Meaning and Purpose
Meaning as Impact
My wedding day was more meaningful than last Tuesday. Is the meaning of an event proportional to its impact?
My wedding impacted me much more than the caterers. It’s also true that my wedding was more meaningful to me than our caterers. Thus, the meaning of an event is relative.
My great grandfathers met my great grandmothers, and begot those that begot those that begot me. The moments of their meetings impacted me greatly, but I do not know anything about them, and they are not meaningful to me. Many great inventions and ideas impact me daily, but are not meaningful to me. Thus, meaning must not be synonymous with impact. Meaning derives from our memories, and the impact of these memories.
Meaning is recursively derived. For example, the meaning in my relationship with my wife is derived from the meaning of many days spent together.
Meaning as Purpose
Purpose is the reason for which something exists. “Humanity’s chief purpose is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” The purpose of a jar is to decorate or contain. The purpose of my trip to the country was to enjoy nature.
Purpose is a relation between a creator and the created.
When someone asks “what is my purpose,” it may mean “for what purpose was I created?” or it may mean “what purpose should be behind the collective actions of my life?” In the first case, God is the creator and the person is the created. In the second case the person is the creator and their actions are created.
Meaning and a Creator
If we are created we may find meaning in the fulfillment of our creator’s purpose.
Or we may not—a Sumerian, who believes they were created to supply beer and bread to the gods, may find the endless sacrifices meaningless.
Alternately, there may be a creator, yet we may not have any purpose—perhaps we are agents in a simulation, and we evolved by chance and our universe is entertainment for higher beings who are largely indifferent to our existence.
Meaning and the Finite
Can there be meaning in the finite? If all conscious existence will be snuffed out by entropy, can our lives have lasting meaning?
For most of us, lasting meaning requires our existence to have a lasting impact. We may die, but our contributions, ideas, art, writing, or offspring will not. Three thousand years pass, and Achilles is still famous, but eventually all memory of Achilles will be lost. Will his striving become meaningless?
When faced with our finite existence, we can only find meaning outside of time. Any effect of us having existed may be gone, but we still did exist. We lived our best life. We loved our best, and contributed what we could. We appreciated the beauty of the universe, and that will never change.
Meaning and the Infinite
The longer one lives, the less significant any particular day or event becomes. Our first trip abroad is more meaningful than the tenth.
If meaning originates from significance, then the infinite is the enemy of meaning. In this way, meaning may be squeezed out by the infinite. Alternately, one may say that all meaning comes from the finite; our lives are valuable because they are short.
If we lived forever, would our existence become meaningless? Perhaps not because our minds would remain finite and forgetful.
If God knows all possible universes, then can anything be meaningful to them?