Monday, May 21, 2018

Randomness And Meaning

                                                                                                written 28 April, 2018
                                                                                                published  5 May 18

            The belief in meaning is a personal decision, perhaps the core expression of free will.  Meaning is a subjective experience, even if rooted in the objective world, and will differ for each one of us.  It is a personal construct of our relationship with a larger context, and how we define who we are in this life.  If we view the world as whole and wise, then every part and event has meaning arising from that larger context, waiting to be perceived.  
            Shamans and seers of all cultures use many techniques for guidance and inspiration throughout the ages.  The I Ching has been used for over 2500 years, to interpret the casting of yarrow stalks or coins.  In the west, the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck has been used in a similar manner for over 500 years. 
            Dreams have long been interpreted for meaning.  Carl Jung introduced the concept of synchronicity (meaningful coincidence) to western psychology in the 1920s.  The idea came to him when a patient related a dream of a scarab beetle and at that very moment, a scarab beetle began beating at the window.  The conjunction of the inner dream and the outer waking reality helped the patient make a breakthrough.  Subsequent research in synchronicity shows that the more we interpret these as meaningful events, the more they occur, as we train ourselves to notice them.
            In a meaningful world, every person we meet has information for us, as we have for them.  We don't always successfully exchange those messages, but as we hold the possibility, the likelihood of communication increases.  Apparently unconnected events, such as songs on the radio, bumper stickers, or overheard conversations, can lead to sudden clarity of purpose, and therefore be meaningful.
            The alternative is a meaningless world.  Western materialist science dismisses meaning in the world, citing the random nature of material processes as proof.  However, the dictionary defines random as "having no pattern or objective", implying meaninglessness and unpredictability, so randomness is not proof of meaninglessness, just a restatement of the concept.
            Can we really determine a random process?  If you are red/green color blind, and someone picks all the red M&M's out of the red and green Christmas mix, it looks like a random selection.  However, it is an error to say that selection "is" random; an accurate statement is the selection "appears to be" random.  Similarly, anyone reading this is viewing marks, that, for a person who does not read, could be described as random scribbles.  That assessment is true for them, but not true for you the reader.
            By ascribing a quality to an objective experience, rather than acknowledging a limited perception, we commit what Buddhists call reification, a fallacy of misplaced concreteness.  If I accept that "I see" no pattern, there is opportunity for me to learn and possibly perceive anew.  But if I assert there "is" no pattern, I am unlikely to search further, and will remain ignorant.  As finite beings contemplating the infinite unknown, we have to acknowledge that everything we know is either wrong, or at best, incomplete.  
            The idea of a larger context, which includes us all, is the root of meaning.  Some people do not experience such a context, nor any kind of meaning, and therefore believe there isn't one.  That belief makes the proposition true for that individual, but that doesn't mean it is true for everyone else.  
            This is open for consideration, and each of us gets to choose what kind of life we live.  There appears to be a deep human desire to matter in some way, if only to ourselves, and choosing to see life as meaningless seems to foster despair.  Many people choose this path, which might account for the skyrocketing numbers of people battling anxiety and depression.  But I believe it is possible to consciously choose to live a meaningful life, even if the exact meaning is not clear.  Life then becomes a journey of exploration, and with that orientation, we continue to learn more about life the longer we live it.