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comment by Dustin · 2021-07-22T19:45:51.258Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People crave meaning.


I've always struggled to understand the umm...meaning...of the word "meaning" in this context. The sentence "my life has meaning" sounds like "my life has asymptotic pinkness". A nonsense phrase.

Additionally, I struggle to find any commonality between anything inside me and whatever it is that people seem to get out of religion, or (for those whom are are least partially substituting something else for religion) science, or even rationality. 

Am I just a special snowflake (doubtful)? Do I not understand what it is that people get out of those things (I've spent all of my life around deeply religious people so I'm not completely clueless about this I don't think)?

I think some would say it sounds like I have an empty life, but I think that if I could let them experience being me they wouldn't think that. I wept in the presence of Michelangelo's David out of sheer awe. I love my family. I do a lot to help others. I'm not an emotionless robot. 

I don't think the previous paragraph quite gets at what people mean by "meaning", but that just goes to show I don't quite grasp the concept.

I find the whole subject area confusing.

Replies from: TAG, deepthoughtlife
comment by TAG · 2021-07-23T09:35:24.159Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think most people regard meaningfulness as a quale. There are a lot of different theories about how to achieve it, but there are about other qualia like happiness , wellbeing, flourishing, etc. Humans are wired up so that the actual terminal goals are qualia that you only recognise when you're in the state, plus a set of subsidiary goals, like jobs and relationships, which are supposed to get you the qualia, but don't, necessarily.

comment by deepthoughtlife · 2021-07-22T22:00:11.469Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You have a strange objection to using the word meaning there. "My life has meaning" is exactly the same as 'my life is meaningful.' It is very similar to 'the things I do, the thoughts I think, and the life I live are not pointless. I exist for a reason.'.

I don't think you would be expected to see the part of you that matches what people seem to get out of religion. It is almost always posited as being nearly completely subconscious in operation, but your description of how you reacted to Michaelangelo's David is exactly it. Also, isn't that exactly what an emotionless robot would say?

While I'm not a rationalist by the standards of this community, it does have a useful exhortation about how important it is to notice when you are confused. It is easy to retreat and pretend not to be confused, or put on a show of bravado, but if you do, how will you learn to understand?

Replies from: SaidAchmiz, Dustin
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2021-07-22T23:48:05.316Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I second Dustin’s comment.

“My life has meaning” is exactly the same as ‘my life is meaningful.’

Sure, and both of these statements don’t seem to… mean anything.

It is very similar to ‘the things I do, the thoughts I think, and the life I live are not pointless. I exist for a reason.’.

This, likewise, doesn’t seem to make sense. (Unless you posit some sort of creator deity, or some such thing.)

So is talk about “meaning” in this context necessarily tied to supernatural belief? That doesn’t seem consistent with how people use the term…

Replies from: deepthoughtlife
comment by deepthoughtlife · 2021-07-23T19:23:08.159Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's hardly a supernatural claim (though many religious folks do like it, and it is easy to pursue within many religious traditions. Said pursuit does not mean they successfully reach such a point though.) The meaning in your life can be completely chosen by you. 'There is something worth doing, something worth thinking, and something worth living for' along with 'I am pursuing something like that' combine for a very similar meaning as well.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2021-07-23T23:11:02.110Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems less like ‘meaning’ and more like ‘purpose’.

(Also relevant.)

Replies from: deepthoughtlife
comment by deepthoughtlife · 2021-07-26T02:39:32.927Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Obviously, I think you are utterly wrong. You must find something meaningful to have a purpose, but the purpose comes afterwards.

The linked article honestly seems like an article of faith amongst certain people. Meaning must not exist, [assume only material things exist, so anything nonmaterial must be false, even if it is blatantly obvious,] therefore, it doesn't. [Value is a consequence of meaning. It isn't the atoms that have value, but what they are at a more conceptual level.] It doesn't try to justify itself in any way, so I see no reason to be swayed at all. It is also not true that you are automatically unworthy. You may be worthy, you may not be, either way, do your best [and thus become worthy -eventually.]

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2021-07-27T00:26:34.253Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems as if you got the impression that the linked material was meant to be some sort of argument for my view; it was not. I only linked it because it contained some related, and relevant, ideas. (Though your aside about unspecified “nonmaterial” things being “blatantly obvious” intrigues me. Perhaps you might elaborate on what you refer to? Though of course this is tangential to the current topic.)

In any case, I am not sure what to do with the claim that “[y]ou must find something meaningful to have a purpose”. Is the sense of the word ‘meaning’ (or ‘meaningful’) here the same one as in claims like “People crave meaning”? Or is it a different usage? I can’t see any way to interpret this claim that would make it both true and non-vacuous. Perhaps I am not understanding what you’ve got in mind.

comment by Dustin · 2021-07-22T23:34:09.878Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't have an objection to the usage of that word. I do not relate to the usage of that word. I think that people probably do get whatever they mean by "meaning" from religion or politics or whatever, so I don't think "objection" is the right word.


Actually, now that I've thought some more let me step back and clarify.

The context of what we're talking about here is people wanting meaning, getting it from things outside of themselves, and then corrupting themselves and the things outside of themselves in pursuit of this meaning.  Religion, politics, whatever. People "believing" in these things because in some way it makes them have a point to their life.

What it is that I do not relate to is this overridingly deep wanting to have meaning, not so much the meaning itself. Particularly so deeply that you'll corrupt things (subconsciously?) you care about just to fill this lack of meaning in your life. (Of course, maybe I'm doing this and just don't realize it!)

That I have a point to my life seems only somewhat important to me but way, way less important than what the point is. Maybe this is one of those things where I'm having-a-point-to-my-life privileged to the point that I just can't understand?  

(This is somewhat paradoxical...wouldn't you need to have a point to your life to care about what the point is?) 

It is almost always posited as being nearly completely subconscious in operation, but your description of how you reacted to Michaelangelo's David is exactly it.

However, all that being said, this sentence, if it's an accurate representation about what "meaning of your life" is, makes me question if I even know what it means to have a point to your life.

It's not apparent to me how this relates to having a meaning to your life. Is it that having those feelings becomes the point of your life? That does not sound good or appealing to me. It sounds like addiction or wireheading. I cannot think of any way in which any regular definition of "meaning" or "point" matches having a feeling of awe.

Replies from: deepthoughtlife
comment by deepthoughtlife · 2021-07-23T19:19:38.218Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The feeling is what's known as a peak experience (I think that's the term). This is not hedonism (so the wireheading bit is understandable, but completely off topic.) Basically, at certain points feeling an immense joy is a part of what people seek, but that isn't why they find meaning to be so important -you have such experiences when you find something that is immensely meaningful to you. It can be anything, but it has to be that important to you. You have the experience because it is meaningful; it isn't meaningful because you experience that.  The theory is that you will always seek such things, though perhaps ineffectually, and often subconsciously. Even if you were changed to not feel the joy that goes along with it, you would still seek such things.

comment by deepthoughtlife · 2021-07-23T19:33:52.905Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems like a complete misunderstanding of my point. I said that noticing where you are confused is important. That's the stuff you know you don't know. If you learn related things, it may make it easier to realize you were confused, but it still seems obviously necessary.

People love to throw around the word 'meaningless' when they simply don't understand. This is attempting to short circuit your confusion by pretending there is nothing to understand. This is especially true in epistemology. 

For someone's life to be meaningful is not mere inclination (or no one would need to search for meaning, and many do.) I am sometimes inclined to do things I disapprove of, and if I did them, I would not find them meaningful in this sense. Rather than meaning being mere reality, meaning is found in what you will do with it, because what it will be is intrinsically valuable. 

In this sense, love is meaningful, and electromagnetism is not. A smiley face is also not meaningful. Playing with magnets and making someone you love smile is very meaningful.