Given how philosophical I've been for so many years, it's sort of surprising to me that I'm losing interest in pondering the meaning of life. More and more, living life is meaningful enough.
Adding something called meaning seems like decorating a cake that's already nicely frosted. It can be done, but what's the point? How many layers does life need?
I do keep reading about the meaning of life, though. This morning it was the final chapter in Nicholas Fearn's book about the latest answers to the oldest questions: "The Meaning of Life and Death." I liked this passage:
A student once asked the English linguistic philosopher J.L. Austin to explain what 'existing' was. Austin replied that it was 'like breathing, only quieter.' It is not surprising that the naked background of life, divested of any meaning-given activities should often be thought rather purposeless. We might wonder how such a featureless vessel possibly could have a purpose.
Fearn goes on to talk about how "the purpose, meaning, or value of any object is a relation it has to something outside itself." But my life being lived by me—taken as a whole—where's the outside of it?
Yes, I talk to myself frequently, setting up a division between my life and me. "Brian, are you really enjoying ___? Wouldn't ___ be more meaningful for you?"
Yet when I engage in these sorts of Me vs. Myself conversations, there's an absurdist quality to them. For I already know the answer. My life is the answer. I'm not a prisoner on a chain gang, forced to slave over a hot copier at Kinko's sending out the minutes of our neighborhood association—which I did this very afternoon.
Aside from involuntary and autonomic activities like breathing, digesting, eliminating, sleeping and such, what I do with my life is my own doing. At least, it feels that way. Whether free will or fate rules the daily activity roost, that's for wiser minds than mine to decipher.
Increasingly, questions such as "free will or fate?" fail to resonate with me like they used to. I'm folding pages in half, stapling them, sticking an address label on the front, placing a stamp in the upper right corner, opening the mail slot and dumping in the minutes. Tomorrow the postman will deliver the minutes to eighty-eight neighbors. A few will even read them.
That's sweet enough for me. I no longer feel the need to add an extra layer of "it's my karma," "selfless service reduces the ego," or another sort of pseudo-meaningful frosting.
Abstractions like those seem a whole lot less real than folding, stapling, sticking, placing, opening, and dumping. The meaning of my forty-five minutes at Kinko's was directly experienced by me, right then, right there. Now I'm on to something else: writing about it.
For $4 Google Answers offered up a response to someone's query, "What's the meaning of life?" That seems too much to pay, given that the question likely contains its own answer.
I prefer Julian Baggini's take on the question (which, naturally, I found via a Google search).
The only sense we can make of the idea that life has meaning is that there are some reasons to live rather than to die, and those reasons are to be found in the living of life itself.
I know that may not seem like enough, but if you expect a 10-course banquet, even the finest smorgasbord looks meagre in comparison. Trying to work out the meaning of life can be rather like trying to assemble Ikea furniture when you're convinced that you're missing a piece or haven't been given the proper instructions.
But the real problem is that you're trying to put together an elaborate Maråker cabinet when you have only got a standard three-shelf Billy bookcase. Something only seems to be missing because you're expecting much more.