Friday, 13 June 2008

Meaning and Nothingness: A personal journey by James A. Haught

The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 22, Number 1.

Young seekers of truth go through a phase of wondering whether life has any discernible meaning. Why are we here? Why is the universe here? Is there a purpose to it all? This is the ultimate question, overarching all others.

The seekers usually plunge into philosophy, and spend years sweating over “being” and “essence” and quibbling over how the mind obtains knowledge, how we determine reality, and how language shapes our comprehension. In the end, most emerge (as I did) with no better answer than when they began—and a feeling that they wasted a lot of time and effort. Omar Khayyam felt the same way nine hundred years ago:

Myself when young did eagerly frequent Doctor and saint, and heard great argument About it and about, but evermore Came out by the same door as in I went.

However, despite this futility, I think intelligent people can address the meaning-of-life question sensibly without bogging down in philosophical stewing and hair-splitting. That’s what I’d like to do now: just spell out what’s knowable, as I see it. The following is my personal, amateur view.

First, 90 percent of humanity—the religious believers— don’t need to ask the meaning of life. Their church tells them the answer. Priests and scriptures say a magical, invisible god created the universe and put people here to be tested, set rules of behavior for us to follow, and created a heaven to reward the rule-followers after they die and a hell to torture the rule-breakers after they die. Some supernatural explanation like this one is accepted by the vast preponderance of human beings.

But some of us can’t swallow it, because there’s no evidence. Nobody can prove that people continue living after death. Nobody can prove that people are tortured or rewarded in an afterlife—much less that any invisible spirits exist to do the torturing and rewarding.

Therefore, we uncertain people are doomed to be seekers, always searching for a meaning to life but never quite finding one. I’ve been going through it for half a century. Now, I think I can declare that there are two clear answers: (1) Life has no meaning. (2) Life has a thousand meanings.

Read the whole article HERE