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What is The Meaning Crisis

Part Two: Life's Purpose
by Dr. Steven Cangiano

What is The Meaning Crisis

Part Two of this series on the Meaning Crisis explores four fundamental questions about the meaning of life: Who am I? Where am I? Why am I here? What am I here to do?

1. Who Are You?

You have done enough corporate training and/or personal development seminars to know that you are not your name, religion, job, or social status. Who you are is the perfect creator of your life. You are a complex psycho-cybernetic organism that constantly creates and recreates your circumstances from the preset images in your mind.

You are amazing at it – there is no one better in the universe. You are an exact printout of your thoughts, feelings, and actions. This is the initial place where people try to sneak magical thinking into the equation: “God is the perfect creator of life, and so are you!” (No, that is not how it works.)

You are 100% responsible for creating and recreating your life. Understanding this process is crucial to your success and integral to your search for meaning. The creative process is at the center of what it means to be human and should be a mandatory study.

What sets humanity apart is that we have been given the gift of meta-cognition. You can observe your thoughts and choose new ones, setting your life and our world on a successively new and evolving trajectory. This is no small accomplishment; it took 13.8 billion years for the universe to become aware of itself, and it has done so through humanity. When you contemplate what we have created in the last 12,000 years, it is astounding. You are an integral part of that creative journey.

Answer: You are the perfect creator of your life. (An intensive study the creative process is recommended.)

2. Where Are You?

The prevailing scientific theory of our origin is that your atoms originated in a very small space in a state of very low entropy. Estimates range from the size of a proton to as large as a soccer ball. Either way, compared to the universe’s astronomically large size, it was incomprehensibly small.

The universe was “one-verse” in a state of infinite mass and density. In an instant, the Big Bang created mass, space-time, and gravity. In less than a fraction of a fraction of a second, the universe doubled in size 100 times – an expansion rate that is incomprehensible.

This was the beginning (initial conditions) of our story, and it is, by far, the greatest story ever told. Our hero is expansion. The villain is entropy. The main characters are opposites, and the moral of the story is experience. The ending is unwritten. Unfortunately, with our current understanding of science, the probable outcome is that the villain will be victorious – a slow and inexorable heat death.

Heraclitus understood the relevance of opposites more than 2,500 years ago. Opposites emerged from the chaos of the Big Bang, allowing us to comprehend our world – before/after – darkness/light. Unfortunately, many B-movies (the Bible for instance) have tried to turn these characters into the villains: “Life is suffering,” the knowledge of good and evil, heaven and hell, death entered the world, etc.

The most difficult thing in life is to reconcile its immense suffering. In one sense, suffering is a gift because, without it, there could be no joy – without bad, there is no good – without death, no life. This is the deeper truth of opposites. I do not know about you, but I have experienced and witnessed enough suffering. End suffering now but keep it as a memory to give you context for a joyous future. Basic stuff so far!

Answer: You live in a relative world (opposites).

3. Why Are You Here?

Why you are here is now obvious. You have been given the grand prize, the ultimate gift of the ability to experience life. It took the universe 13.8 billion years to become aware of itself, and it has done so through you. You are here to experience life, to experience and know yourself. The only way to accomplish this is through relationships.

Again, indulge me in some metaphor. Relationship (opposites) is the only way to experience life. Relationships are by far our greatest source of joy and satisfaction. Human beings are the most relationship-oriented animals. Helpless young, astronomically high parental investment, tribes; evolutionary psychologists have gone so far as to say that our need for relationship surpasses our instincts for safety and survival. This is controversial but supports the narrative that you are here to experience life for life itself. You are the universe experiencing itself through relationships.

What sets us apart from other species is our ability to experience our thoughts. Only we can observe our thinking, understand opposites, are capable of love, and comprehend death. These are the great blessings and curses of our existence. The paradox, of course, is that more death allows you to experience more life. You can hear, taste, smell, see, and touch life – hopefully, it is now clear that this is the greatest of all gifts.

Answer: You are the fulfillment of the universe’s greatest desire (metaphor) – you are here to experience life for life itself.

4. What Are You Here To Do?

The standard answer is that you are here to wake-up to the above insights and wake others up through your example. This is truer than ever but in an evolving and expanding way (see below). You are the perfect creator and re-creator of your life. This relative world allows for experience. You are the pinnacle of creation, the fulfillment of the universe’s greatest desire. You are life’s eyes, ears, taste, touch, and smell. Once you have awakened to these truths, your deepest desire will be to help others do the same – this offers deep meaning and purpose.

This is what it means to be a light unto the world that dispels the darkness. What greater purpose is there?  This is the great underlying theme of all cosmologies, religions, philosophies, literature, and the creative process – overcoming, perseverance, oneness, non-duality. This is the predominant archetype that runs through every human pursuit.

The great luminaries and leaders of yesterday and today are the ones who have significantly expanded our minds and this world. They have set new standards of achievement by advancing science, technology, philosophy, the arts, and life. More importantly, there are the invisible creators:

The most invisible creators I know are those artists whose medium is life itself. The ones who express the inexpressible without brush, hammer, clay, or guitar. They are neither painter nor sculptor. Their medium is being, whatsoever their presence touches has increased life. They see and don’t have to draw. They are artists of being alive. — Donna J. Stone, Wielder of Words

“Whatsoever their presence touches has increased life” – says it all. The ultimate dream is that one day we will collectively and permanently overcome our struggles, control our world, and everything and everyone will be OK. That day will never come – there is a greater challenge before us.

Answer: Wake-up and wake others up in the process through your example.

The Ultimate Challenge for Humanity

There is one more, deeply hidden truth we must discuss that is fundamental to the quest for meaning. The great story of the universe and humanity is accelerating expansion. This fundamental truth is the genesis of and motivation behind love, religion, spiritual pursuit, relationships, evolution, revolution, science, technology, philosophy, and all social constructs.

This pursuit may have finally hit a threshold. All but the most greedy and pathologic now realize that we can no longer sustain our unlimited need for growth on a limited planet. This creates the pivotal challenge for the future of humanity – the dynamic tension between expansion and sustainability.

The tightrope we must walk is that few, if any, will stand for even minor steps backward. Hedonic adaptation is a well-understood phenomenon and is a major factor in our deepening epidemic of despair. Most people no longer see a reasonable path forward. The great meritocracy Boomers were born into has become a cryptic cesspool of kleptocracy. The system no longer works for the overwhelming majority – capitalism for the young, poor, and middle class – socialism for the rich, big business, and politicians – this is a disheartening and despicable hate crime.

A Despicable Hate Crime

Yes, a despicable hate crime has been perpetrated on the younger generation, mortgaging their future with astronomical debt in 2008 and again in 2020 (not to mention bequeathing them a collapsing environment, a corrupt government, as well as immoral corporate and social structures). These vast resources did not go to the environment, healthcare, education, research, or infrastructure. It went to bail out the irresponsible individuals and corporations that created the mess – it is depraved.

A few hundred million well-placed dollars in politicians’ hands brings corporations trillions of dollars of undeserved profits and unjustifiable bailouts. How do we stand for this? The younger generation did not create this Ponzi scheme, yet it is their responsibility to pay for it. They deserve the opportunity and should be given the structures and incentives to move life forward.

The young, the middle class, and the poor are becoming acutely aware of this shell game. They are smart and will no longer heed the self-help psychobabble: “If you can dream it, you can achieve it; just work hard.” Astronomical amounts of debt have been laid at their doorstep.

The traditional solution to debt, economic growth, is no longer a viable strategy. Certainly not in the conventional sense of never-ending extraction while continuing to externalize costs to the environment and labor. As humanity continues to “wake-up” and collectively grow more conscious, the leaders of the future must show us how to move life forward in a conscious and sustainable way.

Humanity’s Struggle

Humanity’s struggle for meaning has always been one of waking up and going beyond its current circumstances. Innovation is how we have come to dominate the earth and extend beyond it. The expansion of life (consciousness) is fundamental to human purpose and meaning. Religions filled this gap for 5,000 years. Thankfully, science slowly took a foothold and has done more for humanity than any iteration of magical thinking.

Unfortunately, in the relative peace of the last seventy-five years, we have been lulled into a trap. Many of us find meaning in rampant irresponsible consumerism. The consumer is king with cheaper and cheaper products supported by fragile supply chains, cheap labor, increasing extraction, while externalizing costs to labor and the environment. Critical services, like healthcare, have been maximized for efficiency not necessary capacity. This is happening in the context of an exploding set of perverse incentives at every level of society. It is time for us to wake up!

We Need to Wake Up and Help Others Do the Same

The answer to question number four has never been more urgent. We need to wake up and help others do the same. Expansion is fundamental to life. As we contemplate all the generations to come after us, how will they be able to fulfill this basic need? What are the solutions and innovations that will improve the quality of life without further destruction?

We must forge a new path forward with – fewer things/more happiness – fewer indulgences/greater health – less social media/greater connection- less conflict/more cooperation – less greed and more love.

In times of great stress, we revert to the past. We cannot go back to some derivation of those awful tribal witch-hunting days filled with ignorance, judgment, division, and magical thinking. In life and human evolution, there are only two choices: move forward together proactively, consciously, and deliberately – or contract by continuing down the unconscious path of division, reaction, pain, and suffering. In the pursuit of meaning I choose the former.

I believe that humanity, especially the younger generation, will wake up and wake others up in the process. They will create the cultural, scientific, and technological innovations that will save our world. They will experience the full purpose and meaning of life in an expanding and sustainable way – this pursuit has never been more urgent.

This is Part Two of a two-part series. Find Part One here

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