Finding Solutions for the Question of “Meaning of Life”: A philosophical Essay
Nowadays we ask many questions to ourselves and examine our lives. One of the confusing and tiring question is “what is the meaning of life”. In this article, I will try to find an answer for this tough question.
Surely, everyone has different answers for the meaning of life. Luckily for some of us, the answer is clearer. Some thinks that their wife or their children are the meaning of life. Others think that work is the most important thing. Some believes in science, humanism (the meaning was different before in the history of philosophy), Some god. But here, I will try to find an answer for people who cannot find any answer for the meaning of life.
For solving our problem I will use a method which is called as analyzing. It is one of the most important methods that we as humans use for solving our problems. Analyze means that breaking into parts (which comes from the word analisus, from Latin). There are lots of important philosophers who use the analyze method like Hobbes, Descartes, Lacan. At that point firstly I will start with analyzing my question. We have two words here, “life” and “meaning”. Because we will need the meanings to make a research in the practice. First it is good to understand what “meaning” is.
Understanding of the Life, Nature, and Universe
Meaning is something that we have in our brains as thoughts. Meaning can be about any object or subject. When we interact with anything, we generate meanings by thinking. Meaning also means that explanations and descriptions. We think of something, and make explanations it to ourselves. Then meaning occurs (It is nominalist approach in philosophy also). Okay then what does “life” mean?
At that point “life” can be referring to two different contexts. First one is its basic meaning. Life means that being, aliveness, existence which we can experience in our lives. It requires an attitude, an action for its entity. In other word when we say “life”, it refers to the world, universe and nature. Now after we found what life means, we will go and research on it.
This first context led us to universe. We were looking for the meaning of life, first we looked at the word “meaning” then we found what “life” is. Now we will get into life, we will experience the nature. What does nature, universe mean? What are the characteristics of it?
To have a more practical way for our research to follow, we need to specialize the research question. Universe has lots of parts which could be too wide to research. We need to minimize the context. We need to think of that “what part of the nature” we care about mostly. The subject need be closest thing to me, in my life. Because I need to feel connected to the subject to be willing to research. Our answers will be different from each other. At that point any research topic about nature or universe is also valid to discover. This research could be about the sky, what sort of relation we have with the sky. This could be about understanding the connection between animals and us. The important thing is here to feel comfortable with the subject. We need to keep questioning, until the topic fits us clearly. Sometimes we can think that we find the wrong subject for us, we can feel unsuccessful. However if we are still curious about the meaning of life, we need to check the strong and reasonable options that we have.
After we clarify on the subject, there is another important work that we need to do. This process is gathering knowledge process. For example if we are looking for the connection between jungles and humans, I need to know how to get information about jungles. There are two types of practices that I need to do.
First one is theoretical implication. Theory means that producing ideas. Here there are two types of theoretical works for us. First is some ideas from ourselves. What do I think about the jungles and the tie between jungles and us? I will have some explanations, when I talk to myself about it. Thinking by yourself is very critical. Secondly I need to learn what people think about my subject. Of course they need to be people who are experts of the topic or interested in at least. To understand their thoughts, I can go and talk to them, if I have a chance. Or I can read their writings (books, articles etc.).
Second main action that I need to do for my research is practical implication. What I do is that I will go to the jungle and experience it. I will touch the trees, I will feel ground smell the air, and I will spend time in there. I will try to understand the life, the existence in the jungle. Then I will have some explanations about it.
For our research both theoretical and practical approaches should be used. Because like Kant said, only theoretical researches cannot be that realistic. And only practical researches can give too many confusing ideas for our research. If then you are not happy with the findings which came out in your research for “the meaning of life”, there is another question to continue. What else can be researched for the meaning of life?
Understanding the Human
In our research the word of “life” can also be related to ourselves. What I mean is that here, we could be curious about the meaning of life which is about ourselves, not the other things. Then new research question occurs “What is the meaning of my life?”. With this new question now we are seeking for a new subject. Here we changed the subject from nature to human being to analyze. Because if I am looking for the meaning of my life, I need to check what I am. Most distinct characteristic of myself is my humanity. So now we need to examine what human means.
For the human being most apparent characteristic is being alive. And more specific characteristic is thinking intensively about their own lives, about others’ lives and the environment that they live in (also this saying comes from Aristoteles). For the existence of those characteristics, people need to feel safe, need to eat something and sleep and need to have sexuality. And for thinking we need to have social relationships and have interactions with other people and nature. Because we can only think with a language which can only occurs by interactions. If we don’t have relationships, we cannot produce intensive mental activities. Therefore If we don’t exhibit those behaviors, then we cannot call it as human.
After we understand the features of human being, we need to examine another issue about our research. We need to ask another question here. Which characteristic is most effective one in my life to research? May eating or sex be the meaning of my life? Or can my feelings or thoughts or my social relations be the meaning of my life? There is a critical issue at that point. If we exclude any of this characteristic for our seeking, our research, our findings will have some missing parts. Because as we mentioned above, for human beings all of the characteristics eating, safety and sex are vital to survive (including sex, Kandel, principal of neural sciences book, pg. 487).
Since we need to consider all of the characteristics of humans, again it could be harder to analyze all of them in one research since it is a wide topic. While we analyze human characteristics, we can give some priorities to some characteristics. In another saying, at the moment we can find a characteristic which influences us much more than the others. For example if my sleeplessness is my main issue nowadays and at the moment, maybe it is good to look at the effect of sleep in my life. To understand the priorities helps us to find the way for following our research.
What is the main issue about myself at the moment? This question should be answered according to most important recent issues in our lives. And I am stressing this again, we need to examine physical and emotional conditions together for our lives. What made me think of at most nowadays? We maybe did not sleep well last night. We did not eat well enough maybe for the breakfast. Maybe the sex that we have nowadays, is not exciting enough. Maybe my friend’s respond did not satisfy me about my feelings. Maybe nobody appreciates my job. Maybe I am so lonely nowadays and I need more interaction. Maybe there is a life out there, and since I cannot join it, I feel that I miss it. All these questions or similar ones are needed to be questioned by ourselves. Because, sometimes we produce harder questions like the meaning of life to hide our real problems, like relationships or etc. And with little steps with the help of those questions we will go through the meaning of our lives.
As I said above, we cannot live without eating, speaking, interacting, relating, without safe places and sex. Because of this, to discover our needs and issues will be our primary investigation for our research. According to neuroscience studies, emotions are the primary sources for the behaviors (Patten, Campbell, 2011, pg. 86). And the relationships that we have with others are one of the primary resources for our emotions. Therefore if we can understand that which feelings are leading our questioning, It will be easier to be successful about research for the meaning of life. It is important to understand our feelings in the daytimes, also important to understand the resources of our joy and sorrow. If we analyze those, we will get more realistic knowledge and values. Then we will have a chance for the discovery of our questions.
As a result, the question of meaning is a very wide subject to understand. If we want to answer this question, we need to narrow down the scope and we need to use the material that we have. Otherwise we can get lost in the question. To be able to do that, we only have nature and humans which are concrete and understandable. This is known as innate philosophical view in the history of philosophy. Spinoza is most important philosopher for this view (Eugene Marshall, The spiritual automation, Stuart Hampshire article, Solmaz Zelyüt Spinoza).
In addition to this, our emotions can cause those kind of big questions. İf we are confused, tired, feeling unsuccessful or afraid of being unsuccessful; if it is hard to find someone who understand our feelings, this also can bring those kind of hard questions to our thoughts, such as what is the meaning of life. Because our brain does not know how to survive in the conditions that we have. If we can analyze our feelings to understand what pushes us into the meaning question, the possibility of finding an answer for our questions will be much more. And it is also easier to think minimally about our problems, not big questions, like life, or everything. Maybe the actual issue is not seeking for the meaning, maybe it is giving some meaning to our lives.
Additions: I would be very pleased to answer the questions and argue about the theories that I brought or if you have any further questions or comments to say, I am happy to answer.
Eugene Marshall – The Spiritual Automaton_ Spinoza’s Science of the Mind-Oxford University Press (2014)
Solmaz Zelyüt, Spinoza, Dost Kitabevi, 2010.
Erik Kandel and Colleges, Principal Of Neural Sciences, McGraw Hill Medical Books, 2013.
Kathryn E. Patten, Stephen Campbell, Educational Neuroscience, Wiley Black Well, 2011).
Stuart Hampshire, Spinoza’s Theory of Human Freedom, 1971.