003 The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales

In Meaning of Life on October 26, 2009 at 10:42 pm


While I was working on an opening statement to share my thoughts on the meaning of life, I suddenly had one of those eureka experiences that change our thinking. It began with an assumption that the only way I can know the meaning of life is to understand its opposite, the meaning of death. My life (my existence in the universe) defines a system, and one cannot study part of a system and expect to get the whole answer. But that is exactly what we do when we only ask part of the question.

So how do we justify excluding death? The Neanderthals are believed to be the first race on earth to bury their dead in a ritualistic ceremony, beginning about 50,000 years ago. Their graves were not a final resting place, however, for they were given the tools required to keep doing what they did in life. The practice of ritualistic burial quickly caught the attention of almost every religion from primitive times to the present day, and they went one better. They formalized the concept of life after death.

If it were the case that we are able to live forever, to talk about the meaning of death would itself be meaningless, i.e., if there is no death, then our language would have no word for death, and there would be no concept of death in our culture. But death is part of every life form known to man, so presumably God must intervene to make man the exception, the only animal that has a means to escape death. This is what religion does. It removes the side that grapples with the meaning of death by promising that believers will never die.

By removal of death from the meaning of life, we distort the outcome. If I were able to live forever, to talk about the meaning of life becomes less urgent, less meaningful in fact, and therefore less relevant). What gives life meaning is the urgency of death. We will categorize the complete answer as a theory, which is the scientific way of saying an opinion. The significance of this will be discussed later. For now, we capture the theory that life has no meaning without death [Theory 1a] and death has no meaning without life [Theory 1b].

And we make the following observation: the idea that I might live beyond my death exaggerates my importance in the universe. Man is the only species that studies itself. It is difficult for man to be objective in this role. It has only been a few hundred years that we have understood this. But we have had nearly 150,000 years to convince ourselves that we really are that important.

Copyright © 2009-2010 by Tad Laury Graham

“The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales”


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