Friday, March 27, 2009

The Meaning of Life

Sometimes I wake up willing to philosophate. And this blog also has much of philosophy, even if it is "bar philosophy", which is also fine. So, I would like to propose here the classical philosophical question:

What is the meaning of life?

Not that I expect to find an answer to that in blog comments, but I think it is interesting to read opinions about it. Before, though, allow me to state some hypothesis. I've read a bit, I've travelled, I've met people and cultures and lived a few years. So, I have these hypothesis to enumerate, but I am still far from finding an answer to the question. If there is one. Take a look and tell me what you think.

The Bible tells me the meaning of life is God. I believed in that for quite some time. From childhood up to some point in my teens. But actually, in that period I did not care much about the existence of a meaning of life. Maybe it is best not to care. "Ignorance is bliss". Children are genuinely happy in this way. But today I do not believe that such meaning is in God. I won't write more about that, because people use to say we should not question religion, and I don't trust "unquestionable" ideas.

Many songs and poems say to me that the meaning of life is romantic love. Maybe it is. I think that hypothesis is valid and I still have not given up on testing it. But if that is the case, I still haven't found the meaning of my life.

Capitalism explains that the meaning of life is to accumulate capital, property, titles, influence, power. I am skeptical about this one. I don't think the meaning of life is to accumulate "things". Things can bring us some comfort, let our lives more practical. Maybe a little more pleasant, but I don't think they give it a meaning.

Others say the meaning is to work. "Work dignifies man". But what is, essentialy, to work? Except for very special cases, to work is to produce things. Produce knowledge, software, sofas, whatever. Things that satisfy the demand capitalism has just suggested. But we had already claimed that the meaning cant be in "things". At least not for me. Can it be for you? A life with more or less comfort is equally meaningless. Isn't it?

Others still claim the meaning is family. As a matter of fact, having a daughter gives great meaning to my life, and it is an immense satisfaction to me. But, in the other hand, families not always work out as a unity. There are often fights, people willing to divide rather than unite. Anyway, that is one of the strongest hypothesis, in my opinion. A family, at least, allows for some kind longer term future.

Freud claims life is meaningless suffering. An eternal conflict between man and nature. An eternal conflict between instinct and the superego. Between animal desire and the civilization that protects us and at the same time represses us. It is a bit pessimistic. Even sad. But sometimes it looks like Freud is right. If so, there is no meaning. Just a conflict man is destined to lose to death.

Existentialism affirms the meaning of life is the freedom of thought, of deciding what is best fore oneself. I appreciate this idea. It is very good to feel free. It is very good to be able to decide. Although, often decisions are hard, and our freedom is always limited, falling back to what Freud was saying above.

Hedonism says the meaning of life is pleasure. The search for pleasure. An interesting thought. But, after some time, maybe those things may seem a bit ephemeral. Happiness seems to be ephemeral. Maybe the meaning of life is a constant search for a few ephemeral moments.

Maybe the meaning is on social interactions. In a "chimarrão" or a game of poker with friends, a weekend barbecue. Maybe yes. Some of the best moments are like that. But again, ephemeral.

Many of the previous paragraphs can be summarized in the word "happiness". The meaning of life would be to live a happier life. But happiness is always ephemeral. Happiness are moments. Homeopathic doses. Would the life have an ephemeral meaning? Would it be something to be pursued every single day? Every single minute? An eternal pursuit of something that never comes to stay?

Would the meaning of life be all of the above? None of the above? I have no clue.

Text translated from the original post in Portuguese.


Sapna said...

[1] I guess if anyone knew exactly the meaning of their life, they will die. Die of the lack of mystery, of surprise, of not knowing what to look forward to.
Imagine knowing what you are in this world for... would you be interested in living for that defined purpose ? I definitely wouldn't be.

[2] I would say,the meaning of life is 'being passionate' about whatever one does. In believing, collecting material things, having fun, playing a game, whatever. Maybe if we love what we do, every moment, the outcome shouldn't matter. Look at the way children live. They live for the moment, totally engrossed in whatever they do.

As we grow old, we forget to be the child we were. Also, the fact that we grow older, have to work, earn, provide for our families changes things too. Then, there is the pressure of societal expectations(I know what you would say, but we can't escape it). Responsibilities kill the child in us I guess.

Just me thinking.

Sapna said...

I am adding something more. Yesterday, I finished the book 'Tuesday's with Morrie' by Mitch Albom and it ended with the phrase 'meaning of life'. See if you get any directions from the book.

Arun said...

Hi Leonardo,
Interesting thinking... a question that is difficult to answer. You are almost there when you say it is for happiness - but in a way that is just rephrasing the question from what is the meaning of life to what is happiness?

Happiness is not ephemeral - it is a state of mind. Now how long that state of mind is to last is in the hands of the mind itself...

Certain books come to my mind in the context of your musings - both by Richard Pirsig - his first book "Zen and the art of motoorcycle maintenance" talk about 'Quality' being the "way" of life. His second one - "Lila" dissects quality into physical, social, intellectual in one dimension and then into dynamic and static in another dimension. What it finally brings home is the fact that all these have to co-exist...and they do.
These reflections probably provide meaning on the different approaches to the meaning of life that you have read about.
I will end with a question - Does life have a meaning and then does it have to?
Bye for now
Have fun

Leonardo said...

Thank you both for the comments. I appreciate it. I think there is no such meaning, but that we can do our best to achieve this "happy state of mind". And it is probably a combination of many factors that allow us to get there. Your reading suggestions were all added to my "to-read" list. Thanks a lot.

Minter said...

The meaning of life for me is just about the journey itself. Love, learnings, losses... Ups and downs are a vital part of the journey... vital to give appreciation when things are going well. Tuesday's with Morrie is a great book. Somehow I find more meaning of life via music: words, energy and community.