What is meaning?
From the Greek, logos, meaning is well…it means…CIRCULAR DEPENDENCY! Infinite loop! OROBORUS!
It’s a NEVER ENDING STORY!!!!
So yeah, I can’t define meaning. The reason being that it is subjective. There is no OBJECTIVE MEANING, although I think we could come close in terms of a RATIONAL MEANING, basically, if we decided that a rational goal for all humanity would be to minimize suffering. This is difficult though because we’d disagree on how to get there, there would be a lot of “WELL WE NEED TO DO THIS BECAUSE X IS SUFFERING” in the short-term V. “WELL IF WE DON’T ALLOW X TO SUFFER NOW, OUR GRANDKIDS Y (of which there are a multitude more than X) WILL SUFFER.”
Logic and reason have shortcomings. Things can be rational or meaningful when limited by time and/or objective. So to go back to the suffering example, in terms of time we could eliminate all suffering if we gave everyone a single dose of heroine. Everyone in the world takes the hit at the same time. Boom, no human on the planet is suffering. On the other hand, we might want that suffering to not return so soon (to everyone on the planet who now may/may not be addicted to heroine). So is it “Minimize suffering over an infinite timespan to the lowest reasonable level?” It reminds me of working with radiation. It’s like, you know you’re being exposed, but you do everything possible to minimize that exposure (and one of the factors is time obviously).
So yes, we have reached a point where we can say that there IS potentially a universal meaning, but it is almost certainly going to be disputed. The idea is that if you think about the future and try to make predictions you’ll often be wrong. To AGAIN go back to the example of suffering. Let’s say we do everything to optimize to limit human suffering, we sacrifice so much in our generation (maybe we all live sustainably?). But then we get his by an asteroid. Nice try! Or the simulation ends (the robots are like, these humans did a good job, let’s just end the simulation here).
So starting over, as far as meaning goes, I think it’s related to dopamine and human motivational drives. We were made to explore, look for food, have sex, and die. THAT is our meaning. To search for something higher is icing on the evolutionary cake. So if you want meaning in your life you first need to recognize that you are an anomaly. You’re a sentient being, a (hopefully) being capable of reason/logic, a being that can think about the future and existence and all of these notions being the base “hedonistic” drives of your species.
So pleasure/pain will exist and there’s an interesting dynamic there but that’s a post for a later time. I think the takeaway from this post is that you will never find TRUE MEANING because it’s subjective and differs for each person. We will all suffer, but suffering is bearable if we have a reason or a meaning.
Actually I’ll get into the dopamine connection now. I think the whole “suffer for the right reason” or “have something to live for” (whether that’s work, your kids, a creative pursuit, etc.) or “a worthy goal.” That’s basically giving yourself a dopamine hit (a low one, but still, enough not to be depressed or not to suffer AS MUCH). So goals/rewards/exploration are all rewarded with dopamine (not the rewards as much as the pursuit of them). The other side of the dopamine coin is that if you have too much of it, you’ll be in PAIN if you don’t reach the same levels. So for instance if you play a ton of video games (not going to name names) and then try to interact in the real world, you’ll find it boring, you might get depressed, etc. People say to substitute video games (or other addictions) with something that will also give you dopamine hits (albeit smaller ones). So you could set a goal of cleaning the living room. While cleaning it you might be slightly less depressed than if you were just sitting around feeling bored or bad for yourself.
The problem with this is that our world is HYPERREAL as was postulated in Simulation and Simulacrum. The idea is that our world is become more and more abstract representations of reality. To the point where the abstraction is more “real” than reality. Take a flight simulator for example. In it you can experience crashing a plane in thousands of different ways. In terms of experiencing a plane crash, you’re getting a normally non-existent event OVER AND OVER AND OVER. Same with porn. You’re getting a hyper-sexualized version of sex that probably won’t ever occur in your lifetime. The problem is that your brain doesn’t know it’s a simulation (or rather, it does, but there are other parts that still light up).
Anyway, my point is that if you do something too much, dopamine switches from pleasure to pain. Like, you are craving more of something, but not because it’s “fun” or “pleasurable” but because you will get pain if you don’t. So your positive reinforcement loop becomes a negative reinforcement loop.
I have to stop here, but moral is don’t do anything too much (because you’ll go from pleasure to pain) and also there is no MEANING OF LIFE, it’s YOUR meaning for life. Basically, life will show you your meaning. You KNOW what you SHOULD be doing.