Grigory Ryzhakov – Russian Writer

What is the Meaning of Life?

When I was a child this was the question I asked myself every often, but others seemed to be uninterested in it. Adults and other kids would just reply to me: “I don’t know”. I thought it was some kind of puzzle. I suspected the world cooked a plot against me and was just testing me to see how I would react to things and whether I would be able to find an answer all by myself. I know this sounds very egocentric, but that’s how I thought about it back then.

When I was a teenager I figured out that no one really knows the answer and people tend not to ask themselves this question, because if the answer is I don’t know, then the next logical question is Why do you bother then? It may cause frustration and even depression.

42 is the ultimate answer provided by the supercomputer Deep Thought (from The Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams)

From books I knew that the intelligent people who mused about eternal questions were not very happy. The lack of understanding of life, of the point of existence, drove many people, especially writers and other artists, to suicide. I, however, being a natural born optimist, thought otherwise. Not knowing a purpose of life inspired a thirst of knowledge in me, a burst of enthusiasm, I wanted to learn things, I still am an infophile to this day. But then you may ask what if you waste all your life seeking the answers and you don’t find them? Surely it may get you very upset at some point. A smart person would know that such quest is futile and you’re just being deluded and making a fool of yourself.

It’s a fair point. But you see I don’t assume there is an objective meaning that my limited human brain can grasp. We are mortal creatures and time has a direction and stopping points for us: we are born and dead as biological and physical entities. How can we understand on the gut level concepts of immortality, multiple dimensions, infinite time and infinite space, no beginnings and no endings? Grasping such things requires unemotional philosophical and scientific approach. We are limited by our nature, we stain everything we perceive with emotions, label things as bad and good, sad or happy, when such categories don’t really exist in nature. Sadness or happiness are things when can work out ourselves, they have nothing to do with our lack of understanding of eternal questions. Why not to be happy about the fact that we don’t know who we are or what we are here for, and see the world just as an explicably amazing place for our endless exploration?

So, if we’re never going to find out what is an objective point to life, why do we keep living?

It’s time to use some aid from the classical philosophy, the digest on the matter is given in a greatly organised manner on a Wikipedia page: Meaning of Life. I recommend you to have a look.

My favorite are the Ancient Greeks. I’m still so shocked about what a smart bunch of guys they were, I need a constant medication to calm down. Only joking. But all the same, many of them were firm in their views, while for me it’s hard to define myself other than with a label “confused”. I think I’m a mixture of Epicurean, Stoic and Taoist, he he.

Absurdists saw three solutions to how to deal with the existential burden of eternal questions. 1. Suicide – not really an option, because you die anyway, you may as well do something interesting instead of just  lazily sinking into oblivion; 2. Religious faith, – you just assume there’s a God or another superpower who knows the meaning, and you humbly believe in it. Saves you from questioning yourself. But the problem is that if your faith is not absolute, than you start doubting it and thinking what if this faith is man-made and not real. I don’t envy people of faith with such doubt, it’s as hard as being an atheist. Albert Camus called this option a philosophical suicide, because such person stops searching for the meaning and just passively sticks to a meaning provided by his faith. I think, since you can’t disprove God’s existence, having a faith is a nice choice as long as you don’t start forcing it on other people. It may backfire. 3. Acceptance of Absurd – you just agree to live though you know that you’re never going to get any answers or meanings. Accept the meaninglessness. I think it can become very stressful.

In this music video Garbage portrays a human-like android programmed to kill who contemplates on the meaning of life

I don’t like these three. Sorry, absurdists, nice try though, he he. I suggest an option number 4. Create your own meaning.

Nature is full of creation, because Life is motion.

The meaning of Life is in its definition. Life is about motion, change, creation and exploration. Look at how galaxies and planetary systems evolve, look at how chemical compounds evolved and then eventually they assembled into macromolecules, which allowed biological Life to appear. Look at Evolution. At how organisms without rest grow, fight, evolve, diversify, and explore new ecological niches.  Nature is full of curiosity, it’s always looking for new opportunities to expand and evolve. It’s not because it has a will to do it like a human person, it’s because of an inbuilt quality of the living matter to change and transform. Life is programmed to flow and change, whether you look at quantum mechanics, thermodynamics of it, or chemistry and biology in general.

Maybe we’ll find out about how the Big Bang occurred and what preceded it, but I’m sure there will be plenty mysteries of what happened before and after. Every year we solve some of nature’s puzzles, but there will always be plenty of others to tackle for our children and their descendants. We should be happy for them.

Meanwhile, most of you when asking What is the meaning of life? really ask a question What is the meaning of MY life? That’s where my option number 4 comes useful. You should live in a way meaningful to you, or create a meaning for yourself. That could be, for instance, going to colonise Mars or becoming a belly dancer, or anything else that you feel makes your life meaningful.

I see and meet a lot of people who are lost, they live automatically, go to work they hate, and they often dive into hedonism or drugs or both as a form of escapism. They are unhappy, because they don’t have a purpose in their lives. They should ask themselves questions like ”What is making me happy?”, ”What prevents me from reaching my dreams”, “What are my dreams?”, “How can I find out what makes me happy or gives me a meaningful life?”, “How do I plan my life and what actions do I take for my life to have a purpose?”, etc.

Every person will have different answers to that, because we are different. Psychology tries to explain why we are different. Perhaps you’ve heard of socionics, Myers-Briggs tests and so on. Some people have a primary goal to serve, to love or to be loved, others may want to explore things, or to achieve perfection at things, or to reach power. You need to find out who you are and what your purpose is; it’s a part of a process of growing up and becoming mature and wiser. And that’s a good meaning. A journey to discover things.

Though in this post I probably didn’t give you any answers, I hope I have made it clear for you that thinking about existential questions and exploring life is not a daunting but exciting thing to do. We are here for a great ride until death puts us to eternal (or maybe not) sleep. Let’s have fun!

P.S. I can’t possibly cover everything in one post (I went far overboard with this one), I’ll keep writing about life and its amazing manifestations. And if you have any questions, just ask me.

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  • Ashen Venema

    You may like my latest post on Gregory Bateson.

    • GrigoryRyzhakov

      Thanks for stopping by, Ashen!
      A true explorer like Bateson always looks for patterns and a fuller view of life and matter. This is not unique for a biologist, it’s common for anyone who is in science not for money, career or status, but instead driven by a thirst of knowledge

  • http://twitter.com/jen_loves_books Jennifer A. Vargas

    Interesting post. More people should be asking themselves these questions. But rarely do people question things. It’s like you said, the run on automatic and live their life that way. And gotta love the Ancient Greeks, agreed 😀

    • GrigoryRyzhakov

       Thank you for stopping by, Jennifer. Ancient Greeks seemed to have  so much wisdom, that’s it’s still hard to outsmart them nowadays ))