My first thought is… no. It has meaning in the feelings, emotions and connections we experience with other living things. I believe meaning is dependent on the perception of the other living things outside of ourselves. In other words, nothing exists without someone or something else to perceive it.
What are the things that happen if they are not perceived by a living thing? Like the old thought proverb:
“If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
Part of me thinks existence alone justifies meaning. If something is perceived by something else at any given time, then it exists and it has meaning. So a tree that falls has meaning (or in this case, makes a sound) if someone or something else is there to hear it.
Let’s say a meteor hits Earth, wiping out all living creatures and all traces of life. Life and meaning do not hinge on continual perception. Even after they are gone, Earthly organisms existed with purpose. If a thing is perceived by one, at any time, that thing exists with purpose, in my opinion. This is a rosy view of meaning and life, but to me it beats the alternative: that we are random fluctuations in universal particles that accidentally achieved consciousness. I like the idea that even the mundane aspects of our world have meaning.
I try to remind myself to be happy there are other humans and animals around to see me and share this world. They give our lives meaning, if you believe so.
Edit – came across this quote from Albert Einstein after I wrote this, seemed relevant: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
I believe it is beneficial to desire anything too strongly. (Easier said than done.) Desire is a big part of human life and I am not against it. Desire is healthy. But it needs to be kept in check. Unchecked, strong desires often correlate with expectations: taking actions and expecting certain results. This can be troublesome when we take an un-characteristic action only to achieve an expected result.
I have found, in cases where I’m acting against my own nature in order to gain some expected result, two things happen: 1) It leads to the opposite of what I expected. 2) I’m more upset because I acted outside of my preferred self.
So how can we avoid acting in ways that conflict with the way we want to be? Temper desires and realize them for what they are. Instead of being a slave to your desires, cultivate a mindset that will reflect your values as you try to accomplish your goals. When you do this, the situations you face may become more likely to reflect your desires anyways (call it good karma.) This seems to work for me, although it can be tough. Desire be desire go!
Additional Reading: Wu Wei AKA Trying Not to Try
A short story by Erick, inspired by true events 🙂
They didn’t tell her it would be like this. All the years of it took to get here. And now… there she sat, waiting.
It was as if every step of her life made sense right up until that point. But then, nothing happened. Boredom. Doubt. The moment she’d waited for all her life. Where did she go wrong? Maybe she should have stayed with her mother. But she didn’t really have a choice when the creatures removed her.
She just did the best she could. There were times where she thought her life was over. She somehow survived excruciatingly painful flames in that dark, dingy place. Then they kept her for weeks in a tight container with no light or fresh air. She somehow still kept it together when the blades ground her up into a million tiny pieces and even found some pleasure in it. It almost felt like she was becoming who she was supposed to be. And then when she thought it couldn’t get any worse, they forced her into a steaming hot water bath that scolded her inside and out.
After all these tests, she emerged, a beautiful cup of coffee, much in the sense that a precious jewel is forged from years of pressure between rough elements. She felt invincible. And then slowly she began to realize no one was coming. As she cooled off, questions began to enter her mind: “Why am I here? Is it just for the creatures? If so why, have they liquified me? What purpose does it serve if they’re just going to leave me here?” And there she sat, pondering what she had done wrong. No one came. She soon became cold and lonely. She lost track of time. How long had she been here?
She gave up hope. When all seemed lost, the creature picked her up. She had heard a myth that the creatures liked to torture and drink her kind. “Who are you?”, “Why are you doing this to me?!”, she shouted. But the creature couldn’t hear her. Soon she was heading down a small tube. Where she felt herself come into contact with something else. Another liquid substance. Slowly she felt herself drifting apart. She now knew what her purpose was. To do exactly what she had done. And follow the path right to this very moment, where she was no longer coffee, but disintegrating into part of a larger whole. Her molecules spread amongst the molecules of others and she ceased to exist at that moment, her last gasp filled with contentedness.
“The simplest answer is usually the correct one.”
A favorite rule of thumb of mine is Occam’s Razor, which was developed by William of Ockham in the 13th century. To summarize, it means when trying to understand why something occurs, don’t make the answer more complex than necessary. The simplest or most obvious solution is more often the best choice.
This principle is not bulletproof and does not apply to everything. But I think it serves as a reminder not to complicate things for ourselves beyond necessity. You can read examples of Occam’s Razor applied to real life situations here. A favorite story of mine, the Russian/American space pen myth also demonstrates applying it to problem-solving, although it is not true:
When NASA started sending astronauts into space, they quickly discovered that ball-point pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat this problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion developing a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside-down, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to over 300 C. The Russians used a pencil.
Seeing and understanding the world clearly leads to better decisions and better living. Remembering Occam’s Razor can help us cut away complexity whenever life confuses us.
Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life and a secret life. – Gabriel García Márquez
The internet is what we project onto it. We humans have biases and goals to represent ourselves and our causes or beliefs in the best way possible. We also like to make our wins public, while usually keeping our losses private. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but recognize it’s there and don’t let it get you down. And maybe try projecting more positive things into our collective knowledge ecosystem. 🙂
If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. – Rollo May
The act of highest honor in life is creation. Every time we create, we step closer towards self-actualization. It is up to each of us to explore this world, seek out the works of those who have come before us, and expand on it with our own vision.
Whether running a business, career, art, science or any hobbies – are you a consumer or a creator? It is ok to consume, but is that all you are doing? Or, are you pursuing the things that make life worth living for you and trying to improve them by injecting your own individuality?
I go to music, computer programming and writing to find my acts of creation. Every human needs to create. When we create, we look outward at the world, bring the things we like into ourselves, give it our own spin and put it it back into the world. Regardless of the output, an attempt at this process is honorable in all cases. (Unless, for example, you are trying to improve on technologies that will kill other humans.)
The process of creating can be tough, but we usually feel happier afterwards. Think about what excites you most. What are you going to create?
I spend a lot of time pondering expectations. Why? Because I think a lot of our unhappiness due the inevitability of reality not meeting up with our expectations. It’s important to realize that sometimes, things aren’t going to go how we want. When we release from our expectations and just take things as they come, we’re happier.
I do think that a positive mindset helps to achieve the best outcomes. However, when we expect too much of ourselves and others, it makes us discontent, whether subconsciously or consciously (when we’re visibly unhappy). So what’s the key? Manage your expectations carefully and let yourself be happy regardless of the outcome.
Looking at our world in 2017, there doesn’t seem to be much to be positive about. However, my driving philosophy revolves around optimism, education, and keeping a positive outlook. I think it’s important to keep a positive mind frame for ourselves and to lift up our fellow humans.
Back in 2014, I created a Facebook page called Positive Thoughts Daily. I began posting the things I read and found interesting there after I discovered the Positive Psychology movement. I was very excited about the ideas presented by Martin Seligman, a Harvard professor who is considered by many to be the father of the field of modern Positive Psychology. The main premise of positive psych is that our ideas and expectations of how we will perform and achieve our goals does actually affect our ability to achieve them. By creating the mindset that we will succeed, we are more likely to do the “undo-able”. Another book I read around this time that got me jazzed about Positive Psychology was “One Simple Idea” by Mitch Horowitz.
Another great series of videos comes from a Harvard professor named Tal Ben-Shahar. 22 lectures of his class, Positive Psychology 1504, are posted to YouTube for anyone to watch. You can find the first lecture here.
It’s been almost 3 years since I started posting to the PTD Facebook page, and I have decided it’s time to begin writing my own thoughts so I’m going to post them here.
My promise for Positive Thoughts Daily is: “Bringing you one inspiring thought (almost) every day with an edge of philosophy, psychology or anything that’s interesting.”, so the thoughts on this blog will echo that in some ways. I’ve chosen the name “Intellectual Positivity” for this blog because I believe a positive attitude, based on the ideas of the greatest thinkers in human history is a great foundation to live a good life and I want to share it with others! We’ll see how it goes 🙂 Thanks for reading!