S the question “Is life meaningful” itself meaningful? In other words could the need for meaning be caused simply by the vacuous inquiring after it? Could it be that the only thing not meaningful about life is the asking of the question, “Is life meaningful?”
If life has meaning, what is it? What do we mean by meaning? Particularly what do we mean by life’s having a meaningful meaning? What do we mean by meaning that life is meaningful? Now I’m confused.
Let’s start by looking at where we find ourselves— the nature of the world and our being in it.
It’s hard to imagine that we, possessing our same consciousnesses, existed before conception. While a few claim partial recollection or some other form of access to previous lives, for practical purposes our present consciousnesses, as well as our memories and bodies, are new constructions.
At issue is whether there’s a reason for our having, cosmologically speaking, so recently been conceived, and if so what it is.
We could begin with a question— Were we to set aside all knowledge and preconception of this universe, what would be its most believable and apparently natural state?
Most likely— complete and eternal nonexistence or nothingness. A spaceless, matterless, hopeless ever-after.
Somewhat less likely— a timeless big bang, an eternal vortex of patterned energy. Nothing more.
Less likely yet— the cosmic light-show of an exploding vastness. One bodacious firework in space and time, but little to show for it.
Not until approaching the realm of impossibility would anyone dream up something close to the divine messiness of our present cosmology, with conditions making possible billions of entirely discreet, mortal consciousnesses on a planet lost in light-years.
The enormous disparity between what in all probability should-have-been, versus what is, evidences the present domination of the sustenance or essence-of-being we call the ultimate or creative, over that of nonbeing— negating a Mexican standoff.
While a pessimist might question the goodness of life in this world as we know it, it’s innate to reject the notion that ignorance born of never having been born is bliss. Better to have lived and died than never lived at all, even if you’re one of those people that can remember back when stereo records cost a buck extra.
While the above-mentioned pessimist might counter that our ordinary existence, rather than compared favorably to nonexistence, be compared unfavorably to a better and/or immortal existence, the overall direction is creative, upward from the void, toward better salsa.
Life is valued in terms of both quantity and quality. A life of zero quantity, whatever the quality, would be a life of zero length, so would be valueless. Similarly a life of zero quality, whatever the quantity (for example a life lived entirely in a coma), would likewise be of little value.
We could say the goal of life is to receive, enjoy, and give maximum life product, defined as quantity of human existence (person-years) multiplied by the quality (richness) of those years.
The challenge obviously is how to rate quality, an effort of both this book and another that helped inspire it— Bob Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
The core of all satisfaction is intrinsically sensual in a cosmic sense, which includes, besides the obvious— loving, playing, dining, partying, communing with art and nature— such endeavors as parenting, work, charity, and attainment of all sorts, whether spiritual, intellectual, athletic, or philatelic.
This richness is predominantly but not absolutely relative:
In the case of stamps, a collector of limited means might be as excited by the acquisition of a Penny Black in good condition, costing maybe a hundred bucks, as an industrialist’s day might be made by a Hawaiian Missionary costing a thousand times that amount.
Similarly the chum of modest estate might be rendered every bit as aglow with anticipation by the hunt for a companion in a club as the millionaire by the prospect of a weekend with a famous songstress.
However if the man-on-the-street, his hopes raised, has to settle for say, yet another great selection of offers on approval (usually common sets of little or no value) instead of the 1840 British classic, or for a chocolate bar and a cold shower instead of the hoped-for lover, glee reverts not back to normalcy but to outright disappointment.
On the other hand if the man in the mansion, his hopes raised, has to settle for the stamp the average guy failed to get instead of the Hawaiian rarity, or for the woman likewise unattained by the regular guy instead of a beautiful pop-star, the same things that would have brought happiness to the typical guy might be a letdown to him.
Happiness is found in grateful acceptance of the possibility of enjoyment, to the extent it’s not outweighed by detriment to ourselves or others.
The greater the utilization of a gift of life or wealth, the greater the compliment to the giver, just as its rejection— because of being considered beneath us or contrarily, beyond our worthiness— an affront to the giver, whether she be divine providence or material girl.