Sunday, 19 December 2010

Life and Meaning

Every structure that exists is intrinsically of an intelligent order - if it weren't internally intelligent it wouldn't cohere as a living structure. The fact of its existence, be it an atom, a stone, a bird, insect, human, etc. is absolutely dependent on its being intelligent and in itself meaningful.

But what does 'meaningful' mean when talking of life and the living things which comprise or inhabit life?  If 'meaningful' were to signify being possessed of intrinsic intelligence and so internally significant, then every structure, as said above, is in itself meaningful - the fact of its existence inseparable from its internal meaningfulness. Is it so instead the attempt to say there is a greater purpose beyond these things themselves?

The talk of life's meaninglessness seems based on the assumed absence of God, and in this absence life's living structures are then senselessly declared meaningless. Identically life's meaningfulness tends to be seen in terms of the presence of God, and the meaning of life's structures resides in their connection to this external element.
This is all the opposite of true existentialism; rather than being appreciated as internally meaningful structures, the  meaningfulness of these living elements is perceived as external to themselves and instead dependent on their connection to an absolute, external to life - God.

When using language as an intellectual truth-tool, if that language is to produce the correct results, then it must be used properly, not in a self-contradictory manner. And so it makes no sense to introduce within intellectual discourse elements within life that are external to life. This can only falsify life. Life is what is, and if God is, then God is inseparable from life, or what is. To say that God is external to life and what is is to say that God, being not part of what is, is not, and so does not exist. If something isn't part of what is, then it is part of what isn't! which is to say there is no 'it' to speak of.

So to talk of God or anything as outside of life is senseless language, and so the notion of life's meaning as being dependent on its connection to something external to life is impossible to sustain. This is not all as relates to 'God' as a viable element of intellectual discourse. To treat God as an object of intellectual discourse is necessarily to falsify such an absolute. Firstly as shown above, God cannot be treated as external to what is, and secondly, God cannot be treated as an element within life; this is the attempt to turn an absolute into a relative, i.e. God has somehow become submerged within God's creation, and so is another object of creation and a lesser being than life.

So on an intellectual level is seen the logical coherence of all the genuine religious stressing that God is only to be met with in silence. Language necessarily cannot cross the divide to the absolute, and to think otherwise ends, either by falsifying the absolute, ending in a false, relative concept of God, or in the declaration of God's non-existence; or the two simultaneously, i.e. declaring the false concept to be the nature of God, and then going on to say that this falsified notion of the divine does not exist. It is again an instance of Wittgenstein's line, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent...."

Repeating myself: instead of this 'meaningfulness' external to a living structure, every living structure is a living structure because of its cohering as an intelligent structure, and one does not need to go beyond this existential state to adjudge its meaningfulness. It is in itself meaningful. Consider a crossword puzzle. There is no need when concerning oneself with solving a puzzle to trouble oneself with the historical matter of the author compiling the puzzle as if this were the essence of the matter; instead the puzzle is treated existentially, i.e. one takes as a given the 'intelligence' of the puzzle, considers the given clues and that is all.

We could imagine a sect of puzzle addicts who take to arguing that the puzzles are 'accidentally intelligent'; that given the existence somehow or other of the letters, these letters through some mysterious (but senseless!) compulsion towards order arrange themselves in haphazard sequences, and so on till we end up with these puzzles before us. The puzzles are intelligent structures, it is, as it must be, admitted, but this intelligence is claimed to be 'accidental', and so the puzzles, while genuinely meaningful, are still declared to be ultimately meaningless.

This is all utter nonsense not primarily because of the ludicrous nature of the theory but in its failure to appreciate or understand reality in the flesh, that is, existentially. Accidental significance or meaningfulness is a false category; something either is or isn't of an intelligent order. That a puzzle works is dependent on the fact that it is intelligent and meaningful. If the clues and answers didn't match up then it would not be an intelligent structure, and so wouldn't in truth exist as a puzzle. For instance, a clue went: "Four-legged animal that barks/ Man's best friend' - but the desired answer was Cow, then this would be senseless. Contrarily any structure that truly is must be internally intelligent and meaningful - its meaning being itself. A human being is a living structure of more internal significance than an amoeba, and within the domain of humans, the consciousness of a Leonardo da Vinci, certainly within certain fields, is far more internally significant than that of an average person. Also a great work of art, say Hamlet, is a structure of immeasurably more internal significance than Police Academy 6.

But we should look closer at this word 'meaning' and its extensions of 'meaningfulness' and 'meaninglessness'. What is it to say something has meaning? It is to say it means something else. The meaning of someone's strange, tetchy behaviour may be that for whatever reasons he or she is enduring a period of extreme stress. To go back to the crossword puzzle: the clues have a meaning, the meaning being the correct answer. Essentially the clues are questions with single implied answers. So the clue's meaning is the same as itself but perhaps in more succinct form.

Meaning so is a matter of language; it is a linguistic equivalent to something else. Words mean something - they are purely intellectual entities with reference to a combination of objects of external perception and invisible inner realities. The word 'sun' without a sun to which it refers wouldn't exist in that sense, though it might exist as a word referring to something else. 'Happy' refers to an inner state, and so on. Language can become much more apparently subtle than when not concerned with matters of 'external reality', but the words still always can only maintain their nature as signifiers. Words mean things, they are not autonomous structures. One could say that a colour or sound is sufficient to itself, doesn't refer to something else, but not language. Take a word from a dead language, or written words seen by a baby, the words do not exist in an intellectual sense. This again shows how language must by its very nature be insufficient to experience reality in an absolute, naked or ultimate sense; language by its nature must be at a remove from it. And so again one is led back to the importance of silence and intellectual humility. This is very different by the way from saying that language is a flawed tool. It is if used rightly a prefect tool or instrument, but even still it is what it is - a world of symbols.

And back again to the notion of supposed question of whether life is possessed of meaning or not. Stressing that what tends to happen here is to leap to the imagined answers to the question without properly considering what actually is the question. This 'meaning' is to try and say that the living structures of life do not really in themselves matter, but that life means something else, and this meaning is its essence. As described, this something else external to life is a senseless concept. Then we have the very bizarre thought that with the tautologically inevitable failure of this Something Else apart from life to appear within life, life is declared to be without meaning.
The very wording of the question attempts to deprive life of internal existential significance. Life's significance is instead in its meaning something else. To look onwards a little, a meaning is a matter of words, an idea. And to take from an artistic piece I wrote previously Rooftop:

So the essence of all matter it seems is words, ideas. In the beginning was the word. Matter was behaving in such and such a manner because it was conforming to an idea which was the truth of the matter. But what is an idea but words in someone’s head and words in someone’s head is a very recent phenomenon, so in whose head were these words to which matter was conforming before there were any words? A mystery.

So anyway, interest flagging, the notion again of life's meaning is to say that life's entities are not possessed of primary reality in themselves but that instead they have to be judged according to their meaning something else, some kind of ultimate language equivalent - this being the nature of a meaning, it is a matter of words. But as shown this is self-contradictory as the primary reality is necessarily at a remove from the symbol world of language. As for the idea that the meaning equivalent of life is that it is without meaning! this is simply laughable. Well if this is its meaning - that it is meaningless - then naturally it is not deprived of but possessed of a meaning, and so its meaninglessness a self-contradictory notion.



Anonymous said...

'declaring the false concept to be the nature of God, and then going on to say that this falsified notion of the divine does not exist.'

This makes me think of the debate between theologians and the likes of Dawkins. Theologians believe in a word-delineated, conceptual God (omnisicient, omnipotent, all good etc -whatever that can mean), which is an idea in their heads, and then atheists deny that this 'God' in their heads exists. Meanwhile God may be doing (if God exists of course!)what God may be doing, silently and panENtheistically - meaning (if to mean be allowed:)) both inside and outside life.

I liked this piece alot Andrew, and good to read your blog again. It's been awhile. I prefer the 'purpose' of life to life's meaning; purpose can be found within the inherent structure of life forms.

Often i think when people wonder about the meaning of life (i agree life cannot be defined by something that is not life- and definition is what meaning is) they are actually thinking, or should be thinking, about purpose.

Happy Christmas


(not writing much these days at

Andrew Kenneally said...

Hi Jonathan, glad you enjoyed it. I'd say life's purpose is something like life realised . . . how for instance being physically fit is a more realised state than being unfit.

And Happy Christmas to you