2G quinogy, Arthur and Ford get a caveman to pull letters out of the scrabble bag to formulate the question...

Didn't know abbout the base 13 answer. I had a different take on this - I thought the reason that the question the caveman pulled out didn't make sense is that the earth was blown up 5 minutes before the program completed running.

Some smug git once told me that it doesn't make sense and it shows life doesn't make sense. But then that guy was an idiot.

LOL. That's an entirely different type of pre-suppositionalism to anything I've ever seen before. Hysterical.

Plonka said...

Wow...:)

It took me a while to catch up on all the comments here but it's been brilliant...

But after all of that, I think the best I can see is that it seems to come down to how you define "meaning".

As Sadie has pointed out, if you're looking for a spiritual answer then God is one resource where that answer can and probably will be found.

If, on the other hand you're looking for more mundane meaning, then I think it is merely to exist and procreate. As Dawkins says, I think that whatever purpose we give our lives "comes from within" (Hehe...:)).

I thought the reason that the question the caveman pulled out didn't make sense is that the earth was blown up 5 minutes before the program completed running.

It's never been defined properly, so no answer can ever make sense. You cannot retrofit a question to an answer for an improperly defined question. As for the base 13 math (now that has to be mind bending) and the fact that it works, obviously this means the question is subjective. Any answer can be right, it just depends how you look at it...:) How'd I do?

Sadie Lou said...

And I'm sure you'll agree that this is far less presumptious than saying that it definitely is spiritual, because it doesn't just entertain one possibility.

Of course!
It is a question that allows for all people from all walks of life to formulate their answer or their confsion or their frustration--that's why it's one of those questions that transcend time and culture and society and whatever else--it's a question defined by the individual. That's why it's such a good one. IMO.

Dikkii said...

Plonka wrote:

Any answer can be right, it just depends how you look at it...:) How'd I do?

And Sadie wrote:

--it's a question defined by the individual. That's why it's such a good one. IMO.

Plonka, you did well. And for that matter, so did you, Sadie.

And this illustrates what's wrong with the question. If answering it means that anything can be considered, "correct", then what the hell are we asking it for in the first place?

What use is a question that can have anything as a possibly correct answer?

Why ask the question at all, if any interpretation is correct?

And, does a question that is open to this much interpretation have any degree of usefulness?

To this I answer, "sausages".

Plonka said...

Dikkii: If answering it means that anything can be considered, "correct", then what the hell are we asking it for in the first place?

As far as Douglas goes, I think he was also trying to make the same point you made in your post. It's not just that it can be any answer, it can also be any question. Both impossible (or should that be "improbable" :)) to ask and answer.

Dikkii said...

As far as Douglas goes, I think he was also trying to make the same point you made in your post. It's not just that it can be any answer, it can also be any question. Both impossible (or should that be "improbable" :)) to ask and answer.

Exactly right, Plonka. Now do we tell this to anyone who asks it?

Plonka said...

Dikkii: Now do we tell this to anyone who asks it?

Well it's a hell of a lot of explaining for a very short question. Still, I'll probably try...:)