42 of course is the answer to the ultimate question of the meaning of life, the Universe, and everything. Sadly, while the Great One, Douglas Adams, gave us the answer, he did not make so free with the question – so we’re a bit buggered there. However, I’m going to have a crack at laying out a different answer, to perhaps more obvious questions.
This is something I’ve been mulling over for a while, and had a final spur to blither about it after readibg a couple of Atheist Climber’s recent posts: one where he wrote about the Universe not caring a whit for us; and a subsequent one wherein he described the “uncaring universe” post as being ‘a bit bleak’. I don’t think it’s bleak at all, and I got motivated to try to explain why.
One of the most foolish things sometimes said about atheists is that because we don’t believe in god/s our lives lack meaning and purpose. True, I don’t believe there is any overall intrinsic purpose to our existence; I do not believe we are here in order to glorify god/s or even to glorify the Universe itself in some pantheistic way. As far as can be figured out by better minds than mine, we just happen to be here, and we just happen to be here for timeframes absolutely inconsequential on a cosmological scale. Oh, and the Universe probably just happens to exist as well. So no, I don’t think there is any god/s-given purpose or intrinsic meaning to life, the Universe, or indeed everything.
So do I despair? Do I quail under the night sky in waves of existential angst?
Continuing the theme begun in my posts about “oracular ethics” (philosophy by way of the Matrix) I would like to illustrate why not, by reference to a couple of fantastic movies: The Empire Strikes Back, and Terminator 2. Though neither of them exactly discuss the meaning of life, really I just want to use a couple of quotes.
When Luke is on Dagobah studying under Yoda, one of their training sessions ends up by a cave. Yoda tells Luke it is strong with the Dark Side of the Force, and of course follows up with: “In you must go”. Luke, being a fraidy-cat, asks “what’s in there”, to which Yoda replies “Only what you take with you”. Luke of course, buckles on his weapons belt, and takes with him his fear and anger. In the cave then he sees a Vader simulacrum and fights it and yadayadayada .. the point it: the cave was nothing; other than being strong in the Dark Side, there was nothing about the cave but potential. When Luke took his fear and anger into the cave, it suddenly did have a purpose and meaning – a dark one.
You can see where I’m going with this, I imagine – but I’ll still give my Terminator example.
In Terminator 2, there’s an important passage that John Connor’s made his father remember in the future and say to Sarah Connor in the present. I’m going to take one line from that: “there is no fate but what we make”. Similarly to Yoda’s little bit of Zen, it’s presenting the idea that we make our own purpose.
That purpose can vary greatly. For example:
People are funny: they spend money they don’t have, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.
That’s a purpose, a meaning … I suppose. Increasingly it seems to be the primary meaning a lot of people invest their lives with. It’s pretty empty though. On the other hand, I have found meaning and purpose in caring. I care for my family: for my wife and children, my parents, my sisters and grandmother, my wider family, my friends, other humans, other animals and plants, the Earth itself…. There is meaning. There is purpose. And it doesn’t require a deus ex machina (or deus ex Universa ); it doesn’t require the Universe to care about me, or to have any grand design itself. It just requires me to be a little bit thoughtful.
And hopeful 8)