Sunday, June 03, 2007

Ruminations. In Which I Scare Jay Into Bathing

[2:14:05 PM] Scott says: So I've been thinking about the meaning of life.

[2:14:12 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
Don't do that.

[2:15:07 PM] Scott says:
Got to. Otherwise I'll be existentially paralyzed.

[2:15:42 PM] Scott says:
So some say there isn't one. Dawkins says we just evolved to look for purposes, and so we try to see them even when they're not there. But I think Dawkins is a three year old of a philosopher, so I don't put much in that.

[2:17:24 PM] Scott says:
One option is just taking all your wants and desires as givens. No need to investigate whether or not you *should* want something, but simply, when you find that want in yourself, pursue it. And somehow weigh various desires against each other, so you're always getting the most bang for your buck--fulfilling the most pressing desire.

[2:19:29 PM] Scott says:
That view is tempting, but it's obviously somewhat incomplete. We can control our desires, we can create and extinguish preferences, even if it takes a lot of effort. How do we decide which preferences we should strengthen and weaken? Is the choice arbitrary?

[2:19:41 PM] Scott says:
And of course some preferences are just nasty, and really shouldn't be fulfilled.

[2:19:50 PM] Scott says:
So that's too simple.

[2:22:02 PM] Scott says:
Now Nozick has a promising alternative: the meaning of life is to maximize the primary bulk (obscure mathematical concept) of our reality, our sense of being real. We should seek those moments that make us feel the most 'real.' That's fine, but when I try to think of how to operationalize that--how to go out and seek 'reality' I'm usually awash in vagueness.

[2:22:34 PM] Scott says:
I think creating things--art, or whatever--is a very real activity. So there's that. Sex and love, they seem very real, too. And facing a fear, actually pushing against a fear, that usually makes the moment very acute--very real.

[2:23:24 PM] Scott says:
That's all I've got so far.

[2:23:51 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
I have to say I'm with Dawkins.

[2:24:26 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
Partially because these other explanations seem too complex to be true. My gut feeling is that if there's a purpose, it's going to be a simple one.

[2:26:01 PM] Scott says:
I don't know. Most things are complex the more you look at them. Particle physics, for example--there is a beautiful simplicity to it, yes, but also deep complexity. So I can say, the purpose of life is to be real, and be perfectly simple--but once one asks what that means or how one does it, levels of complexity will build upon it.

[2:26:31 PM] Scott says:
Either way, I don't think it's important to the issue, since even if you don't believe there's a point to life, as Dawkins--well, we still make choices, eh?

[2:26:41 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
I think we do. I'm not sure.

[2:27:25 PM] Scott says:
I'm pretty sure we do. So, Dawkins probably says, then we should just do what we prefer to do. There is no meaning of life, but there are things we prefer to do, nonetheless, and that's how we choose.

[2:27:55 PM] Scott says:
But if that's the case, for me, that just makes me wonder how to decide what it is I prefer--which is essentially the same question as, "What should I do?"

[2:28:05 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
Flip a coin.

[2:28:26 PM] Scott says:
Tempting. But that kind of nihilism doesn't feel true either.

[2:28:41 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
Maybe there's no "truth."

[2:29:57 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
I don't know. I don't think it's worth thinking about.

[2:30:46 PM] Scott says:
I can't not. I will make choices today--and I'll think about them.

[2:31:05 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
But you don't have to. Flip a coin.

[2:31:37 PM] Scott says:
Consciousness is really such a bother.

[2:32:23 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
There are definitely decisions that are worth thinking about, but most decisions aren't. For example, I'm going to have to pick which of the frozen meals to heat up to eat. Will it matter to me one hour later which I choose? No. So I won't bother thinking about it much.

[2:35:33 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
So I guess I do need some kind of purpose to help me decide the hard cases. So my method doesn't really help, either.

[2:36:57 PM] Scott says:
I agree. And yeah, there are a billion decisions I don't think about--but I think they happen in a context of those tougher decisions. The fact I choose to eat, at say, Pentagon City, will be because I'll be close to Borders, where Jacob and I will play chess. And I've decided to play chess with Jacob because I enjoy his friendship, and that ultimately reflects my belief that friendship is a good thing to pursue, a proper means of becoming 'more real' perhaps, or some such.

[2:37:31 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
I don't know. I'm going to go take a shower.


The Artist said...

I've been thinking of this question for years
And i still do not know what is the purpose and meaning of life.

Is it for money? Is it for love?

Nicholas said...

String Theory suggests that quantum theory is really an incomplete picture of reality, and the truth is really much more simpler (I always think it's funny to talk about theoretical physics and make up a word in the same sentence). Like Einstein, I think any theory that can't be explained to a child isn't any kind of theory at all. (At least that sounds like something he would say.) As to assigning a purpose to you life, your immediate purpose should be to return my phone call, you bastard.

Scott said...

'Quantum' does not count as a new word. You don't need string theory to show quantum theory is incomplete--rather, string theory is an attempt to remedy a manifest incompleteness in quantum theory. Or something like that.

Don't whine. I'll call tonight.