Sunday, 4 September 2016

What Is The Meaning of Life

Derek McComiskey spoke to the August Stockport meeting.  He used numerous quotes as a backbone to his talk.  Many people seem happy to opine on The Meaning of Life (or, more realistically, How to Create Meaning in Life) and these opinions are sometimes sensible, sometimes amusing.  After initially stating that the answer is 42, he then suggested that Meaning can be analysed in two ways:
Comprehension (making sense of your life, of the world, and how you fit into it) and 
Purpose (long term goals that motivate you).

He then used quotes to illustrate four “Meaning Landscapes” 
1) where God-given meaning rains down from above
2) a desert devoid of meaning 
3) a rabbit-farm where the only (evolutionary) purpose is to procreate, and 
4) a mature tree of meaning growing out of our lives.

We owe a debt of gratitude to thinkers of the past who have forged our contemporary attitude to meaning: notably Nietzche and the Existentialists.

The idea of being in touch with Something Bigger Than Ourselves is common in this area of thought.  People often cite Relationships to be most important.  Also Roles (including jobs), Ideas (including politics, science and art) and Nature.  One role these things might serve is as a distraction that stops us becoming self-absorbed.  He then introduced the idea that “meaning is already in the culture and community” (Jennifer Michael Hecht).

Viktor Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist who had established a new form of psychotherapy (“Logotherapy”) founded on the idea that Meaning In Life is the most powerful human motivating force.  He then spent three years in concentration camps where his parents, brother and wife died.  This gave him an insight into whether Meaning can survive in these tragic circumstances.

Derek then mentioned studies that had been carried out by psychologists.   Roy Baumeister led a team studying the differences between a happy life and a meaningful life.   Martin Binder found that people working for non-profit organisations were happier with their life in general than for-profit workers.

The Philosopher Susan Wolf writes extensively about Meaning In Life.  She particularly explores what makes some things meaningful and some things not and relies on “communal intuitions about what's valuable and what isn't”.

To reflect upon how meaningful your life is - imagine you have half an hour of lucid calm before you die.  You can think back on your life and realistically assess the difference you have made.  Wouldn't it be fantastic to be able to look back and be sure that you had made a positive impact?  Things were better, rather than worse, because you had been.