The Search for Meaning in Meaninglessness

If life has no inherent meaning, why are humans so attached to finding meaning?

A common cognitive phenomenon humans exhibit is apophenia. From Jesus in toast to constellations in stars to dragons in clouds and faces on Mars, we see imagine we see things that aren’t there. We perceive signal where there is only noise. We create gods where they don’t exist.

On one hand, this may be some vestigial artefact that was necessary—or at least evident—for survival along our evolutionary journey. On the other hand, it may just have been inculcated through social indoctrination, and so is just a social construct, a byproduct of language and the ability to reason.

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus captured the concept well in his quip,

« I don’ t know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it. But I know that I do not know that meaning and that it is impossible for me just now to know it. »

Camus claimed that life has no meaning and is in fact Absurd. He proposed that you had three courses of action.

  1. Physical suicide
  2. Psychological suicide
  3. Acceptance — embracing the Absurd

Regarding physical suicide, I believe that Camus was being melodramatic. This essay was a product of its day, and in 1942 people were even more steeped in the need for meaning.

Societies exist due to the perception of meaning, so they are obligated to enforce this belief. Societies need to promulgate order, and so much effort is expended to battle concepts that counter this. They envisage anarchists, not only as antithetical to order but as active chaos, black-masked, jack-booted hooligans, smashing windows and looting shops. So, too, do they vilify nihilists and atheists of whatever stripe.

Societies are organisms, and they require meaning to justify their own existence. Nihilism is a cancer, a virus, destroying the very core of their being.

 

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