Tuesday, February 2, 2010


We live and die, but it is our unique fate to know that we live and die.

That’s an old insight, probably realized by our early ancestors, when they were hunting their prey to exhaustion on the African plains.

From there, one can go in many different directions. The absurd man takes that insight at face value. He accepts it and, in fact, finds it freeing. If we’re all going to die anyway, what’s the point in worrying about stuff? Might as well live for today.

That too, is a very old idea. We didn’t realize just how old until we found it in the ancient tale of Gilgamesh. And when we say ancient, we mean ancient. When the tale was lost in the destruction of Nineveh in 612 BC, it was already 2,000 years old!

Gilgamesh was very popular throughout the ancient world. Lost lines were found in many of the languages of the Near East – Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Elamite, Hittite and more. And there are many variations of the tale.

While traveling Down Under, we picked up a copy of Martin Edmond’s Zone of the Marvelous: In Search of the Antipodes. (The antipodes is often used to mean Australia and New Zealand.) It was here we found the discussion on Gilgamesh.

“Gilgamesh is about an ancient Middle Eastern king’s quest for immortality and his coming to terms with the inevitability of death,” Edmond writes. Young Gilgamesh lives it up. He has many lovers. He parties and drinks a lot. In the process he angers the gods (by killing the Bull of Heaven). The gods decide to kill his pal, Enkidu, in retribution. Gilgamesh is distraught, “fearful…that his friend’s fate will also be his.”

Afraid of death, he goes on a journey to achieve immortality. We’ll skip over his many adventures here and focus on just one encounter. In the earlier versions of the story, he meets with Shiduri, who is a kind of tavern-keeper. She is the absurd woman in the tale.

Her advice to Gilgamesh is to give up his quest and accept his inevitable death. As Edmond writes: “Shiduri tries to dissuade him, using words later echoed in Ecclesiastes: ‘fill your belly with good things, day and night, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice…’”

Shiduri is the absurdist voice in this old tale. She is the one who gives the wise advice that says if you are going to die, you might as well live life to the fullest and not worry about your death. Shiduri advises Gilgamesh to live an absurd life.

We don’t know who put those words in her mouth. The author (or authors) of the tale is lost forever. But the fact that the words exist at all means there was an ancient absurd man somewhere back there in the mists of time.

Absurdity, perhaps, is as old as consciousness. When the first man (or woman) looked up at the sky - perhaps frustrated by his hunger or angry at the sun - and wondered why... and then accepted his fate, he was on his way to absurdity.


  1. "..he was on his way to absurdity." And what does he have for his absurdity, and for writing the story. Nothing. He is dead and non-existent just as surely and completely as his neighbor who clung to everything and did not see absurdity and did not accept his fate. And this notion is freeing, because easy to worry too much about whether we are getting the most out of life as if it is soooo important that we do indeed get the most out of it. But its NOT soooo important and critical that we make the most of our life. It would be better, now, if I were happier, now, but it won't matter in the long run. And, even now, it doesn't matter in any ultimate, universal, or "otherness" sense how I am.

  2. For the record, I just like saying "Gilgamesh" . . . :)

  3. I don't know if i was clear in my comment. I am trying to say something like this: I have been reading this post and getting a LOT out of it. But sometimes I make a thing out of absurdity and inadvertently place intrinsic importance on it. And in saying that it doesn't matter that the dude in the mists of time saw absurdity helps me a lot. If I live the absurd life well, poorly, or middling - I will still be as dead as a doornail when I die. I dont get to take anything with me and wont have anything to show for life. I could live a pure life of experience and joy in the moment without worrying about what others think, and I STILL dont get to take any of those experiences with me. And when I say "I make a thing out of absurdity itself", I mean somehow subtly think that when I die someone will count how much I "ate, drank, and was merry", and that it will hence count and matter. Like nothing mattering is very important and really matters. I'm not trying to say you meant it that way, only the tendency I have. Nietzsche said, "Experience, as a desire for experience, does not come off. We must not study ourselves while having an experience." But even that is only 90% of the way to what I am saying, because of the word must. No, we cannot say that we "must not" because whether we do or do not study ourselves while having an experience, it STILL DOESN'T MATTER. Even if I spend the rest of my life studying myself while having an experience, so what? I still live and then die. If there is no score in life and there are no points, well then you still don't get any points for realizing there are no points. Thinking you get points for realizing that no one is keeping score is yet another way to say what I mean by "making a thing out absurdity". Do you relate to this Inigo? Do you even understand it? Not sure I explained it very well.

  4. Well, if you are saying that being absurd gets the absurd man no special dispensation over the non-absurd man in the end, we would agree.

    Clearly, being absurd or not doesn't matter in the end. Still, we choose to be absurd in the here and now. We find it freeing. And we find it is a philosophy best matched up with reality as we perceive it.

    Some things do "matter" to the absurd man. For instance, the absurd man chooses life over suicide, thereby imparting a value or preference of a kind on his own life. So even though we often say "nothing matters" rather casually, it is not strictly true. There is a difference between the absurd and nihilism.

    And we like to say "gilgamesh" too. :)


  5. That was one of the things I said. The other was about my tendency to subtly assign some ultimate meaning to seeing that there is no ultimate meaning - like it matters in some ultimate, universal, or "otherness" sense whether I let go or not. Seeing the abyss means understanding that it doesn't matter whether you see the abyss. And, for the record, Rick would disagree with your assertion that some things matter (per the conversation under joy of detachment).

  6. "for the record" Oh, I forgot, there is no record. To me, that seems to be what you're getting at in this whole blog. There is no record.

  7. Anonymous,

    You are running into the stone cold wall of contradictions that I highlighted in past responses to posts by Rick and Inigo on this blog. If one takes as fact that there is no meaning then all that is left is nihilism. There is a distinct difference between an absurdist view point and nihilism, but it does not seem to me to be apparent from the blog postings of this site. To me this blog seems to present a form of 'happy nihilism' tinged with eastern philosophy.

    That is not to say that what is offered here has no value, as I have stated in the past there are many nuggets of wisdom presented on this site, some of which offer valuable insights and strategies by which one might profitably conduct one's life.

    Be that as it may, if you take the leap of faith by saying there is no meaning (no matter how convincing the evidence seems, because of the limits of human perception and apprehension, it is still a leap of faith) then there is absolutely nothing binding you to any mask, or act of fiction that you choose to impose on your world view. It becomes nothing more than an arbitrary choice held in place by dogma, blind doctrine, or simple whim. So the wisdom of the ages, as revealed by Gilgamesh, to seize the day becomes no more valuable then dinosaur dung.

    On the other hand, if you refuse to take a leap of faith (for the same reason you refuse to commit suicide in the face of absurdity) then you can consistently incorporate the tenet of 'carpe diem' taught by Gilgamesh, and it can in fact add value to your life, in the here and now, despite the probability that it doesn't mean anything beyond that limited span.


  8. I've noticed myself (as I identify with "I" as one who lives in the world of symbolism that ascribes meaning even to the absurd) having an attachment to this blog, as I desire to come here and read dialogue such as the comments above. They are very insightful and express the deep suspiciouns I have carried throughout my life. I find this to be rewarding; I can meditate on them and lose myself in them. And then I can lose the "I" that I cannot see anyway and rest my mind in peace. For that, I am grateful for a blog like this.
    Having said that, I am a beer drinker and I do love beer. I also love my motorcycle, but not both at the same time; that could be fatal. Therefore, I must conclude that I carry inside the "I" that I cannot see that I have both attachments and non-attachments. Does this make me both absurd and not-absurd? State your answer in red-colored braille please.

  9. Hi, Im the original anonymous on this chain. RH understood what I was saying - very interesting comments. And Gatorcog experiences a similar attachment. But I would still say that Carpe Diem as a "thing" and mandate does not help me. I love to just relax, read, contmplate etc. I have always felt a twinge of (unnecessary I think) regret that I wasn't carpe-ing enough to be good enough (as if there was external meaning defining good enough). Finally, I've never seen any reason why suicide has an a priori elevated stance in a totally meaningless world. How can you argue there is ANY correct reaction in a meaningless world, let alone that one? Thanks to all, Arthur.

  10. You are running into the stone cold wall of contradictions that I highlighted in past responses to posts by Rick and Inigo on this blog. If one takes as fact that there is no meaning then all that is left is nihilism.

    Ah, but meaning DOES exist, even for the absurd man. It just happens to be self-created. And thus wholly portable, malleable, customizable, and perfectly matched in duration to the being who created it.

    For those who (still) object to the idea of self-created meaning, think of a song. Where does a song come from? Here is one potential path: A musician first hears the song in his mind. Then he plays it on his guitar... tweaks it a little... and voila, a song is born. Would we say the song is not “real” just because it was born in the musician’s mind? No. Of course it is real. He can play it on his guitar, put it on itunes, or what have you. The seat of consciousness is as respectable a birthplace as any other.

    Perhaps many others hear and enjoy this song. Or perhaps it is kept private. Perhaps when the musician dies, hopefully after a long and happy life, his little song dies with him, all traces left behind.

    Self-created meaning is like that. The things I place value on in life – what I believe, what I hold dear – are like the songs I sing to myself. It doesn’t really matter who likes my songs (unless I choose for it to matter). And the universe certainly doesn’t care. My songs are temporal, ephemeral, transient... and yet they are very real, and of great importance to me, as I play them out on the existential guitar of my brief and shining existence.

    Where people get tripped up, I think, is in assuming that “meaning” has to be permanent... or eternal... or transcendent. People think meaning has to be timeless... that the universe has to have a say... that some broadly applicable consensus is required.

    Not true at all. Meaning doesn’t have to be any of those things. It can be whimsical, ephemeral, personal, and created or extinguished at whim – just like a song.

  11. I agree with RH. You seem to be equating meaning and what I like and prefer and want. I think people can have utility over things - that's what people do. In my mind, meaning is something more. It is the idea that things matter in some intrinsic, ultimate, or "otherness" sense. Arthur

  12. Arthur,

    We agree that you can't equate meaning to preferences.

    It may be just semantics, but we think the distinction is worth keeping. The absurd man expresses preferences, certainly. He decides. He acts. We would not choose to call that web of preferences "self-created meaning."

    We may prefer hamburgers to hot dogs. We may prefer our current job over others. Or, to use Cpn Jack's metaphor, we may prefer one song over another. But these are mere preferences. We don't invest them with "meaning," which to us implies something more. These preferences mean nothing. And the absurd man could just as well do without.


  13. Capn Jack,

    I agree meaning IN the world does exist, after all you are reading these strange symbols arranged in a syntactically significant manner and are able to understand my thoughts and the meaning of that which I am trying to convey. However, it seems to me that you are guilty of the same inconsistency with which I attribute to Rick and Inigo. Namely that if there is nothing binding you to your ‘personal meaning’ that you believe everyone creates for themselves, then it is just simple whim, an arbitrary choice, that can change at any given second, it is ephemeral and temporary. If this is true then there is no difference between the nihilist claim of ‘no meaning in this world’ and your view. Your view is just more cheery and feel good-y than the anarchy of the nihilist, but in the end analysis they are the same thing. I find nihilism to be logically inconsistent (there is only one truth, there is no truth), and since I see your view no different than the nihilist view, to be consistent I must conclude the belief in wholly self created meaning as logically inconsistent as well.

    So I find myself in a conundrum, caught between the logically inconsistent idea that there is no meaning (or only self created meaning), and the seemingly overwhelming body of human knowledge that indicates just that fact. To believe either is a leap, you must abandon reason to make either, thus abandoning that which makes man, man. Since I have found some value in remaining human (thus rejecting suicide in the face of absurdity) the only rational solution I have found is to refuse to make either leap of faith, to create a mask of meaning, as an actor in a passion play, but to treat this mask with irony, knowing that it is only an act, a fiction, which I impose on the conundrum. I am bound by this fiction by my refusal to take any leap of faith. Thus my self created meaning has the weight of the transcendent, binding me to my beliefs, yet allows me to appreciate the here and now, because that is most likely all there is, and when something goes awry, as it always does, I can laugh at myself and my created fiction while still appreciating the things that make life worth living. That, to me, is the value of the absurd man.


  14. @ Inigo and Havoc,

    It seems obvious to me there is a difference between preference and meaning, but that both have a clear personal dimension. What could be more meaningful -- or personal -- then the candlelit checkerclothed table in an out of the way restaurant where a man proposes to his true love for example. "Preference" does not apply in that example. In terms of cherished memories, of going back to that place on anniversaries, "meaning" certainly does. Imbuing richness or significance in a thing has more depth than choosing hamburgers over hot dogs.

    Re, being guilty, you still insist that "meaning" has to have permanence or transcendence to qualify as meaning. This requirement strikes me as arbitrary and, what's more, not supported by the dictionary.

    I type "define:meaning" into Google and see things like "significance of a thing; the worth of life; rich in significance or implication." All those things apply on a personal level to, say, the candlelit table where one proposed, or a favorite fishing spot, or any other number of personal things. I do not understand the insistence on equating meaning with permanence or transcendence.

    Besides: As a zen master might inquire, has a dog the buddha nature? What is the sound of one hand clapping? The point of the koan is to help the mind break free of limiting conventional thought patterns. And conventional thought patterns clearly ARE limiting here, are they not? Lest why would this question of "meaning" be such a perplexing struggle in the first place?

    Or perhaps there is a hidden demand in here somewhere? Perhaps there is a requirement that a certain preexisting view be held correct ("not invented here syndrome")..? Or a hope for some sort of universal affirmation be preserved (refusal to accept that the mountain is silent)?

  15. capn jack

    i think the point is to break free of that idea that one thing is more significant or meaningful than any other. it isn't, that's the point. picking burgers is no more signficant than a restaurant where you proposed to your true love. its not more signficant than "dinosaur droppings" as Rick would say. this is the absurd view

    that's one message i get out of this blog that i find very helpful.


  16. My flag flies closer to Capn Jack on this one, though it is hard to know the way he writes. I bet he sure as hell is no captain nor ever was.

    I've been a Zen practitioner for 35 years. I had the occasion to study under Kobun Chino Sensei for a time at Los Altos. Learn all you can about that man if you want to understand Zen. Another good man is Robert Aitken Roshi.

    However, I appreciate this blog because it is different and my boys Inigo and Rick write so well. Keep it up boys! If we want to read about checkered tablecloth and how important our girlfriends are, there are plenty of places for that.

    Capt. J.C. Marsh, US Navy (Ret.)

  17. Apologies if my whimsical choice of moniker offended you Captain Marsh. Clearly the title "means" something to you in a manner it did not to me... romantic analogies, not so much. Love seemed a fairly accessible topic for illustrating the principle of meaning on a personal level. One could also speak of an old soldier finding meaning in a rifle I suppose.

    @ previous anonymous: Yes, that is a succinct summation of the message. I suppose I should just be content to disagree with this subtle persistence insistence that someone other than me gets to decide, with arbitrary authority, what has meaning in my life and what does not.

    It just seems curiously inconsistent to go around saying nothing has meaning, and yet to act and live as if meaning exists in our own lives. This inconsistency seems a flaw, and in playing around with it my curiosity gets the best of me.

    For the sake of logical consistency, my proposed solution is to recognize that meaning does actually exist, but that it exists on a personal level, because meaning is imbued where I decide to imbue it, and I can think of no supreme being with the necessary qualifications to call my sentiments "false."

    Who decides that hamburgers have no more meaning than true love? Who decides that all experiences are of the same worth? In the absence of a higher arbiter, these seem utterly subjective statements; "worth nothing" is as much a personal assignation as "worth much." "No meaning" is as much a value judgment as "meaning," in the same manner that declaring something "not beautiful" is to make an aesthetic judgment.

    And yet, do aesthetic judgments have any type of ultimate grounding, except insofar as they emanate from the self? Is not "meaning" akin to "taste," then, even in respect to the ultimate things? And does this not leave the universe utterly silent on the matter, rather than uttering a single word of declaration in either direction?

    What is left after taking this series of deductive steps amounts to a sort of philosophical freedom of movement, in which natural laws (i.e. the laws of physics and such) demand universal scientific respect, but blanket statements of the aesthetic / subjective variety, including statements of "no meaning," have no similar justification for being put forth in a dogmatic light. This seems crystal clear to me.

    It also seems to be the absurd would be better served, strengthened even, by poking fun at its own absurdity rather than declaring philosophical dominance in a distinctly non-absurd way; but oh well. "Opinions make markets," as they say, and philosophies too I suppose.

    I comment here occasionally to sate my curiosity - in terms of understanding this point of view and seeing what responses come up - and also, I suppose, for the philosophical equivalent of wriggling a loose tooth; no harm is intended and no ego prizes are at stake, at least not intentionally.

    I suppose the best thing to do is just shrug and close with a Nietzsche quote: You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.

  18. Inigo

    RE: My comment saying "You seem to be equating meaning with what I like and prefer and want.", to which you replied. The 'You' was Captain Jack just above. I know that you don't so equate, but thanks for the reply, it was exactly what I meant. I'll be more clear about that next time.

    Capn Jack,
    The whole point of this site is that meaning does not exist. Personally, I agree. If you look closely at your argument, you are just describing a slighlty different flavor of human emotion or preference. If you really want to call nostalgia meaning, then ok. But the meaning we are talking about is the big scary intrinsic, shoulding, external, universal meaning telling me that what I do Matters with a capital M (not just to the preferences of me or someone else).


  19. It is very instructive that every time you imbue something with meaning, it can be traced back to some way to be a successful gene replicating machine. There is nothing logically inconsistent with acting as if there is meaning when there is not. After all, we are human, we act however we act. btw, Capn Jack, and many on here, although I disagree, I love to read your comments.

    Oh, regarding the song, that is something different. Here you are not talking about personal or universal meaning (neither of which exists, or you can call nostalgia personal meaning). Here you are talking about information. Is there information content in the song? This is a third type of meaning - meaning in the world RH called it.


  20. If you really want to call nostalgia meaning, then ok. But the meaning we are talking about is the big scary intrinsic, shoulding, external, universal meaning telling me that what I do Matters with a capital M (not just to the preferences of me or someone else).

    Fair enough Arthur, and well put.

    Yes, I definitely DO want to call "nostalgia" and suchlike meaning --and I would quibble with the implied assertion that nostalgia is always trivial.

    Nostalgia certainly wouldn't be considered trival to, say, an Auschwitz survivor... or to Proust...

    In saying "by the meaning we are talking about," I appreciate you defining the terms. Because, oddly enough, this strikes near the heart of the matter.

    I object to the wholesale appropriation of the word meaning to imply "universal meaning"... and I call the dictionary to my defense.

    I posit that there is a difference between personal and universal meaning... that both are valid concepts... and that it is important to distinguish between the two.

    If you say my life has no universal, transcendent meaning, I will say "sure, I agree." If you say my life has no personal meaning, I will beg to differ. The first is an empirically supported argument. The second is a subjective decree that flies in the face of individual experience.

    Based on how the dictionary defines it, my life has meaning -- of the personal variety. "Richness or significance" does not have metaphysical qualification.

    The reason I humbly insist on clarity of terms is that, when tossing the word "meaning" hither and thither, one tends to conflate the universal and personal to a degree that only confuses(especially if one has not beforehand recognized the value of distinguishing in the first place!).

    Chain of thought being as follows:

    - empirically speaking, there is no evidence of universal, transcendent meaning.

    - based on the simple validation of life experience, there is very much evidence of personal (i.e. self created) meaning.

    - to call personal meaning (i.e. nostalgia) "trivial" is to make a subjective value judgment limited to a singular point of view. What is trivial to you is not to me and vice versa.

    - The dictionary does not impose any special right to infer all uses of the word "meaning" as referring to the "big, scary," transcendent variety.

    - Therefore, it is perhaps worthwhile to refrain from conflating the universal with the personal in discussions of meaning... which can be accomplished by using the appropriate qualifiers or simply getting another word!

    - Last but not least, personal meaning is enough. My life is filled with richness, beauty and significance. My life has meaning. I know that, like my own life force, the meaning in my life will die with me. This does not bother me in the slightest. That is why I submit that the universal / personal distinction is much more than semantics. By recognizing the universal lack of meaning, yet embracing the personal, I find peace and contentment in my own life... with full ability to "hold on tightly" or "let go lightly" in precisely the manner I choose.

  21. Nicely said, Arthur.

    Hey Jack - that's a clever quote from Nietzsche but not very satisfying. The assertion he makes is it's own "right way." Following him, you are not any smarter or wiser than the absurd man. You've simply chosen your own arbitrary "right way," that there isn't one! Surely you see that, Jack.

    Also, I'm not sure about your arguments that there is no arbiter of meaning. I could be wrong, but some things can be objectively defined. This chair I am sitting on. It is here and I can bump into it and move it, so can you. It objectively exists as far as we can tell.

    But, something like the assertion that man has a soul cannot objectively exist as far as we can tell. I think meaning is like this. You may say your life or certain things has meaning to you, but you are no better off than the man who insists he has a soul. You are dreaming up something that does not objectively exist.

    I think that's what we're talking about here, as Arthur pointed out, the big meaning. The absurd argument has great appeal to me because, as the blog writers have pointed out better than I can, it is an acceptance of that lack of meaning rather than trying to cover that up by creating something that does not exist.


  22. Just a thought to throw in here: some comments insinuate or state that there is something wrong with making an arbitrary choice. We think it impossible to go through life without making arbitrary choices. No philosophy can be proved out all the way through. At some point, one has to make some choices that cannot satisfy all the tests of formal logic.

    The real test of a philosophy is in the eating, so to speak. We continue to emphasize the practical aspects of the absurd, which we believe pay good dividends.


  23. You've simply chosen your own arbitrary "right way," that there isn't one! Surely you see that, Jack.

    Nietzsche's point there, I believe, is as simple as denying the existence of an absolute truth. There are no concrete pronouncements, only interpretations.

    As for the arbitrary nature of the choice, yes. In a universe with no transcendent meaning, all value assignations will, to some degree or another, be arbitrary.

    And yet viewpoints / belief systems can still be compared or contrasted on an aesthetic common ground, i.e., in respect to how well they "fit" or "ring true" relative to mutually agreed upon criteria. I do not posit that my way is the right way, the correct way, or the only way... only that it strikes me as more consistent with the term "meaning" as the world broadly defines it, reaping the dividends of freedom from transcendent illusions while still recognizing (and embracing) the easy-to-observe existential nature of meaning in our lives on a day to day basis.

    In short, as a fan of Nietzsche, I argue my position on the basis of aesthetics (it strikes me as having more consistency and utility), and question the alternate position based on a questionable narrowing of the word "meaning" and the dogmatic nature of assigning nil value to the experiences of other men.

    This chair I am sitting on. It is here and I can bump into it and move it, so can you. It objectively exists as far as we can tell... But, something like the assertion that man has a soul cannot objectively exist as far as we can tell. I think meaning is like this.

    The soul example is not a good one (in my opinion) because those who believe in souls -- i.e. christians etc. -- would argue that the soul is "real" in the same tangible manner that a chair is real. The literal religious believer considers the soul to be something of empirical scientific heft, like dark matter or a quantum particle.

    As for meaning... meaning is more like emotion in my estimation. Would you debate the proposition that emotions are real? Would you challenge an individual's assertion that she is happy, or angry, or sad, simply because you cannot tangibly weigh such concepts as happiness / angriness / sadness except indirectly?

    The absurd argument has great appeal to me because, as the blog writers have pointed out better than I can, it is an acceptance of that lack of meaning rather than trying to cover that up by creating something that does not exist.

    The absurd argument has great appeal to me too. That's why I am not much interested in challenging it or refuting it, so much as adding a bit of nuance to it. I, too, believe that "all is meaningless" in the universal sense.

    But I also believe that to say "there is no meaning" full stop is, both linguistically and philosophically, a dubious statement, because more than one kind of meaning exists.

    Assigning "richness or significance" to a thing is something man does regularly on a private and personal level, through the simple living out of day to day life. Einstein said "things should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." I simply find it helpful to maintain certain degrees of freedom inherent in the word meaning (i.e. recognizing the difference between universal and personal), and to sidestep the accidental pitfalls of assuming no meaning full stop (accusations of nihilism etc.) while doing so. I also think it a fascinating step (or possible misstep) to recognize as emotions as being valid, yet to deny personal meaning as not valid, when value assignation and emotional response are more or less the same thing in respect to their temporary noncorporeal emanation from individual sources.

  24. p.s. Agree fully too that the proof is in the eating. I love the ultimate freedom of no transcendent burdens, yet I also appreciate the nuanced consistency of recognizing that I am the arbiter and bestower of meaning in my own life, and that another man cannot dictate to me what has "meaning" or does not on a personal level any more than he can dictate to me aesthetic tastes or the way I should feel.

    I see nuance as freedom in this regard -- the freedom to craft one's internal, consciousness-enabled world as one sees fit -- and the real challenge I lay down, in whimsical fashion of course, is to anyone who wants to philosophically argue in a dogmatic, ‘absolute’ type of way, that personal meaning does not exist, i.e. that personal meaning is not "meaning" in a literal, substantial way as the dictionary defines it and as general terms support it.

    This again seems a small, almost nitpicking point -- call it "trivia" if you will, a smallminded proviso -- but I still contend there is eye-opening power (quite ‘good eating’) in recognizing that Yes, meaning does exist in my life – on the personal plane, not the universal -- and to the extent that it exists, it is unchallenged by higher authority, unburdened by outside requirement, and thus wholly shapable and controllable by me. My value assignations have 'worth' in the only sense of the term that matters. I can care deeply, detach fully, or adjust the mix however I choose... making my own custom recipes as it were. Recognizing the validity of personal meaning gives access to a personal spice rack that makes all the food taste better (in my personal aesthetic opinion). I do not demand that other men use my spices, but I question their insistence that my spices are illusions when I can taste them, daily and deeply, in my existential food. I am the captain of my own existence (if not my "soul").

    Last but not least -- and again just emphasizing this again for the sake of good humor -- again my main reason for posting here is curiosity (iron sharpening iron etc.) and amusement. There is nothing at all to be won or lost, except perhaps a little bit better handle on one's worldview via food for thought (no pun intended).

  25. Capn Jack

    Perhaps my use of the word ‘guilty’ has too many pejorative connotations, it clearly obfuscated the point I was trying to make. I am in general agreement with your view that there is meaning (going by the dictionary definition which implies personal significance) in the world (that may even be shared with others), and that this personal significance shapes the way one lives their life. This is evidenced by this very blog which attempts to show the pointlessness, and often the counter productivity, of assigning any value to this self created meaning, all the while assigning self created value and meaning to this very realization, thus shaping the way the absurd man might live his life. However, my point was this, without a ground point this self created meaning is as pointless and contradictory as the nihilist’s anarchist views, and therefore shares the same failings as the nihilist’s views, and with the views of this blog, which says nothing matters.

    If one summarily rejects meaning (in the larger existential sense) then all that is left is anthropic mechanism, man as merely a mechanical mind. From a strict mechanicalist view there is little difference between the preference of hamburger over hot dog and the significance imposed on the checkerclothed table where true love was expressed. It is just a matter of scale rather than a difference of kind. Both share common mechanisms, namely the release of chemicals in the brain\body (that in the past I have called the Squirt), that our recursive loop of awareness associates with pleasure. The fact that our consciousness assigns more ‘importance’ for love, over the preference of food choices, which has the same mechanism at its root, is irrelevant, and more to the point, is the direct result of the same mechanism of chemical release and constraining recursive reference.

    Of course this view flies in the face of our common experience, and our most cherished ideas about what makes man, man. So, either our ideas and our common sense experiences are merely persistent illusions or they are not, but in our limited capacity we can never know which view is right. I contend that to draw either conclusion is leap of faith, for the same reason that religion is a leap of faith, it abandons reason, and is therefore philosophical suicide.

    I only know that I do not know if there is some larger meaning, and in my view that man is unlikely (indeed, unable) ever to know. However by refusing to leap to either conclusion I can create rich personal meaning (as do you), as if it had a larger meaning and still be consistent with my beliefs. Yet I know I have to maintain my sense of irony about my personal meaning because I know that it is a fiction that I created.

    I hope this clarifies the point I was trying to make to you, without some ground point the personal meaning that you hold onto so tightly is no different the anarchy of the nihilist, or the belief expressed on this site that nothing matters.


  26. Hi RH,

    Thanks for that clarification. I more or less agree with your philosphical assertions, though not so much with your conclusions.

    My main issue with "the anarchy of the nihilist" is its lack of utility and its logical inconsistency. That is to say, I object to the nihilist stance on aesthetic and pragmatic grounds.

    As for my own personal storehouse of meaning, I gently remind you that the internal does not need the external. When I assign "richness or significance to a thing," the relevant point is that "I" assign it; my consciousness assigns it.

    In this manner, personal meaning is like emotion. If "I" am happy, then I am happy. If "I" am sad, then I am sad. Emotions are self-validating for the individual experiencing them. They need not be philosophically justified or verified on any external level.

    For you to imply my personal storehouse of meaning is invalid, then, is similar in nature to an assertion that my happiness and peace of mind are invalid. The trick of happiness is being happy; the trick of contentment is being content. The state is self-validating in the fact of its existence. External pronouncements have no bearing on this.

    It's been a great thread... in respect to your deeper meaning quest, I'll leave you with this from the late great Richard Feynman:

    You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things. But [I’m] not absolutely sure of anything, and there are many things I don’t know anything about! Such as whether it means anything to ask “why we’re here,” and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little bit, if I can’t figure it out, then I go on to something else. But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel “frightened” by not knowing things – by being “lost in the mysterious universe” without having any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.