How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Is there a God? If so, what is She like?

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Dalek Prime
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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Dalek Prime » Thu Sep 03, 2015 7:38 am

sthitapragya wrote:
Lawrence Crocker wrote: It also seems to me peculiar that so many atheists think that such a purposeful universe would not enlarge meaning at all. I hope (hope being the theme of my book) for a larger meaning, without thinking that Russell was wrong in his view that both individual human lives and the career of the human species are rich in meaning.
Could it be possible that your "hope for a larger meaning" means that you wish there was a larger meaning? If you found a "larger meaning", what would change?

You also need to consider that if there were a meaning to life, and we actually need to spend our lives trying to find it, it makes the system very inefficient. If I have a purpose, it would be a more efficient system if I knew what it was immediately so that I could carry it out to the best of my ability. If there was a meaning to life, it would be more efficient if I knew what it was immediately so that I could be the richer for it. The fact that I do not know my purpose and am supposed to look for it means that there is a very high risk that I might die before I discover what it is and might not be able to fulfill my purpose. It also means that there must be billions and trillions of lives lost to us who never discovered what their purpose was and died without fulfilling their purpose making their lives purposeless or meaningless, which would render the purpose of life purposeless in the first place.

It is very simple. If there were a meaning and purpose to life, you would know it. The fact that you don't means that there is none. If there really is a meaning or purpose, it would be lower rather than higher, because any purpose which has not been communicated to the doer means and inefficient system.
Very nice.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Dalek Prime » Thu Sep 03, 2015 7:40 am

Obvious Leo wrote:
Lawrence Crocker wrote: The world would be yet more meaningful were it a purposeful creation,
Meaningful to whom? The puppet-master or the puppets?
Also very nice.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Lawrence Crocker » Thu Sep 03, 2015 11:59 am

Obvious Leo wrote:
Lawrence Crocker wrote: The world would be yet more meaningful were it a purposeful creation,
Meaningful to whom? The puppet-master or the puppets?
Continuing your quote of my post might have suggested the answer: it could be meaningful for both the creator and the creatures, especially if the creatures were, in fact, created in the image of the creator. I think it is fair to say that standard theism makes the universe in a respectable sense "all about us" as God's special creatures.

Now, I don't find this particularly plausible, partly because it is so obviously comforting in a self serving way. It is pretty easy to imagine why humans would like a story along these lines, independent of its truth. Still, if I do not believe it, I would still find it worth wishing for. Perhaps yet more wish-worthy would be a universe that were deeply human-congenial without being the creation of a super-being. That standard theology gives us a super-duper being who knows in advance everything we will ever does diminish its attractiveness, but one could wish for a congenial-to-humans universe without also wishing for that.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Obvious Leo » Thu Sep 03, 2015 12:09 pm

I can't really see how an omniscient being is likely to find much meaning in a universe where every single event is known to him in advance. What sort of moron would bother to create such a thing in the first place?

Likewise what meaning are the created expected to derive from such a universe where their every action has been pre-ordained since the beginning of time.

Sorry, Lawrence. To a simple son of the soil with a keen nose for bullshit the god hypothesis is a very dodgy story when examined on purely logical grounds.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by sthitapragya » Thu Sep 03, 2015 5:09 pm

Lawrence Crocker wrote:
Obvious Leo wrote:
Lawrence Crocker wrote: The world would be yet more meaningful were it a purposeful creation,
Meaningful to whom? The puppet-master or the puppets?
Continuing your quote of my post might have suggested the answer: it could be meaningful for both the creator and the creatures, especially if the creatures were, in fact, created in the image of the creator. I think it is fair to say that standard theism makes the universe in a respectable sense "all about us" as God's special creatures.

Now, I don't find this particularly plausible, partly because it is so obviously comforting in a self serving way. It is pretty easy to imagine why humans would like a story along these lines, independent of its truth. Still, if I do not believe it, I would still find it worth wishing for. Perhaps yet more wish-worthy would be a universe that were deeply human-congenial without being the creation of a super-being. That standard theology gives us a super-duper being who knows in advance everything we will ever does diminish its attractiveness, but one could wish for a congenial-to-humans universe without also wishing for that.
Are you going to ignore my post in its entirety? That's just rude specially after someone said that is was very nice.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Skip » Fri Sep 04, 2015 1:52 am

sthitapragya wrote:What would be the point of looking for a meaning in something which is purposeless? All one needs to do is get rid of that irrational need to find a meaning. It is a waste of time which would be better used in living and attempting to thrive while you live. And avoid dying. That is very important for reasons which I cannot understand.
First: meaning and purpose are not synonymous, though they may be related. Suppose the universe itself is purposeless (We have no way of knowing, and no means of discovering, whether it is or not, but just suppose.), that doesn't automatically make everything in it purposeless. All the little creatures living their lives can come up with all kinds of tools, weapons, methodologies and compounds which have a definite purpose for those creatures. Some of the creatures themselves - like cloned sheep or weaponized viruses - might be devised or adapted by other creatures for a definite purpose.
Similarly, the universe doesn't require a meaning (or one that's known to us) in order for many things in it to have meaning for specific inhabitants. The universe doesn't communicate (that we know of) but all the social species on this planet - and presumably on millions of other planets - do, and so they have invented languages with components (words, notes, pictographs, smells) that have definite meaning for the creatures that share that language.
All kinds of meanings and purposes can exist in a meaningless and purposeless universe. Every reasoning entity that looks for meanings can find them, or invent them or imagine them - without necessarily believing in an comprehensive creator.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by sthitapragya » Fri Sep 04, 2015 3:45 am

Skip wrote:
sthitapragya wrote:What would be the point of looking for a meaning in something which is purposeless? All one needs to do is get rid of that irrational need to find a meaning. It is a waste of time which would be better used in living and attempting to thrive while you live. And avoid dying. That is very important for reasons which I cannot understand.
First: meaning and purpose are not synonymous, though they may be related. Suppose the universe itself is purposeless (We have no way of knowing, and no means of discovering, whether it is or not, but just suppose.), that doesn't automatically make everything in it purposeless. All the little creatures living their lives can come up with all kinds of tools, weapons, methodologies and compounds which have a definite purpose for those creatures. Some of the creatures themselves - like cloned sheep or weaponized viruses - might be devised or adapted by other creatures for a definite purpose.
Similarly, the universe doesn't require a meaning (or one that's known to us) in order for many things in it to have meaning for specific inhabitants. The universe doesn't communicate (that we know of) but all the social species on this planet - and presumably on millions of other planets - do, and so they have invented languages with components (words, notes, pictographs, smells) that have definite meaning for the creatures that share that language.
All kinds of meanings and purposes can exist in a meaningless and purposeless universe. Every reasoning entity that looks for meanings can find them, or invent them or imagine them - without necessarily believing in an comprehensive creator.
I cannot argue with anything you have said as I agree completely with you. But I think the question of the thread required the kind of answer I gave.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Skip » Fri Sep 04, 2015 4:10 am

I imagine that was its intended question.
I just don't feel bound by anyone's perceived intention.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Lawrence Crocker » Fri Sep 04, 2015 3:28 pm

sthitapragya wrote:
Lawrence Crocker wrote: It also seems to me peculiar that so many atheists think that such a purposeful universe would not enlarge meaning at all. I hope (hope being the theme of my book) for a larger meaning, without thinking that Russell was wrong in his view that both individual human lives and the career of the human species are rich in meaning.
Could it be possible that your "hope for a larger meaning" means that you wish there was a larger meaning? If you found a "larger meaning", what would change?

You also need to consider that if there were a meaning to life, and we actually need to spend our lives trying to find it, it makes the system very inefficient.
I do believe that there is meaning in life, of the Russell type, that we all have a pretty good sense of, although sometimes people lose sight of some of it, e.g. in "getting and spending." Theists who purport to see a larger meaning usually find it in association with theological and moral doctrines that do change their lives. One might, however, believe in some larger meanings that would not change one's life much at all. Were I to believe that the universe was created to be a human friendly place, that would not itself change my conduct very much, other than to make me a little more pleased with us as a species.

I share what I take to be your concern with claims that there is an esoteric meaning of life to be found only after going through some difficult and time consuming regimen. ((Remember here the genre of cartoon where the seeker finally reaches the mountain top perch of the hermit guru.) The purveyor of esoteric meaning of life of difficult attainment better have pretty good evidence that he has found the real thing.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Skip » Fri Sep 04, 2015 6:15 pm

If humans evolved and throve for a few hundred thousand years, then at least one planet is(?was) a human-friendly place.
Isn't that enough? Why should the entire universe be custom-made for one subspecies of terrestrial ape?

It's a matter of scale, scope and range.
Whatever is outside the range of my perception can have no relevant meaning for me.
What is beyond my ability to comprehend is beyond my jurisdiction to judge.
The vast majority of the universe is far beyond my ability to approach, even with the most sophisticated technology I can ever devise - that's far too big for any meaning that I can imagine.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Lawrence Crocker » Fri Sep 04, 2015 9:37 pm

Skip wrote:?Why should the entire universe be custom-made for one subspecies of terrestrial ape?
"Why should it" in the sense of is it plausible, I don't think so. The moral "should" is not at issue because this is not something human agency can change. In the "would it be greater value sense" I would think so. If it were congenial enough it might have positive effects on our individual futures, even were we not to recognize the causation.
Skip wrote:Whatever is outside the range of my perception can have no relevant meaning for me. .
There is a lot that is outside our perception. Most relevant here, the future. Many of us are at least a little depressed by the cold sparse death that our best current theory predicts for the universe. We would be more cheered by a cosmology giving some kind of possibility of the emergence, again, of intelligent beings at some point in the distant future, cycles, new universes, and the like. That would not be congenial to our species, but it would bring about the possibility of creativity, achievement, love, and such other good things again. It seems like a better reality even if it does nothing for the taste of my toast.

The sort of congeniality to the species that the theists contend for would be even better, whatever demerits it might get for plausibility. It might even permit me to be eating toast a trillion years hence, at least if "perfected bodies" (tricky concept) still have a taste for toast.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Skip » Sat Sep 05, 2015 12:04 am

Lawrence Crocker wrote:
Skip wrote:?Why should the entire universe be custom-made for one subspecies of terrestrial ape?
"Why should it" in the sense of is it plausible, I don't think so.
Nor do I.
The moral "should" is not at issue because this is not something human agency can change. In the "would it be greater value sense" I would think so.

Greater value to whom? Both of those considerations, moral and value, are on the human scale, and unlikely to be applied on the 1,000,000,000,000,000 X H sap scale. Implausible already covered them.
If it were congenial enough it might have positive effects on our individual futures, even were we not to recognize the causation.
I mean "why should" in the sense of: "What makes us think that it matters one jot or tittle to the great unknown-to-us universe how it affects our teeny-tiny insignificant selves?
"Why should" in the sense that I cannot even posit the possibility of the universe having anthropocentric purpose, meaning or inclination.
Skip wrote:Whatever is outside the range of my perception can have no relevant meaning for me. .
There is a lot that is outside our perception. Most relevant here, the future.
And you believe the "future" is a realm whose meaning you can discern?
Many of us are at least a little depressed by the cold sparse death that our best current theory predicts for the universe.
Why?
We would be more cheered by a cosmology giving some kind of possibility of the emergence, again, of intelligent beings at some point in the distant future, cycles, new universes, and the like.
You like that wholly unfounded vision? Fine; nobody stops you basking in it. But it's subjective. I've already said, way back on page one, that everyone has the ability and right to do that. That doesn't affects the universe, or its meaning, or my apprehension of either one.
That would not be congenial to our species, but it would bring about the possibility of creativity, achievement, love, and such other good things again. It seems like a better reality even if it does nothing for the taste of my toast.
Also predation, war, witch-hunts, plague, acne, propaganda and tax exemptions for the rich. So?
I'm content with present toast; let the universe fend for itself.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Jacobsladder » Sun Jun 18, 2017 12:31 pm

sthitapragya wrote:
Thu Sep 03, 2015 7:21 am
You also need to consider that if there were a meaning to life, and we actually need to spend our lives trying to find it, it makes the system very inefficient. If I have a purpose, it would be a more efficient system if I knew what it was immediately so that I could carry it out to the best of my ability. If there was a meaning to life, it would be more efficient if I knew what it was immediately so that I could be the richer for it.
any purpose which has not been communicated to the doer means and inefficient system.
Okay it's near two years later as response but conversations around these topics for me are, generally, not limited to short time frames. It seems Sthitapragya is not posting actively here any more but the post was too well written and touching too many important and contemporary issues to let go without challenge of any kind.

My challenge is the following. What is this about efficiency? How reasonable is it to base logic on the actuality of there being any apparent efficiency of a process or not? To even start discussing about any efficiency grade of a system, one should first know the system, its purpose and intricacies. Preferably measurements of some kind as well and some comparison. But that's putting the horse behind the carriage! If one actually knew a system well enough to evaluate efficiency or lack thereof, it would imply strongly one has discovered the very things "meaning seekers" were after: how the machine works, its purpose, methods and intricate working.

Since any system in terms of life or biology is only very partly described, truncated and provisional, while no true comparison possible with other systems of similar scope or scale, any remark about it being efficient or not becomes meaningless in itself. And as such superfluous to even put forward as argument. Bringing it up might serve some other purpose altogether though and I'd propose a purpose like "introducing religion through the backdoor": a certain utility based religion which works by devoting oneself to mainly the present, to technology and its immediate concerns while filling in a material, abstract explanation for "all the rest". It's perfectly okay to function like that on a personal level but it's not in any way objective or universal. It's just a way to avoid the questions and generate answers in the context of the immediate purpose of the moment. And then turn that around and elevate it to some universal, cosmic proportion! That's not really philosophy as it doesn't generate any questions: it simply generates simple answers to live by. And I'd envy the person who can live like that! The Bliss!

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Skip » Sun Jun 18, 2017 4:53 pm

Jacobsladder wrote:
Sun Jun 18, 2017 12:31 pm
My challenge is the following. What is this about efficiency? How reasonable is it to base logic on the actuality of there being any apparent efficiency of a process or not? To even start discussing about any efficiency grade of a system, one should first know the system, its purpose and intricacies.
Exactly! It's not knowing any of those things; not being told, and not being able to find out, that reduces the probability of there being a purpose.
It seems reasonable that an intelligent purpose-assigner would make it at least possible for its subjects to actually complete the task he had set for them, rather than waste most of them on a futile quest. One can raise all manner of questions regarding the mechnism and processes of the universe, but if no ultimate purpose can be discerned or achieved, there is no "meaning" in the assumption that such an ultimate purpose exists.

The question was: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?
If you don't know what it is, it makes no difference whether there is one or there isn't.
If the seekers want to spend their life seeking a purpose, that becomes their meaning - but it's chosen, not given.

Therefore the answer is:
Atheists find their meanings the same way theists and spiritualists do: by choosing a purpose.
The main difference is: atheists don't give it a name, make up stories about it, codify what "it" wants, and attribute vengeful powers to it, to be wielded against those who don't subscribe to their mania.

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Re: How do atheists find meaning in a purposeless universe?

Post by Jacobsladder » Sun Jun 18, 2017 9:51 pm

Skip wrote:
Sun Jun 18, 2017 4:53 pm
Jacobsladder wrote:
Sun Jun 18, 2017 12:31 pm
My challenge is the following. What is this about efficiency? How reasonable is it to base logic on the actuality of there being any apparent efficiency of a process or not? To even start discussing about any efficiency grade of a system, one should first know the system, its purpose and intricacies.
Exactly! It's not knowing any of those things; not being told, and not being able to find out, that reduces the probability of there being a purpose.
That sounds actually more like the opposite from what I meant: not knowing any of those things reduces the validity of any reasoning or guess on the actual probability of there being a purpose. Or its distribution. Or the fairness of such distribution.
Atheists find their meanings the same way theists and spiritualists do: by choosing a purpose.
It's quite possible a purpose, including the sense of having one, simply arises out of our circumstance. Generally thinking people would then proceed trying to capture, name and analyze their sense of it. But one cannot simply undo that sense and also not simply purchase or design one for oneself. For others, perhaps, something can be engineered.

And this is my reasoning for that: purpose arises out of meaning (meaning giver, signifier) while meaning arises out of connections with topics, events, people, "social processes" and just as well the senses. The religious seems to me like a particular language, a set of signifiers which just verbalizes these connections (with community, shared sentiment, past and future).

Indeed, there's no difference here, in this respect, between the average atheists and average theists. Just to make sure: I'm not advocating here some relative equivalence. One can certainly elevate one over the other as being more fitting, more responsive and adaptable than the other, depending on time and place. And yet, hybrids might be possible as well. However, the distinction atheist-theist is likely not very helpful in dividing actual types of people.

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