Indifference: Does Life Have Meaning?

An existential philosopher once wrote about the benign indifference of the universe, i.e. the meaning in life, and the dread that idea caused in most people, the existentialist excepted, of course. ┬áRichard Dawkins has taken that one step further suggesting that if the universe is not only indifferent but also has no purpose, then human life must be equally meaningless and without purpose. That doesn’t preclude, I don’t think, the obvious drive in life to become, to realize potential. We see that every spring in renewal. We see it in the drive in everything to reach full potential. Perhaps that isn’t purpose exactly, but it’s something other than indifference. To me, it offers some assurance even if it is a rote response, an instinctive drive.

A corollary to this idea is the age-old question of meaning: does life have meaning or not?  Social systems certainly subscribe to the idea that life has meaning as do religious systems, albeit with very different outcomes. But if the universe is indifferent as the existential philosopher suggests, and life is without purpose as Dawkins suggests, perhaps meaning and significance and purpose are all a product of the human imagination. Thus reality is determined, as far as purpose and significance go, by each of us if we so choose.

Of course, most of us escape into custom, habit, or the expectations inherent in social norms, which Beckett’s Vladimir says are only “a great deadener”. Maybe too, his characters are right: all we can do is wait for Godot who will never come, and we play all the games we have to while away the hours and days while waiting. It’s a pretty pessimistic view and dovetails nicely with the idea of an indifferent universe and the idea of purposelessness.

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