The religious, deists, agnostics and atheists all have trouble coming to terms with the meaninglessness of life. No matter where you stand on the spectrum, there is a troubling stigma associated with those who admit to having a meaningless life.
After all, how is it possible to be a functioning human being without the silly belief that the meaning of life is to [insert here whatever makes you happy]. Hopefully I can deconstruct this notion once and for all.
But first I must defend the premise on which this column relies – life is inherently meaningless. Humans have evolved categorical memory, i.e. they have the ability to categorize objects in their memory in a hierarchal manner. Your memory of things looks something like this: Stuff I do when Hungry -> Eat Food -> Cheeseburger -> No Onions.
This is obviously a very rough outline of how we think, but it illustrates how we perceive objects meaningfully. A cheeseburger is meaningless without a human to assert meaning onto it. In my example, the meaning of the cheeseburger is a food I want to eat because I am hungry. There is no one meaning for an object and those meanings vary between people.
For example, some people might categorize a cheeseburger as something they like to draw instead. In all cases, however, the cheeseburger would remain nothing more than a peculiar collection of atoms. Instilling meaning unto the cheeseburger is an event that takes place in one’s mind, not anywhere else.
The key insight from this example is that meaning is a human perception of objects. The meaning of an object doesn’t exist without a human to impose that meaning onto the object. The same is true for us humans; there is no reason to believe, a priori, that we have an inherent meaning assigned to us.
The question of whether life has meaning cannot even be answered; it is an illegitimate question to ask. Just like the question: “What does it feel like to be a rock?” The rock doesn’t know what it feels like to be itself, so how can we possibly answer this question!? Both these questions should be explained away when we realize the questions are erroneous to begin with.
Back to my main point: Admitting that life is meaningless does not imply you are or will be depressed.
I believe that those who say they’re depressed because of life’s meaninglessness are more susceptible to depression in the first place. There is nothing inherently depressing about the belief that life is meaningless! There might be a correlation, but then again there is a correlation with depression and believing in God. To blindly associate either of these beliefs with depression would be a mistake.
If you are someone who claims to have a meaning for their life, whatever it may be, ask yourself this: Theoretically, if it was proved (by science or by yourself, whichever one is more convincing for you) that your meaning for life was absolutely wrong, would you continue to live the way you are? Would you become more depressed? Would things that made you happy before no longer make you happy? I think it is safe to assume you wouldn’t fall into chronic depression. Believing that life is inherently meaningless should not turn someone into a subject of pity.
We don’t need a religion, book or person telling us what our meaning to life is in order to be happy. For the same reason we don’t need to be told not to kill babies in order for us to not to kill babies. We do not need a divine excuse for doing what makes us happy.
LIOR GOTESMAN wants to make sure people know that when answering the question, “What is the meaning to life?” they aren’t stating a fact about reality, but about their own mind. Reach him at email@example.com.