Meaning and Certainty

Today I want to bring together three thoughts
(another poorly written essay with questionable coherence)

  1. Confusion of “Meaning” in life causes a longing for certainty
  2. Certainty by definition removes confusion and ambiguity
  3. Anger fills one with confidence and dominance

I believe it is in the nature of our human brains to look for patterns and order in the world around us. My armchair anthropology sees this pattern recognition as an evolutionary plus, from hunting, to fighting to figuring out agriculture. It gives us an edge in survival.

BUT, we try to take this wonder of cataloging and systematizing and apply it to emotional or psychological causes. So we move from “why do I also see deer at this spot now and how can I find it next time” to “there must be a reason the deer exist” (I know that was a little weak, but I'm still fleshing this out)

So there is “meaning” in how the physical world works and it is discoverable precisely because it is physical. But things like the “meaning of life” are less clear. Partly I think because there is an inherent imprecision in the nature of language the people usually ignore.

In any case the thing is, since this deeper meaning is not obvious the choice is to acknowledge the unknown or see an answer and accept it as an explanation. Like we accept the explanation that the moon controls the tides even though very few of us really understand the physics of gravity in a scientific sense.My point is not to question gravity and the tides, but to point out we often accept as truth things we really don't really understand.

Salafists, Khorchide explains, divide the world into good and evil, pious and non-believers. They offer orientation and cohesion to young people struggling to find a direction in life. (from Der Speigel)

Basically accepting any well defined world view from scientific materialism to radical fundamentalism we find THE answer to life, the universe and everything. Even if we don't know the details we have solved the fundamental puzzle of why we are here. If it feels good the solve the daily jumble or sudoku, imagine how great it is to know you have the answer to life itself.

So in the modern world where there are clear examples that the barbarity of past times is not necessary, why then are political and religious extremist not happy and satisfied with “knowing” the answers to the deeper or bigger question? Why must people become so angry when other disagree with them? And more amazing still, why do some have such a need to attack and kill?

I suggest it is the simply the joy of anger. That and the feel good time of righteous indignation. If one really gets riled up, and you KNOW you are in the right, MAN that can feel great.

Now, to bring it back to the start. What if “The World” IF it has any “Meaning” requires us to let go of trying to define what that meaning is. So paradoxically “meaning” of any substance comes from not forcing your brain onto the world. Rather you accept the world and along the way it defines you instead. You are part of the world and vice versa. ….No that is not quite right.

I slipped into myself without even realizing it. I was trying to precisely say what the meaning of life was. I don't think it can be done.

Maybe it is that if we ask for meaning we are asking the wrong question. When it is all said in done, humans evolved as a social animal even if we have many individualistic tendencies. There will always be a tension and really it is when we can look at each other without meaning and see we just a bunch of humanoids and life really would be better with a bit more compassion no matter what the other person is doing.

(I know I made a bit of leap with the compassion thing, but I wanted to get it down on virtual paper)

.  .  .  .

An analogy would be to try to analyze poetry with mathematics. In some cases it can be done (most obviously in Haiku structure), and may even be reasonable for considering a poem. BUT even if the structure has a "structure" we don't read poems for that, we drink them in emotionally, not mathematically.

and this from a guy who has problems appreciating poetry. But in a way when one finally does break through to me it seems all more remarkable.

.  .  .  .

From a Der Spiegel article on why children of Kurdish immigrants to Germany go off to join ISIS

He believes that many Islamic State supporters in Germany have limited interest in Islamic issues. Instead, he argues, they view Salafism, a particularly reactionary movement within Sunni Islam, as a kind of counterculture. "Salafism is a product of modernity," Khorchide says. He describes it as being similar to radical youth movements seen in many other societies. Salafists, Khorchide explains, divide the world into good and evil, pious and non-believers. They offer orientation and cohesion to young people struggling to find a direction in life.


An article about Edward O. Wilson and his definition of meaning

In ordinary usage the word “meaning” implies intention, intention implies design, and design implies a designer. Any entity, any process, or definition of any word itself is put into play as a result of an intended consequence in the mind of the designer. This is the heart of the philosophical worldview of organized religions, and in particular their creation stories. Humanity, it assumes, exists for a purpose. Individuals have a purpose in being on Earth. Both humanity and individuals have meaning.

There is a second, broader way the word “meaning” is used and a very different worldview implied. It is that the accidents of history, not the intentions of a designer, are the source of meaning. There is no advance design, but instead overlapping networks of physical cause and effect. The unfolding of history is obedient only to the general laws of the Universe. Each event is random yet alters the probability of later events. ...

Whether in the cosmos or in the human condition, the second, more inclusive meaning exists in the evolution of present-day reality amid countless other possible realities.

Within groups selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, but groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals. Or, risking oversimplification, individual selection promoted sin, while group selection promoted virtue. So it came to pass that humans are forever conflicted by their prehistory of multilevel selection. They are suspended in unstable and constantly changing positions between the two extreme forces that created us.

We will find a way eventually to live with our inborn turmoil, and perhaps find pleasure in viewing it as the primary source of our creativity.


from a self help business website I stumbled upon that kind of started me thinking in the way

It was obvious that the person yelling was frightened but was not going to admit to that. You see anger often makes people feel dominant because it raises endorphin levels. That’s why anger is such a powerful drug. The term endorphin rush is sometimes used in normal speech to refer to a feeling of wellness caused by exercise, danger or stress.