Categories
Philosophy

Meaning

We should not be surprised that our collective and individual search for meaning in life is difficult to resolve. The tools of language by which we attempt to plumb the depths of life and existence are unfit for defining or comprehending ultimate meanings in either ourselves or the worlds we inhabit.

The language and logic associated with our language was initially intended to negotiate the most common tasks of everyday life and survival. The cultivation of stratified organisational systems of belief came relatively late in the development of culture, and as religion really only formalises a sense of wonder and awe that has been with us, it seems, from the very beginning of our conscious awakening.

If you are willing to suspend your disbelief in the essentially fictional nature of whichever creation myth or theological narrative is on the menu of the time and place you find yourself in, there is nothing wrong with this. I suggest that you might still be unable to shake a sense of haunted, hollow doubt that seems to accompany all such stories.

The thing is – even our most advanced theories and models of reality contain irreducible discontinuities as indefinitely-extensible, open and creative possibility. Our everyday language is poorly suited to capturing existential truths. The most advanced artefacts, entities and systems of the human intellect and its (cognitive hyper-extension) in technology are provably unable as a function of logic to ever be able to provide complete and consistent descriptions of reality, of life or intelligence.

The meaning we seek in and with language is impossible to obtain with language. If you need a solid demonstration of this – consider any person or group that claims to have determined the ultimate, final and complete meaning of life and human purposes in anything at all – ideology, religion, culture – and observe that their insecurity in being questioned about their truth is inversely related to the degree of the certainty they claim to possess.

It is the ambiguity of language and of the meanings we cultivate inside it that make them useful. We should perhaps be less interested in answers than in endlessly refining further questions. No matter where we think we have gotten to or what we believe we understand and know, it is a property of both language and the human intellect to always and endlessly discover more. Language is a poor tool for self-discovery but it is precisely its ambiguity that makes it so useful.

We should not be surprised that the meanings we seek are just as ambiguous as the language with which we construct them. Meaning is constantly changing and evolving, just as is language. We can never hope to find a perfect, definitive meaning and final closure for anything. Coming to terms with this as an individual is to finally enter into adulthood. Acknowledging this at a civilisation level is a hurdle we are yet to cross and although it may not be inevitable it remains utterly necessary for us to survive. This is an important realisation, as it signifies both our power and potential to shape our own lives.

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