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30 August 2007 @ 01:04 am
A Big Question With No Answer  
What do you tell somebody who believes existence is meaningless?
 
 
 
a certain brand of escape: Daria at workatelierlune on August 30th, 2007 06:20 am (UTC)
That they're wrong.

I realize that that's flimsy and not rhetorically sound, but it's true. At least, for me it is. And perhaps from there one could develop a dialogue as to why existence is perceived to be meaningless.
The Seekerxambrius on August 30th, 2007 07:53 am (UTC)
"If you insist that existence have meaning, give it some."

--
Tim Harris
The Seeker
Time Lord
astcetc snafuwonderlandkat on August 30th, 2007 12:31 pm (UTC)
I think I'd need more background on why one would need to tell this individual anything...
Hoc Est Qui Sumusdiscoflamingo on August 30th, 2007 01:59 pm (UTC)
Let's pretend that it's somebody important to me, and that I'm not sure how to counter their arguments anymore, because that's my problem.
astcetc snafuwonderlandkat on August 30th, 2007 04:23 pm (UTC)
I think the first step then would be to figure out why they no longer think life has meaning (depression, loss of faith- in religion or something else- too much pomo philosophy) and address it that way.

I would say to the first, trying to get them to get help, and small things/reconnecting. The second may blow over on its own or they might need to find faith in something else (family, changing the world, religion). The third, I would just hope they grew out of it.

For the first two, I think showing how your life has meaning will help them see that their life has meaning/ or showing how their life has meaning to you, can help.
Hoc Est Qui Sumusdiscoflamingo on August 30th, 2007 02:04 pm (UTC)
Also, that they used to believe life had meaning, and now don't.
iophaiopha on August 30th, 2007 02:44 pm (UTC)
Is this a philosophical-slash-metaphysical issue, or a psychological one? The difference is key. One can come to the grand conclusion that there is no transcendental capital-M Meaning of Life in something akin to the religious sense and carry on much as before. Even perhaps with a greater sense of freedom (and concomitant terrifying vertigo). Read some Nietzsche and watch a few sunrises, you'll be fine.

If your friend is depressed and believes there is no point to living, then the root cause isn't the arguments, but some chemical imbalance that may be rectified through various means (not necessarily pharmaceutical, either). Without more information it is difficult to say.
XCorvisxcorvis on August 30th, 2007 03:08 pm (UTC)
I was originally going to reply (to Disco) with a trite snappy answer fit for an annoying nihilist, but you're totally right about the distinction.
❀✯ L.E. Arroway ✭✈: padawanlyght on August 30th, 2007 12:58 pm (UTC)
That part of the point of consciousness is to ascribe meaning.
XCorvisxcorvis on August 30th, 2007 03:08 pm (UTC)
Agreed. Life has no meaning but what you give it.
a certain brand of escape: the truthatelierlune on August 30th, 2007 05:41 pm (UTC)
I was going to chime in that the ownership you take in life is what gives it meaning for you, but that's pretty much what you said.
prof_vencireprof_vencire on August 30th, 2007 07:20 pm (UTC)
Exactly why I'm a capitalist materialist.
a certain brand of escapeatelierlune on August 30th, 2007 07:26 pm (UTC)
Ownership society!
Rosamundrosa_mundi on August 30th, 2007 01:29 pm (UTC)
Bacon.
like a hundred billion hot dogs: madnesshalf_double on August 30th, 2007 02:23 pm (UTC)
Funny - I was going to say the answer was to eat more pie.
Rosamundrosa_mundi on August 30th, 2007 05:36 pm (UTC)
That is also acceptable.
prof_vencireprof_vencire on August 30th, 2007 06:57 pm (UTC)
Bacon pie
blake writesblake_reitz on August 31st, 2007 12:24 am (UTC)
I love it.
Oυτιςerragal on September 5th, 2007 11:42 pm (UTC)
Goes great with my meatshake.
like a hundred billion hot dogs: firehalf_double on August 30th, 2007 02:40 pm (UTC)
In the end, you're absolutely right - there really is no answer. Under normal circumstances, my standard answer of "You're right. The only meaning existence has is the one we give it" might inspire someone to go out and give their existence some meaning. But you're indicating abnormal circumstances, where nothing will help. As hard as it is to stand aside, this important person in your life has to fight their way through the existential tofu on their own.
Josiah Carlsonchouyu_31 on August 30th, 2007 03:49 pm (UTC)
Tough question. I generally agree with most of the posts here, but have my own perspective.

The point of life is to create memories with family and friends. To help them to understand that they are important to you and that you want them in your life. On the way, if you can help make people's lives better (charity, volunteer work, etc.), that's great. Everything else is gravy.
The past is prologuenemoren on August 30th, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)
Everybody's making the valid point about investing life with meaning. What's left out is that this is one of the hardest mental exercises anyone may have to encounter. It's like being an apologist, only for one's own life rather than an external god. And balancing your inherent cynicism with your inherent hope is tricky ground indeed, and may take a very long while.

The conclusion I came to was along the lines of "no, perhaps it doesn't. Then I may as well have some fun with it before I kick off." It was just the kick in the pants I needed to try something a bit more ambitious, e.g., creating something meaningful, if only ever so slightly.

Does this person like games? Then life is like a series of waiting-room experiments (when your appointment may be just for another waiting-room). You make your own fun in waiting rooms.
prof_vencireprof_vencire on August 30th, 2007 07:19 pm (UTC)
Also? This entry.

The "Well, if not why, then... why not?" has always been a big part of my personal philosophy.
Abra SWcloudscudding on August 30th, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC)
To pay closer attention.

That's what it basically comes down to.
prof_vencireprof_vencire on August 30th, 2007 07:18 pm (UTC)
Otherwise, you are never going to see that sucker-punch kidding. It sounds like a joke, but philosophy feels a lot less important when you're bleeding from where your teeth once were.
Do You Wanna Be Free or You Wanna Be Right?malcubed on August 30th, 2007 04:43 pm (UTC)
"You're probably right"?
Parapluie dans la Rue de Parisscathach on August 30th, 2007 06:12 pm (UTC)
The snarky part of me says, "tell them they're absolutely right -- but only about themselves."

Send them to study the existentialists. Have them read The Myth of Sisyphus. I believe that the answer is "your existence is meaningful because you make it that way." Is there a grand point to our lives? Maybe, maybe not. But each life matters to its liver, and to the people around it. We are capable of creating our own meaning.
prof_vencireprof_vencire on August 30th, 2007 07:17 pm (UTC)
We're free... to do what we want... any old time... except for predestination
The depression/crappy-current-life-events hypothesis is probably the one I'd most pursue. A lot of the time, though not always, these are the things that come up in response to something a lot less Ultimate Existentialism and a lot more Frustrated At Every Turn When I Try To Advance My Life or Chemical Imbalance or Girls Don't Like Me. If so, like they said above, that's the real issue.

The big issue I get with that a lot is that, for some reason, people seem to think that MATTERS. If there's no inherent external meaning, then our own internal meanings are entirely valid (though what we THINK our internal process of ascribing meaning does and what it actually does can be a good deal different). If the world HAD a meaning, it would be just as arbitrary as anything we can dream up and thanks to being animals, we come with our own set of arbitrary meanings which, thanks to being thinking animals, we get to interpret into more interesting forms. It's sort of like hedonism: We are, so we do. Because it pleases us. Because there is no outside meaning to counter us, to pull rank, to tell us we are wrong in our meaning. There are outside forces and trends and etc that make our attempt to satisfy our meaning parameters more difficult (i.e. artist working a factory job, lecher getting shot in the crotch), but we usually have access to secondary meanings with which to bring ourselves back into some non-empty life.

There are other bits, too. Like thanks to an infinite divisibility (if possibly only conceptually) of our time on earth, you can think of your own experience as A totality of existence (obviously, it's not ALL totalities of existence, but you see where we are here). There are perceptual levels to take into account, that being internal beings it would be difficult to fully become part of an external meaning (and that, in trying, it would become internal anyhow, so we come back to the same place).

Since there is no meaning, any meaning, even an arbitrary one, is something valid (if not necessarily satisfying). A non-chosen arbitrary (such as instincts) will likely be more satisfying as they tend to feel less "artificial".

We as humans don't exist on the level of Universal Absolutes. We cannot affect or directly perceive them. Etc ~ existence as perception, meaning as desired patterns in the sensed ~ etc.

Sometimes, it helps to remember that idea that all time is simultaneous such that every moment is itself an absolute and, in being part of that moment, we define it, showing our inherent authority over the meaning of the moments of our lives and the... meaningfulness of that meaning.

We are just wild-thing gods of self-absorption running tiny universes we run into one another with. Hooo-ah!


Seriously, being a bizarre little child, I ran head on into this wall a long time ago. It was terrible. Even though bits of my logic and data at the time were... wrong, after repair, I was at the same place. It took me years to wall off that (and a few associated, even more unnerving) realizations. Mostly with a blend of apathy, curiosity, actively ignoring, and re-focus/investment into other spheres.
prof_vencireprof_vencire on August 30th, 2007 07:26 pm (UTC)
IF they're mostly feeling disconnected, accepting personal ritual can be a big step. The doing to prove to yourself that such and such is true/has you as a part of it/etc. Intellectual is great, but there's a part of us that sort of understands that "intellectually knowing" is just a simulation and that our simulations can be flawed. Having something actually occur for our senses to record brings a greater level of reality to things. "Knowing" you're independent from your folks vs. getting more things in your name, not listing yourself as dependent on taxes, etc.

Meaning is a feeling as much as a thought and, because of that, requires activity in your own life to feel real. There's a bunch of psych crap that backs it up, but essentially "meaningful/real" won't seem true unless you're involved in something and, even if you start out doing it for no reason, doing it long enough makes it feel like there is a reason. We tend to become what we do and believe what we say we believe. It's crazy, but es verdad.
Nightwalkerhalfawake on August 30th, 2007 09:54 pm (UTC)
I'd say they're absolutely right, existence is meaningless.
whatis42 on August 31st, 2007 12:54 am (UTC)
I don't know about meaning, but the purpose of life is to live. Yerterday saw a miniscule peusdo-tree way up at the edge of the tree-line (where no trees can really grow). It looked more like a baby shrub than a pine tree, but the guide says it's 100 years old and only grows for about 10 days a year. That tree provides major evidence for my theory that the purpose of life is to live.
elfdope on August 31st, 2007 01:28 am (UTC)
Of course life has no inherent meaning. Its not a game, and even those only have the meaning ascribed to it as a collective agreement that it have meaning. I have seen men (or boys) driving around Mario Cart 64 in search of new lands instead of finish lines and leads. For them the meaning of the game had changed, or they were just high.

So I would say. "Congratulations, you have divined the secret of the universe. There is no meaning. There are no rules. There are no goals or objectives. You are now a self aware sentient being. You have achieved what many a dog has tried, but been too distracted by either dirty balls in need of washing (their own), or bouncing balls in need of fetching (others)."

So there you are what are you going to do. You want to live in a goalless void devoid of meaning and signifier as the your perceptions become more and more bitterly ironic to the few hipsters who still laugh at your jokes or do you want to put on the big boy pants. Do you want to ascribe meaning to your own life, because all the lack of meaning really means is that you are free to create your own goals, objectives, and meaning. Now if you still find yourself devoid of meaning then maybe, just maybe this sentient being thing is too hard for you. Maybe you couldn't handle making goals and objectives, maybe that little girl sundress is more your style. If thats the case there are plenty of assholes who will give you candy/meaning.

I might say some more, but then again I could go on like hours for this shit.
elfdope on August 31st, 2007 01:32 am (UTC)
Alternately hand them a copy of some Nietzche and some overalls and award them with their very own set of big boy pants. Maybe then sit them down for a good viewing of Snakes on a Plane.
Moxie Crimefighterdrowdancer on August 31st, 2007 03:49 am (UTC)
i'm pretty happy that the two points where the universe and our perception of it laps itself, at least from i can gather in this thread, are Nietzche and Snakes on a Motherfucking Plane.
elfdope on September 1st, 2007 05:51 pm (UTC)
If there was ever a movie that screamed:

Hey dude lay off the existential quandries, and revel in a moment of pure awesome.

Snakes on the Plane is it.
Oυτιςerragal on September 6th, 2007 12:06 am (UTC)
Excellent points
Alternatively they could read the Principia Discordia and watch The Seventh Seal.
Neosisneosis on August 31st, 2007 04:42 pm (UTC)
You can't tell them.
"What do you want it to mean?"

You can't tell someone that existence has meaning, they have to discover a meaning for themselves.
Gostor of Wafflekaulis on September 2nd, 2007 10:41 pm (UTC)
I HAVE IT!
Tell them, "You're right. I have proof."
Oυτιςerragal on September 5th, 2007 11:53 pm (UTC)
I'm with the Crow on this one
Here's a couple snappy quotes

On meaning:
"All statements are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense."

On existence:
"Salvation from an ugly and barbarous existence that is the result of taking order so seriously and so seriously fearing contrary orders and disorder, that GAMES are taken as more important than LIFE; rather than taking LIFE AS THE ART OF PLAYING GAMES."*

- Principia Discordia (an excellent source for spurious [remember the Vth comandment] answers to philosophical quandries)

*see also Finite and Infinite Games