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The Meaning Of The Universe For Dummies

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Posted by Harvey on July 8, 2004 21:28:18 UTC

I haven't found such a book by this title, but if I did, I doubt I'd be willing to buy it. Not that I wouldn't be interested in such a book if it was what it claimed, but I'd be a bit skeptical that anyone knows the meaning of the universe even in the most intelligent circles, much less in a scaled-down version that could easily explain it for everyone.

However, certain things in the universe have meaning, otherwise we couldn't use language since words require meaning in order to be understood. When I think about it, a great deal in our universe has meaning. For example, I'd say that we understand the meaning of not only words in so many languages, but humans create a number of symbols that have meaning too. Symbols might as straightforward as a letter, or as sophisticated as the Liberty Bell. The current meaning doesn't always have to exist today as it did yesterday (such as the Twin Towers have a far different meaning today than the architects intended when they designed them, or when the movie King Kong came out, or of course the events of 9/11).

Meaning exists, at least, in the heads of humans. But, it also must exist in the heads of animals since the sight of a simple can of cat food will sometimes excite a cat into a frenzy. This association of objects with other objects or events is the basis of meaning.

This all raises the most basic question. What do we mean by meaning? Do we mean symbolism? Or, are we looking for a certain kind of symbolism such as one that reduces the complexity of a message to a much simpler message (e.g., a code), or maybe something even more profound as message that says something about the significance of human life or the significance of our own personal lives (e.g., spiritual meaning)?

Another important question is that meaning without intent is what exactly? That is, if an artist scribbles a drawing with an intent of sarcasm (e.g., political cartoon), then the meaning is perhaps more substantial than the meaning that some attribute by seeing a photograph of the Martian mesa of Cydonia that looks like a face of a man. The people who believe that it is a face of a man might find more meaning in that Martian landscape than all the political cartoons, but is it really a meaningful landscape, or does it possess a false sense of meaning? A meaning that only exists because we are too gullible to believe that the landscape was intended by a higher intelligence for the Viking I spacecraft to photograph in 1976?

And who decides what is meaningful and who doesn't in the first place? There appears to be no universal authority who makes these assessments. Even if there were some universally appointed authority, why should we believe them?

Hence I see an answer coming to the book that I said I would never read. Meaning it seems is for us. It is a public thing and it is a private thing. It is your little island that you can retreat to and whatever you tidbit of meaning that you seek to have in your life, you are welcome. Just keep it on your own private island, and we for sure won't have any trouble. Start selling that island property to the rest of us, and then now you better be ready to receive conflicting statements of meaning. Try forcing that meaning onto the rest of us, well that's darn right mean. Besides, what is the meaning in that?

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