What is the meaning of life? You have probably heard this question before, perhaps you have even asked this question yourself. However there is an inherent problem with this question. It is very vague. This question could actually be asking a variety of things. Does life (at the cosmic scale) have a purpose? Does my life have a purpose? Are we here for a reason? For what reason am I living?
There are a variety of ways you can answer these questions. From my perspective, there is no overall grand purpose to life. There is no objective meaning that we can find. Life and the universe just happened randomly, with no overarching purpose or goal. If you are of a religious orientation, you probably disagree with me on this point. You would be inclined to think that God has given humans a purpose and meaning to their lives. However, for those of us that do not attribute the creation of the universe to a deity or cosmic energy, the seeming meaninglessness of life is something that we must grapple with.
This is an idea that makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable. That life just kind of happened, and there is no overall meaning to it. No guiding hand of providence. Humans are very good at recognizing patterns. Sometimes, we even fool ourselves into thinking that we see patterns when there actually are none. How many times have you seen a “sign” that helped you make a decision, or reflected back on the past and said, “oh, that must have been a sign of things to come”. It is very difficult for us to escape this story making mentality. This is how I personally view most religious attempts to answer this question.
The struggle in dealing with the meaningless of existence is encapsulated in the views of Absurdism, Existentialism, and Nihilism. These views, all to some degree, state that life has no objective meaning, but humans will forever look for meaning in a meaningless existence. We are all Sisyphus, forever pushing a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down again.
This is the Absurd that we rebel against in Absurdism. This is the freedom that liberates us in Nihilism. This is the blank canvas that we can use to craft our own meaning in Existentialism.
As the philosopher Jean Paul Satre famously said, we are “condemned to freedom”. Having some freedom with some choices is nice, but having too many choices available can be a nightmare.
I am inclined to agree with the Existentialists here. Perhaps the Existential Nihilists to be specific? I too think that there is no objective meaning to life. In the first place we assign meaning to things, not the other way around.
Take a look at this sign. What does it mean?
It means, ‘be careful of deer crossing the street in this area’. Why does it mean this? It means this because we have assigned this meaning to the sign and agreed upon it. Even these tiny little letters combined in a specific sequence on your screen that you are reading right now mean something to you. But they only mean something because we have assigned a meaning to them. The meaning did not magically exist beforehand. We assign meaning to things, not the other way around.
Existence precedes essence.
– Jean Paul Satre
Because we as humans assign meaning, we can craft our own individual meaning of life. Nobody is going to simply hand over the meaning of your life to you on a silver platter. It is something that you must search for and create yourself. How do we create our own meaning in life? I am not sure, I am still working on that myself…