Perhaps the meaning of life is that we have the capability to ask, “what is the meaning?”

This is a question that an artist or scientist tackles every day.
– Why create art when you could do something more “practical”?
– Why do science or philosophy when you could be half as smart, use half the effort and become exponentially richer by choosing a career in finance?
– Why be greedy if everyone around you really just pretends to care about you because they want a slice of your financial pie?
– Why strive for recognition and fame when you’ll likely end up a narcissist surrounded by preening swans looking to steal your spotlight?

What is the meaning?

Answers are inevitably arbitrary. Emotionality (including the suppression of emotion), grandiose ideologies and positive/negative thinking dichotomies provide wrong or inadequate answers. The mental faculty of questioning entails an ability to encounter a full range of experiences, including the possibility of finding a meaning. Even if meaning remains beyond our grasp, the process of extending our knowledge is itself the manifestation of a uniquely human and intrinsically meaningful act.

It may be the case that the art of living begins here, in a process of discovery that ends only in death. This artful path begins with a realization that the question of meaning is an accessible challenge for all human beings, and it lives within us as long as we allow it to move us in whatever direction the path takes for itself.

Emotions

Emotions don’t create meaning. “Happiness” is little more than an interpretation of an emotional perception; the emotional perception is founded in biological sensations that, themselves, have no intrinsic meaning. Sensations and emotional reactions can help keep us alive, and they can just as easily lead to dysfunctional or destructive outcomes. As emotions come, so do they pass. There is no deeper meaning in sensations, inferences about emotions, or evaluations of the imaginary worth of an equally imaginary “self”. The meaning of life is neither emotion, control or manipulation of emotion to create a sustained feeling of “being happy”, nor a lack or suppression of emotion.

Grandiosity

Grandiose pronouncements of some permanent solution tend to lead to fundamentalistic conclusions that necessitate the dehumanization and even murder of those who disagree. Some religious people proudly and piously declare that without religion — no, without their particular religion — life is hopeless and meaningless. From there is only a small semantic hop to the belief that non-believers are not fully human. And from there awaits either repentance and indoctrination or the bullet, the gas chamber, and the furnace. Metaphors can become literal reality all too easily in situations where faith (“faith” is absolute belief despite absence of compelling evidence) overrules or preempts the use of moral reasoning in the march from mindful contemplation to mindless obedience.

Positivity

“Positivity” and happiness are secular terms that are also synonymously meaningless. Some individuals even go so far as to define positivity as some sort of “science of happiness”, which of course means nothing at all.

Most worthwhile activities do not feel “positive” in the moment: studying can lead to a heavy-headed sleepiness. Acts of creativity can be as exhausting as running a marathon. Physical exercise can result in a tired body and next-day soreness. These are crucially useful activities that don’t feel “positive” or “happy” in the moment. Partying and taking drugs can be the most “positive” experiences of a person’s life, yet they offer no sustainable solutions, create nothing that develops or sustains human life, and helps no one beyond the moment of consumption.

Positive without negative is homicide/suicidal mania. Negative without positive is homicide/suicidal depression. Neither holds any value as a method of partitioning human experience in search of meaning.

Arbitrary or meaningful, or both?

Life itself is arbitrary. There is no one “real” meaning to life, just as no one human being is more “real” or “more human” than another. The ability to ask questions of our existence entails a comprehensive sense of self that can extend to the limits of the known universe, and perhaps even beyond it.

Only humans can use complex linguistic forms to explore realms of pure imaginative speculation, such as the notion of an “after-life”, which is absurd by definition — at least, until we find reliable evidence to the contrary. Only we can hear the vibration of a voice or other musical instrument and conceive of cosmic communication with the greater Universe. Only we can look beyond what we have thus far proven capable of seeing, by using curiosity to build questions that drive us to find new answers. Those answers then form the scaffold for new questions.

The wonder of life is at our fingertips at all times. The answer is the question itself. Imagine if you knew the “true” answer. How boring! ;)

To spend a life wondering, maintaining curiosity, learning, creating paths to new ideas and questioning the answers that we find along the way: this is a life that remains challenging, fascinating and constantly renewed at every moment.

This way is a path of science and fiction, emotional art and artful logic, love for life itself and the fulfillment of always maintaining a beginner’s mind.

The question is the answer.
Maybe.

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