Friday, September 15, 2000

Re: What does it all mean?



Michael Cherry wrote:
> 
> Well the thread has been pretty light lately, so I figured I'd throw a
> question out there.

Heh -- a philosophical troll.  It is a strain against strong humorous
tendencies to address such a trite question seriously -- but I guess I'll
take the bait, and expect some sarcastic comments, as you gave Bert.  (Hey
Bert, spit it out: what are you building in your basement?)

> I know this was kind of discussed earlier but instead of a debate I'm just
> looking for personal opinions.  Short and sweet, no lengthy explainations.
> I'm lazy OK...

It was an odd twist at Burning Man this year:  Last year I was working the
Oracle booth -- fielding any and all questions -- and the most common
question was "What is the meaning of life?"  This year the most common
question was "What should I be doing with my life?"  It was a subtle but
remarkable (and somewhat depressing) difference, largely attributable I
think to the gradual change in character of the Burning Man demographic. 
(Then again, perhaps I give this data too much significance, since there
was also a statistically significant occurrence of the question "Is there
a duck?")
 
> So Where does the meaning in your life come from?

I gave my short answer before: "We have to make it up for ourselves."

> Why do you think we're here.  Or do you believe there is no meaning?

I believe, with large confidence, that there is no external meaning.  I
would say that the concept of meaning itself is entirely a human
construct.

So, what meaning does a human naturally construct?  There are the animal
drives to be satisfied: food, sex, physical pleasure, pain avoidance.  And
there are the more complex basic drives: social interaction and success,
love, friendship, parenthood, wealth and power, curiosity, reading,
learning, mastery of skills.  Add aesthetics to scale and mix these up:
appreciation of natural beauty, music, art, math.  And then, to cap it
off, the drive and wonderful satisfaction of creating.

But all of these, from the banal to the sublime, seem rooted back in
pleasure.  So, I suppose I must call myself a rational hedonist.  I'm
after pleasure and satisfaction, but in a complex, forward thinking, and
encompassing way that mixes all of the above -- if it were only immediate
physical pleasure I were after, I would be a heroin addict. (Or a heroine
addict, heh.)

As to the primary meaningful pursuits I have created in my own life:  I
get most of my immediate joy and satisfaction from surfing.  (The first
north swell of the season is due on Sunday. Yip!)  A decent amount of
amusement and growth comes from my interaction with others (sifters in
particular), though I feel a little isolated on this volcano.  And, for
the longer term, theoretical physics.  I've been intrigued by this
mathematical puzzle presented to us by the universe, and after years of
mostly studying other people's work, thinking, and tackling small
problems, I've been having a great time trying to create a theory of
everything -- probably an academically suicidal pursuit that won't pan
out, but one that I have committed myself to. And the strongest,
personally meaningful experience for me has been love, but a digression
into that thread would be neither short nor sweet.



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