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The Making of Meaning
September 28th, 2011

photo by thebadastronomer

For millennia, man has wondered the same thing, over and over: do our lives have meaning? Is there some larger purpose that transcends the biological, evolutionary machines that are our physical bodies, something more important than basic survival and reproduction?

Any intelligent, critically thinking person knows that there is a very real possibility that nothing lives on beyond these fragile shells we dwell in—that when you die, the lights go out and that is that. I’m not saying this definitely is the case, but most people should have an understanding that this could be the truth of it all. Many have faith that there is something more; many don’t.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say that’s how it is. Would that mean our lives—insignificant specs in the vast cosmos—are intrinsically filled with no more meaning than our brains, with their immeasurable complexities, trick us into believing? Would it mean that, although helping others and changing people’s lives for the better is an indisputably noble cause, the fact remains that anything appearing to transcend the basic tenets of survival is but a byproduct of our own consciousness?

I obviously couldn’t tell you the answer to our endless existential query, but I can tell you the answer to the slightly smaller question of whether or not our lives could have meaning regardless of the post-mortem outcome.

The fact is (scientifically and spiritually), the universe as we each know it is a fabrication of our own minds. The colors we see, the sounds we hear, the things we feel both inside and outside our bodies are merely our brain’s interpretations of information it has gathered from our senses and organized conveniently to give us continuous updates on the state of what is going on around us. Had we evolved differently, we could be experiencing the world very differently as well—we only see about a billionth of the electromagnetic spectrum in what we call “visible light.” A billionth. A snake “sees” mostly by sensing vibrations through the ground. What if we saw infrared rays? What if we heard sound reverberating with such intricacy that we could see our surroundings without opening our eyes? The whole world would be changed. Our brains are even easily tricked because they don’t represent an objective picture; they reflect what our species has come to determine is most important for our survival.

Time passes differently from moment to moment, person to person. The emotions and meanings we assign to things exist only within ourselves. I could wake up in a horrible mood one morning, but the stranger I pass on the sidewalk has no idea this is the case. Because it isn’t. The day isn’t actually bad, it’s just my mind telling me so. I could see a person who has wronged me and assign a label to him: asshole. But the person selling him coffee at Starbuck’s does not see this. It is all in my mind. I talked about this a bit in my post about emptiness: meaning is assigned to things and to moments by us and can therefore be changed by us.

But here’s the thing that is most important to remember: just because all of this is in our minds, it doesn’t mean it’s not real. That feeling of “asshole” is very real to me, even if I’m the only one who senses it. My blue guitar is real, and it exists even if what I see happens to be nothing more than one interpretation of its existence. It’s true that when we feel as though something has “meaning,” it may not really have any objective meaning that exists beyond our own brains. But that meaning is still very much a real thing, even if it’s only real to us. And that’s the heart of the matter: when we create meaning and purpose in our lives, we create something real. If you make your life meaningful, it will be. And if your actions and reactions reflect the purpose and meaning you have created, then your life will have true purpose and meaning. And every time that’s the case, your purpose will be felt by more than just yourself. With no exceptions.

Of course, there’s still a possibility that a more transcendent or metaphysical meaning does exist in the grand scheme of things, beyond our individual experience. But whether or not that’s the case doesn’t really matter. You have complete control over your direction in life. And even if the lights all go out in the end, it could never take away from the fact that you lived your life with purpose.

 

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