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

William Flynn Wallace foozler83 at gmail.com
Fri Oct 20 17:55:08 UTC 2023

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.  Jason

This is an example of self-report studies.  All of them will construct a
scale, like 1 to 10, put some adjectives along the dimension to describe
what a 7 means, and so on. Huge problems:  does one person's 7 equal
another person's 7.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It looks objective (it has
numbers) but isn't.  Reliability tests show only fair test-retest results.
Probably the least scientific way of doing psychology.  They hope that
errors will average out with large Ns.  bill w

On Fri, Oct 20, 2023 at 12:49 PM Jason Resch via extropy-chat <
extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org> wrote:

> + Extropy
> On Fri, Oct 20, 2023 at 12:45 PM Jason Resch <jasonresch at gmail.com> wrote:
>> On Sun, Oct 1, 2023 at 1:13 PM <efc at swisscows.email> wrote:
>>> 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
>>> injry.
>>> 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.
>>> Agreed!
>>> >       >       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 can't say I have read a book about this as a theme, but I have seen
>> multiple independent people report their own experience of it, for example:
>> "Enlightenment came to me suddenly and unexpectedly one afternoon in
>> March when I was walking up to the school notice board to see whether my
>> name was on the list for tomorrow’s football game. I was not on the
>> list. And in a blinding flash of inner light I saw the answer to both my
>> problems, the problem of war and the problem of injustice. The answer was
>> amazingly simple. I called it Cosmic Unity. Cosmic Unity said: There is
>> only one of us. We are all the same person. I am you and I am Winston
>> Churchill and Hitler and Gandhi and everybody. There is no problem of
>> injustice because your sufferings are also mine. There will be no problem
>> of war as soon as you understand that in killing me you are only killing
>> yourself."
>> -- Freeman Dyson <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeman_Dyson> in “*Disturbing
>> The Universe
>> <https://books.google.com/books/about/Disturbing_the_Universe.html?id=toXgAAAAMAAJ>*”
>> (1979)
>>> 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.
>> This also seems quite common as reported by those who have had near death
>> experiences, and the profound effect that has on individuals who experience
>> it. There are several youtube channels dedicated to interviewing those who
>> have had such experiences.
>>> >       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
>>> science?
>>> >       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
>>> back.
>>> >       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 included the link in my original e-mail. Perhaps your email client does
>> not show links?
>> In any case, here is the URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6fcK_fRYaI
>>> >       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
>>> experiences.
>>> >       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
>>> positivity.
>>> >       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.
>> When I say it is a universal value, I mean it is a personal value for
>> each individual conscious being for themselves (rather than something
>> necessarily felt for all others in the universe). So it is universal only
>> in the sense that all conscious life forms in the universe share that value.
>>> >       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. ;)
>> I came across this recently, which I found interesting. At least, it
>> seems like an entirely novel basis for morality/ethics:
>> https://philarchive.org/archive/ARNMAW
>> Jason
>>> Best regards,
>>> Daniel
>>> >       > 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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