The ultimate meaning of life…or 42

I’ve been playing with an idea lately and I wanted to try putting it into words to see if maybe I can make sense of it. Bare with me while I do some massive brain farts.

Meaning of life? Check Google.

Obviously as an atheist I don’t think there’s any profound meaning to life. To be sure, that doesn’t make life meaningless, it just means there’s no purpose.

But a thought occurred to me the other day that I thought might be worth playing with, even if there’s no factual reason to believe it.

 

Hypothetically, what is God’s purpose?Meaning of life? Shrug.

This thought came to me because I’ve thought for a while now that no one, not even a God can give meaning to your life. All they’re doing is making you a pawn to their ideals, which you may or may not agree with.

It’s often said that God’s ways are mysterious (which I consider to be the biggest cop-out, but that’s another post), and that we just have to have faith in Him. So maybe it’s just that my feeble little human mind can’t possibly conceive of the wonderous plans God has in store for us all, but I just don’t see how adding a god to the equation makes any damn difference.

What possible plan could a god have that would magically add purpose to life? Usually this is the point where the believer steps up and talks about heaven and how God wants all of us to be there with Him, happy for all eternity.

Now I have some issues with the idea of heaven, but let’s give the benefit of the doubt and assume heaven really is that wonderful. So what? Don’t get me wrong, happiness for all eternity sounds kinda nice. But what meaning does that add exactly? How is being happy purposeful?

A beer on a hot Sunday afternoon around the BBQ is my idea of true happiness, but I don’t consider that to be meaningful. And being in a place that offers that every Sunday for eternity, with the best tasting beer, snags dripping with flavour and tomato sauce, my Mum’s homemade potato salad and still not putting on an ounce isn’t going to add any additional meaning.

I worry that religious people haven’t stopped to consider this. When they think about the meaning of life they get to God and stop. But what meaning does your god offer to your existence?

Pretend for a moment you are your chosen deity. You have infinite power, infinite knowledge, a swarm of worshippers and all the potato salad you can eat. What would you do with all of it?…

No really, think about that. Seriously, I’ll wait…

I’m already fucking bored.

You see this is the problem. Give someone infinite power and it loses its appeal. This is especially obvious to me as someone who plays a lot of computer games. I can’t for the life of me understand why people use the ‘God mode’ cheats (for those not gamers, that’s the cheat that makes you invincible), it makes everything too easy and therefore dull. But God always plays with God mode on. He doesn’t really have a lot of choice in the matter.

Now aside from being dull, what meaning does this new-found ‘God mode’ power give you?

I don’t mind waiting again.

Maybe I’m just not creative enough, but I can’t think of anything. So you have the power to create life. Awesome, so what? Just because you can doesn’t make it meaningful. Really, you can even give these little saps free will and let them choose whether or not they like you? Neat party trick, but again, so what? You’ve done a good job at giving them the illusion of a meaning to life, but what about yours? Has it added any profound meaning to your existence? I’m mean sure it gives you something to do to kill time, but when you have the power to wipe them from the face of the universe with merely a sneeze, how important are they?

You see this is the problem; a god can’t add any meaning to your existence because the god itself doesn’t have any reason to exist. Any profound reason you find in your religion is just you doing the bidding of your chosen deity and trusting that there’s some point to it. But if you stop and think about it, having ultimate power doesn’t add any more meaning to life.

It would be like saying just because you’re really rich your life is more meaningful. Or because you have more degrees your life is more meaningful. Or because you own a monopoly on potato salad your life is more meaningful. It doesn’t make any fucking difference!

I’ve got to the point where I really, really hope there isn’t a god. Because if there is he/she must be the most lonely, sad and pointless creature in all of creation. Ultimate power. Ultimate knowledge. And still no meaning…

Oh screw it, we can’t leave it on that depressing note! Okay, here’s what I think you should take away from this. No one can add meaning to your life. Not your parents, not your government, not your peers, not even your God. There is only one person who can make your life meaningful and if I have to tell you the person is you then you deserve a good hit around the head.

Any meaning derived from an outside source is just doing the bidding of someone else, whose ‘meaning’ you may not agree with. And if you do happen to agree with it, then that’s your choice. Don’t assign that meaning to the outside source; all it did was made you aware of what you wanted to begin with.

Own your choices and own your own meaning to life. It’s the only one that really matters, because it matters to you!

 

Oh, and to all you idiots out there who think Douglas Adams was hiding something deep and profound behind his joke that ’42’ is the meaning of life…you don’t fucking get it!

Meaning

 

– Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

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TED Talk Challenge #11: Christoph Adami – Finding life we can’t imagine

TED Talk LogoPixar short film

Currently we have no idea whether or not we’re the only intelligent life (heck, maybe even the only life) in the entire universe, but there are people out there who are looking. But with out limited technology and the distances involved in space travel it’s pretty much impossible to run down to each planet one by one and poke around in the mud. So what is one to do?

There are many answers to these questions. One is looking for planets that hold either ice or water in the hope that other species in the universe may have the same dependence on the liquid as we do.

Christoph Adami has a slightly different idea. He’s started looking for patterns that life holds, and using these patterns as ways of looking for life. It’s a rather unique idea and brings to light some things about life we may not have considered before.

This video runs for 19 minutes, but it will be useful in opening your mind to some different ways of thinking.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/christophe_adami_finding_life_we_can_t_imagine.html

Roy Williams: What is your verdict?

Well it’s taken me about 5 months, but I’ve finally got through reading ‘God Actually’ by Roy Williams. Yes, this is a book from the perspective of a Christian believer. I think the question of a God and the meaning of life isn’t something to be taken lightly and as much as I feel pretty safe in my atheistic beliefs, hearing the point of view of the ‘other side’ is something I find very worth while. I think it’s put me in a position to better understand the believers perspective, even if I don’t share it.

And if nothing else it was fun to read a book that made me rave and rant. I’ve probably annoyed my housemates to no end!

To be fair, Williams presents a solid argument, and if you were already inclined to belief (i.e. want to believe) I can see how you could very easily buy into his arguments. Generally I don’t buy his arguments for one of three reasons:

1. Misinformation.

There are some arguments Williams pushes that seem to be based either on his own personal opinions (that he never backs up) or on information that I think is inaccurate or just simply made up. the entire second last chapter (Heaven and Hell) is little more than this. His entire view of Hell, although I freely admit it is a much better view than that depicted in the Bible, is a concoction of his own mind.

He simply cannot accept that the God he has come to love would invent such an atrocity as the Hell described by Jesus. And I agree with his assumption. If God truly is a just and caring individual then a Hell full of fire and brimstone doesn’t fit. But considering Jesus quite specifically describes this nasty place (and I don’t see any good reason to view it as a metaphor) I feel more inclined to call into question the existence of that god, rather than trying in vain to reinterpret the words of said god to suit my own desires.

2. He doesn’t push the argument far enough.

There are several arguments Williams presents that do actually come across quite well. The problem is that there is often one or two more steps he could take that I feel would invalided his initial assumptions.

3. He ignores certain information.

Several times throughout the book Williams brings up certain interesting ideas, then disregards them for absolutely no reason. He gives the impression he will return to them in future paragraphs (and sometimes he does) but quite often these ideas just get forgotten. If Williams were to return to them and think about them a little longer I think he would have to seriously reconsider his position.

In Chapter 8: Christianity and Politics (Pg 266) Williams writes:

“On the third of the ‘Big Four’ issues, human rights, there are also qualifying Christian principles to consider. Put to one side the Bible’s alleged ‘support’ for slavery and the subjugation of woman”.

Williams never returns to this point. He never bothers to explain why the Bible’s support of slavery is only ‘alleged’ or give his own take on what it actually says. To me this is an extremely fundamental part of why the Bible shouldn’t be taken seriously. No just god would ever say that one group should be slaves to another, and the idea that one sex is somehow inferior or should be entirely devoted to the other is absurd. I can’t help but feel that if Williams were to return to the point and follow it through to its inevitable conclusion he’d be forced to properly question the God he puts so much trust in.

 

But, as interesting as these points all are and as much as I’d like to spend several hundred pages tearing his arguments apart one by one, I actually want to skip to the end. The epilogue is entitled “What is your verdict” and asks non believers (it seems specifically directed at Atheists) to answer a large number of questions if they still fail to believe in a god. I thought I’d give it a shot.

 

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?

    Well said

We don’t know enough about the Universe to really answer this one properly. If there’s some truth to string theory it’s possible this universe may be one of an infinite number. Odds are one of them would hold something rather than nothing. Maybe we just lucked out?

Truthfully, we need more information on this question. I don’t think jumping to the conclusion of a god is the right way to go about answering it.

  • How did that something come into being?

Again, really not too sure on this one. There’s far too many gaps in our knowledge. There are however theories in quantum mechanics that say that if you start from nothing, you must end with something. I honestly don’t know enough to argue the point, but the point is that there are answers out there that we’re beginning to understand.

It may take many years, but having my nose buried in enough books for enough time I hope to understand these theories.

  • Why are the fundamental physical laws that govern the Universe just right for life?

I don’t quite understand why some people make this stand. The Universe as a whole is clearly not designed to hold life. To the best of our knowledge we have one very tiny spec of dust in our solar system that contains life. There may be many others, but considering how much empty space there is in the universe compared to the number of places that might contain life, it’s terribly obvious the Universe was not designed with us in mind.

  • How and why did life on Earth begin?

A fundamental assumption I find the religious jump to is that everything needs a ‘why’. I don’t think there is a ‘why’ to life on earth. It’s an inevitable progression of the way the physical laws govern matter.

Moon hitting the earth

A little early for biogenesis, but still cool

As to the how, again this is a question that hasn’t been fully answered. A solid understanding of abiogenesis will begin to lead you down the right path however. So far all the evidence we have points to this being the case. Just because the theory isn’t complete yet doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on the good progress that has been made.

  • Does Darwinian evolutionary theory fully explain the organised complexity of life on earth?

No, I don’t think it does, at least not yet. The more we learn about evolution the more we expand the theory. As well as mutations we have natural selection, genetic drift, genetic hitchhiking and a whole mass of others. The current theory needs to be expanded to truly explain life’s complexity. So right now, no. But I think in time, yes.

  • Why is the incidence of genetic mutation just right to enable the process of Darwinian evolution to work?

Do you not understand how evolution works? The process is just right because it evolved to be just right. If it hadn’t life would probably have died out quite quickly. If the rate of mutation is too high we end up with unfeasible offspring. Too low and species can’t adapt fast enough. This is one reason why we see species dying out, so clearly in some cases it’s not just right.

  • Why are human beings able to decode nature?

Because our brains have evolved to do so. What difference does it make either way?

  • Why do human beings have a conscience?

An evolutionary trait that allows us to reproduce easier. We are also not the only species that has one.

  • Why are there basic moral laws which all human beings recognise?Moral Laws

These laws are also solid laws for living long and prosperous lives. That makes them universal for survival and reproduction. Again, evolution is the key.

  • Why can human beings make and respond to music?

Believe it or not but music can be broken down and explained mathematically. I’m not versed well enough in the subject to properly explain it, but it’s quite incredible. Regardless though, what difference does this make to belief?

  • Is faith a mere incidental by-product of Nature?

Yes.

  • Is love a mere incidental by-product of Nature?

Yes. Many species develop something similar. It assists with child-rearing and is thus an evolutionary trait.

  • Will science ever be able to explain everything?

Maybe. Hopefully. What difference does it make?

  • Was Jesus of Nazareth merely an invention of human minds?

I don’t think so. There seems to be enough evidence to suggest he was likely a real person.

  • If Jesus lived, then who or what was he, if he was not divine?

There’s really only two answers to this one. Either he was a very well disguised alien, or he was human. I put my money on the latter.

  • How otherwise do you explain the reports of Jesus’s perfect life?

What reports exactly? We have exactly zero first hand reports of Jesus’ life, and those only focus on bits and pieces of a few years of his life. That’s hardly enough evidence to start claiming perfection. I also suspect these accounts may have been a fraction biased. Even then I don’t think these reports show Jesus as perfect. He got angry on a number of accounts and even violent (overturning the tables in the Temple).

  • How otherwise do you explain the reports of Jesus’ miracles?

Again, what reports? We have quite a few Gospels (including the ones not in the Bible), many of them with differing reports. None of these authors had the opportunity to meet Jesus or view these miracles personally. St. Paul doesn’t even mention miracles, aside from the resurrection which he didn’t have the privilege to see.

  • How otherwise do you explain the reports of Jesus’s large following among the common people, and the conversion even of some Jews and romans in positions of authority?

You assume that people of different faiths and in positions of power won’t buy into nonsense? That just seems silly. As for his large following I’m rather skeptical. There were apparently 5,000 people who he feed on a mountain with a measly number of fishes and bread loaves. Yet none of these people wrote about him or defended him at his trial. I really have no idea just how many followers he had, and I don’t think anyone else can definitively say either.

As for actually explaining them, there are hundreds of reports of groups of people following their chosen ‘messiah’-like prophet. Anything from the horrible Jonestown Massacre to the larger religions such as Islam. Although Williams does give credibility to other religions, he doesn’t accept them as the truth. Why should we accept his?

  • How otherwise do you explain the reports of Jesus’s arrest, trial and crucifixion?

Again, what accounts? There are the Gospels. Then there are some Roman reports that speak of Jesus’s crucifixion, but they all refer to what the Christians believed and don’t necessarily back up the actual event. Nevertheless, it’s quite possible this did happen. So what?

  • How otherwise do you explain the reports of the Resurrection?

This is probably the most challenging question Williams poses and the portion of his book that deals with it is probably the most persuasive I’ve read. There are many explanations though and it would take several posts to cover them all even at a superficial level.

The most recent I’ve heard though is that the Resurrection is actually a metaphor for ancient Jewish tradition whereby the tribe would metaphorically load all their sins onto a lamb or goat and send it out into the desert to die, thus relieving them of their sins. This is where the phrase ‘Lamb of God’ originated.

There are many other explanations though and I encourage people to read up on them.

  • If the Resurrection did not happen, how do you explain the Apostles’ conduct, St Paul’s conversion, and the establishment of the Christian Church in the face of overwhelming odds?

All religions have come into power in the face of overwhelming odds, so that’s not terribly surprising. St. Paul had a vision that led to his belief. Why should we take his visions any more seriously than those of the Islamic or Mormon prophets?

As for the Apostles, I refer once more to the Jonestown incident and will simple say, ‘Don’t drink the kool-aid’.

  • How do you explain the reports of personal religious experiences by many millions of people down the ages?

The same way you explain away the ones you don’t believe, such as those had by other religions or worse, those had by people in cults. Again there are any number of explanations depending on the experience. Often it’s as simple as a feeling of euphoria interpreted as God, other times a form of peer pressure and social acceptance and at worse, an exploited mental illness.

  • How do you account for the nature and incidence of suffering, and it’s many beneficial by-products?

How do you account for suffering that doesn’t have beneficial by-products? You don’t get to pick the incidents that back up your belief system and ignore the others.

  • How do you account for the phenomenon of grace?

I’m not convinced that there is a phenomenon of grace. You’ll have to read the book to properly understand where Williams is coming from and make up your own mind.

  • Why has Man not yet been destroyed by nuclear holocaust?Nuclear Holocaust

Because man is smarter than you give us credit for. And when and if nuclear holocaust does happen you’ll say it’s the predicted Apocalypse. Either scenario backs up your beliefs.

  • Is there really a fundamental dichotomy between Christianity and left-wing politics, or does Christianity reflect some seminal left-wing principles?

I honestly don’t care as I don’t see how this has anything to do with the truth of Christianity or any religion.

  • Why is it that Christianity as a whole does not conform to either left-wing or right-wing ideology?

See above.

  • Is there further evidence of Design in the operation of the democratic system of government?

Absolutely. Our democratic system shows a fantastic example of humanities ability to design good and moral legal and governmental systems. Of course they’re not perfect, but given more time man will make them better.

The monotheistic religions however, promote a dictatorship with the chosen god at the top.

  • How do you account for the fact that atheism is, and always has been, an unpopular minority creed?Arrogant Atheists

Firstly I call bullshit on it being a minority. I’m not at all convinced of this. Atheists have been persecuted throughout history, often violently when they have spoken out against the religion of the time. Many people avoid the term atheism, preferring to stick to the majority religion or at the very least calling themselves agnostic to avoid the issue. Atheism has been on the incline for a while now and with modern sciences, knowledge, morals and philosophy I think it’s only going to continue to grow.

But giving the assumption that Williams may be right, I’m still not surprised. Atheism offers very little while taking a lot. The idea that we are alone and there is no meaning to our existence is hard to come to terms with. I can easily understand why people would shy away from it. That doesn’t stop it from being true.

  • How do you account for the many commonalities between different religions, and in particular the commonalities between Judaism, Islam and Christianity? Is it more likely that all people of faith are completely wrong, or that they are all (to varying degrees) partly right?

Why do you stop at religions? Believers often have very similar morals to atheists, at least at the core values. Again, this is a by-product of evolution and most of humanity shares these commonalities.

I also think that most religions do have a great deal right. Care for each other. Don’t kill or mistreat. As an atheist I follow many of these philosophies. I just think they’ve got it wrong on the idea of a god. Heck, even some religions don’t believe in a god!

As for the three major monotheistic religions being so similar…fucking dah! They all stem from the same religion. I’d be dumbfounded if they didn’t share quite a few commonalities.

  • If you now better understand the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, would you at least agree that it represents a comprehensive attempt to explain God, and many earthly phenomena besides?

After reading Williams section on the Trinity I don’t feel I understand it much if any better, so no.

  • Is there any afterlife, or is does love die with our bodies? Will we never be reunited with our loved ones once we or they die?

No, yes, no.

  • If there is no afterlife, why is Man capable of imagining it?

I invoke the flying spaghetti monster. He doesn’t exist, but I can imagine him.

We can imagine an afterlife because it’s not that dissimilar to actual life. It’s actually not that far a stretch. We can imagine things much more out there than an afterlife.

  • If there is no afterlife, why did Jesus say there was?

Did he? All we have is third hand accounts of people saying that people said that Jesus said that. And if he did say it? Maybe because he was Jewish and the Jews had a belief in an afterlife. It was quite different from what Christianity speaks about, but maybe, like Williams, Jesus didn’t like the idea his religion taught him to believe in and just made up another one.

  • How do you explain the consistency of the visions of the afterlife reported by people down the ages, including people revived after clinical death?

What bloody consistencies? Again, you don’t get to pick and choose which reports you want to include. There are just as many reports of nothing in the afterlife as there are those of a heaven or hell. They just don’t get reported as frequently because they’re not news worthy.

How do you explain the visions of people of other religions who talk about completely different gods and prophets, with completely different ideas of heaven and hell? This is what I mean by Williams conveniently ignores very important information as it suits his beliefs.

 

So that’s it. An answer for every question. And I was able to answer them as I read them.

That said I do still think Williams has one of the better theological books I’ve read. The arguments as they stand within his book are quite compelling, although with additional study they begin to fall apart.

I would recommend Williams book for anyone looking to expand your knowledge. As a believer it’s likely to be quite compelling. As an atheist it will be a solid challenge for your lack of beliefs and a good way of getting an insight into a believers mind. Although I don’t agree with his conclusions I can at least understand how he’s arrived at them and for that he’s earned my respect. Give the book a shot. 

– Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

TED Talk Challenge #10: Alison Gopnik: What do babies think

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I’ve been saying for years that babies and young children are the most amazing learning machines on the planet. God it’s good to have someone confirm that.

Alison demonstrates that babies minds work like brilliant little scientists; building hypotheses, experimenting, evaluating ideas and reforming a new hypothesis based on new learning. This blows the idea that babies are dumb and egocentric out of the water. They’re in fact extremely altruistic and empathetic. She also demonstrates the link between how long babies stay with their parents and the size of their brains, which is common in most animals.

I think the part I like the most is when Alison says the experiments she’s been doing have demonstrated that children are better at working out unlikely hypotheses than adults. Why does this not surprise me?

Thoughtful baby

Albert or William?

I’ve been saying for years that although the education system isn’t bad, it could be massively improved. The problem being that babies spend about five years running about the backyard playing, yet manage to learn more in those five years of life than they will for their entire lives. Then suddenly we decide that we need to sit them down in a room full of other children who all want to play and tell them to sit still, shut up and learn. What the fuck is wrong with us to think this is best for them?

And the kid in the video is seriously adorable. If nothing else you’ve gotta see that.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/alison_gopnik_what_do_babies_think.html

TED Talk Challenge #9: Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

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Ever wonder how the big companies became the big companies? Corporations like Apple, Microsoft, BMW, Ferrari, Coca-cola, etc. Well Simon Sinek has a very simple idea that might explain these empires.

Using examples like Apple, the Wright brothers and Martin Luther King, Sinek explains how it is our biology rather than our psychology that makes us align with these giants. And then just to top it off he inspires us to figure out why we do what we do, rather than just doing it.

This video will suck 18 minutes out of your life, but believe me the time investment for this one is worth it. If you’re taking up the TED Talk challenge this is one you don’t want to miss. Easily one of the best TED Talks I’ve seen. What he says about the brain is truly remarkable and has the potential to explain a great deal of our personalities and reasons for the way we act. Ever wonder where that ‘gut feeling’ comes from? This video explains it.

Sinek focuses this talk around business models, but the implications of these ideas are far-reaching. I’m not sure yet how you could use this model, but I intend to think a lot about it over the next few weeks. You should too.

http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html

TED Talk Challenge #8: Steve Jobs – How to live before you die

Steve Jobs
Several days ago Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple and Pixar passed away. He was one of the greatest minds of our time and has earned himself a place in humanities history books forever. He was a genius, a visionary and a college drop out. Apparently he was also a pretty good speaker.

http://www.ted.com/talks/steve_jobs_how_to_live_before_you_die.html

Brilliant advice on how to live your life. I don’t really agree with him that your heart already knows exactly what it wants, but the point still remains that you need to live life your way, not the way others decide for you. And even if you make mistakes, screw up and have things fall apart around you, it’s a much better feeling to know it was your own choices that brought you there and not someone elses.

——————————-

Apparently I’m a little behind in my TED Talk Challenge. I’ve hit crunch time with the project I’m working on, so things might be a little slow for a week or so. Not to worry, it might take more than a month but I’ll be getting through 31 of these talks.

TED Talk Challenge #7: Intelligent plants

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Stefano Mancuso gives us a rather unique insight into the ‘intelligence’ of plants. There’s some striking footage in this and you might just come away with a new appreciation of the inner working of plants. His comparison of computer networks and plant biology is particularly interesting.

So, to try to answer the question. How can a creature be intelligent if it has no brain?

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/stefano_mancuso_the_roots_of_plant_intelligence.html