I Have a Headache From Thinking

I blame my father for this - he’s the one who majored in philosophy.

It goes like this — the systems and institutions that attempt to give meaning to life (empirical, religious, philosophical, material, cultural, etc) all fail at some point or another. There’s always a “yeah…but” that makes the house of cards (or stones, even) crumble.

Stated another way, if any of them were perfect, we’d all be doing “it”, and we’re not. So right there’s your proof that they all fail.

So that leaves generated meaning. The meaning that exists in life is what we bring to it and create from it.

Not bad. Got that American cowboy feeling to it.

Except that then there’s nothing firm to stand upon - no house of cards for shelter. No way of ever being “right” except saying “well, it’s worked out well for me so far”. That’s not very doggone definite or meaningful - just utilitarian. Not a path to a larger truth.

I’m going up in smoke over here, trying to figure out the “right” way to live my life vis a vis being a mother, raising kids, making all those choices. All I can come up with is - well, X works for me, and Y does not. Never mind that 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed would argue for Y; never mind that family pressures point to Y; never mind that girlfriends and experts recommend Y (at least some of them); for me, it’s X. That’s my unique experience in this life.

In fact, I could argue for several of my X’s – choices that I’ve made that I believe EVERYONE “ought” to make, because they’re “right”.

Except that other people have eloquent and persuasive reasons for their choices. It invariably turns out, my picks were only right for me. And I’m not a universal truth.

So that means that my meaning has no meaning — it’s just my own, personal, meaningless experience. It’s not adding up to something Bigger.

I liked it better when I thought I was a universal truth, or on my way to becoming one.

Have you ever looked into Secular Humanism? It helps bring alot of life’s fumblings into focus for me personally.

I guess I embrace a more collective view of humanity’s meaning, rather than the individual subjective meaning. I draw my own subjective meaning from the hope that humanity will eventually find the cosmic objective meaning.

IMO, we as humans in our current evolutionary state aren’t capable of perceiving nor grasping the ultimate cosmic meaning of our existence. But I think we are capable of gaining that knowledge further down the evolutionary road. So, to me, the focus of our lives is to foster the hope for humanity to outlast its own self-destructive nature. We can do this by striving for peaceful societies, increasing our base of scientific knowledge, conserving natural resources, perhaps space exploration eventually, etc. This is all for the benefit of posterity, because if we can’t find the true meaning in our lifetimes, our best bet is that the generations to come will discover it.

This may still seem like another house of cards, but it’s the sturdiest house of cards I’ve found thus far.

Well… stop thinking then.

The fact that it is your own is exactly what makes it meaningful.

Farnsworth, I’m rather liking that. Thanks.

Rigamarole - does that mean that it’s sufficient for us to be the center of our own universes?

RNATB - you do have a point with that. I should’ve acknowledge my own time spent as a philosophy major - apparently it’s in the genes.

Godel’s theorem.

My 11th grade philosophy teacher was a ******* (this ain’t the Pit and anyway I can’t translate the feeling properly into English) who hated Science and anybody practicing it. Of course, he taught two of the three Science track groups, including mine. Apparently I was one of his all-time favourite students; whenever I run into him he tells me it’s such a pity I decided to stick with science instead of doing something worthwhile like investigative journalism.

One day in that particular class, we were discussing whether “it is possible for human beings to understand the universe”. I said no: the universe is bigger than we are, both in size and complexity - each of us doesn’t even know all of himself (if any of you can look at his own face without the aid of a mirror, I’d kind of like to see pics), we definitely don’t know each other, we have no hope of ever understanding bigger things like the universe or God. So long as you can accept that and be ok with not understanding everything, same as we’re ok with having bits we can’t see without a mirror, it’s not really a problem.

The teacher was kind of laughing his head off during the whole discussion (more like trying to keep the laughter in and chortling/snorting); I asked him why but he didn’t tell.

Turns out it’s something called Godel’s theorem. Darn it, I can’t even have original ideas!

It’s hardly his fault.

1st error: Assuming that if something has “failed,” it is false, or that “success” will prove it true, or assuming that your definition of success and failure is valid for either outcome.

2nd error: That being “right” is a better approximation of truth than being happy or safe or enlightened or sated or adequately avenged or well-fed or popular or comfortable or warm or dry or…well, you get the idea.

3rd error: That people will choose “perfection” (or any other ill-defined state of being) over any of the above-mentioned satisfactions, and that they will give up most of the comforts (if any) of their philosophy for the privilege of mediocrity – the knowledge that most people know and think what and as they do.

A person is not a universal truth: for one thing, we’re too transient and too changeable. As long as a person lives, however, s/he can be a specific, local truth, and if s/he decides to play along with the rest of us, even his/her divergence from the mean might be considered worth knowing. With respect to the esteemed Farnsworth, if we have no obligation to find out the basic truths of existence for the sake of our descendants, they have no obligation to find it out for their descendants – much less for the sake of their dead antecedants. Either there is no obligation to anything but the biological imperative to be born, reproduce, and die, or there is a meta-obligation that applies equally to everyone whenever born, to advance knowledge to the limits of our capacity to understand. Previous generations seem to me to have lived up to this latter bargain, and I rejoice at any evidence that we do too.

Are you claiming that, to know the good is to do the good? Because a look around at people’s eating habits pretty much disproves that.

I think you misunderstood me. I do feel that we all have an obligation to uncover the fundamental truths of existence; that includes our current generation as well as all previous and future generations. But I also think that we as humans aren’t anywhere near discovering the universal truths at this present time. So that leaves hope for future generations to get closer to this discovery.

This hope for the future shouldn’t be at the expense of attempting to unravel the mysteries in the present. That is to say, I don’t believe we should all rest on our asses and let the future generations do all the work. We should make the valiant effort but also be mindful of how our actions now will affect future generations and their ability to continue where we left off. For instance, we don’t want the world to spiral into a nuclear holocaust or pollution to destroy the environment, resulting in future generations having to focus on basic survival in a harsh environment instead of advancing the human race’s base of knowledge and drawing closer to discovering the fundamental meanings for life and the universe.

I don’t know that the problem is basic truths – I think it’s applied truths. And I guess since, as you pointed out, we’re finite and local, our applications can be only that as well. That ties it up rather nicely, thanks; it’s a pleasant surprise to get interesting replies to one’s 2:00 a.m. ramblings.
The point that you and Thudlow Boink make about people willingly choosing not to do the “true and right” thing (assuming it exists) -----> I’m just not sure about that assumption. Sociopaths and petty criminals aside, it seems to me that almost all adults and most teenagers are trying to do the TART every day (don’t the polls always report that 80% of people believe God approves of them?).

And if it’s not doable, how can it be true and right? By what measure?

What more do you want?