The meaning of life. A question you have heard addressed a thousand times but never answered properly. People never seem to give a simple straight answer, but I will make sure to do so. I will actually provide a very convincing and logical answer.
The reason so many people have trouble answering this question is because those who ask it are looking for a singular monolithic and definitive answer. Unfortunately, all they get in return is some Postmodernist rephrasing of the question telling you that the concept of meaning is a social construct. People who try to answer this question will usually give you one of 7 common responses. We’ll go through them all before I make my own case;
1) Fatalism, where the meaning of life is whatever God wants it to be
2) Existentialism, where the meaning of life is whatever you say it is
3) Hedonism, where the meaning of life is simply just to be happy.
4) Utilitarianism, where the meaning of life is to help other people become happy.
5) Essentialism, where the meaning of life is to evolve, have sex, and not get killed by predators.
6) Absurdism, where the question of “meaning” is irrational and makes no sense so you should rebel against the idea
7) Nihilism, where there is no intrinsic meaning in anything we will ever do.
None of these popular ideologies seem to provide a satisfying answer to the question of meaning.
COMMON ANSWERS TO THE QUESTION
1) Firstly there is Religious Fatalism, the idea that all events are predetermined by God and that he has a plan for you. The meaning of life in the classical world used to be about simply just obeying the gods and religious texts. Today, it is the most common response you will hear worldwide.
Of course, the problem with this answer is that it just shifts the burden of the question to God and the mysterious unknown without actually answering it. I have nothing against God or Religion, but the reason this answer isn’t satisfying to many people is because they will have to wait until they die to know the meaning of life with 100% certainty and why humans were even created at all.
2) Existentialism is probably the most popular answer you will hear in secularized western countries. It holds that we are free responsible agents and are tasked with creating our own meaning. This could mean that the meaning of life could be to write the greatest novel, build the greatest company, or to win the Olympics. It pursues Self-Actualization at the very top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and is the most subjective answer you can give to the question of meaning.
The reason this answer can be disappointing is because people who ask the question might be instead looking for some underlying nature of reality that is objective and universal. In short, Existentialists don’t really answer our question.The question existentialists answer is not “what is the meaning of life?”, but rather, “how do we find life to be meaningful?”. Existentialists will simply tell you to let go of your need for an absolute definitive answer and instead reformulate the question in terms of your subjective experience. It doesn’t even really explain why we do what we do. It doesn’t explain why we would ever want to write a novel, build a company, or win the Olympics in the first place.
3) Hedonism, on the other hand, suggests that the reason we create our own subjective existential meaning might be out of the universal pursuit of happiness. It embodies self-indulgence and self-esteem, which are bit lower on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than existentialism, so perhaps it might be a little closer to the core nature of humanity. Hedonists will often say that the meaning of life is just to, quote unquote, “do what makes you happy”.
Today, the predominant template for the meaning of life in western culture has mostly to do with our ongoing participation in consumerism, commodity, or entertainment culture. Hedonism holds that the meaning of life can be about finding true love, pursuing your passion, your hobbies, your career, being productive, owning lots of stuff, or enjoying yourself on the weekend and hopefully achieving happiness in the process.
Yet hedonism still feels like an unfulfilling answer because, like existentialism, it is still subjective. What makes each individual happy depends greatly on their current surroundings at any given moment in time. Hedonism would mean that the meaning of life changes over time.
As a kid the meaning of life was growing your Pokemon card collection. Then as a teenager, that meaning changed into the pursuit of rock music because the happiness of having a Pokemon card collection died down. Then maybe in your twenties you get bored of music and pursue girls instead. If you got married, then maybe pursuing a career would become your new meaning of life because it makes you happier.
It all seems to depend on your subjective age, environment, culture, and upbringing. It is not a meaningful answer to us because it would mean that the meaning of life is something fluid rather than something static and unchanging.
4) This same logic applies to Utilitarianism. But Utilitarians also believe that helping others as a whole can be more meaningful than helping yourself. That Altruism can be the same universal and unchanging sense of purpose for everyone on this earth.Utilitarianism is a form of collectivist hedonism where the monolithic and objective meaning of our lives is to increase maximum happiness for everyone on Earth, regardless of the cost to the individual.
For example, many try to embody the values of Utilitarianism through ideologies like democracy, socialism, communism, Marxism, globalism, feminism, veganism, multiculturalism, social justice activism, and identity politics. They want to make sure they maximize social belonging and social security for the vast majority, even if it violates the freedoms of the minority.
Although Utilitarianism is more specific than hedonism, it still doesn’t give a profound answer because the nature of love and happiness is very deterministic and chemical.The source of all our love and happiness comes from neurotransmitters like Dopamine and Serotonin.
This reduces the concept of the happy person to a mere puppet of their own chemistry, pandering to whatever stimulus will release more of those neurotransmitters so they can feel more pleasure. With that said, you might as well just campaign in the name of free heroin injections for everyone on Earth. Perhaps it is unsatisfying because happiness is such a small part of what life actually is.
5) However, Biological essentialism digs a little deeper into the nature of life. Dogs and monkeys are just as alive as us, so what is the meaning of life for them? What about bacteria? They can’t even understand the concept of happiness, let alone religion or social justice. Yet they are alive, thus the meaning of life must also apply to them. Unless we are talking about the meaning of consciousness, which is a different question altogether. Many life forms are thought to have varying levels of self-awareness, but in the long run, we are all byproducts of our self-replicating DNA. A common theme we see in all life. To survive and reproduce…
In biological essentialism, the meaning of life is an innate and natural essence rather than a product of circumstances, upbringing, neurotransmitters, or culture. Essentialism gives a very direct deterministic answer to the meaning of life through evolution, the survival and reproduction of our selfish genes. It is about survival of the fittest, using our animal instincts to fight for the basic needs at the very bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy.
It suggests that all we are is simply just evolutionary vehicles for our self-replicating genes to most efficiently reproduce and survive into the next generation. All of our bodily adaptations and social norms were designed by evolution to facilitate this process. Your genes manipulate the development of your brain and give you instructions to protect them, rewarding you with happiness chemicals whenever you do. Your genes tell you that the meaning of life is to provide safety and security for your family, for your tribe, and for anyone who also carries copies of your genes. This would suggest that your purpose is to have a family of your own so those genes can be passed on.
The problem with this answer though is that, again, you are reduced to a mere puppet exploited by your biomolecules so they can reproduce more easily. If the meaning of life is reduced to the self-replicating chemical nanomachines of our DNA, then it collapses the question into simple mechanistic determinism. With that said, if the meaning of life is simple mechanistic determinism then maybe the question itself doesn’t make sense.
6) This is where Absurdism comes in. When we ask what the meaning of life is perhaps we’re asking the wrong question altogether because it isn’t commensurate with life’s reality in the first place. The term “meaning of life” itself is lost in terms of linguistic and cultural categories that are themselves transitory historical artifacts. This would suggest that the meaning of life is a social construct. Who’s to say we possess the last word on what the terms “meaning” and “life” actually mean. In a distant futuristic society those words might mean something different.
Absurdism suggests that if reality is so irrational and absurd, then the search for order brings the individual into conflict with the universe. It holds that meaning is found by facing the absurd, accepting our small place in the universe, and rebelling against it. This would mean enjoying what little creature comforts life has to offer even though we aren’t obligated to do so.
The founder of this philosophy, Albert Camus, was himself a womanizer, pleasure-seeker, and an overall appreciator of life. Like the Greek story of Sisyphus, we should keep pushing the boulder up the hill. Not because we should, but just because we can. To commit suicide would be to turn one’s back on the beauty that life has to offer and Camus believed it to be the single greatest problem in all of philosophy. Again, the problem with this explanation of meaning is a logic of impermenence and people will not get the monolithic answer they are looking for. In this view, all you have to do to win at life is not kill yourself. But Nihilists would disagree about that…
7) Last but not least, the philosophy of Nihilism has a more straightforward answer to the meaning of life… that there isn’t one. Not only is there a lack of intrinsic meaning in the universe, but it’s also pointless to try to construct our own meaning as a substitute. It is also atheistic, suggesting that a designer God, like the meaning of life, would violate Occam’s razor. The simplest answer is usually the correct answer. Atheists and Nihilists suggest that God and religion add unnecessary complexities to the universe and raise more questions than they answer. Whether our creator is a god or a computer simulation programmer, if a higher power created us then what is that higher power’s purpose? What is God’s meaning of life? And if a higher being created them too, what is the purpose of their creator’s creator? And so on and so forth.
Nihilists would ask us to consider what value our lives would have to anyone or anything outside of this planet. The rest of the universe is indifferent to our existence. The whole thing could be destroyed in seconds by an asteroid, an exploding star, a nuclear apocalypse, a disease pandemic, a gamma ray burst from outer space, or a Supervolcano blocking out the sun. The only reason we are able to question life at all is a mere evolutionary accident of us having more cognitive abilities than other life forms like bacteria.
In addition, if you travel far enough in our universe you will run out of ways the particles can arrange themselves and start seeing exact copies of our Earth and its people. If you travel even further you will see doppelgangers of ourselves, each of them living every possible life you could have ever lived and have achieved everything there is to do. The idea of meaning goes out the window if we can prove the existence of the multiverse. The people you love don’t matter because you’ve already loved them, the book you’re writing has already been written, and your kids already exist in an infinite number of realities.
Of course, not a lot of these arguments for nihilism can be tested and confirmed so perhaps we shouldn’t so easily dismiss the possibility that the meaning of life exists.
IMMORTALISM: THE TRUE MEANING OF LIFE?
So if all 7 of these responses are so inadequate, then what is the real answer to the meaning of life? Well don’t worry, because I have it. I’m not joking, I’m being deadly serious, I do actually have the answer to the meaning of life. It’s actually not that difficult to figure out…
Are you ready?
Drum roll please!!!
The search for the meaning of life is itself the meaning of life. In other words, the meaning of life is to stay alive until you find the meaning of life.
Yes, that’s it. I am not kidding. That’s all there is to it.
The meaning of life is that we don’t know the meaning of life, but we should keep trying to know anyway. This could even mean developing the technology to stay alive for thousands of years until we can find the absolute meaning of life with 100 percent certainty.
This response may sound like Agnosticism, but the answer I just gave is also the best answer you’ll get from science and philosophy. Academics too will often say that we don’t know the exact meaning of life and that our data is inconclusive. There is absolutely nothing wrong with not knowing things, it is a position of intellectual honesty and humility. Scientists and philosophers aren’t wrong when they say we don’t know the answer, but the problem with their response is that they just don’t provide any plan of action for eventually getting to the answer. I would like to provide an answer that is both correct but also satisfying and gives us hope.
I am very patient and willing to wait until the day we figure out the correct answer to this question, even if it takes a hundred thousand years. The only problem I see here is the difficulty of actually developing the anti aging biotechnology, nanotechnology, and mind uploading technology that would actually let us exist for a hundred thousand years to begin with. Luckily, there is a philosophical idea within the field of Transhumanism and Archumanism that focuses on maximizing our chances of living that long.
The idea I’m talking about is known in the Transhumanist community as quote unquote “Immortalism”. The urban dictionary defines an Immortalist or life extensionist as a person who would like to live beyond the average human life expectancy. It’s about living forever through either a digital, cryonic, or biological medium using future advances in science and technology that might be just around the corner of the next few decades.
Immortalism is the idea that we should try to stay alive indefinitely so that we may see the day our society and its means of solving difficult problems inevitably improve. In a sense, Immortalism works as a placeholder for the meaning of life until we can get the real answer at a later time. It holds that we should preoccupy ourselves by coming up with ways to extend human life until we reach a point in our history where humanity can meaningfully answer the question of meaning.
You might find yourself asking why all this is even necessary. The reason that a more advanced futuristic society is needed to find meaning is because the responses we have in the modern world are just too inadequate to give us a clear answer. Why should we be so quick to suppose that our current conception of what the words “meaning” and “life” mean are, somehow, sufficient enough to capture all the depth and subtlety our reality has to offer. Life is always far more subtle, far more intricate, and far more complex than any of our modern explanations can possibly account for.
The only way to properly answer the question is in the far future, where we will be intellectually advanced enough to comprehend things that we don’t understand in the current year. Leaving the answer to our modern and primitive society would be as if we expected a prehistoric caveman from 10,000 BC to understand how a computer works. We must accept the fact that vagueries and imprecisions inherent in our modern society will blind us to the real answer. Our modern methods are simply just too insufficient. It would be wiser to trust a futuristic society that has discovered most of what there is to discover in math, science, theology, and philosophy. We should try to stay alive until human civilization has the tools, knowledge, and ideas needed to answer this question beyond all shadow of a doubt.
Of course, this answer to the question of meaning has many criticisms.
1) One common criticism is that I haven’t actually answered the question and have shifted the burden of the answer to futuristic super-intelligent societies. However, when I say that the meaning of life is the search for meaning, I haven’t actually avoided the question, instead, I took the derivative. The meaning of life being the search for meaning itself is simply just the derivative of the meaning of life. It’s not about getting the answer right away, but rather establishing a stepping stone that will eventually lead to the answer.
2) Another good counter-argument is that staying alive beyond our current life expectancy is impossible. This is definitely a topic for another video, but overall, aging is merely a genetic mechanism where the ends of our chromosomes are no longer being repaired by the telomerase enzyme. As a result, the cells go into senescence and that mechanism causes almost 100 percent of all diseases. With the right technology, aging could be entirely eliminated in the coming biotech era. Even then, mankind may also eventually reach a nanotech age, where our cells and organs become replaced with nanobots and artificial organs, making the human body as easy to repair as a car. No biological manipulation required.
If you want to get even more hypothetical, a more distant Neuro tech age could theoretically bring about a concept called digital immortality. Uploading our brains to computers neuron by neuron, transistor by transistor so the continuity of consciousness isn’t broken. Creating digital backups of your consciousness all throughout the cosmos definitely seems like a surefire way to extend your life expectancy. Of course, even if none of this happens, our 80 year lifespan may still be all the time we need to develop a superintelligent advanced society that can find the definitive meaning of life within our lifetime. If that’s the case, all you have to do is eat healthy, exercise, and not die.
3) The last major criticism of Immortalism and Agnosticism is when Nihilists double down on the meaninglessness of life. They suggest that we will never find the meaning of life no matter how hard we look, so staying alive trying to reach it is futile and we should just kill ourselves. While that may be true, I still demand to see some kind of logical syllogism to 100 percent confirm that life is meaningless. Until then, I do not think we should kill ourselves or accept death. Because we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Maybe one day we can even inherit the whole universe.
Our modern society is simply too ignorant to answer questions like this, but if we ever do gain the ability to answer it, then I’ll still want to be around for the day we do. Immortalism is a satisfying placeholder for the meaning of life because it doesn’t matter if life has objective meaning or not since it creates meaning out of the search for meaning. In other words, even if existence does feel meaningless, you should still try to figure it out anyway just in case you are wrong. After all, if you’re already a nihilist then what more do you have to lose?
Overall, the answer is that we don’t yet know the answer. But I’d like to end this video on a positive note. The byproduct of the answer poses many more questions. For example: What life extension technologies do the immortalists have in mind? How long will we have to stay alive to reach a super intelligent society? What if the universe ends before we find the answer? What if we never find the answer at all? How does the act of searching for meaning become meaning itself?
All of these are great questions and I answer all of them on this blog if you’d care to join me. Immortalism, Transhumanism, life extension, and the meaning of life are such broad topics that I am going to need way more than one post to answer these complex questions. But the good news is that none of us know the meaning of life yet, so I have more than enough time to explore this topic with you in my other posts.
Until then, thanks for reading to the end and have a nice indefinite existence… if you’re feeling optimistic…