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believing in nothing \ on the meaning of life

I have been grappling with the topic of finding meaning in life for a long time now.


Here's what I think is the fundamental question: how to find meaning in an otherwise meaningless world?


Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. A lot of the things that defined our lives in their very beginning were due to chance. Many of them continue to stay beyond our grasp. And as Philip Zimbardo aptly demonstrated: the outside setting can have and often has an overwhelming influence on who we are - even if we don't want to admit it (just as our microbiome, bacteria that populate our guts, influences us from the inside).


Did you choose the time you were born? The country - and back up the road, the region, city, town, or village? The family? Parents? Siblings? The cultural, historical and economic circumstances - and a magnitude of other conditions shaping your closest and more distant environment? Assuredly, the answer is a repeated 'no.'


If you gaze out at the stars and see nothing but entities still twinkling though they had already descended into the perfect chaos of entropy; if you look straight into the dark and cold 'eye' of the universe that never cared for you; if you doubt the answers you were provided with, especially by various religions that see this world as merely a stopover, then you might very well come to the conclusion that there is, in fact, no inherent sense in all of this. That life is pointless.


Or, as the great Albert Camus put it, "life is absurd."


It was the same Albert Camus who also said, "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide."


Life has no inbuilt meaning. Yet, we keep on living rather than do away with ourselves. To what end, then, if the end is always the same?


There is but a single all-embracing force in the universe trumping anything else: entropy. That is why I think the most fitting definition of life goes something like this: a process of converting energy to withstand entropy. As such, it is doomed to fail.


But here is the other side of the coin: to slake this meaning-thirst, we have developed an almost endless set of meanings. Together with the void comes the sense-making tool: the ability to ascribe value.


The instrument is, however, flawed - in that anything can become a value in an axiological sense.


From this perspective, the problem isn't with the lack of meaning but with the overabundance thereof. People can put their faith in anything: they believe (zealously) in, say, the keto diet, Apple, Elon Musk, neo-capitalism, technology fixing everything. You name it!


We have developed meta-tools to re-evaluate the choices. Still, they aren't perfect. Science has done marvellous things, but as it's a human activity, it's also pestered by our imperfections. By definition, it also cannot answer questions outside its scope, among others, about the meaning of life. Nevertheless, science should be given credit for shattering beliefs - from those harmful to the silly ones.


Even so, culture eats anything for breakfast, science included, and that is why people find meaning in proven nonsenses. The emptiness in us calls for solace - and sometimes, any respite will suffice.


There is a great power, for good or ill, in ideas that rally people together. It is easier to assuage the howl of life's absurdity when you aren't in desolation. Mind the adjective, easier, not better.


There is, however, a philosophical tool I would like to draw your attention to, namely nihilism.


In the place I come from, the term is more often than not used as an insult, chiefly by Catholic priests and philosophers. No wonder, though, as nihilism calls for - to make a long story short - believing in nothing.


As such, it takes a system, notwithstanding its deep tradition roots or being widespread globally, and asks you not to believe in it.


Nihilism then welcomes you to dissect what constitutes a given belief, take implications from the foundations, and ultimately land a sincere conclusion on whether there is meaning in what claims to hold meaning (especially if it purports to be the sole bearer of The Meaning as many religions and quasi-religious movements do).


I couldn't recommend the book Nihilism by Nolen Gertz more if you want to explore this topic in greater detail. I particularly value the chapter on what nihilism isn't and the passages where the author reads classical philosophers through nihilistic lenses.

It is hard to believe in nothing. Or is it?


I have indeed found it helpful in unburdening myself from the various - how to name them? - sources of meaning. I think of it as delineating the horizon of possibilities - that particular world views can open our eyes wider - even though what lays forth, as a result, doesn't have to be particularly pretty.


But it isn't about beauty; it's about separating the wheat from the chaff.

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