Tag: Meaning of Life

Successive debunkings of our conceits

July 8, 2010 | By | Reply More
Successive debunkings of our conceits

There’s a straightforward reason we “expelled ourselves from Eden.” At heart, we are searchers and explorers, and we seek meaning, among many other things. “CallumCGLP” is the self-identified person who added these beautiful excerpts from Carl Sagan’s audio-book, Pale Blue Dot to some new visuals. The result is inspiring:

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My disorientation

March 16, 2010 | By | 5 Replies More
My disorientation

I’m finding myself to be disoriented tonight. You see, it has occurred to me (as it sometimes does) that I’m actually an incredibly complex community of trillions of individual cells, no single one of which is capable of having any conscious thought, though I am easily able to think consciously as a complex adaptive system of cells.

I’m also disoriented because it occurs to me tonight that this community of that is “me” is kept alive and conscious by an internal pulsing ocean of blood, its composition very much like the Earth’s oceans, which were apparently our ancestral home. Equally amazing, this internal ocean of blood is pumped through 60,000 mile of blood vessels by a heart that beats 100,000 each day, thanks to our incredibly reliable pacemaker cells. How can any of this possibly be true, except that it is true, because I am writing this post and you are reading it?

It also occurs to me that there are far too many other parts of my human body that I almost always take for granted, such as my liver, which continuously performs hundreds of chemical processes without any conscious help from “me” (not that I could possibly be of assistance). Even more amazing, the liver can repair itself. How is any of this remotely possible?

There are many other things on my mind tonight, all of which disorient me, because I’m trying to clear out my preconceptions and see these things as though I were seeing them for the first time. For instance, I seem to have evolved from viruses, which is mind-blowing. Actually, half of all human DNA originally came from viruses which embedded themselves into my ancestor’s gametes.

Neurons - creative commons (image by UC Regents)

But I’m not done describing my disorientation. I am also disoriented tonight because I’ve reminded myself that some of my ancestors were sponges. No, they didn’t just look like sponges; they were sponges. And once cells figured out how to thrive together in that primitive sponge-like way, things rapidly got far more interesting. This real-world story of human gills, paws and fur is more amazing than any fiction anyone could ever write.

Tonight, I am also thinking about several people I know who are fighting for their lives against illness. I sometimes hear their friends and family asking how it could happen that the patients got so sick. But I’ve got a different take on human frailty, sickness and death. I wonder how something so complex as the human body works at all. Ever. Truly, how is it that I can even wiggle one of my fingers?

But there’s yet more to my disorientation tonight. It also occurs to me that the community of cells that constitutes me is living on a huge rotating orb that revolves around a star so big that it makes the earth look like a speck.

But there’s more. It seems that the universe in which we find ourselves is expanding, but from what? How did it get here? I don’t trust any answers that I’ve ever heard. I’m assuming that some type of universe or multi-verse has always been here in one form or another, and that’s admittedly my bald speculative assumption. I don’t even know enough to have a belief on the topic.

It also disorients me that no one really knows why things exist in this way rather than in some other way or no way at all, although many people peddle simplistic answers–mere strings of words–in response to these basic questions.

The biggest reason I’m disoriented tonight is that it appears that we don’t even know how to ask the biggest questions–we betray our naive ways even by the way we describe such questions as “big.” Our “whys” and “hows” are pale and shallow—we appear to be condemned to forever dabble with our conceptual metaphors in our attempts to understand our complicated existence. We seem to be trapped in our finite understanding, unable to ever get around our own corner. That’s the way it seems to be to me tonight, and every time these sorts of thought come to mind.

I’m disoriented, but don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I am truly enjoying the ride. I never cease to be amazed.

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Paul Kurtz describes the secular sources of the meaning of life.

September 7, 2009 | By | Reply More
Paul Kurtz describes the secular sources of the meaning of life.

80-year old Paul Kurtz is still upbeat about civilization. Kurtz, “the father of secular humanism,” should probably be considered one of the “old atheists.” For decades before anyone ever heard of Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, Kurtz worked tirelessly to promote the virtues of secular humanism, the duties each of us owe to our communities and the need for critical thinking and skeptical inquiry. In addition to being a prolific author and philosophy professor, Kurtz is also founder and chairman of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, formerly the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), the Council for Secular Humanism (publisher of Free Inquiry Magazine), and the Center for Inquiry.

Kurtz coined the term eupraxsophy (originally eupraxophy) to refer to “philosophies or lifestances such as secular humanism and Confucianism that do not rely on belief in the transcendent or supernatural.” As the foundation for the practice of eupraxsophy, Kurtz stresses that it is not a simplistic pitting of religion against science. Though scientific reasoning is a cornerstone of his world view, Kurtz also designates three basic virtues: caring, cognition and courage. One of his biggest concerns is that many religions have lost faith in the ability of human beings to identify and solve the problems facing them, causing them to attempt to look beyond the real world for real-world solutions.

“Secular humanism” is often criticized by people who have never studied it’s guiding principles, which includes the need for a common moral decency and deep caring for the welfare of others. If only the critics of secular humanism would actually take the time to consider the principles of secular humanism, most of them would find substantial overlap with their own guiding principles. Consider these principles of humanism:

  • We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.
  • We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.
  • We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.

The overlap among the religous and the non-religous goes far beyond enumerated principles, however. In the August/September 2009 issue of Free Inquiry, Kurtz eloquently pointed to the locus of the meaning of life from the perspective of those who don’t believe in God (and, arguably, for those who do). Here is an excerpt from his well-written essay:

[W]e create our own meanings. The meaning of life is not to be found in secret formulas discovered by ancient prophets or gurus who withdraw from living to seek quiet release. Life has no meaning per se; it does, however, present us with innumerable opportunities, which we can either squander and retreat from in fear or seize with exuberance. These can be discovered by anyone and everyone who has an inborn zest for living. They are found within life itself, as it reaches out to create new conditions for experience.

The so-called secret of life is an open scenario that can be deciphered by anyone. It is found in the experiences of living: in the delights of a fine banquet, the strenuous exertion of hard work, the poignant melodies of a symphony, the appreciation of an altruistic deed, the excitement of an embrace of someone you love, the elegance of a mathematical proof, the invigorating adventure of a mountain climb, the satisfaction of quiet relaxation, the lusty singing of an anthem, the vigorous cheering in a sports contest, the reading of a delicate sonnet, the joys of parenthood, the pleasure of friendship, the quiet gratification of serving our fellow human beings—in all these activities and more.

It is in the present moment of experience as it is brought to fruition, as well as in the memories of past experiences and the expectations of future ones, that the richness of life is realized. The meaning of life is that it can be found to be good and beautiful and exciting in its own terms for ourselves, our loved ones, and other sentient beings. It is found in the satisfaction intrinsic to creative activities, wisdom, and righteousness. One doesn’t need more than that, and we hope that one will not settle for less.

The meaning of life is intimately tied up with our plans and projects, the goals we set for ourselves, our dreams, and the successful achievement of them. We create our own conscious meanings; we invest the cultural and natural worlds with our own interpretations. We discover, impose upon, and add to nature.

In the following video,Paul Kurtz discusses eupraxsophy in greater detail, as well as the alleged inability of non-religious persons to base their actions upon a legitimate moral foundation:


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Kodachrome

July 29, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More
Kodachrome

You give us those nice bright colors
You give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah!
I got a Nikon camera I love to take a photograph
So Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away – Paul Simon

Sometimes we love a moment so much that it hurts to think about it ending, so we cling to it. We long to capture our present and preserve it, keep it from changing – like taking a picture. Sometimes it isn’t love that makes us grasp at a moment, but the fear of what might come next. We crave fixity, when everything around us is in flux.

Maybe I am alone in that need, but I don’t think so.

Regardless of the reason, I think much suffering comes from clinging to what is known, what is familiar, to who we are at any given time. Life feels so much more manageable when we have planned out what will happen and prevented the unexpected, when we are safe.

It doesn’t work that way, of course.

Life is change. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is static. Stuff happens. We become who we are and who we will be through a process of beginnings and endings. Facing that reality can be frightening, its no wonder we sometimes attempt to capture where we are under glass.

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We human beings are the most important aspect of the entire universe, they say.

April 11, 2009 | By | 7 Replies More
We human beings are the most important aspect of the entire universe, they say.

We human beings are the most important aspect of the entire universe. Or at least some people say. They say that a Supreme Being created the entire disposable universe to serve us, and that HE visited us here on earth, the moral and spiritual center of the entire universe.

Others would differ. Unbelievable as it might seem to many Believers, perhaps we are big fish in a very very small pond. Listen to the words of Carl Sagan, as he discusses our “pale blue dot”:

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Would you let a five-year-old child make important decisions affecting your future? We all did this.

September 13, 2008 | By | 3 Replies More
Would you let a five-year-old child make important decisions affecting your future?  We all did this.

Over the years, I’ve often thought of the following quote: “The child is father of the man.”  These words often haunt me deeply.  They capture the absurd but true notion that each of us is nurtured and tutored (and sometimes damaged or destroyed) by younger versions of ourselves. At one time, I thought the meaning […]

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Homegrown Cartoons

September 3, 2008 | By | Reply More
Homegrown Cartoons

Back in the mid-1980’s, two graduates of Mercy High School (located in University City, Missouri) drew deeply on that Catholic education and decided to get together every week or so in order to create cartoons.   Whew!  That was more than twenty years ago.  Our plan was to make cartoons so insightful and/or funny that publishers […]

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More of my favorite quotes

July 30, 2008 | By | 2 Replies More
More of my favorite quotes

I collect quotes (who doesn’t?). Really, it’s a good hobby. It’s cheap and often interesting. When they are really good quotes, it’s like a novel condensed to a mere sentence. The first two of this set are about one of my favorite topics, rampant materialism. The others all relate closely to one another, but only […]

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Some lessons I’ve learned to get me through life

April 27, 2008 | By | 4 Replies More
Some lessons I’ve learned to get me through life

I’m constantly learning valuable new lessons, but I generally find it difficult to recall any particular good lessons at any particular moment. I got the same problem with jokes. I’ve heard a lot of good jokes in my life, but if I’m put on the spot, I’m at a loss to remember more than one […]

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