Like the question of what came first, the chicken or the egg, I feel this question is repeated over and over like it’s some grandiose enigma with no solution.
About the poultry question, at some point a non-chicken animal laid a non-chicken egg containing a chicken. Done! The egg was first. Back to the meaning of life.
To answer the question properly, I need to know, very precisely, what’s the meaning of meaning. The answer is sort-of contained in the question, but let’s take a look at the Oxford Dictionary:
1 What is meant by a word, text, concept, or action: the meaning of the Hindu word is ‘breakthrough, release’
1.1 Implied or explicit significance: he gave me a look full of meaning
1.2 Important or worthwhile quality; purpose: ‘this can lead to new meaning in the life of older people’
Meaning is an action performed by a living creature that is intelligent. It’s a connection between a symbol, word, text, concept or action and something else. It’s not inherent to the symbol. The tree is inherently green, the word “rose” is not inherently connected to Rosa rubiginosa. We can talk about the meaning of the word “rose” because we created it with that meaning (even if the creation was accidental, like most languages).
We didn’t create life, it was here long before we were assigning meaning to things, thus, it has no meaning. You can give a rose to someone else to signify your love for them and that’s the meaning of that rose, for you, and hopefully for the recipient. But the rose growing in the wild, like life on planet Earth, has no meaning.
A meaningful life
That doesn’t mean you can’t live a meaningful life. The same we you can assign meaning to a rose you can assign meaning to your life. And that’s the gist of the issue. You have to do the task of assigning meaning. Assigning meaning is very different than finding meaning. It’s a harder task, a task with more chances of failing, a task that doesn’t have a clear path to follow, because in essence, it’s building the path, it’s creating the path.
Another clear distinction is that whatever meaning you assign it’s for you and you cannot expect it to be shared. The meaning is not inherent to the thing it’s connected to, it’s connected in your mind, so you can’t expect other minds to make the same connection. For example, you might create a meaningful life for yourself by feeding hungry children. It doesn’t mean everybody else will also agree on it being meaningful. We can’t even agree on the meanings of words and we have dictionaries!
Now someone might talk about God. What if God created us with a purpose, with a meaning. Well, there’s no such a thing as a god, but let’s assume there is. Let’s assume a super powerful external entity created us with some purpose. Maybe we are an experiment, maybe God and the Devil are trying to figure out if good or evil will succeed. Maybe God had a crush on a Goddess and we are a present, like a poem but made out of living creatures (like bacteria in the ink on a page). Is that our meaning then? Nope.
We have minds and free will and can creating our own meaning. Even if we started off as something as low as a galactic rose, the fact that we can chose our path allows us to go wherever we want.
There’s no meaning except the one you create, so, stop searching, and start creating.
Picture by Chris Sorge.