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Existentialists, how do you find a meaning for life? Answered

Lately (and by lately I mean for a while now) I have been experiencing existential/nihilist/teen angst. I'm totally detached from reality, especially the future which is what I'm supposed to care about, what everyone cares about. I think that life is essentially meaningless, it came to exist because of a fluke, and it continues to exist because perpetuates itself (evolution). So I've been trying to make life matter to me, existentialist style. But I can't seem to get the knack of it. I don't know what I want out of life, I'm not clear on what exactly there is to want....I'm not even sure that anything is real except me.

Lately I've taken to telling myself that things are meant to be, and there is a greater purpose, I just can't comprehend it yet.....which may be the most ridiculous thing I've ever told myself.....

I know most people think this stuff, but don't take it seriously. They just go on living. But I just can't....perhaps because these abstract thoughts seem as real to me as everything else (not very)?

Sorry if I'm totally incoherent....

HELP. please?


Actually, I've found the most helpful solution is to embrace it.

There is no meaning, purpose, or grand scheme to follow.  But yet you are here, and you think and feel, and things that happen to you matter to you.

So, then, there is no purpose to anything other than what you assign to it.  This can be a really fun game, because you get to choose your own core values and act upon them in any way you like.  You are here for a time, and you want to enjoy that time by doing what you want to do in life and reaping benefits from your actions.

The important thing is finding core values and boundaries that make sense to you.  For me, as long as I'm not harming someone or myself by my actions I will do and say as I please.  I do not have a sense of entitlement, but I refuse to let my own passivity prevent me from seizing each moment and opportunity that life presents to me.  So far, the only regrets I have in life are the times I kept myself from enjoying the ride.

Really.  You can say what you want to say.  You are free to do as you choose.  You are living in a lucid dream.

Following up...if life was "inevitable", then asserting that it is meaningless because of chance is not supportable.  That doesn't by itself imply that life has meaning, just that your argument isn't valid :-)

I don't believe in a "greater purpose," myself, but that also doesn't imply meaninglessness.  I don't need someone else to tell me what to think, or to believe.  For me, "meaning" is a self-organizing principle, which arises from my interactions with those around me, the emotions and responses those interactions raise in me and in others, and so on, in an expanding network. 

The Golden Rule is an obvious guide to behaviour (and one fully supported by classical economic self-interest).  Striving to achieve it can take a lifetime of effort.

I didn't mean to say that life is meaningless because it happened by chance. Rather, that it didn't come about for any purpose. It just sort of did.

One of the major factors that contributes to my angst is deteminism, which totally obliterates the possibility of free-will. I realise that quantum physicists have found that some particles behave randomly sometimes....but still, theres no choice, just chance. When you don't have free-will then people are no longer responsible for their actions. You realise that we all act purely out of self-interest. Even seemingly altruistic acts a reducible to the desire for, say, the social acceptance that may follow giving money to charity. Even if that donation were anonymous you still have an ego to feed, a socially conditioned response of pleasure in one's own goodness (have you noticed how ruthless children are?). Sorry to rant. Basically I reduce all human behaviour to to psychological principles.

The best I can come up with as a meaning or goal in life is happiness, or fullfillment, or whatever pleasant feeling turns your crank. But that just isn't sufficient sometimes.

You've been reading too much Sartre :-)

The economists' canard of acting purely out of self-interest has been shown not just to be a limited assumption, but one which makes quantitatively wrong predictions.  Humans basically don't act in their own self-interest when there are competing pressures, as can be shown easily via the Prisoner's Dilemma problem.

You might also consider looking up Kropotkin.  There is substantial good evidence that altruism is specifically selected for, especially among social animals.

So, helping others helps everyone....whoops, still sounds like self-interest.

That does not constitute altruism, but rather a convenient alignment of incentives and interests.

What about doing something just for the sake of doing it especially if its something you DON'T want to do?

Like giving a guy off the street $20 bucks because he looks really hungry but its your last $20? Or a stranger asks you for a smoke and its your last cigarette.

What kickbacks do you get then?

Is this altruism?

No, helping others can help others, even to personal detriment.  That's the formal definition of "atruism" in ecology.

Take a leap man. life is real. and life of others can give you enthusiasm for other activities you enjoy. just jump in! life is a sweet dish. Make someone laugh, let someone make you laugh

There are no unwritten,self driven goals that state a young person must look for and extract some sort of meaning and purpose for their life. Some of the MOST interesting people I know still don't have a damn clue what they will do with their lives! I'm 50 years old and feel so much envy when ever we meet,If i had a "Do Over" for my life I think I would want to be as Purposely challenged as they are.So relax, take a chill pill; backpack across Europe, spent a year in Argentina,join the Peace Corp.Enjoy life my friend.     

 When faced with a question of finding a meaning for life, I find it most useful to actually reach out to others, to do something, anything which allows me to interact with other people. The reason for this is simple, life has only the meaning we ascribe to it, i.e. life's meaning is subjective.

In order for us to understand that, we need to meet / interact with others in order to see & understand what meaning they give to life.


8 years ago

Well, if you can find no purpose for yourself, perhaps you could help others.  There's a lot of pain out there, and it sure feels real to the people experiencing it.  Helping them makes you real to them, and it makes them real to you. 

Go ahead, try it!  What have you got to lose?

It's not at all obvious that life originated because of "a fluke."  It is far more likely, and more consistent with current evidence, that life in some form is a natural and perhaps necessary consequence of the kind of organic chemistry (see note below) which occurs in the temperature range of liquid water. 

Small lipid molecules naturally (automatically!) form into hollow spherical droplets in water. 

Small molecules (CO2, ammonia, methane, formaldehyde, and so on) which are easily formed through inorganic processes, will form more complex organic molecules, including amino acids and nucleotides, under very simple conditions with energy input.

Amino acids and nucleotides will polymerize spontaneously in aqueous solution.

We do not yet have direct experimental data of the whole process of getting from simple chemistry to "life" (e.g., a small bacterium).  What we do have are clear and reproducible chemical processes that can produce many of the steps in that chain.  It is not in any way a "leap" to connect those dots and infer the process.

Very nice and concise explanation, but remember that we live in a world where a huge number of people refuse to accept the validity of evolutionary theory, on the grounds that every single evolutionary step has not been identified in the fossil record.
The fact that many of these same people instead choose to accept that all life just suddenly appeared on Earth in its present form due to an all-powerful SkyFather speaking magic words in space just adds insult to injury.

True enough, but the deniers are generally not teen-angst existentialists, since they take on faith the assertions of the SkyFather.

Of course, I'm even more prone to simply state the facts of evolution and natural selection in response to YECs (I joined Kiteman as the primary YEC-hunters on I'bles).

You're welcome to them. I prefer to debate more rational, reasonable opponents. Like rabid wolverines, for example.

Debate?  Who said anything about a debate?  We just enjoy relating facts, and pointing out inconsistencies for all and sundry to see.

Whoops. Language barrier. Here in the hypocritical Deep South, "debate" translates as "having a difference of opinion with a person who lacks the intellectual capacity to pour pee out of a boot".

Hey, we've all been there at some point (generally around 3am).

Life has whatever meaning it is given.

What matters most is that you choose the meaning, and do not let other people tell you what your life is for.

Which is kind of like me telling you not to listen to my advice, but there you go - nobody said it was easy.

All I can say is that the meaning is where you find it, internally and externally - for me, it's being a husband, father, teacher, friend (individually, and to humanity in general, which is why I answer posts like this) and maker.

For you... who knows?  Live your life, go with the flow as much as you are comfortable with, and if the flow goes a way you are not comfortable with, then maybe changing that flow is how you find your personal meaning.

You grok?

.  That is a most excellent answer.

Life has the meaning we choose to give it. I want to accomplish something that *I* consider meaningful/challenging, make my friends happy, and leave the world a better place for everyone to live in.

"Be kind to each other. The rest is commentary."