How does one create meaning in life after coming to nihilistic conclusions about the universe?
Following the yesterday’s story. Today I’ll share an insightful answer to a thread that was published on the /r/askphilosophy subreddit
The particular question was:
After more study and thought, I’ve arrived at conclusions about the absurdity and inherent meaningless in the universe. This has thrust me towards nihilistic conclusions, and a struggle to find meaning.
Primarily, I find it difficult to take action and fully participate in life. I struggle with fundamental questions such as, “If life has no objective meaning (in a modernist sense), and I am a mere collection of randomly crashing molecules, and the sun will devour the Earth in 4 billion years anyway, why act? Why exist? Why live? Why struggle? If nothing matters, then why choose the suffering necessarily inherent in life instead of the liberation of death?”
And the answer was:
Nah, just kidding.
There were a lot of nice long answers to this question and I’d like to summarize them highlighting the best parts of some of them:
The argument “well nothing we do now matters in a million years” is not a good argument. For one thing, if nothing we do now matters because in a million years it won’t matter, then the fact that it doesn’t matter in a million years cannot be a reason for something not mattering now.
You are composed of atoms, you will die, and there will be no trace that you have ever existed in a million or a billion years.
Now, can we derive a concept of meaning from these facts? Yes, because during the time you are alive, you have and pursue goals. Perhaps a career, perhaps spending time with your children, or perhaps just developing your various abilities and character to become an excellent human being. This meaning will not last forever, but that doesn’t make it any less valid as meaning.
My preferred solution to this ‘problem’ is to try to make life easier or better for the people around me who aren’t plagued by these questions. They don’t know that it is all meaningless and that ‘happiness’ is arbitrary, illusory or unimportant. So while happiness might be wasted on me it isn’t wasted on them. A side-effect of this, coupled with the observation that I quite often ‘forget,’ or am not constantly in mind of what I think is fruitless or meaningless, is that I am happy too. It doesn’t always last long but I comfort myself with the idea that these are ‘good’ things to do and they are probably better than doing ‘bad’ things.
Are there any incentives for which you would act? Do you have anything like a “passion”? Try to remove yourself from cynicism and irony here: any incentive is a good one. I find that people who struggle to act are not trying to act in accordance with their passions (which are often hidden under a veil of irony). Often they will insist that they have no passions, but I believe this insistence is a result of their passions not coinciding with their ideals, or a lack of self-awareness/development.
The actions you take in your life to make it more enjoyable don’t need to be ultimately transcendent. When you play a game and enjoy it, it is not beause the rules of the game are ultimately true and it all makes sense and all is justifiable and all is correct. Meaning is contextual. Living in the context that we live (that is life in general) we have a certain set of rules we can’t break and a certain set of stuff we enjoy or can learn to enjoy.
The pursuit of happiness and of meaning (not necessarily ultimate, but strong and contextual) in life is one of the best options. You have to be able to learn to priorize feelings. Intellectual development may be engaging and interesting, but “ultimate truth” doesn’t equal freedom nor reality. And since the strongest interaction you’ll have in your life is with your feelings, you should learn to craft happiness.
Ultimately, all may be nothing. But ultimately is not the actual state of affairs. Learn to priorize.
I know these comments don’t fully answer the initial question. But few times does philosophy answer any question, instead, it generates more questions.
You can find the original thread here in case you want to read it.