More on Meaning

Following up on the recent posts regarding the naturalist’s use of terms that explicitly or by way of reference denote metaphysical/philosophical/theological concepts, I want to address the process of how we come to find things/life meaningful.

First, the process is a dialectical one. When we look at a sunset, fall in love, read a poem, or engage in those aspects of life that especially strike or move us, it is not that we are just assigning meaning to these events as an impersonal, objective, neutral observer but we are being acted upon as well by these events. In other words, the question becomes: Is the universe pregnant with meaning to begin with? Are we just assigning (“creating”) meaning or are we recognizing the meaning that is always and already present? Are we recognizing signs or simply creating signs?

The only way one could say we have to be subjectively creating and making up our “meaning” is if he started with the faith-position or presupposition that there is no God or transcendence/spirit and the universe is an impersonal, accidental, meaningless, purposeless space—it just is. Of course, that is as they say another kettle of fish altogether. This is also why the naturalist’s rationale regarding the supposed necessity of the subjectivity of “created” meaning is nothing more than question-begging as to the greater question of God’s existence.

Putting that 800 pound gorilla in the room aside, the further related question for the naturalist who would answer that there are no signs and no meaning, we have to, rather, create our own “meaning,” is: Why? What would be the point or need to create meaning and signs if none exist outside our minds/wills? How would we know what “meaning” even was and why would we even care? If there is no possibility of a reciprocal communicative relationship between subject and object/sign (the ability to recognize a sign or meaning I didn’t create), if there is no possibility of transcendental fulfillment, if there is no correlative truth to any of the “meanings” outside our own subjective minds, whence the compulsion to keep on “creating” this “meaning?” Especially (if the naturalist is correct), there actually is no meaning to be discovered—or no way for it to align with or find fulfillment outside our minds.

Related to that thread, a universal aspect to all people groups from every historical age is the belief or desire that the world is, or that it be, more than it seems. This stems from two related senses, one, that there is something wrong with this world and, two, the hope of a better world or life now and in eternity. Interestingly enough, the naturalist cannot escape this paradigm. He too feels there is something wrong with this world (just ask a couple of political questions and you will find out just how wrong!) and he has suggestions or a plan for how it could be “better” (again, just ask how he would fix what he just told you was all wrong!).

Of course, at the same time he will tell us that the meaning he is assigning to these areas- he has “created” himself (how? why?-he doesn’t know) out of a meaningless and purposeless universe and if we had created the exact opposite “meaning,” it would all, well, be…rather meaningless…except for the “meaning” we attribute to it…which is still…meaningless…except for…well, you get the point.

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3 Responses to More on Meaning

  1. Burk Braun says:

    You seem to be flailing a bit here. How can a process be dialectical if we are not participating? The question is what each side of the process contributes. The sunset provides photons, and we provide meaning. The sunset may call up happy memories of proposing to your wife, or if you are divorcing, the meaning may be quite different. And a thousand other variations, none the fault of the sunset, which only provides the image to which we attach meaning. Have you ever heard that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”?As to why we assign meaning, you answer your own question.. “all people … desire that the world is, or that it be, more than it seems”. And it is not just abstract, but also hard-wired. Our vision automatically picks up aspects of a scene that are meaningful to us- movement, faces, bright colors. To another animal with other needs and other wiring, these same features might be entirely meaningless. Meaning happens because we have desires- to live, to pursue happiness, etc. (indeed, to improve this world of ours)- and from these desires (both hard-wired and cultured) flow all the meanings by which those desires are either thwarted or furthered (or embodied, or symbolized).And as for a deity sponsoring meaning, that is like saying that inmates of totalitarian state must draw all their meaning from its leader. Kim Jong Il tries to orient all the meanings of his realm to focus on him, but is that good? Is it actually effective? Are we not free? Whether the regime is beneficial or not (or whether it even exists!), humans each have their own desires and will claim sovereignty to create their own meanings. This mania you have for following is, frankly, rather unseemly.

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  2. Darrell says:

    Burk, thank you for your comment. That is what makes a process dialectical–the fact that both subject and the object are participating. That was the point—where do I say we are not participating? You seem to be saying it is not dialectical, that we only assign meaning—we can never discover it—it can never come to us from outside our subjective minds. You seem to be saying the universe has nothing (as a sign of deeper transcendence) to communicate back to us. In other words, for you it is a one-sided conversation.I did not answer my own question. I noted an observation. The fact that something is happening doesn’t explain why it is happening. Why would we be “hard wired” to create meaning out of a meaningless universe? How would we even know what meaning was? Who “hard wired” us? If an impersonal, accidental, purposeless, meaningless “nature” hard-wired us, how and why would there be this universal need on the part of humans to “create” meaning? Why would we be “hard wired” (notice the need for an intelligent agency loaded term to talk about this process) to create meaning when it can never be fulfilled or correlate with anything outside our subjective minds? This “desire” to live, to pursue “happiness,” and to “improve” this world presupposes a bar or standard by which to judge what living, happiness, and improving would entail or even mean. You are missing the point, but in the process making mine.Also, it is exactly Kim Jong’s atheistic philosophy of being able to “create” one’s own meaning that has created the hell-on-earth called North Korea. Since there is no standard outside himself, he is “free” to create…or destroy. But I guess whether we are creating or destroying is in the “eye of the beholder” according to such a world-view.

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  3. Darrell says:

    Burk, by the way, I did get your point regarding Kim Jong, as misguided as it is. I just thought it ironic you used someone who also holds an atheistic world-view to make your point, given that the “meaning” and world he’s “created” hasn’t turned out so great.Beyond that, I just think it is a completely false analogy. We can choose freely to follow or reject the Christian God. The proof of that is all around us. If I remember correctly, there really is no sense of the same sort of freedom in a naturalist world-view, or at least given Crick’s view.

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