4 FutureSelf.10: What Matters? Daniel Gienger

FutureSelf.10: What Matters?

Hello from the past, I come to you with results from some class activities in which I investigated the meaning of our lives and the meaning in our lives. These are abstract and important concepts to consider. I hope you in your advancing age still contemplate them.


In my view the concepts of meaning in life and the meaning of life have some overlapping qualities and there are some distinctions that can be drawn as well. The meaning of life is up to the individual, it can be an ethical standard you wish to live up to, a vocation pursuit, or a humanitarian effort. Meaning in life are the experiences and things that make your life feel meaningful, such as the love shared between family members on a special occasion, are the feeling of accomplishment after achieving a goal. The overlap seems to be that someone could claim that their meaning of the life is to love their family or to achieve their athletic goals, so it is possible that some things can fit into both categories.

100 year thought experiment:


My understanding of the position that “In 100 years none of this will matter” is that it is making the claim that there is no objective meaning due to the impermanence of everything in the universe. This is the most common version of nihilism I have encountered. While they ideas about the possibility of sudden annihilation are valid, the fact that nothing lasts forever does nothing to explain why subjective meaning has no value.


The second position “that the value that exists now does not cease to exist now even if it will change,” is making the claim that our subjective experience, our agency to decide how to interact with the world matter. The experiences of all members of the human species throughout history mattered at the time to those who were experiencing them and this is the only criteria of meaning available to us. The subjective is all there is, if a person does not believe they have any meaning in their life, how could we argue that they do.


For the final portion of the exercise I spoke to my partner and a friend of hers from work. I
explained the two positions to them and tried to include the necessary context. Both seemed genuinely interested in having a conversation about these concepts. I definitely think that our experience has meaning even if it is purely subjective, but I wouldn’t argue that there is a universal meaning to our experience. To my surprise, both parties I talked to about these concepts agreed with the second position that the meaning we attribute to our lives does matter, even though everything will eventually come to an end. Both rejected the opposing position that our outlook should be nihilism. We discussed how objectively it is impossible to decide the meaning in another person’s life, and ultimately the decision to decide what is meaningful and what gives meaning is up to each individual.

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