What is the Meaning of Life? (Part One)

Meaning of Life

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE? Is there a bigger question than this? Some will answer that there is none; or, that only God can know the answer; or that it’s whatever you make of it. A philosopher might argue that the word-level in the question is wrong; that we need go deeper to answer the question “What is the meaning of meaning?” before we can say what the meaning of life is. A philosopher like Nietzsche would rephrase it as “What is the value of life?” because all meaning is subject to value judgements. But in order to determine this, as Heidegger knew, we need to get down to the most basic level of questioning and ask, as the pre-Socratic Greeks did, “What is the essence of life?”[i]

Of course, we are talking about Life, with a capital L, although by answering that question one should also be a huge step closer to understanding the meaning of their own individual life; defining the generic does help us understand the specific. The generic form of it makes it, in part, a question for science, and, in another part, a question for logic. Nevertheless, the resolution of the query has been severely soiled and butchered by being taken as a theological one.

“Whatever essential characteristics value has as condition of life depends on the essence of life, on what is distinctive about this essence.”[ii]

What is the distinctiveness of life from non-life? Isn’t it life’s distinctive ability to reproduce itself; its capacity for evolving into forms that are better suited for survival; in its desire for survival itself, which could be seen as a will for an abstract concept of permanence through reproduction.

quote-the-sole-meaning-of-life-is-to-serve-humanity-leo-tolstoy-185827

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF HUMANITY?

Yet, if the purpose of life is survival, then the evolution of the potentially life-threatening organism that humanity has become, seems like an ultimately failed process rather than a great triumph of world-will.

The reason for this resides in the fact that evolution is blind. It seems to have a purpose (survival) and a creative process capable of learning and relearning things in order to ensure the final success of that purpose (evolution), but there is no hand manipulating that process other than the achievements of the process itself.

Does this then make us a mere accidental product of a random evolution designed to survive certain inhospitable conditions arising at any given moment? If we answer in the affirmative, then we accept that there is no meaning to humanity, a nihilistic view that renders everything to the coincidental, with no footing in any certainty at all.

However, the sceptic must eventually become sceptical of his/her own scepticism. So, sceptical of scepticism we return to the question at hand: Why would life evolve into a life-threatening form like humanity? What can Life gain from humanity?

If we can find a positive answer to that question, then perhaps we can answer the query into the meaning underlying our human existences as well.

smithsonian-hallofhumanorigins2

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF HOMO SAPIENS?

A word carries a lot of semantic baggage and ‘humanity’ has a lot of negative connotations for a lot of people that are embedded within our pessimistic notions of ‘human-nature’. In order to imbue our humanity with a less prejudiced vision, we will use the scientific term for our species homo sapiens sapiens. By doing this we also clearly leap beyond the reductionisms of race, religion and nationalities and treat ourselves as members of a species, which is what we ultimately are. So, what does Life gain from our species? What does Life gain from Sapiens that it doesn’t get from other non-sapiens organisms?

Immediately we have an answer: knowledge of Itself.

Through Sapiens organisms, life knows itself. Existence becomes something more than just a thing that flows over one, or that which we float in and react to. Through a Sapiens consciousness existence is grasped as something which has come from somewhere and is moving forward into something different. Knowing gives existence a sense of permanence, and a conscious creative vision that comes from the realisation that all things can change.

Here, a circle of logic closes in on itself: knowing tells us that the essence is permanence through creative evolution. But this conclusion also immediately throws us out of its apparent circle. A circle is a non-evolving cycle – evolution, however, is always a leap beyond the apparent enclosure of the self-reproducing cycle.

Nature creates evolutionary leaps genetically, in a way that is even superior to the species’ own will to survive through carbon-copy reproduction; and also technologically, via the use of tools manipulated by organisms.

dna-double-helix

SAPIENS: THE TECHNOLOGICAL SPECIES

Homo sapiens is the technological species par excellence. Sapiens is the knowing, technological animal.

Technology and knowing evolve in a spiral way, and we could probably map their relationship in a form that would very much resemble a DNA helix.

The spiral is a dynamic form of the circle. It winds itself, but in a way that moves forward as well as around. Because it has an elongated form it can advance and change. It can progress through self-change and adapt to changing environments.

Perhaps we could call this creative process ‘enhancement’, as Heidegger did: “Enhancement implies something like a looking ahead and through to the scope of something higher.”[iii]  

(TO BE CONTINUED)

[i] Heidegger, Martin, NIETZSCHE, vol. III + IV, Harper One, p. 16

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Ibid

JIGSAW PUZZLES – THINKING ABOUT THINKING

If the purpose of thinking is to uncover the hiddenness of Being, how does thinking about thinking help in fulfilling the deepest aims of the human condition as Sapiens? Thinking about thinking can uncover the traps that thinking plays on us when it convinces us that we know. Thinking about thinking is necessary in order to objectify our thought, to objectify the way we objectify reality. This objectification is necessary for all learning which is primarily subjective: the first relationship we have with the word is as an appropriation of that world through the entrapment of reality that takes place as soon as we frame it within our own perception. So, thinking about thinking has to take into account the limits of that framing in order to conceive of a greater enframing[i].

This could be explained through the metaphor of the jigsaw puzzle. A subjective experience that is not deeply thought about can create a piece of the jigsaw, but it has no idea of the larger frame into which that piece can be purposefully slotted if we want to complete the puzzle. Or in other words, without deep thought about life and about how our lives are or should be conceived, we throw ourselves into the game, but without the box to guide us. We have the pieces but no idea of how the finished product should look. So, in order to complete the puzzle we need to first of all try and create a mental construct from the pieces of what the overall picture could be. If there is a lot of sky blue, then the picture is probably an outdoor scene. Can we find any grass, or rocks? Etc..

Having the pieces of the jigsaw is not enough. We need to look for the bigger picture before we can hope to slot it all together. And in order to do that we need to think about what we are thinking about.

[i] One of Martin Heidegger’s terms. See especially his essays from the The Question Concerning Technology

Life in the Hive

For the greater part of humanity, the experience of life is reduced to mere busyness. We are bees if you like, albeit intelligent ones, who are blessed or cursed with a self-consciousness that is full of great hopes and expectations. Yet our hive is a most ambiguous place. We find ourselves working within a great, global civilisation that is supposed to be structured to improve the standards of living for humanity, whilst, in reality, despite global think-tank institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, we proceed without any authentically human driven plan toward actually achieving our humanistic aim. The real honey-gathering bees, it could be said, are actually motivated by more genuine purposes when they fly from flower to flower than we do whenever we turn on our computers or catch the train to work.

If our global civilisation does have a plan, it has very little to do with humanity itself. Instead of using our immense technological potentials for improving lifestyles globally, the system is obsessed with the creation and maintenance of channels that allow wealth to be streamed in a constant upward flow. The busyness of the human-hive is a perpetual process of making the rich richer and the imposition of security systems to protect its accumulations and keep its doors open for more wealth to enter. If standards of living at the lower levels can benefit from this process then it is tolerated, but only as long as the bigger aim of pushing money upward is not impaired.

And so the busyness is a nihilistic activity that lacks any purposeful strategies for the lives of the human bees that are doing most of the buzzing. The plan that does exist, fabricated in the silent halls of the echelons of wealth, are devoid of any true forward transforming goals for humanity. Wealth is already turning its backs on the humanity it never cared for and looking toward the transhumanist stage of their own elite’s evolution.

Technology evolves because it is good business or because its evolution will allow the elite’s own evolution away from what it hates – humanity. The elite has no interest in humanity, and it has always been interested in confounding and thereby ultimately degrading humanity.

Heidegger said that busyness gives the impression of a higher reality, but this impression is not authenticity. “Ongoing activity becomes mere busyness whenever, in the pursuing of its methodology, it no longer keeps itself open on the basis of an ever-new accomplishing of its projection-plan, but only leaves that plan behind itself as a given.”[i]

In fact, the plan was left behind so long ago that no one can really remember what it was in the first place. We have been busy in our nihilism so long that we have started to have faith in that same nihilism as something meaningful, which is absurd. Meaning is being confused with busyness, an empty meaning, lacking the grounding of a projection-plan. A projection plan rooted in what we are: human beings, homo sapiens, creatures that think and can envisage great, purposeful things for the future, who can see a purposeful direction forward for all of humanity.

[i] Martin Heidegger, THE QUESTION CONCERNING TECHNOLOGY, p. 138

Incomplete Nihilism

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In the Will To Power Nietzsche has a brief note mentioning the concept of an incomplete nihilism:

Incomplete nihilism; its forms: we live in the midst of it.[i]

We are in the midst of it, but what does that mean? Does our condition reconfirm what Nietzsche says or has contemporary society evolved out of the incomplete nihilistic state? Our civilisation certainly possesses a dynamic in which the big questions are played down and made flimsy whilst the old values are maintained in order to give us something to hold on to whilst we blindly stagger through the void – is this what Nietzsche was referring to? A nihilism that hides itself in religions and ideologies? We live in a nihilism but it doesn’t actually feel nihilistic. Is this what Nietzsche sensed as well?

What is civilisation driven by if not a flimsy will to acquire more wealth, or to improve our personal image as we measure ourselves against the acquisitions of all the others. We are in awe at the novelties of technology rather than creating a technology that will free our human gifts of real invention and allow us real freedom from the obligations of mindless, soulless labour. We are immersed and trapped in the money system and the anti-human behaviour it engenders in our lives like violence, poverty, crime, hunger and war. The only justification for any of this are flimsy ones: weak-willed arguments that our weaknesses are ingrained in our human nature, stamped in our genes. The real Sapiens’ potentials are not encouraged unless they can promote egoistic acquisitions. Even medical research is only carried out when potential profits are seen.

And through all this weak-willed pessimism and egoism the system is bolstered up by the values of the family, God and the nation. The nihilism is incomplete, but it is there, and, paradoxically, all its weak-willed nihilism is, because of this incompleteness, enormously powerful.

This condition is of real benefit only to a select few, although, absurdly enough, it seems perfectly rational to the majority. They see it, not as a flimsy superficial existence but quite simply as the way things are. Which is also the way things have always been, and this collapses into the submission to the way things have to be – until we die.

The system is our oxygen. The majority believe and can only imagine anything different to be an utter disaster.

Nietzsche believed that the only way to escape our nihilism was to revalue the values we have held so far. This is obviously very difficult to do, but, as Heidegger says:

“Revaluing becomes the overturning of the nature and manner of valuing.”[ii]

However, it is the uncertainty in this overturning that frightens us. A fear of opening a hole in the wall of the dam; of creating a deluge by inventing a way of making it rain.

Nevertheless, perhaps the answer to the problem of our incomplete nihilism is also an incomplete revaluation. I.e., not to revaluate everything but to revalue with real values: values that all human beings can call authentic because they are authentic human values; that a strong humanism is the answer to a weak and incomplete nihilism.

 

[i] Friedrich Nietzsche, WILL TO POWER, #28

[ii] Martin Heidegger, THE QUESTION CONCERNING TECHNOLOGY, p.70

GOD IS DEAD or THE END OF THE SUPRASENSORY

According to Heidegger, Nietzsche’s statement that God is dead is referring not just to the Christian God but to the general suprasensory world, or the realm of Ideas and ideals.[i] Its death is a loss of power.[ii] The human ideal, through a suprasensory or metaphysical partnership with God, has been replaced with squabbling idealisms that are rooted in nationalisms or warring monotheisms that take on a political or economic significance, in the service of Wealth. Through separation the original metaphysical partnership loses its vitality and the great unifier degenerates into a chaos of warring factions struggling for power. However, it is a power which is already degenerate, for the God of the monotheisms has demanded too much. The needs of the Wealth-driven-Power look to liberate through an enslaving of the others rather than by establishing a partnership with the human. In this way, as Heidegger says, metaphysics is “cut off from its essence, (and) is never able to think its own essence.[iii]

Or, as we interpret it, humanity is cut off from its origin and authentic purpose as Sapiens, and is made unable to think purposively beyond the great distractions of God, or Economics and/or Nationalism or the Family. The metaphysical charges into historical progress, evolving into economic progress, and now the Measure of Man is based on how much money one has managed to obtain and what image of oneself one has been able to fashion because of that money. For Heidegger, Nietzsche pronouncement was an affirmation that we are “straying through an infinite nothing,”[iv] cut off from our essence. There is no longer anything left to cling on to and orient ourselves with.[v] “Nihilism, the most uncanny of all guests, is standing at the door.”[vi]

Within this environment technology has become an adornment to human life. It has not effectively liberated humanity from any drudgery as much as it has given us a reason to endure the drudgery. We work to acquire more knick-knacks, which in turn seduce us and draw us away from any meaningful or fulfilling reasons for living, and pulls us apart from the authenticity of our human condition. Our authenticity as Sapiens.

[i] Martin Heidegger, THE QUESTION CONCERNING TECHNOLOGY AND OTHER ESSAYS, Garland, New York & London, 1977, p.61

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Ibid

[v] Ibid

[vi] Ibid, p.62

THE PROBLEM WITH HUMANITY

What is the measure of man? This question has absorbed humanity for millennia and is responsible for the competitive, dog eat dog quality of our internecine societies and cultures. In fact our measuring of ourselves against one another is so great that we have lost touch with what humanity itself is. We cannot see the forest for the trees. The sum total of the achievements of all human individuals does not actually add up to humanity. In fact, if we carried out such an equation we would find that most human activity, especially that which competes with others in the day to day process of envious measuring oneself against others, actually subtracts from human achievement as a whole.

Heidegger said that contemporary man’s destiny is still “but little experienced with respect to the truth.”[i] In this idea, instead of a Measure of Man, we get a Measure of the Human in which the quality of human experience is calculated in respect to its truth. For humans, the human truth has to be found in the human quality of being essentially Sapiens, and the integrated relationship that Sapiens has with Being as creators and custodians of Being, as well as the children of Being. Human truth has to be found in this Sapiens/Being partnership. We depend on the world and the world depends on us – any meaningful measure of our fulfilment must take this partnership into consideration. The real worth of our cultures and technologies, and the of the civilisations which are made up of those cultures and technologies, has to be estimated according to how much they have contributed to furthering human fulfilment, which is the furthering of the relationship between Sapiens and Being.

[i] Martin Heidegger, THE QUESTION CONCERNING TECHNOLOGY AND OTHER ESSAYS, p. 54

THE WILL TO REPRESENTATION

Porträt des Philosphen Arthur Schopenhauer, 1852

Die Aufnahme wurde vermutlich am 3. Sept. 1852 gemacht. Die Daguerreotypie hat eine Größe von 9,5 x 7,3 cm. Durck auch in: Silber und Salz, S. 61.

The driving will of the Universe is toward its Being, which can only come about via its Representation.

Schopenhauer saw this, but reached a pessimistic conclusion for humanity instead of seeing the tremendous, and joyous, implications behind it. Once Schopenhauer had inserted the conjunction “and” between the concepts to come up with the title of his work as The World as Will AND Representation, he removed himself from finding the positive element applied to universal destiny by inserting the preposition “to” and thus getting The World as Will TO Representation.

Heidegger did see these positive implications. He expressed it as the destiny of humanity for the en-framing of the Universe. Nevertheless, he seemed to be embarrassed by it, lacking any hard scientific data to support the idea.

But now, with new astronomical ideas springing directly from science, through the discovery of Cosmological Fine Tuning, the Universe can be said to be imbued with wilful purpose to Being through Representation.

Idealism becomes purposeful again – and by seeing reality this way, everything becomes purposeful again, with or without God. Cosmological Fine Tuning reveals a plan, a natural plan to create life, and the Universe itself, through fine tuning itself, has created its own conditions for allowing life to come about. The Universe, that is nothing until it can be perceived, and which is everything once it is completely framed, produces Sapiens – the entity that can perceive and learn; that can learn and know; that can make Being a reality, and its true fulfilment can only come through carrying out that duty.

NOTES ON HEIDEGGER, BEING, AND THINKING

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For Heidegger, the human is used by Being through its thinking. The human essence is therefore reflected through genuine thinking (as homo sapiens), which is what connects the human with Being.

Our idea is that life originates from non-Being in a wilful or meaningful way in order to make Being out of a universe perceived. In this way the Sapiens enriches Being through perceiving, knowing and understanding it.

Heidegger associated this with the concept of the caretaker, or the caretaking hand that shapes Being through its perception and understanding of it. This care of Being is carried out through the Sapiens’ technology of language.

Heidegger called language: the House of Being, and it is through language that the Universe is known and understood. It is through language that Sapiens has become Sapiens, and it would be impossible to imagine Sapiens without a properly functional language. Being, then, is caught up with being-described: described after it has been uncovered. An unveiling that takes place through perception or intuition – through presencing or through imagination. The tremendous importance of Sapiens’ relationship to Being and hence to the Universe, depends on Sapiens’ objectivity and, subsequently, its alienation from reality. In order for Sapiens to fulfil itself, it must step aside from reality and its natural drives in order to preserve it and imagine it from all angles.

It is therefore a Sapiens delusion to see ourselves as the protagonists here. Nevertheless, we are the creators of the Reason for Being of the Universe, created by the Universe to instil and guarantee that reason. Sapiens is the centre of reality that is standing aside, slightly askew from reality, and will have to position itself at a further obliquity if it is to properly uncover and describe everything and shape reality accordingly.

LANGUAGE IS THE HOUSE OF BEING

Sign_language_alphabet

“Language is the house of being”[i] said Heidegger. It is through language that the Homo sapiens knows. It is through some kind of language that all knowing takes place. Hence: knowing comes from communication.

Can we say that language, communication and knowing are basically the same thing? They are certainly interdependent. If there is a separation it would be sequentially: first came language, then communication, which resulted in knowing. A chain which is reversed if we add the concept of need to it: first came the need to know; then came the need for communication and from these needs came the manifestation of language.

“Thinking accomplishes the relation of Being to the essence of the human being.”[ii] Thinking is the instrument of knowing, or the path towards knowing. Heidegger regards it as an accomplishment in itself, but we must bear in mind Heidegger’s definition of accomplishment “as an unfolding into the fullness of essence.”[iii] For Heidegger accomplishment is a process towards the thing to be fulfilled rather than the fulfilment itself. Why does he make this distinction? The fulfilment of thinking is knowing, but is true knowing a real possibility? In the absolute sense it is certainly not, and so knowing itself is a continuous process – an unfolding of fulfilment rather than the fulfilment itself. So thinking is an unfolding which allows the possibility of another unfolding. It is the bud unfolding into the flower which will eventually develop into a fruit which carries the seed, which…

“Thinking is l’engagement by and for the truth of Being.”[iv] Thinking is brought forth in Being by Being itself in order that Being may attain its fulfilment, and the fulfilment of thinking in knowing. The Fulfilment of Being is to Be Known.

“Thinking is the thinking of Being.”[v] Why not: Being is the thinking of Being. To be is not enough, it must be a combination: to be and to be thought.

To be known and be,

Or not to be known and never be;

That is the question

 

 

RELATED READING: https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2014/03/06/what-are-we-accomplishing/


[i] Martin Heidegger, Letter On Humanism, p.239

[ii] Ibid

[iv] Ibid, p. 240

[v] Ibid, p. 241

WHAT ARE WE ACCOMPLISHING?

accomplishment

According to Heidegger, the essence of all action is accomplishment, and this is defined as an unfolding of something into the fullness of its essence.[1]

If we can agree with this then shouldn’t we asks ourselves what steps we have made, as Homo sapiens sapiens, towards achieving the fullness of our essence? Of course this can only be contemplated once we have agreed on what the fullness of our essence might be. And the problem now is: can it be possible in a world of individualistic minds to ever answer this? Or, in other words, is the idea of real human accomplishment impossible?

And yet, perhaps the answer is staring us right in the face, for who are we when we ask this question?

We are the Homo sapiens sapiens: the double sapiens, the double knowing; knowing that we can know; that we can know where we are (in the world) and knowing that the world is in our knowledge of it; that the world is known in us. Our essence and definition has to be that of knowing. Our essence lies in our knowing, but also in our being known, for all knowing implies a being known. Being is being known: the fulfilment of existence has to pass through intelligence, for only an intelligence can know.

From this we can see that human accomplishment has to come from the labour to create the fullness of knowing. A tremendous but impossible task, like Borges’ Biblioteca de Babel, forever unfolding and opening new doors and new possibilities for newer discoveries and the renewed uncoverings of the deepest wells of our past and that which is long forgotten. But in the futility of such an enterprise lies its strongest positivism: it is an eternal task, a destiny of ever-becoming.

Perhaps we can say that this idea is nothing new, after all how very much have we accomplished so far. And yet, how little we try. How much accomplishment has been frustrated by the unfocused structures of societies that measure themselves not by their wisdom and acquisition of knowledge but through their power to accumulate and separate by wealth comparison? How much anti-sapience is embedded in our market-orientated society of consumerism?

The essence of all action may be accomplishment and the unfolding into a fullness, but we have forgotten about the necessity of funnelling all action into the unfolding of that which is the most essential – the fulfilment of our knowing.

With humanity itself diverted away from its essence, the feeling of alienation will increase, as will the need for substitute essences, gods and idols, clubs, hobbies, sports – but these are mere distractions designed to fill the void of not-knowing. A not-knowing fuelled by distraction and maintained by nurtured forgetting. A process that teaches us to forget that we need to know, and once that is forgotten then likewise we become ignorant of any need to ask again what it is that we need to know.

Humanity’s greatest mistake was to unconditionally trust in its own techni,[2] its own amazing giftedness at inventing things – especially reasons and ideas. But without the consciousness that the ecstasy derived from this gift was tugging them away from the real essence of humanity, its ability to know.

This tugging away has been our most anti-human experience – the division of castes and hierarchies, the separation and privatisation of knowledge: the idea of the patent; of the profit to be made by sharing the result but not the means of reproducing it ourselves. The discovery of the power that knowledge provides – and knowledge is the key to all power.

For any democracy to be able to be truly considered real, it must bring knowledge back to the people in an authentic way. Knowledge must become a holistic concept, the common property of all of humanity. Intellectual property is the first abuse of knowledge, the intellectual patent – the most brutal crime against human nature.

In the democracy of knowledge as the most integral human right lies an unbounded freedom, but also a communism, an ideology of the common, human property of all knowledge. Knowledge as something sacred, for the sacred can never be the economic privilege of a minority. As sacred its purity must be preserved and the transformation of knowledge into a commodity that can be owned and sold is a perversion of that sanctity.

In order for Sapiens’ accomplishment to take place the battle for the demonetarising of knowledge and techni has to be the first to be won. The labour of unfolding knowledge and creating new techni from that unfolding has to be disassociated from the economic system of production of commodities for consumption and elevated into the field of production for accomplishment. Accomplishment therefore becomes an alternative force to consumption. Instead of working in order to make money so that we can buy consumer goods, we can labour in order to accomplish important things, work in order to unfold knowledge. Only in this way will the essence of the Sapiens’ nature be able to be fulfilled. Of course we are talking about a re-structuring of the capitalist system, which, despite all its claims to progress, is anti-accomplishment.


[1] Heidegger, LETTERS ON HUMANISM, PATHMARKS, CUP, 1998, p. 239

[2] We are using the Greek term techni to combine the concepts of both art and technology