This is day # 7 of 30 days of blogs on philosophy. Over the next 5 days, I will continue to attempt to provide answers to some big life questions as a learning exercise.
What is the meaning of life?
The answer really depends on what you think will happen when you die. For the billions of people around the world who are Christian, Jewish, or Muslim they belive that they are going onto an afterlife.
When you believe in an afterlife, the meaning of life is then just a step along the way to a future destination. The point is to live the “correct” way so that you can win entry into then afterlife.
Last night I wrote about what happens when we die. To sum it up, we know two things:
- That we are alive right now.
- That we don’t know what happens after.
You can be very certain that you are currently alive. Whether or not there is an afterlife you ought to be VERY uncertain of.
Right now, since you are reading this, you are alive, and don’t have any experience with being dead. You don’t know what it was like to be dead, but you do know what it was like to not be alive. Because there was a time when you weren’t alive. Before you were born.
What was it like before you were born? Or even after you were born, but before you had memories.
You don’t know because YOU didn’t exist. Before you became conscious, you didn’t exist.
I remember being young and thinking about death for what must have been one of the first times. I remember feeling really confused about it.
I was not raised in any religion, so I hadn’t been told other people’s ideas about afterlives, or reincarnation. I was just thinking about life coming to an end and I couldn’t seem to wrap my head around the idea that, at some point in the future, I would not exist anymore.
I knew that I, Ryan, the human being, would die at some point. I knew that people would get old and die. But I couldn’t understand what it would be like to no longer be conscious.
I was thinking about what I would experience when I was dead, not realizing that I would not exist to experience anything. I was thinking about what it would be like to experience nothingness, not realizing that there is no experiencing nothingness. That is what makes it nothingness in the first place.
I can’t prove that after death there is nothingness, just like no one can prove there is an afterlife. Death is something that happens after life, so you can’t find any evidence. But, it seems plausible that not being alive after your life would be similar to not being alive before your life.
Regardless, making any sacrifices in life in order to prepare for the afterlife is a really poor gamble. It’s like putting your last bit of money into a slot machine with terrible odds.
I don’t have certainty about what will happen when I die. So the meaning of life can’t be about an afterlife. I am certain that I am alive right now, and I am certain that there are ways I can enjoy living more. So the meaning of life is then is just to really enjoy my life.
“I know not if this earth on which I stand is the core of the universe or if it is but a speck of dust lost in eternity. I know not and I care not. For I know what happiness is possible to me on earth. And my happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it. My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose.” – Ayn Rand (Anthem)
Another way of saying it would be that the meaning of life is just to live.
Realising that there probably isn’t an afterlife leads a lot of people to feel like life is pointless. They had been living with a destination in mind. Running a race to get to a finish line. Thinking that the point of life was to get into some afterlife. Thinking that the point of the journey was the destination.
Then, when they replace the afterlife with nothingness. They feel defeated. What is the point of getting to the destination, when the finish line is basically a cliff that you fall off.
When you realise that there is no finish line, you have to adjust your behavior. To stop running. To start savouring.
Alan Watts makes this point by comparing life to music. What if we made music with the same philosophy that most people lived life by. Making music where the end of the song was the point of the song.
“In music though, one doesn’t make the end of a composition the point of the composition. If that was so, the best conductors would be those who played fastest. And there would be composers who only write finales. People would go to concerts to hear one crashing chord because that’s the end.” – Alan Watts
The point of a song is not the end, it is just to enjoy the song. The point of life is not the end, it is just to enjoy life.
I don’t know what will happen when I die but I do know that I have a short period of time to be alive. A short time when I have the ability to experience what it is like to be conscious. Life is about living. Filling your time up with experiences, and realise that there is no risk about it. The downside in life is not that something bad will happen, but just that I might not take advantage of my opportunity to enjoy life.
Tomorrow I will dive deeper into how my views about the meaning of life affect my choices on a day to day basis, when I answer “What should I do today?”
I’m going through these questions to clarify my thinking on them, and hopefully, provide value to others who are reading. If you agree or disagree with me, I would love to hear from you in the comments! Let me know how you would answer this question, or what you think my answer is missing!