Monday, January 25, 2016

Book: The Meaning of Life by Terry Eagleton

I couldn't connect with this dense little book but it did spawn quite a few thoughts which I've scribbled below. Apologies in advance - I expect the notes may not make much sense to other readers.

** 1/2


 - Life is a series of forward movements, we are always going from a point A to a point B (as David Bowie said, we are in a constant state of arrival and departure). Do these journeys require an underlying sense of meaning, a provider of the 'because' behind the action. Conversely, can we/do we derive the meaning after the event. I suspect life is a combination of the two, which we weave into a coherent narrative.
- Do we overweight meanings to some components of meaning and underweight others i.e. even if meaning is a purely subjective notion, do some external factors hold too much deterministic sway. What about the heavy anchor of the status quo bias i.e. it is too psychologically taxing to question evey motive.
- How does meaning change over time, as we age? 
- Existential questioning along these lines can bring a person close to the edge of the nihilistic abyss.
- Understanding the self: realisation that we are part of a broad system and our autonomy is limited or at least affected by a network of factors: society, family, law, friends, fashions, memes, supernatural beliefs and religion, and of course there is nature (genes and epigenetics, free will, the mind-body connection).
- Why do we seek to be happy? The desire appears to be part of our nature but is perhaps being overly exploited through media as the be all and end all, as something to which we all have a right to. Consider other drivers such as power, love, autonomy, achievement, recognition, freedom, truth, reason, honesty, altruism, etc. Also, think more broadly, in terms of life satisfaction, well-being, purpose, etc.
- For most people, relationships are key. But it shouldn't be assumed to be true for all (e.g, solitary hermits).
- On generalistion: At the population level, man is a social creature who seeks happiness and takes pleasure in good or virtuous deeds. At the level of the individual however, things get more disparate; some seek gains at the expense of others, some take pleasure in harm, some are selfless with little regard for their own health, etc. It is a question of dispersions of meanings. How many people are close to the central tendency and how many are outliers with very different meanings of life?
- Should the emphasis be more about avoiding the negative (e.g. pain and suffering) and less on the positive. Perhaps the latter is best achieved indirectly.

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