Love is the answer, at least for most of the questions in my heart,
Like, ‘why are we here?’ and ‘where do we go?’ and ‘how come it’s so hard?’
~ Jack Johnson
Where you invest your love you invest your life
~ Mumford Sons
In these bodies we will live, and in these bodies we will die
So what is the meaning of life and the purpose of life. This article isabout love as the meaning. To discover why this is the most chosen answer for our poets and artists.
The meaning of life is the sum meaning of all of the events in your life. It is easy, relatively, to understand the meaning of a wedding. This is because a wedding is an event in your life that was designed to hold a specific meaning. The same is true of smaller events, such as buying a pair of shoes or turning on a faucet. The actions that led to the event starts with you, and so these events are the easiest to understand because you simply have to understand what you meant when you did them.
In order to understand the meaning of an event that you didn’t initiate, you either have to ask the initiator, you have to understand the initiator well enough that you can guess their mind, or the action has to have a meaning that is shared by both of you due to a shared culture, such as the act of presenting an engagement ring. When events aren’t initiated by anyone, you must either determine that they have no meaning, or assign the actions to a universal initiator such as God in which case you would have to ask God, since you can’t understand God’s mind, nor do you share a culture with God.
Those that believe in God are left to ask God via prayer, and seek to understand the answers they receive. Others have simply accepted that it is impossible to know God’s mind, and have determined to live a life without understanding the meaning while still having faith that there is one. For those who don’t believe in God, the meaning of life is found in the events that you choose to do, and so the meaning of a life is built throughout one’s life by the actions you choose to take.
Actions undertaken for love are often considered to have the most meaning. For example, the meaning of hammering a nail is to strike the nail home, greater, to construct a chair. However, if alongside these other meanings, the carpenter loves his craft, the action has more meaning. If the carpenter is making the chair for a loved daughter, the action has more meaning yet. More importantly, actions done for the sake of love often contribute to long term goals that span multiple lifetimes, such as building the relationship with your daughter, which will in turn affect how she interacts with the world. Or building an exquisite chair that makes your company the most sought after producers of chairs.
Love is not the only meaning of life, but it is a meaning that can inform and heighten everything you do
The Meaning of Meaning
So many people have pondered the meaning of life. But, as with many good questions, it’s the question that yields the most interesting thoughts.
This question is so difficult to answer because it contains an extremely complicated concept, ‘meaning.’ It’s very hard to determine the meaning of anything when we don’t know what a meaning is. So, we’re going to ask ourselves, ‘what is the meaning of meaning?’
First off, let’s look at some of the more concrete definitions of meaning. When we talk about the meaning of a word, we are discussing the object or concept that word signifies, such as the word ‘dog’ which stands for a four legged, furry creature. Now, we’re going to jump a couple of degrees of abstraction and discuss the meaning of events. When we talk about the meaning of an event we are talking about what concept that event stands for. For example, the meaning of a graduation is that the graduate has supposedly mastered all of the topics in the program of study. The meaning of wedding is to bind one person to another in a long-term partnership so that their society will treat them as a single entity in certain social and legal circumstances. Etc.
It’s easy to define meanings for events such as these because they are events that have been designed to mean something specific. It is much harder to determine the meaning of unstructured events. For example, what is the meaning of losing your wallet?
The main difference between a structured event and an unstructured event is in the architect of the event. Structured events are willed to happen by agents and are designed to capture a specific meaning. Unstructured events don’t have an architect. Without an architect, there is no concept the event was meant to encompass. In the same way that a spoken word encompasses a concept, but a random sound does not, though both are sounds.
This is the difficulty about ascribing a meaning to life. Life is a series of, largely, unstructured events. These events have no meaning since they have no architect unless you believe in God, who would be the architect of all events. The events in your life would be connected with those in others’ lives, and God would be the only one capable of understanding all the events and so the meaning. Many have settled on this conclusion, and have determined to live their lives without pondering an impossible why. This outlook is often metaphorically related to a leaf on the wind, a rolling stone or an anchorless ship just going with the flow.
However, if the question still plagues you let us propose a world without God. Without a god figure we must accept that many of life’s events are unstructured, and so meaningless. But meaning can be drawn from the structured events. In short, life means what we make it mean. By filling our lives with events that have meaning to us, such as graduations and weddings, we are the architects of our life’s meaning.
The Meaning of Life in One Word: Choice
When asked, the wisest among us will often say that love is the meaning of life, but I believe that if there is one word that can describe the meaning of life, it is choice.
Meaning is like the water in a cup. The word ‘spoon’ means a metallic object shaped so as to be used for eating. A word is the cup, it is a container that surrounds the concept it holds, while the meaning is the concept itself, the water. The simplest of words have a very concrete meaning, such as the word spoon. Words grow more complex as their meaning does, such as the word ‘insidious.’ Actions can also have meaning, such as a wave, and like words, actions can hold many layers of complexity. Our life is a series of actions that we take. While life is continuous, like a river, when we look back we often break our memories into smaller pieces centered around specific actions such as graduations, the breaking of an arm, or the birth of a child. We call these smaller pieces, events.
Life is a series of events. These events can be split into two categories; those that are intentional, and those that are not. Events that happen because someone willed them to, such as a wedding, or an election, or even the cleaning of a room, have the meaning their architect gave them. Events that are not willed to happen, such as losing a wallet, falling off a horse, or even falling in love, have no architect, and so have no meaning. If you believe in God, then these unintentional events would be ascribed to God, and to understand their meaning you would have to understand what God meant when the event was set in motion. Even for those who believe and dedicate their entire life to this task, it is an almost impossible one. So, for the sake of this article, we are going to propose that either God doesn’t exist, or that it is impossible to understand God’s mind, and focus on what we can expect to understand.
Once all of the unintentional events in our life are put aside, we are left with the intentional moments. The meaning of life is the meaning of all of these events. We can study them, try to understand who we were and why we made the choices we did. We can study the other people in our lives and try to understand the choices they made, and how the events they set in motion changed our lives. We can learn from our past, and use our knowledge to make better choices in the future. In this way we design the meaning of our life with each choice that we make. Life then, is about making choices. The overall meaning of a life is unique to each life, but the meaning that we all share is the ability to choose.
The purpose of death is the continuation of life. This is not an argument of opposites, such as when we say that there can be no shadow without there first being light. Death is not the shadow cast by life, but the very mechanism by which life continues to exist.
It was Darwin who first purposed the purpose of death. Before Darwin, natural philosophers had no explanation for the balance of similarity and variety found in living creatures. Plato believed that members of the same species were similar because there were ideal forms of every animal, and much like a cookie cutter, this ideal form was used to create each being. The problem was that if all members of a species were created from one model then they should all be the same. The theory couldn’t explain why some lions had black manes, some gold, etc. Plato’s answer was something was lost in translation. Each cookie would come out slightly different, perhaps a piece broke off, or one was cooked at a different temperature, etc. This is how he explained variation. But this was unsatisfying. Even if life experiences could explain some variation, it could not explain why we all aren’t born exactly the same. If the variation took place before our birth, then how did it happen, and why? Above all, why do we die? If we are each the result of a perfected model, should we not live forever? Are each of us flawed in the exact same way? Or does the model dictate death?
Darwin put this theory to rest by studying the natural world. The environment continually changed from day to day, year to year, age to age. Therefore there was no such thing as a perfect creature because there was no such thing as a static environment. Each creature had to survive changing conditions, and those that did so lived to pass their traits on to the next generation. In order for a species to adapt it must change. But once a creature is born, there is little change. It can grow faster, get stronger, but the coat of a black lion will never turn gold, and the gold lion will always blend into the grass better. The only way for a new trait to be introduced into a species is for a creature to be born with it, and the only way for a useful trait to be held by almost all members of a species is for the trait to be passed down. The cycle of birth and death is what allows for change within a species. Without change, there is no adaptability, and without adaptability, there is no life.
When we live, we pass on our traits to our children, and when we die, we enable our success to spread, and we make room for the next change that might save us all. Death is the mechanism by which life has survived a chaotic and ever changing
Meaning vs Purpose
The work of philosophy is often done in the detailing of definitions. You must define what your terms and words will mean so that your arguments and conclusions can be understood. Lets look at the difference between ‘Meaning’ and ‘Purpose,’ in relation to the questions, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ and ‘What is the purpose of life?’
The meaning of a word is the concept that word is meant to contain. Think of a word as a cup filled with water. The meaning is the water inside of the cup, while the word is the cup itself. For example, the word ‘spoon’ is meant to contain the concept of a metallic object shaped a certain way used for eating. Concepts are thoughts, and often they are many thoughts pulled together. Within the concept of spoon is the concepts of eating, utensils, metal, etc. Our minds organize all of these concepts and their connections, and words are a tool we use to contain the concepts in our own minds. So, the meaning of the word is the contained concept, and words are a way to contain concepts. We also use actions. For example, a wave is an action that contains the concept of friendly greeting, therefore, the meaning of a wave is friendly greeting.
Now, there is a second function of words and actions which is to convey, or pass, the meaning between two minds. Communicating is the act of passing a meaning from one mind to another. When we say, ‘spoon,’ we are using the word to invoke the concept, spoon, in the mind of another. To convey a meaning between two individuals is the purpose of words.
The purpose of actions is harder to determine. If I wave, the purpose of my action is to convey friendly greeting. But if I turn on a faucet, the purpose of my action was to cause water to flow, and the meaning of my action is unclear. This is because actions can be about affecting a change to the world, in which case, the meaning of the action is the change the action causes. So a communicative purpose of an action is to convey, while a causative purpose of an action is to cause.
Actions can have both causitive and communicative meanings, such as when we point to a building and wave to get someone to follow us. The communicative purpose of this event was to convey the concept of following and to indicate where, and the causative purpose was to get a person to follow you.