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← What does "meaning" mean?

What does "meaning" mean? - Comments

Retrochimp's Avatar Comment 1 by Retrochimp

What's the meaning of "meaning?" Pretty heady stuff, man. Dictionary.com defines it as "the significance of something." However, other than in, say, "statistical significance," significance is defined by the person using the word and the context within it is used. Now, I take the meaning (see what I did there) of your question to be "How do we combat the believers when they claim no God=no meaning?" To which I respond, "If there is no God, then there probably has never been a God. This means that, up until now, you have been making your own meaning in a theological void anyway, thus, God is not necessary to provide a meaning as you have the ability to divine (hehe) for yourself what is meaningful. QED."

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 15:16:00 UTC | #894715

Jumped Up Chimpanzee's Avatar Comment 2 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee

Comment 1 by Retrochimp

Now, I take the meaning (see what I did there) of your question to be "How do we combat the believers when they claim no God=no meaning?"

I've never heard a religionist explain what "meaning" or "value to life" would be provided by God's existence as opposed to his non-existence anyway.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 16:05:22 UTC | #894723

maria melo's Avatar Comment 3 by maria melo

I find out your question as funny, as I may find Magritte´s exploration of the same subject. To understand the "meaning" people should perhaps take into account a "linguistic revolution" (coined by Claude Levy -Strauss that made an analogy, between the revolution in the physics and a revolution in linguistics (due to Saussure´s discovery; well he discovered what everyone knew but didn´t recognize: that the linguistic sign is arbitrary and it made the birth of a new discipline: semiotics). How would we know exactly the place that a particle occupies in a moment ? Or, what´s the place ("meaning") a signal occupies in some speech (word or just not exclusively a word but any other signal), it varies too from person to person and within time and societies also...To to discover the "meaning" we would have to care about all the elements of a "discourse", pretty much (if it helps) as if a chess player is watching the place each piece occupies in the board in relation to the other pieces in a certain moment of that game.

Was Magritte playing with the revolution of Linguistics ?

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 16:27:17 UTC | #894731

agoodman's Avatar Comment 4 by agoodman

"Meaning" is one of those wishy-washy terms like "freewill". IT is always best, IMO, to ask for definitions when people bring these up as debate points. The way I see it, there are two valid definitions.

1) things that provide you with personal feelings of fulfillment 2) things that makes things ultimately better

now, I think the theist have a point with definition #2. How can things be ultimately better if, in the end, entropy spreads the universe so thin that no particles can interact? I think for "ultimate" meaning you need to live forever. Of course just thinking you are going to live forever doesn't make it so so theists lives are just as meaningful or meaningless as non-theists, since both will live forever or not.

With the first definition, I find lots of things give me a personal feeling of fulfillment and I don't need magic sky daddy super ghosts to give them to me.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 16:39:01 UTC | #894734

JuJu's Avatar Comment 5 by JuJu

It's the word used prior to giving an explanation about an observation. Sometimes the explanation accurately describes the observation, and other times, not so much.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 16:49:24 UTC | #894739

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 6 by AtheistEgbert

All good questions leading to the realization that meaning, like many concepts, mental perceptions and values, are human creations or creations of the mind, and fall outside the realm of facts, and therefore fall outside our ability to think about them rationally.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 16:52:27 UTC | #894742

Jay G's Avatar Comment 7 by Jay G

I don't understand what you mean.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 16:53:05 UTC | #894743

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 8 by susanlatimer

comment 4 by agoodman

"Meaning" is one of those wishy-washy terms like "freewill". IT is always best, IMO, to ask for definitions when people bring these up as debate points.

I agree. That's why I submitted the discussion. I'm not trying to overcomplicate things. I'm interested in what people have to say. I've already found the responses useful.

@maria melo

I tried clicking on your link but it didn't work for me. Can you try again?

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 17:22:45 UTC | #894755

StephenH's Avatar Comment 9 by StephenH

Oh, how mean

I think i frazzled my brain cell, pondering that one for too long

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 17:44:08 UTC | #894760

DavidXanaos's Avatar Comment 10 by DavidXanaos

What does "meaning" mean?

For me "meaning" is a deffinition of a word or a set of such. like the meaning of the word "apple", it is a fruite with properties: ... the meaning of the word comfiguration "F??? O???", it is: .... etc...

For me asking for the meaning of something is used only to resolve understanding issues in a verbal communication process.

To ask not what is the meaning of the word apple but to ask what is the meaning of a apple itselve is invalid. just invalid as asking for the meaning of live, you can ask wnat the word live means but not what is the meaning of a live.

David X.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 17:46:58 UTC | #894762

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 11 by ZenDruid

I'm particularly frustrated with the phrase 'meaning of life'.

Purpose? Function? Product? Justification? Rationalization? Happy-clappy fantasy?

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 18:56:51 UTC | #894781

maria melo's Avatar Comment 12 by maria melo

Please, try this link this time:

Magritte´s Semiotics Experiments

Language maybe regarded as a social institution too: as a convention.

Certainly for me that´s even more strange when a person says I am a theologist because I immediatly think how can one study what doesn´t exist ?

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 19:28:29 UTC | #894789

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 13 by Schrodinger's Cat

The meaning of anything is entirely related to its context. Meaning doesn't mean anything on its own. To simply ask what meaning means is meaningless.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 19:34:32 UTC | #894792

Tord M's Avatar Comment 14 by Tord M

If you wonder what a word means, look in a dictionary. That will usually give you the answer.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 19:40:05 UTC | #894794

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 15 by susanlatimer

Comment 13 by Schrodinger's Cat

To simply ask what meaning means is meaningless.

I actually agree. I was very vague. It's often used just or nearly as vaguely.

The reason I posted it is because I'd heard yet another Christian refer to "meaningless matter" without taking responsibility for defining what "meaning" is or doing anything to explain why a god is required to make matter meaningful. It's another one of those words that frustrates me. I hear it all the time.

It's given a lot of value, often with little or no support.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 19:45:08 UTC | #894795

Layla's Avatar Comment 16 by Layla

I'm guessing you mean "meaning" meaning "purpose" or "reason".

Like "There's no meaning without God."

I get what they mean when they say that but I don't think I could explain it. It's based in emotions not in logic. Logically there is no reason at all why a universe with a God who created you with a specific purpose in mind should feel like it holds more meaning to you personally than a Godless universe. Afterall it's still somebody else placing meaning onto your life which you may or may not agree with.

However on an emotional level I can relate to the thing they describe as meaning. I think that it's just like two different types of lenses through which you can view the world. One which you look through and it makes the universe seem like a cold, inhospitable place in which you are a vulnerable and insignificant speck and another which makes the world seem like a warm, fuzzy place with a story in which you are an actor playing a role in the story.

Logically I can't defend it but I don't have any trouble understanding it emotionally.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 19:49:37 UTC | #894797

maria melo's Avatar Comment 17 by maria melo

All good questions leading to the realization that meaning, like many concepts, mental perceptions and values, are human creations or creations of the mind, and fall outside the realm of facts, and therefore fall outside our ability to think about them rationally.

Ever since I attended to a presentation by Simone Pika, I would say We can study the origin of the linguistic signs from a scientific point of view.

(I am sorry if I keep repeating this often)

I remember Simone Pika showed a video presentaion of her own and I think a chimp were keeping on repeating the same signal in order to be sure he or she was well understood by the others in a group. (just as we would).

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 19:53:47 UTC | #894799

Sample's Avatar Comment 18 by Sample

If a definition is needed for anything, it's helpful to draw a box around the term first and I would say that meaning is whatever goes into that box.

Mike

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 19:54:57 UTC | #894801

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 19 by KenChimp

Comment 1 by Retrochimp :

What's the meaning of "meaning?" Pretty heady stuff, man. Dictionary.com defines it as "the significance of something." However, other than in, say, "statistical significance," significance is defined by the person using the word and the context within it is used. Now, I take the meaning (see what I did there) of your question to be "How do we combat the believers when they claim no God=no meaning?" To which I respond, "If there is no God, then there probably has never been a God. This means that, up until now, you have been making your own meaning in a theological void anyway, thus, God is not necessary to provide a meaning as you have the ability to divine (hehe) for yourself what is meaningful. QED."

I try to give words like "meaning" a little more than what the dictionary itself states. My reasoning is as simple as that "a little more" I'm referring to:

Meaning is the significance of the subjective or objective impact of the subject of meaning on the object(s) it is meaningful to.

I am not exactly comfortable with the notion that things might be "meaningful" to non-cognitive objects. It is something that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 20:19:45 UTC | #894811

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 20 by Red Dog

Comment 16 by Layla :

I'm guessing you mean "meaning" meaning "purpose" or "reason".

Like "There's no meaning without God."

I get what they mean when they say that but I don't think I could explain it. It's based in emotions not in logic. Logically there is no reason at all why a universe with a God who created you with a specific purpose in mind should feel like it holds more meaning to you personally than a Godless universe. Afterall it's still somebody else placing meaning onto your life which you may or may not agree with.

However on an emotional level I can relate to the thing they describe as meaning. I think that it's just like two different types of lenses through which you can view the world. One which you look through and it makes the universe seem like a cold, inhospitable place in which you are a vulnerable and insignificant speck and another which makes the world seem like a warm, fuzzy place with a story in which you are an actor playing a role in the story.

Logically I can't defend it but I don't have any trouble understanding it emotionally.

I don't think its all that illogical. I think theists are trying to answer the question "what is the purpose of life" or "what should a just (good, moral) person be striving to achieve with their life?" Its a question philosophers have been asking for a long time. Its a question that figures prominently in some of the most interesting dialogs of Plato.

For a religious person the answer is pretty obvious. If there is an all powerful all knowing perfectly good creator of the universe it seems pretty rational to me that the thing for a good person to want to do is to live their life according to that creator's will.

The question is what takes the place of "doing God's will" for atheists? I think that's actually a pretty interesting question and one that I don't personally feel I have a great answer for. One possible answer is that the question itself just doesn't make sense. That people aren't here for a purpose they are just here. That makes some sense but I'm not sure I think its the only or the best answer.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 20:20:00 UTC | #894812

Layla's Avatar Comment 21 by Layla

Comment 20 by Red Dog

For a religious person the answer is pretty obvious. If there is an all powerful all knowing perfectly good creator of the universe it seems pretty rational to me that the thing for a good person to want to do is to live their life according to that creator's will.

The question is what takes the place of "doing God's will" for atheists? I think that's actually a pretty interesting question and one that I don't personally feel I have a great answer for. One possible answer is that the question itself just doesn't make sense. That people aren't here for a purpose they are just here. That makes some sense but I'm not sure I think its the only or the best answer.

If you want to do God's will it's only because you believe God is good. And you only believe God is good if he agrees with what you already feel and what you would feel anyway. And therefore it brings you satisfaction and happiness to do God's will because you're doing what you yourself feel is best because it is in accord with your own judgement and your own sense of what is good.

("You" meaning any person, not you you.)

So it's not so much that following somebody else's divine will brings you satisfaction as that knowing your judgement and your best efforts are being directed by and or backed by the divine brings you satisfaction.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 20:39:57 UTC | #894824

maria melo's Avatar Comment 22 by maria melo

The chimp that was repeating the same gesture to receive a feed back and know if he/she was understood was perhaps creating a idiosyncratic sign (gesture) and had no feed back I think.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 20:45:45 UTC | #894827

GrayLion's Avatar Comment 23 by GrayLion

Meaning ? Well, as far as the people who "Believe" that a gigantic, invisible, father figure in the sky(Hmm, the people living back when "The Book" was written didn't even know what the sky WAS, did they?) made the universe by saying abracadabra, it would appear that without having "Faith" that the invisible father figure actually DID say abracadabra, that their lives here in this beautifully, wonderfully, amazingly complex, yet harmonious universe would be a moot point, and they might as well not be here at all. Wouldn't it?

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 20:49:45 UTC | #894829

maria melo's Avatar Comment 24 by maria melo

I don't think its all that illogical. I think theists are trying to answer the question "what is the purpose of life" or "what should a just (good, moral) person be striving to achieve with their life?" Its a question philosophers have been asking for a long time. Its a question that figures prominently in some of the most interesting dialogs of Plato.

I agree that if a box could be drawn around "God" that would be acceptable. I know an anthropologist who made a study about "God" (as meaning). I didn´t read , so I don´t know what was drawn there about "God".

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 20:55:01 UTC | #894831

GrayLion's Avatar Comment 25 by GrayLion

There is nothing to draw a box around. What is it you fear so much ? Why do theists so desperately NEED that invisible father figure in the sky to enjoy being alive ? Oh, PLEASE, stop it. You're just denying it to yourselves. You, (and I) really ARE insignificant specks, on an insignificant speck, orbiting another insignificant speck, in the spiral arm of another insignificant spect, among BILLIONS of insignificant specks. Since I threw off the slave chains of religion, I find EVERYTHING even MORE beautiful and treasured. Stop worrying that your invisible father figure won't LIKE you anymore.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 21:22:15 UTC | #894843

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 26 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 15 by susanlatimer

I actually agree. I was very vague. It's often used just or nearly as vaguely.

The reason I posted it is because I'd heard yet another Christian refer to "meaningless matter" without taking responsibility for defining what "meaning" is or doing anything to explain why a god is required to make matter meaningful. It's another one of those words that frustrates me. I hear it all the time.

To be honest, I really didn't see what meaning was supposed to mean even when I was a believer. I never quite saw the point of it all. Dostoevsky has long since damned and shown utterly bogus the notion that one day everyone will just suddenly have their eyes opened and all chant ' Oh....it was all OK all along'. In fact Dostoevsky's 'trial of God' is perhaps THE piece of literature for converting anyone from belief and showing the totally bogus 'meaning' behind theism.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 21:29:48 UTC | #894847

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 27 by Red Dog

Comment 21 by Layla :

If you want to do God's will it's only because you believe God is good. And you only believe God is good if he agrees with what you already feel and what you would feel anyway. And therefore it brings you satisfaction and happiness to do God's will because you're doing what you yourself feel is best because it is in accord with your own judgement and your own sense of what is good.

("You" meaning any person, not you you.)

So it's not so much that following somebody else's divine will brings you satisfaction as that knowing your judgement and your best efforts are being directed by and or backed by the divine brings you satisfaction.

That's one interpretation but I don't think its the only possible one. If you look at people who truly are religious and devout -- I'm not talking about your standard hypocritical bible thumpers but people who really do believe -- they often do things that are unselfish and difficult because they believe it is God's will.

I've worked in various peace movements since I was in my 20's and I've often been impressed by the amazing dedication of people who work for peace as part of a belief in Christianity and end up making all kinds of personal sacrifices (including going to jail) for the sake of the cause. A well known example is Daniel Berrigan.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 22:10:49 UTC | #894859

jimblake's Avatar Comment 28 by jimblake

Something has meaning when it stands for something more than itself. I suppose the first occurrence of meaning might have been a DNA molecule whose particular arrangement of nucleotides stands for a particular protein. A particular word stands for a particular thing or concept which is more than just the sound of the word. A person's life can have meaning if it stands for a cause or a principle. Someone may live his life ensuring the survival and well being of his family or countrymen.

A theist would go even farther and say that for a life to have meaning, it should be lived in the service of God.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 22:38:10 UTC | #894872

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 29 by aquilacane

From the Aquilacane BS make it up as you go along files:

What message is being conveyed that is not inherent in the conveyance

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 23:17:38 UTC | #894880

Layla's Avatar Comment 30 by Layla

Comment 27 by Red Dog : That's one interpretation but I don't think its the only possible one. If you look at people who truly are religious and devout -- I'm not talking about your standard hypocritical bible thumpers but people who really do believe -- they often do things that are unselfish and difficult because they believe it is God's will.

I've worked in various peace movements since I was in my 20's and I've often been impressed by the amazing dedication of people who work for peace as part of a belief in Christianity and end up making all kinds of personal sacrifices (including going to jail) for the sake of the cause. A well known example is Daniel Berrigan.

I didn't mean to say that they're just serving themselves. You can be doing something involving self sacrifice but what I mean is, when you are doing good, you already recognised that cause as a good cause, because it fit your own morals, and then because you feel God is a good God, you believe that he wants you to do it.

Thu, 01 Dec 2011 23:33:17 UTC | #894885