Sex, Drugs, and 42

What is the meaning of life?

This vague philosophic question haunts all of us. In fact, it is the single most maddening question of all time. It vexed everyone from Plato through Steven Hawking. It is the question behind the search for the “Theory of Everything“. It is the question behind Nihilism, Existentialism, Secularism, Hedonism, Empiricism, and all the other World Views. Every religion in history has been created in order to answer that question. Even Siri, the iPhone app weighs in on this question with such flippant answers as, “Try and be nice to people. Avoid eating fat. Read a good book every now and then, get some walking in and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”, or “Life: a principle or force that is considered to underlie the distinctive quality of animate beings. I guess that includes me”, or “42”, or “I can’t answer that now, but give me some time to write a very long play in which nothing happens”.

Actually, Siri provides some good advice, and insights which hint at a deeper understanding than we might initially have given her credit for. 42 might be one of the most brilliant answers ever proposed, referencing “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“. What 42 hints at is that the very question “What is the meaning of life?” is the wrong question. That question is every bit as senseless as the answer “42”. There is no meaning inherent in the essential qualities of life. Life has no direct meaning. There is no purpose. There is no answer. Hence 42 is as good an answer as any – it means nothing.

The other intriguing answer that Siri puts forth is the statement, “I can’t answer that now, but give me some time to write a very long play in which nothing happens”. Let’s break that down: “I can’t answer that now”, “give me some time”, “a very long play in which nothing happens”.

1. “I can’t answer that now”. How true! Who can answer that now? No one. No one has the answer. We can just distract ourselves from the throbbing question.

2. “Give me some time”. Isn’t that what we all want? Even the richest men on their deathbed would trade all their possessions for more time. We all die naked, alone, and penniless – the same way we were born. Our shimmering flash in the tide flares, and then is gone, while the stormy waves break against the pebbled shore, under a leaden sky. 

3. Her description of life as “a long play in which nothing happens” is quite apt. Life is just an illusion, created by many players who believe the scenes they are in, causing us to suspend our disbelief. However, in the end, our proper disbelief comes crashing in around us nullifying the importance of whatever narrative we thought we were weaving. The curtain is pealed back revealing a stage manager, some crew, some lights, and we realize that the enchantment to which we had dedicated our 85 odd years was really just a futile undertaking, providing a distraction from the pounding question of meaning. Nothing that matters happens. We putz around for 85 years, and then we cease to exist, vanishing like smoke in a stiff wind. We had no impact, not significance, and no meaning.

Why do I exist? Why does anything exist? Because it does. It could “not exist”. In fact, it soon won’t. The anthropic principle comes into play here; Combine that with advanced theoretical physics. Everything that can exist will. Every state of affairs that can come into being will. We are not unique. We exist because we can’t help but. Our potential exists due to pure chance, and that 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000… chance that everything is the way it is, is because the number came up in the roulette wheel of life. When you spin the wheel enough times, probabilistically, every number will eventually come up, and every possible sequence will likely manifest. It has no meaning, no reason, no purpose. It just is.

Nothing you do matters. Nothing you think matters. Nothing you say, believe, act upon, write, create, hold dear, cherish, condemn, or praise matters. It is all futile. Everything is meaningless, like dust in the wind. Everything is temporary like smoke in the breeze. Nothing is real. Nothing stands any longer than the ripple in the pond. The stone sank to the bottom and disappeared from view. Effectively it disappeared from reality.

This utter hopelessness and desperation is the black pit at the bottom of our psyches. It is the nagging feeling that plagues us in the night. It is the itch that curses our backs. We fear silence, for that deafening void allows the demons whispering those doubts in our daily lives to scream deafeningly, while we huddle clasping our hands over our ringing ears in tortured crying agony.

excerpt from the rum diary, pg 5

And so we hide it. We bury it. We smile. We greet. We pretend. We erect a cold grey concrete facade that we paint sunny and cheery. We do drugs that make us forget the reality we face, or drink the edge off. We screw like rabbits to gain a little solace in the cold black night. We drown out the void with music. We fill our lives with adrenaline, and thrills to keep us from being engulfed in the black gaping maw of our own Universal realization that there is nothing beyond what is.

Religion forms the same stop gap. In fact – Sex, Drugs, Partying, Rock and Roll and materialism are every bit a religion as Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, etc. They all try to provide a community that reinforces a sense of meaning, dignity, and Ultimate reality. They try to provide a structure, and common set of goals and priorities for groupmind to think about and corporately believe. We get hyped up on the latest fad – whether it is juice fasts, “Stand Up To Cancer” half-marathons, activism, working out, the latest Opera book  recommendation, the newest iGadget, the latest on Kim Kardashian’s marriage, Veganism – whatever the fad is, people get caught up in it, under the illusion that their lives can be better. Life cannot be better or worse. It can only be different. The opinion on the value of said differences are merely preferences. Poverty is no better or worse that wealth. Starvation is no better or worse than gluttony, or balance.

We say that evil is worse than good; that stealing is worse than giving; that murdering is worse than birthing. This is only true when you apply an artificial ethical construct, or a social contract. However, there is no worse: only different. Now, of course we all prefer that evil is lesser and worse, and no one likes to be stolen from, lied to, or murdered. We have constructed ethical and moral systems to influence behavior. The basis of the social contract is that the majority of people will refrain from the majority of punitive actions for the protection and safety of the majority. The social contract falls under the concept of Utilitarianism: “the greatest good for the greatest number”. There are many flaws with this system, for it allows the abuse of the individual and the tyranny of the mob majority. So, we construct more laws to protect individuals in the attempt to prevent that. What that then allows is the tyranny of the elite oligarchy. The watchers become corrupt in their rat race, and no one watches them until it is too late, and their game has become un-win-able if you play by their rules. In order to win, you have to over turn the system, or at least subvert it, and play a new game.

Yes, the futility of everything forces us all to cope in different ways. Some drown their hollow pangs with ambitions, or finery, or wealth. Some bury their ears with hope in an afterlife, or a higher power/creator who bestows meaning and purpose. The Westminster catechism asks and answers: “What is the chief end of man?” “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Here, religion is attempting to provide a purpose and meaning for humanity, by placing it in some greater and larger cause. In fact, every dictator in history has appealed to this need for a purpose, and provided a sweeping movement to allow people to get caught up in the flow.

Even the computer program Agent Smith of the “Matrix” has several pithy quotes regarding purpose:

“There is no escaping reason; no denying purpose. Because as we both know, without purpose, we would not exist.
[Several Agent Smith Clones walk in]
Agent Smith Clone 1: It is purpose that created us.
Agent Smith Clone 2: Purpose that connects us.
Agent Smith Clone 3: Purpose that pulls us.
Agent Smith Clone 4: That guides us.
Agent Smith Clone 5: That drives us.
Agent Smith Clone 6: It is purpose that defines us.
Agent Smith Clone 7: Purpose that binds us.”

Agent Smith: “Why, Mr. Anderson? Why do you do it? Why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you’re fighting for something? For more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is? Do you even know? Is it freedom? Or truth? Perhaps peace? Yes? No? Could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson. Vagaries of perception. The temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself, although only a human mind could invent something as insipid as love. You must be able to see it, Mr. Anderson. You must know it by now. You can’t win. It’s pointless to keep fighting. Why, Mr. Anderson? Why? Why do you persist?”
Neo: “Because I choose to.”

And finally, Agent Smith concludes: “Can you feel it Mr. Anderson? Closing in on you? Oh I can, I really should thank you after all. It was, after all, it was your life that taught me the purpose of all life. The purpose of life is to end.”

Even the Occupy Wall Street movement speaks to this ache: people feel the void in their lives, and envision how much more fulfilled they would be, if only they didn’t need to work, or didn’t have to worry about finances. What they don’t realize is that being wealthy just allows one more time to be bored and unfulfilled, and fewer distractions to disguise the futility. The pain is only more acute, when served with a side of existential boredom. A listless despair is the only emotion that consumes all in that black pit.

This boredom causes food to taste bland, colors to grey, smells to disappear, and relationships to fracture. Passions fade, ambitions wither, cares vanish, and even hatreds are neutralized in the ever expanding damp mirky cloud of ambivalence and apathy.

So, the question remains: What is the meaning of life? I submit this answer: There is no meaning, only hopeless despair.

So what can we do? We can choose several possibilities designed to quell the sighs. Everyone’s favorite is Carpe diem, or seize the day! Live each moment to the fullest. Cherish the moments, enjoy the little things. Don’t sweat the small stuff, etc. In a similar vein, is Hedonism: if it feels good do it. Take advantage of everything that comes your way, and exploit it for personal pleasure, without restraint. The next stop-gap is materialism: buy buy buy! NOW NOW NOW! Keep up with those Jones’, in fact surpass them! Bigger is always better, and so is more.

 Some people look for meaning in causes, some in religion, some in philosophy, and some in nature. Some distract themselves with all sorts of fads, fashions, and hobbies. Some choose drugs to take the edge off the void. Some choose sex, to negate the feelings of loneliness and despair. Some choose solace in the arms of art. Some choose adrenaline and thrill-seeking behavior as their drug of choice, and damn the devil and his consequences.

In the end, no matter what we do, the void catches us, and the maw swallows us and relegates us to our former lack of existence.

And the only thing that remains is the memory in the minds of others. Until history forgets. And the Universe spins on, and slowly cools and all matter disbands and energy disperses and all things vanish into the black cold.


11 thoughts on “Sex, Drugs, and 42

  1. Pingback: Esoteric construct | Harvardunivers

  2. Maybe you can help me understand you intent with this post. There is no logical argumentation present in your post. You merely assert your opinion, provide movie quotes, cell phone app answers, and backhandedly reference philosophical and theological systems without actually communicating their answers to the question that you deem unanswerable. Further, because you make no logical arguments when people disagree with your assertion you brush them off with (“Anyone who will try to tell you that there is more to life than nothing merely fears standing on the brink of the precipice with nothing but blackness gaping in front of and all around them”) saying that anyone that disagrees with you fails to see reality. You don’t deal with the objections they raise or provide a decent rebuttal. Your only “defense” (and I use the air-quotes to denote sarcasm not quotation) is that the other can’t answer the question that you have made unanswerable (and notice I say “the question that you have made unanswerable” not “the question that is unanswerable”). I feel for you JimBob. You know that I love you and am not here to insult you but to speak plainly to you. I can tell you however that you make normative a world (” A listless despair is the only emotion that consumes all in that black pit…This boredom causes food to taste bland, colors to grey, smells to disappear, and relationships to fracture. Passions fade, ambitions wither, cares vanish, and even hatreds are neutralized in the ever expanding damp mirky cloud of ambivalence and apathy.”) in which I have never been. You assume that the void is something that is experienced by all…and I am proof that it is not. Therefore, the void is not some universally inescapable reality that humanity must deal with but a individually inescapable reality; by this I mean that some not all experience this feeling of emptiness which means that is it escape-able. Please help me to understand any of your arguments I have misrepresented. I am interested in conversation, but be aware that if you do put forth arguments for you position they may come with presuppositions that you have and will need to explain to me, for I feel that we are coming from two very different points of view even if we once were at the same point of view.

    • Indeed Jason. Really, the point was more of an explorative essay into a viewpoint than a formal logical proof. It was intended to be more of a descriptive prose, than a systematic or rigorous dissection of the viewpoint. It was more of an artistic insight into one worldview, persuading from feeling and emotion, rather from logic. Let me make a “Sex, Drugs, and 42 – Part 2”, that attempts to make a formalized proof set, which will allow for a real debate. And you make a valid point (Your only “defense”… is that the other can’t answer the question that you have made unanswerable). I set the terms of the debate so steeply inclined toward this viewpoint that there is no arguable ground, which is an unfair debate tactic. Let me revise.

  3. While I believe there is an ounce of truth to this, I find this very shallow and un-examined… It doesn’t take a whole lot of thought to just say everything is futile and nothing really matters. Even many atheists will tell you there is something to life rather than a depressed rant on humanity’s shortcomings.

    Maybe the meaning of life isn’t a linguistic value that we can objectively portray.. maybe we are all participating in an eternal meta-narritive that as Gladiator states, “What we do in life echoes in eternity”… that or maybe were all “dust and air”…

    Im not trying to be offensive, just saying I’m in a graduate level meaning of life class right now at IUPUI where the teacher is an atheist bigot and he would never allow this as an answer, because it leaves out all the positive possibilities like a God, or the reason for love, or the problem of evil, or luck, or the spiritual love of nature, the existence of aesthetic beauty, and the pursuit of happiness, etc…

    This explanation denotes the idea of even searching, just makes me feel sad to even want to think about it.

    We’re reading a very interesting book that i have linked at the bottom.. I challenge you to read it and think about it. Some of the articles will leave you wanting to kill yourself and get it over with already and others will make you want to look up and trust theres a purpose…

    You can ask anybody around me, that after this semester there is nothing I want to do more than to write a blog like this. This has certainly been my personal semester for asking my heart some really tough questions about what I believe. But as Philosophy professor Phillip Tallon says, “I think our generation deserves a richer worldview than nihilism sprinkled with moralism.” And while I don’t want to be brainwashed into Christianity, I also can’t help but believe that.

    I’m not saying I’ve got it figured out, just asking you to explore more. Like the rest of us need to

    I think our generation deserves a richer worldview than nihilism sprinkled with moralism.

    • Anyone who will try to tell you that there is more to life than nothing merely fears standing on the brink of the precipice with nothing but blackness gaping in front of and all around them. They see the faint glimmer of reflected light, and hope that it is some great safe homestead in the distance, with warmth, and fire, and blankets, and hot chocolate, and not just the cold wetness of some frozen rock in the distance.

      You say you find this shallow, and unexamined; but let me ask you this – What is the Meaning of Life? prove to me there is a meaning. Show me where I am wrong. Nihilism sprinkled with morality is merely the last stop on this train of philosophy that has been cursing down the line for millennia. It strips away all pretense, all preference, all assumptions, and looks at the unbleached turtleshell that all of our constructs rest upon. In fact, it is turtles all the way down.

      Any Atheists that are truly honest with themselves will tell you: The universe is merely a chain reaction of matter and energy, exploring permutations of itself in time. Point to a single thing that matters. Tell me one thing that does. The troubles of two people, or all humanity, don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy universe of ours. Why should it?

      Give me a real answer to the Question, that provides a viable alternative, like I have done. Not only do I debunk meaning, but I provide a systematic worldview to support that proposition. Let me challenge you to do the same, and not just react out of fear to the idea that there just may be nothing beneath the last turtle.

      • your answer isn’t a meaning, its an admittance to no meaning. You haven’t convinced me of this so why should I try to convince you?? (please see the circle before we start circling)

        and if i were to pinpoint all of humanity down to one linguistic explanation (as truly idiotic as that sounds), I would speculate exactly what I brought up in my post. A meta-narritive, filled with characters (us) who love, hate, steal, kill, build, destroy, understand, feel, who point up, who point out, who can’t explain life, and who is ignorant enough to miss the point. We all contribute to each other perspectives and ideas that push us in our understanding of the world, which holds natural, unalienable objective truth that we may never truly understand (maybe we already do) but always naturally know that they are there…

        a lot of the great philosophers understand there is natural truth. Why would there be any ounce of truth if the meaning of our existence is nothing at all??

        Like I said above, my comment was nearly a plea for you to not settle with what you have written but to explore and keep exploring. I will never say this is a real, and perfect answer, because if it is why haven’t i written a book on it and why would i be bringing it up on this our of nowhere blog post… Please don’t be so naive as to pretend your theory is the only perfect way

        • but it still answers the question. To say that it isn’t a valid answer because it doesn’t affirm the bias inherent in the question (“what is the meaning of life” indicates the assumption that there is a meaning), is ignorant and narrow-minded.

          Also, I think you misunderstand the point of debate. You attempt to convince the other party they are wrong because you disagree with their thesis. If you agreed, there would be no reason to debate. Ergo, your statement about the circle is moronic.

          WHat you hint at is an intrinsic value of human emotion and action, merely because it exists. You place eternal value in mere transient phantasms, because the happen to exist, and you happen to experience them. How do we ascribe any depth to the shadows and flashes of your precious meta-narrative? This merely feeds back into Siri’s answer that life is “a long play in which nothing happens”. Your value system reveals you as a humanist: one who places humanity at the center of the universe. You believe that our petty interactions and hormonal impulses mean something larger. You believe that your actions, or anyone’s actions have value and meaning. How? Why? Because they exist? Big Whoop. That matters no no one except who experiences the actions, or is affected by the actions in some way. Soon, everyone affected dies. And soon enough time erases the pages of history, until the pages are blurred, and become brittle, shatter, and blow away with the autumn leaves.

          An appeal to authority “great philosophers”? which philosophers? and what makes you think that they have any more insight than any of us? Poor rhetoric Erik.

          What is natural truth? Besides, Truth and Meaning have no causal relationship. truth is indifferent and unaffected by meaning, or the search thereof. Truth stands strong, amidst the vagrant winds of perception.

          What makes you think I have settled on this explanation as the last one I will ever hold? Your plea to keep searching is as useless as some of your arguments. Thinkers Think. This is what we do. I can no more cease thinking, and mulling thoughts over than you can cease to breath, or eat. If either one of us does that, we die.

          I never said that this was the only way, burn If i didn’t argue my point with conviction, what sort of debater would I be? I wouldn’t post this, if I thought I was wrong, but no where did I say that this is the end all be all treatise on The Meaning of Life, that everyone must believe.

          Please don’t be so dumb.

          • learn to discuss your point without being so offensive.. Im not saying I disagree I’m saying don’t stop there.. Explore more and grow, let this develop and choose to agree or disagree with it. Just as any philosopher would tell you to do.

            this will be my last post you will hear from me. I refuse to debate with a bigot, who acts like a child when somebody disagrees.

            learn to have respect for those who don’t agree with you…

            • erik, every step of the way, you have been belligerent, belittling, and illogical. When I responded in turn (logically, of course), you throw a temper tantrum. Let me show you the places you do exactly what you decry:

              1. “While I believe there is an ounce of truth to this, I find this very shallow and un-examined… It doesn’t take a whole lot of thought …”
              1.A The statement above demonstrates supreme arrogance, and a lack of understanding.

              2. “(please see the circle before we start circling)”
              2A. This statement demonstrates a lack of understanding regarding the nature and purpose of debate, and discussion.

              3. “as truly idiotic as that sounds”
              3A. Implying that I am an idiot who has reduced all of human experience to one blog post.

              4. “Like I said above, my comment was nearly a plea for you to not settle with what you have written but to explore and keep exploring.”
              4A. A statement demonstrating your lack of respect for the art and process of philosophy, and those who practice it.

              5. “Please don’t be so naive as to pretend your theory is the only perfect way”
              5A. Another statement demonstrating your lack of understanding for the process of debate, and really just fucking insulting.

              And your last post is a triple banger.

              6. “learn to discuss your point without being so offensive..”
              6A. Tu Quo Que.

              7. “Explore more and grow, let this develop and choose to agree or disagree with it.”
              7A. Implying that I have given the matter no thought, Implying that you are a master and have something to teach.

              8. “Just as any philosopher would tell you to do.”
              8A. Really Erik?

              9. “I refuse to debate with a bigot, who acts like a child when somebody disagrees.”
              9A. So, by your definition, a bigot is anyone who doesn’t listen to you, and accept your poorly reasoned critiques? I have no problem when intelligent rational people disagree, and provide intelligent rational critiques. (See, I can make my implications nasty too.)

              10. ” learn to have respect for those who don’t agree with you…”
              10A. You might take some of your own medicine here: look at the above 10 insults which you casually placed throughout your notes, clearly demonstrating a complete lack of respect for your opponent and a complete lack of understanding of the nature of debate and basic philosophic concepts.

              Thanks for playing.

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