Howardism Musings from my Awakening Dementia
My collected thoughts flamed by hubris
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Oh yeah, "meaning" as a concept is quite different than "value" or "quality" or even "idea" and "purpose."

I'd argue that we, as humans, tend to project ideas where there are no latent ones and work very hard to control our cognition lest we be exposed to something that would force us to have to reevaluate everything to our birth.

That's a lot of work. And we are, if nothing else, lazy organisims. Also, people don't like chaos.

Or entropy.

Or any number of things that make it hard to grant some kind of probability to events.


Meaning, Quality and Determinism. Oh my!

I found the following in my mailbox this morning …

You know, I'm wondering if we're completely hardwired to believe in determinism. Our obsession with "why" implies a cause and effect relationship. From "why" comes science, religion, politics, art.

Where does "why" come from? Perhaps the perception of time has to do with it. I dunno.


I believe it was David Hume who dispelled the myth that "cause and effect" are merely our own expectations. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing, we have to believe in it otherwise we couldn't act. I can believe that. ;-)

Quantum Mechanics have effectively buried the Newtonian notion that if we knew all of the variables, everything in the universe could be accurately predicted. So without determinism (and its religious counterpart, pre-destination), what are we left with?

Technically, we are left with a foundation of sand… of probability, where nothing is sure, and everything we observe is there based solely on a better statistical chance (see this recent podcast interview with Michio Kaku for a better overview). This form of randomness leads many to state that the universe is meaningless.

As Steve Weinberg wrote in his book, The First Three Minutes, "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless." Stephen Jay Gould comes to a similar conclusion after noting that evolution isn't about progress as much as it is about favoring blind successes.

But how people, even cosmologists, hate this. It was this entire concept that prompted Albert Einstein's famous rebuke, "God does not play dice with the universe." While I don't necessarily agree with his conclusion, Paul Davies, described a debate on this subject:

Cosmic pointlessness has also been argued on philosophical grounds on the basis that the very concept of a "point" or "purpose" cannot be applied to a system like the universe because it makes sense only in the context of human activity.

Some years ago, I took part in a BBC television debate with Hugh Montefiore, then Bishop of Birmingham, and the atheist Oxford philosopher AJ Ayer. Montefiore declared that without God all human life would be meaningless. Ayer countered that humans alone imbue their lives with meaning. "But then life would have no ultimate meaning," objected the bishop. "I don't know what ultimate meaning means!" cried Ayer. His objection, of course, is that such concepts as meaning, purpose and having a point are human categories that make good sense in the context of human society, but are, at best, metaphors when applied to non-living systems.

In discussing this age-old debate with Peat, we came up the idea that the reason why people are afraid of a meaningless universe is that since they equate meaning with value , and that the opposite must be true… That is, if the universe doesn't have a meaning or purpose or what-have-you, then it has no value… no quality.

But that statement isn't true, for Meaning has no correlation with Quality. Quality, as Pirsig has demonstrated, exists without human intervention, but Meaning, on the other hand, is nothing more than a human projection on the world. I love this quote from this website:

We are not accidental beings so much as the product of accumulated accidents; the universe is not meaningless because we impart to it all the meaning we'll ever need.

And that, boys and girls, theists and non, is how lives can be filled with wonderment and magic, science and reason, love and vitality.


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