Invented meaning

Is it possible to “give meaning to” something? In other words, is meaning something invented, or does it exist objectively?

For a long time, most people assumed that the meaning of each thing was placed here in the world for us by the gods, but with the rise of atheism in the 19th and 20th centuries, this viewpoint eventually fell out of favor. Nowadays, the more popular opinion is that meaning is something created in the brain and that any projection of meaning onto the objects themselves is mere illusion. It’s easy to see how such an opinion may lead to nihilism.

In response to such looming nihilism, there are those who take a compromise position, claiming that we must “invent our own meaning” or the like—that although there is no objective purpose or significance to anything, we can decide to create subjective meaning for ourselves. Variants of these viewpoints are sometimes called “existentialism”. I take issue with the idea of subjective meaning for two reasons: firstly, that it solves a nonexistent problem, since in fact objective meaning does exist outside each subject; and secondly, that it fails to solve the real problem which has to do with the difficulty of accessing that meaning. The existentialist’s solution sounds appealing at first, but really it’s just a trick. Saying “find your own meaning” is a way of giving up without admitting defeat. It’s just dead words; they don’t point towards anything that exists. Existentialists claim that we have the freedom to decide what is and is not meaningful, but even from the perspective of empirical psychology, this is just blatantly false—I’ve tried, and I know for a fact that it isn’t possible to simply decide that something will be meaningful. Perhaps the existentialists don’t feel the nihilism as oppressively as I do.

I claim, then, that it is in fact impossible to invent meaning. All meaning is preexisting, and must be discovered. What we need is not so much an opinion about where meaning comes from as a technique for finding it out in reality. I don’t want “my own meaning”—I want the real thing!

As for how I know that objective meaning is out there, well, for one thing, the existence of nihilism proves the existence of meaning. I have never found any quality that does not have an opposite.1 It is a completely general law that if we can sense the absence of something, we can infer the possibility of its presence. And if we accept that meaning does exist at all, then it cannot be merely in the brain (whatever that means). A brain is a fundamentally different kind of thing than meaning—whatever meaning is, it surely isn’t made of meat. It’s possible for atoms to be created by their fates, but the opposite is impossible. This fact becomes obvious when one thinks about it, especially by analogy with dreams, where matter also seems to exist, yet is really secondary to dreaming itself.

The belief in subjective meaning is not merely useless, but in fact outright dangerous. What is invented is artificial, and artificial objects (such as words and other merely logical thoughts) are smaller than reality. Anyone who seriously believes that meaning is subjective will be guided towards paying attention only to artificial objects, not what really exists. This can create a feedback loop where the person in question, with increasing dogmatism, refuses to look at reality, until they have become so deeply entrenched in materialism as to have almost no connection to the metaphysical layer of reality. They use their refusal to see as an argument for why these things do not exist, and use the lack of existence to justify their refusal to see. This is one of the traps of this place; I don’t know who laid it or for what purpose, but it’s a trap.

  1. Perhaps such qualities exist, but if they do, it’s impossible to see them. It may be that every object we look at has infinitely many hidden qualities that are purely positive without any inverse—but it is necessarily impossible to distinguish such qualities. We may well want to say that the existence of such nondifferentiated qualities is simply impossible by definition; see also Lifeless universe. On the other hand, being itself does seem to exist, and yet its inverse, nonbeing, does not. This is a theme in Plato’s Parmenides and many of Plato’s and the Platonists’ other works.