The Meaningness of Life
Towards a sincere being.
Immanuel Kant: “Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end.”
This season has been about meaning, and it has been about formations and transformations and how these are connected. And it has been about meaningness, discussed in many and roundabout ways without spelling out what it is. It is time to concretise what is meant by meaningness, as well as to summarise the season.
Thinking Of Things is a way for me to investigate ideas and to spark conversations with those who read, and those who don’t. As such it has been a succesful season, with many conversations in person, email, comments on the posts, and on social media. For the purpose of a line of thought is not its conclusion. The purpose is the line of thought itself, and that it may not end. The word conclusion is a misnomer in this sense; to conclude signifies an end, while in reality it signifies a continuation, a new beginning. A reached conclusion is boring and meaningless without the follow-up question: so what? And thus, with your help, we continue our line of thought together. This is the concluding episode of the season. Read Episode 10
A false sense of insecurity
The free prisoner’s dilemma
We perceive the world, and we perceive what is in the world. We separate objects from objects, and we ascribe them value. We create salient landscapes. And then we sort. We categorise, we make lists, and we understand.
Here is an example of a taxonomy, a list which orders and sorts something:
Three parts to understanding:
1. Definition. The ability to separate stuff from other stuff and to assign them emotional value or meaning. (See Episode 2)
2. Taxonomy. The sorting of things into categories. (See e.g. this list.)
3. Intuition. To feel as if something is understood, and thus have it become an intuition, gut feeling and “common sense”. (See Episode 4).
And a feeling of understanding emerges.
Read Episode 9
The pain in the brain game
on how deeply the tossing of balls affects our brains
A fascinating and increasingly famous psychology experiment has to do with the tossing of a ball.
The psychologist Kipling Williams and his colleagues brought in test-subjects for a general survey. The test-subjects were asked in-depth questions about their psychological well being; about their sense of belonging, their sense of being in control, their self-esteem, how meaningful they find their existence, how unique they find themselves and others and so on. But unbeknownst to the test-subjects, they were participating in an experiment with a somewhat cruel twist.
Read Episode 8
(trans)formations part 2
On being human beings
At a masquerade one puts on a mask in order to demask for each other. (Credit: Aniwa Watts, Wikimedia Commons)
From: Notme 4 February
To: me 12.06 a.m.
I refuse to believe that free will is just an illusion!
I was still groggy early in the morning when I opened my email and was met by this sentence. It would appear the email discussion we had had, Notme and I, concerning whether a human being is anything beyond her “Human Nature” or just a bit of filth, was far from over. And that I had not yet won the argument. Read Episode 7
(trans)formations part 1
On being a bit of filth
From: Notme 23 January
To: me 11.34 p.m.
Hey! I’ve had a quote on my mind lately. It’s from Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren, where at one point she says “There are things you have to do, even if you don’t dare to, because otherwise you are not a human being but just a bit of filth.” Being a human being and not just a bit of filth seems essential for finding meaningness to me. But what does it mean to be a human being? Isn’t everyone a human being anyway? Any thoughts? Read Episode 6
Time, memory, and the pursuit of meaningness.
Wherein, during a conversation in the park, things melt
We were out for a walk, as so many times before, Notme and I, and a long time had passed since the last time we did. It was just the kind of a splendid summer’s day I enjoy so much, not a cloud in the sky. We were surrounded by an ever changing flock of joggers as we arrived at the meadow with the pond I had visited so often before. Somehow I did not enjoy it as much as I thought that I would, nor as much as I remember enjoying the exact same conditions in the past. Somehow it felt like a repetition.
Me: “When we age, time appears to go faster and faster as things lose their novelty. In the end we have experienced so much that we die from boredom. Dying of old age is a myth.”
Notme: “That is why people have children, to see the world anew through the eyes of the little ones.”
Me: “Sure. And then grandchildren. After a while even that is not enough to add novelty to the world. All you have left is nostalgia, nothing tastes good any more. And then you are bored and die.”
Noun: A longing for enjoying things once found enjoyable. E.g. Music.
Read Episode 5
Understanding is guessing and discarding. Understanding is forgetting and disregarding. And understanding is often faux. Understanding is a feeling. Do you understand? Not if I don’t make sense, since then I deny you the feeling that you do. Let me start again.
Read Episode 4
My Vantage Point
When I close one eye I see my nose.
I wait for the train on the elevated platform.
Early morning tracks go to the horizon.
Sunlight break through thin clouds,
reflecting on the moon.
With tracks behind me, sun to the left, moon to the right:
I close one eye.
The sun, the nose, the moon
TT, Thinking of Things, 2014.
What’s ‘meaningness’? or The Wrath of God
In which, over hot spiced tea, a friend coins a new term and things starts to shift.
I had declared God dead, and patted myself on the shoulder. “Well done, me!” I told myself, as if it was an achievment. I thought myself a rational person, a Scientist, and that there could be no truth outside the rigors of science. I was done. I saw our place in the universe, I saw the insignificance of us and universe both, and I thought people living their lives as if it meant something were blind and naive, with their faux traditions and priorities. I knew an obvious truth and it was a lonesome burden. So I cynically distracted myself with pleasure, entertainment and people. I no longer agree with me then. Am I still patting myself on the shoulder, as if this is an achievement?
Read Episode 3