Is There Any Meaning in the Universe?
It is a question easily asked in moments of despair, when the facade of what we perceive as normalcy and control, or simply the veneer of existence, is suddenly stripped away and we are left with the stark, exposed underbelly that nothing is certain, that nothing can be known.
It can also manifest itself quietly, slowly, and cautiously over many years as we make the disorienting journey from a more simplified story of existence to a much more complex and conflicting tale.
Either way, that the universe is without meaning is a belief we often arrive at, or at least flirt with, when there seems to be no answers, not any logical ones anyway. I understand how we get to this belief though, because I’ve been there, and so have you. If you haven’t, wait a minute, it will come. It is one of the great questions people grapple with at one point or another in their life. Certainly many admired thinkers have added their two cents in attempting to address the question, but I think believing in a universe without meaning is a flawed belief, though certainly not unfounded.
I’d like to unpack this claim, that the universe is without meaning, by first investigating what is meant by the words universe and meaning.
What is meant when we use the words universe and meaningless in this context?
Let us begin with the word universe.
When we use the word universe in this context, do we mean literally the entire known universe, its 100 billion plus galaxies and everything within it? Or do we mean something more local, such as our lives here on Earth?
And if that is what we are talking about, when we say our lives do we mean that corporately, as in all living organisms on Earth, all humans on Earth, or do we divide along ethic, national, or religious lines? Or do we mean universe in the most individual way possible, our own self?
I ask these clarifying questions because of the three ways I most often hear the claim presented:
- Life is meaningless
- Existence is meaningless
- The universe is meaningless.
How you define the word universe will have some bearing on your consideration of the claim.
And then there is the word meaningless. What do we mean when we say that the universe is or is without meaning? What is it for something to have meaning?
I believe meaning implies purpose; that for a thing to have meaning, that thing must have a purpose. Can you think of anything that does not have a purpose if it has meaning to you, even if that purpose is very small or self-serving?
I believe when people consider or make the claim that the universe is without meaning, what they mean is that their existence does or does not have meaning or imbued purpose.
As stated before, I believe that the claim the universe is without meaning is a flawed claim. I hope that the reader will allow this post to suffice as an introduction to the topic of meaning and give the questions posed personal consideration.
Due to length, this essay is broken up into three parts of which this is the first. In the next post (part two), I will justify my position by looking at two different kinds of meaning, biological and existential. In the final post (part three), I will examine what has been for me the most perplexing position, that of metaphysical or cosmic meaning.
Part Two will publish on 1/22