[ExI] The meaning of life? Let's solve this together, once and for all! ; )

efc at swisscows.email efc at swisscows.email
Sun Oct 1 18:48:56 UTC 2023

Good evening Jason,

On Fri, 29 Sep 2023, Jason Resch wrote:

>       Interesting! I think we might have a first point of divergence here.
>       When it comes to the meaning of life, I'm not so interested actually in
>       the reason. That is a question I leave to science as in what's the
>       reason I am here, evolution, reproduction etc.
>       Purpose, could also stray close to science, as in propagating genes, but
>       purpose could also be given a deeper meaning I think, so this is getting
>       closer.
>       When it comes to value, I think it would be interesting to see how value
>       is measured and in what "currency"?
> Some have come up with the term "utils" (or alternatively hedons, utiles, utilons).

Well, those are all good in that they do not have any connotations like
currency, but I still wonder about how they would be quantified.

>       When I think about meaning of life, I think about something which gives
>       me a deep sense of connection to the universe, it could be an over
>       arching theme of my life, perhaps an ultimate quest or journey which
>       fills my life with significance. (I tried on purpose to not use the
>       words value or purpose here, so see if you can perhaps find a better
>       word in english for me to use.)
>       I also distinguish between levels of meaning. The paragraph above is the
>       "ultimate" or final deep seated meaning that transforms the way you
>       live. There is also a more mundande level of meaning to me, such as
>       evolution, propagating genes, provide for my family, being a positive
>       and contributing part of our global economy and thus on a tiny level
>       making life better for everyone.
>       Those types of meaning, I consider philosophical chicken soup. It's nice
>       to say, it's nice to think about, but I wouldn't say that any of those
>       things fundamentally shift the way I live my life. They are kind of
>       "bolted on" a lifestyle that I was given by my culture and parents. So
>       perhaps a benefit by verbalizing them, is that my life, given those
>       reasons as a backdrop, might be lived more consciously than just going
>       through the motions and not thinking about how, what you do, contributes
>       to the rest of humanity and the world we're in.
>       Do I make any sense?
> I think I see what you are pointing at.
> Is it what the Dzogchen seek? Is it God-Realization? Is it the experience of Ego Death?

I don't know, but I think it could be the same experience regardless of
if it is called mystical union, god-realization, ego-death, or
enlightement. That's my theory at least.

I always assumed, that this would be the top of Maslows scale, but
perhaps it could be argued that this is a difference scale? Or do you
think it is related? Thinking about what I read and seen about saints,
it certainly seems like the ultimate and supreme experience for them, so
that would perhaps indicate that it does belong to the scale.

> I think what is common in all of these is transcending the illusion of the self as one small part of existence, and expanding one's
> self-identification to the whole, or the all. This, as you say, can rewrite, or transform one's approach to life, interaction with
> others, and perhaps make one more "selfless."

I wonder if expanding ones range of consciousness or expanding ones
quality of consciousness might be a better way to describe it? Illusion
and union to me is very imprecise, but I don't know if anyone ever
managed to capture what happens in the brain at the moment of
enlightenment. I'm fairly sure that psilocybin trips have been captured,
but are those smaller intensity examples on the same scale as the
ultimate union, or is the ultimate union something different? I have no
idea, but I think it is very interesting to think about.

>       > states of awareness / consciousness. Those things that are "instrumentally meaningful" are valuable only in so far as
>       their potential
>       > to affect states of consciousness.
>       Isn't "valuable only in so far as their potential to affect states of
>       consciousness" a truism?
> I think so. But it is a clarifying truism, and one that often goes not directly acknowledged.

Fair point!

>       By the fact that we are physical beings with
>       conscisoussness, wouldn't that mean everything is meaningful?
> I think there is some meaning (value) in every conscious experience (which may be regarded as negative or positive, on the whole).

You mean value in terms of realizing meaning? That all experiences
detract or add to the final goal of realizing meaning?

>       I agree to the extent that realizing deep seated meaning and values, is
>       a mental process, fed with impressions and experiences from the physical
>       world, or perhaps, not even that. It could be argued that some actually
>       starve the mind of impressions and experiences to find their deep seated
>       meaning.
> Yes, perhaps this is why some use meditation or sensory deprivation as a path to bring about such an experience of the kind you
> allude to.

That would be my theory.

>       > If we accept this premise, then the question is somewhat simplified. What are the desirous states of consciousness that
>       we seek?
>       Yes, and how (if at all?) can these states be induced in a human being
>       in a reliable way, to enrich that persons life?
> I can't speak to the reliability, but these are often mentioned:
>  *  Stroke and Traumatic Brain Injury
>  *  Transcranial Stimulation
>  *  Meditation
>  *  Sensory Deprivation
>  *  Fasting
>  *  Psychedelics / Entheogens
>  *  Thought
>  *  Koans
>  *  Action

Good list! I would add spontaneous enlightement as well, although very
rare. I also wonder if near-death experiences would add anything to
this? But I guess that is to be found under stroke/traumatic brain

In terms of meditation I would add the distinction:

* Cataphatic (imaging God, imagination or words) – e.g., The Spiritual
    Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Julian of Norwich, Francis of
    Assisi; and

* Apophatic (imageless, stillness, and wordlessness) – inspired by the
    writings of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, which forms the basis of
    Eastern Orthodox mysticism and hesychasm, and became influential in
    western Catholic mysticism from the 12th century AD onward, as in The
    Cloud of Unknowing and Meister Eckhart.[69]

Urban T. Holmes III categorized mystical theology in terms of whether it
focuses on illuminating the mind, which Holmes refers to as speculative
practice, or the heart/emotions, which he calls affective practice.
Combining the speculative/affective scale with the apophatic/cataphatic
scale allows for a range of categories:[70]

      Rationalism = Cataphatic and speculative
      Pietism = Cataphatic and affective
      Encratism = Apophatic and speculative
      Quietism = Apophatic and affective

When it comes to psychedelics, what I wonder about is how exact the
mapping of compound to effect is?

I heard that some people get hooked on the mystical experience and come
back to psychedelics again and again and that in turn makes me wonder
about how healthy that behaviour is, vs a more "natural" way to achieve
the experience.

>       I agree. For me, essential meaning is a deel personal question. I do
>       however believe that the process of finding or reaching this state can
>       be fed by philosophy and science. I think that exploring theories beyond
>       our world could lead one to make the necessary connections in the brain,
>       that inspires one to deeper meaning.
>       So yes, it is deeply subjective, yet I think that actions and thoughts
>       can influence the process so it is not completely devoid of tangible
>       starting points.
> I do think certain thought patterns/ideas can help bring about the experience. For example, meditating deeply on the question of how
> one came to exist. Or even watching a movie like "The Prestige" which is about what one experiences when duplicated. I think reading
> Arnold Zuboff's arguments in "One self: the logic of experience" can be helpful as well, but all of these can only "bring the horse
> to the water", so to speak. It is up to the person to do the drinking.


>       >       But for me, that is not Meaning with a capital m. All the previous levels in
>       >       Maslows pyramid contribute to a good life, but at the top with have the
>       >       mystical self-actualization, and I am somewhat attracted to the earth (or
>       >       universe) shattering realizations of a union with the universe that the mystics
>       >       talk about.
>       >
>       > Or as variously described as:
>       > Moksha
>       > Nirvana 
>       > Enlightenment
>       Yes. But I'm not happy with the religious overtones,
> While these terms are used in various religions, I don't find these particularly religious concepts, rather, they represent the
> common mystic teaching, which is almost universal across societies and times (the perennial philosophy). Which I think is what you
> allude to as the origin of religion, the fundamental experience itself.

True. Well, I guess it is mostly individual. To me, they bring
connotations of Hinduism, Buddhism and Zen. But as you say, referring to
the same underlying experience.

>       and I wonder if it
>       is possible to achieve such a state outside of a religious tradition, or
>       if the tradition is necessary for achievement of that state?
> I think it's quite possible to experience it outside of a religious tradition.

Have you ever heard about it or read a book that discusses that theme?

I would be very interested if such a spontaneous experience caused a
non-religious person to become religious, or if it somehow detracted
from the experience, or what fundamental changes in that persons life
resulted from it.

Coming from a religious framework might give you some conceptual tools
to analyze or deal with the experience. Not having that framework, I
wonder if a person creates their own, or if the experience fades to a
pleasant memory?

I vaguely remember watching a documentary about mycologist Paul Stamets
where he talked about a mushroom induced experience, but I don't know if
he had any religious upbringing or not.

>       I don't know if it is true or not, but wasn't the Buddha agnostic on the
>       question of gods?
> It varies a bit depending on which sect of Buddhism you emphasize, but there is, nonetheless, a general agreement that mind is what
> is primarily behind everything. Here are some passages that show the spectrum of Buddhist thinking on the question:
> "All the phenomena of existence have mind as their precursor, mind as their supreme leader, and of mind are they made."
> -- Gautama Buddha in “The Dhammapada” (c. 500 B.C.)

Ahh, perhaps time to whip out the old Dhammapada again? =) Too bad it is
in a box in my attic in Sweden, but good old internet to the rescue!

> "I am the essence of all phenomena; nothing exists that is not my essence. […] Everything inanimate is my essence. Everything that
> lives is my essence. All the habitats and the beings living therein are my essence. Nothing exists that is not my essence because I
> am the universal root: there is nothing that is not contained in me. […] All that manifests from my Body, my Voice, and my Mind
> springs from my essence, is re-absorbed in it, and is nothing other than my essence."
> -- Kulayarāja Tantra 55.1 (c. 850 A.D.)
> Both of these passages place mind at the base of reality. But Tibetan Buddhism describes this "pure and total consciousness" as the
> "supreme source" from which everything emanates, and thus you might identify this almost like "God", perhaps more of the flavor of
> Atman of Hinduism.
> I think there is much we can learn from the study of old ideas, whatever their source. Rather than trying to rediscover everything
> from scratch, people have recorded their thoughts and ideas going back thousands of years, covering many billions of lives.

Agreed! In some cases the ancients where quite right in their guesses
although they did not have the framework. Then we rediscover it and also
discover why and how it connect to everything else. I wonder how much
there is left in these ancient traditions that will be confirmed by

>       Might it be possible to distill those concepts into a more neutral or
>       descriptive one, and distill the various techniques of achieving it for
>       people to try?
> Probably. But I don't know whether that would be better or worse.

We'll probably only know when we actually do try. See point above about
people getting addicted to union through psychedelics and keep going

>       Will that be in any way beneficial and enriching for people, or, would
>       it risk people getting addicted to the experience to the detriment of
>       "normal" society?
> I think experiments that have looked at giving ordinary people mystical experiences, have generally reported it as a profound
> positive impact on their life.

I vaguely remember results ranging from nothing, to nice to have, to
profound positive impact. But I do not remember any reasoning about why
some had profound experiences while other nothing at all. Mental or
biological setup? Aptitute? Placebo? Luck?

>       > Which I would say, is understanding who you really are.
>       What do we mean when we ask who we are?
> This gets back to our discussion on personal identity.
> What experiences are ours. Why was "I" born as this person? Am "I" only this person? Am I the universe experiencing all lives, but
> only in a position to know one at a time? etc.
> Have you seen The Egg?

True! No, haven't seen. Do you have a link?

>       I don't know if I agree with the definition of absence of pain or not,
>       but I do agree that it is a much better definition than "pleasure". Is
>       contentment the absence of pain? Or is it more?
> Dictionary.com gives "the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind."
> Ease of mind, I would say, is more or less the same as an "absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul."

Got it.

>       > Yes happiness or contentment are good. Epicurus defined it negatively, in terms of absence of pain and suffering, which
>       I think is
>       > close to the same thing as contentment.
>       Ah, you answered my question above. To me as a non-native english
>       speaker, it feels as if there is a difference between contentment and
>       absence of pain. I think perhaps the reason could be that I have a worse
>       grasp of the nuances of the language, and perhaps, the culture I grew up
>       in (swedish)?
> Contentment I think often bears a connotation of "mild happiness".

That would match my own feeling when I here contentment. I personally
also add a time dimension, where contentment is a longer lasting feeling
than joy or happiness, which for me, personally, are more peak

>       Why would I be made happier if I had a way to create (and this is just a
>       thought experiment) small, happy consciousnesses without being able to
>       improve my own position?
> It's not that you would be made happier by creating more experiences. Rather, it's that all conscious life regards having more
> positive experiences as better than fewer conscious experiences.

Ah ok, I misunderstood. One more clarifying question, what do you mean
when you say more positive experiences vs fewer conscious experiences?
You are comparing positive vs conscious but positive is also conscious?

> For the same reason that I hope you would see the destruction of Earth as a negative: the continuance of consciousness life on earth
> is regarded as a "good thing" because it allows for more conscious experiences to be created.

Maybe. A nr of theoretical thought experiments can be made up where the
destruction of Earth might actually be a good thing. I also do lean more
toward quality than quantity, because if more conscious experiences are
created but do end up in suffering, then perhaps it wasn't so good after
all? But in order to avoid the utilitarian trap, I prefer to focus on
individual meaning instead of groups of additive carriers of meaning and

>       Sounds depressing to me that my life function
>       would be to create life, instead of living the life I have.
> That's not your life function, it's a universal value that more experiences are better than fewer ones (when the experiences
> themselves are not negative ones). For example, I think anyone not in pain or suffering tends to prefer continued life (for example)

How would you say the it is a universal value? I can see how it would be
an individual value, but a collective and universal one, I'm not so
sure. Imagine that I live on planet A, by myself, and I have a good
life. Regardless of is person B on planet B lives and has a good life or
not, I'll never know, and I don't think the universe will care much
either. I do agree that I'm having a good life, and that's great, and I
do agree that person B is having a good life, and that is great too. But
person B:s life, on planet B, doesn't really affect the meaning of my
life lived in planet A.

I think I'm misunderstanding you here.

>       Maybe we should focus on quality and not quantity? Maybe there is no
>       inherent benefit in just quantity?
> I think some balance is needed. Otherwise we are led to extremes like a single mind having a permanent heroin high, or something like
> that. Likewise the value for variety, rather than just quantity or quality.

Yes, that is true. Many are the theoretical thought examples which
crush most, if not all, ethical theories. ;)

Best regards, 

>       > The trajectory of life, everywhere and anywhere in the universe will, I think, follow this trajectory. We are, as
>       conscious beings,
>       > on a course to fill the universe with consciousness for the purposes of realizing as many states of consciousness as
>       possible, to
>       > eliminate suffering and pain, and promote the creation of positive experiences for all conscience beings.
>       > It may make little difference whether it is us or our machine descendents that are in control, for I think all
>       conscious beings
>       > possess these goals, by virtue of the fact that they are conscious, and will deduce logically that all utility comes
>       felt states of
>       > consciousness (just as humans have been deducing for centuries).
>       Best regards,
>       Daniel
> Best,
> Jason

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