On the Meaning of Life - The Reykjavik Grapevine

On the Meaning of Life

On the Meaning of Life

Published June 15, 2007

Thesis:
Icarus tried to fly to the sun to prevent the sky from falling on his head. Conceptual abstraction is non-rational. The imagination is not tyrannized by rationality.
The truly intelligent say ignorance is bliss… Well, from the depths of my ignorance I ask: If ignorance is bliss… how would anyone know? I have not the answer… which is why I pursue life with such disparity. I suffer from the hunger of the whore (this thirst in hell) which prohibits me from securing a Meaning of Life in this asylum we call civilisation. But, tomorrow, my god will be kind to me and, surely, he will provide me with an answer which will quench my thirst; and my god’s holy answer will, unquestionably, be stolen from the author of the alphabet… But, his face only crumbles and cracks wide open… and emits… a grin. I resent this mockery. I point at the sky; a line runs from my eye through to my finger and on and on to an infinity… my infinity, lest we forget it – as is all too easily done… I will allow myself the sublime particular:
In 1945 Jorge Luis Borges told the tale of Cartographers in an Empire where the art of Cartography ‘attained such perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. But in time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guild drew up a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, coinciding point to point with it. The following generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography saw the vast map to be useless and permitted it to decay and fray under the Sun and winters.’
This Argentinean tale must remind us of Tao Teh King’s analysis: Nature can never be completely described, for such a description of nature would have to duplicate nature and no name can fully express what it represents. It is nature itself, and not any part (name or description) abstracted from nature, which is the ultimate source of all that happens, all that comes and goes, begins and ends, is and is not.
‘The map is not the territory’ is a remark made by Alfred Korzybski, encapsulating his view that an abstraction derived from something, or a reaction to it, is not the thing itself, e.g., the pain from a stone falling on your foot is not the stone; one’s opinion of a politician is not that person; a metaphorical representation of a concept is not the concept itself.
Nature, or reality, is never perfectly described because such a description demands a perfect replica of reality – an ideal reflection of the universe which is in perfect synchronicity with everything alive and dead. It is obvious that such a model is unimaginable; just as no name, word or concept can fully describe the object it stands for; all words are mere approximations – metaphors and allegories – for what is happening before our senses: A person who has never tasted salt will never fully understand through language what the taste of salt is; it is only through direct experience (eating salt) that its taste is fully comprehended. Thus, looking for the ‘Meaning of Life’ is like looking for a river on a map. On a map I will only find a blue line representing a river, but in order to swim in the river depicted I must throw away the map and dive into the stream before my very feet. Life is infinitely greater than any word I chose to name it and its meaning will never be encaged within the realm of linguistical cartography.
But to describe nature as “the ultimate source of all” is still only a description, and such a description is not Nature itself. Yet, since I must use words in order to speak of it, I shall have to describe it as “the ultimate source of all”. The reason why it is impossible to create a perfect map of reality is the human being itself – the limitation is within me; human beings are not dead spectators of reality but interpreters who give ‘meaning’ to reality – I am the magician who makes the sky blue’ – but as a physical being I am always bound by a perspective – or as Nietzsche pointed out: ‘All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses.’ That is the law and all this means: ‘basically and from time immemorial we are accustomed to lying. Or to put it more virtuously and hypocritically, in short, more pleasantly: one is much more an artist than one knows.’
I see you in my Stars…

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