"Is the reality we know a reality imposed to us by nature? Is the reality and the meaning of life a creation of men, such as music, or love or colors (science tells us that there isn't such things as music, harmony or colors in the physic world. Just traveling molecules: There is not, external to us, hot or cold, but only different velocities of molecules; there aren't sounds, callings, harmonies, but just variations in the pressure of the air; there aren't colours, or light, just electro-magnetic waves." H. Von Foerster
And I'm not sure who said this: "Are we - and all living beings -'survival machines, blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes', as Richard Dawkins wrote? Are we incapable of knowing beyond the frames imposed to us by nature?"
I can't tell you how frustrating and sad that is. It's a very loaded way of asking the question. And what is the the alternative to accepting reality as it is, such as the laws of nature? To believe we live to bow down and worship an angry, jealous, hateful god of whom there is zero hard evidence? How meaningful is it to blindly worship something you have no tangible contact with, when you can't even know for sure if you are delusional or worshiping this deity correctly? What if you have been born into the wrong religion? I could go on for days, but we all know the arguments here.
First, yes, sound is just vibration, colors are just wavelengths of light, etc. We are all made of trillions of atoms which are not alive. But as Carl Sagan said, "The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together." And Richard Dawkins said, "Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Some people find that thought disturbing. I find the reality thrilling." Exactly!
Does it ruin a movie if you watch how it was made and if you intellectually know the special effects are done by a computer? Did you laugh any less at Shrek, knowing it was completely made up? Does it ruin a good book to know it all came from the imagination of someone you will never meet? Of course not!
I can listen to Queen or Pink Floyd and be moved every time by what the bands consciously tried to make me feel. Knowing they orchestrated everything doesn't take away from it, it enhances my appreciation for those bands. Bohemian Rhapsody is so beautiful but so awful at the same time. It makes me feel good but the story is so sad that I feel sort of bittersweet. I feel that every time. Here's the thing, while I know sound is just vibrations, I don't dwell on it. I love that it's so amazing. I focus on what the music does for me. Most of us do.
It's easy to get caught up in a book, a movie, a play, a band, an orchestra. And it's wonderful. Yes, even for godless, soulless heathens like me. Nothing is diminished. In fact, I get something more than the religious person. I can look deeper into something and see how amazing it is because of how it has evolved or been made (by humans).
For instance, the other day I let the dogs out and this unusual insect was on the post of my front porch. While most people would try to kill it since it had a huge stinger, or run from it, I ran inside and got my camera (the lighting was terrible so I didn't get a good picture, unfortunately) and I stood there and marveled at it until it flew away. I didn't have to invoke a supreme deity. I felt awe all on my own for how many millions or even billions of years that type of insect has lived on our planet and has evolved to be successful just like it is. The universe is wonderful and awe-inspiring and I revel in that every day.
I've been a godless heathen for a long time and my life is far from meaningless. In fact, if you ask many atheists, they will tell you that ridding themselves of the heavy cloak of religion has increased the value of life for them. In a nutshell, when you realize this is the only life you get, it becomes infinitely precious. If you go even further to embrace science, you realize how amazing life is, that is exists, that we exist at all, and it only increases the awe and wonder we feel about all of life, not just our own.
But here is something that atheists do. Sometimes it's conscious and sometimes it just sort of happens. We find our own meaning. We don't have it spoonfed to us by a religious leader relying on a dusty old set of books from the Bronze Age written by barbaric desert goat herders.
I recommend purposefully ruminating on what matters to you and what you feel the meaning of life is for you. I think it's worth the effort.
So here are some great quotes that I found that might be useful or thought-provoking to you:
"What is the meaning of life? To be happy and useful." Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama
"When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice." Cherokee Expression
"What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good." Aristotle (384-322 BC)
"As I go through all kinds of feelings and experiences in my journey through life -- delight, surprise, chagrin, dismay -- I hold this question as a guiding light: "What do I really need right now to be happy?" What I come to over and over again is that only qualities as vast and deep as love, connection and kindness will really make me happy in any sort of enduring way." Sharon Salzberg
"Life is occupied in both perpetuating itself and in surpassing itself. If all it does is maintain itself, then living is only not dying." Simone de Beauvoir
"Join me in the pure atmosphere of gratitude For life." Hafiz of Persia
"Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position." Mohandas K. Gandhi
"Life is like a coin. You can spend it any way you wish, but you only spend it once." Lillian Dickson
"The trouble with life isn't that there is no answer, it's that there are so many answers." Ruth Fulton Benedict
"I have a simple philosophy: Fill what's empty. Empty what's full. Scratch where it itches." Alice Longworth Roosevelt
"Our duty is to be useful, not according to our desires but according to our powers." Henri-Frederic Amiel
"Life is the sum of all your choices." Albert Camus
"When you learn to appreciate everything around you, that is when you have found the true meaning of life. But when you have learned to love another with all your heart, that is when you have finally understood and start to actually fulfill the purpose of your existence." Jamine Isabel E. Uy
"Beyond work and love, I would add two other ingredients that give meaning to life. First, to fulfill whatever talents we are born with. However blessed we are by fate with different abilities and strengths, we should try to develop them to the fullest, rather than allow them to atrophy and decay. We all know individuals who did not fulfill the promise they showed in childhood. Many of them became haunted by the image of what they might have become. Instead of blaming fate, I think we should accept ourselves as we are and try to fulfill whatever dreams are within our capability.
Second, we should try to leave the world a better place than when we entered it. As individuals, we can make a difference, whether it is to probe the secrets of Nature, to clean up the environment and work for peace and social justice, or to nurture the inquisitive, vibrant spirit of the young by being a mentor and a guide." Michio Kaku
"Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself." Kurt Vonnegut
"Be a lover of the world, it is the only way to survive in it." Janosch
"When I hear somebody sigh, "Life is hard," I am always tempted to ask, "Compared to what?" Sydney Harris
"When it is dark enough, you can see the stars." Charles A Beard
"When it's all over, it's not who you were. It's whether you made a difference." Bob Dole
"When we are motivated by goals that have deep meaning, by dreams that need completion, by pure love that needs expressing, then we truly live life." Greg Anderson
"When you have a sense of your own identity and a vision of where you want to go in your life, you then have the basis for reaching out to the world and going after your dreams for a better life." Stedman Graham
"The purpose of life is a life of purpose." Robert Byrne
"People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life... I think that what we're really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we can actually feel the rapture of being alive." Joseph Campbell
"I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance." Pablo Casals
"It is the first of all problems for a man to find out what kind of work he is to do in this universe." Thomas Carlyle
"Most of what we take as being important is not material, whether it's music or feelings or love. They're things we can't really see or touch. They're not material, but they're vitally important to us." Judy Collins
"Reverence for life is more than solicitude or sensitivity for life. It is a sense of the whole, a capacity for inspired response, a respect for the intricate universe of individual life. It is the supreme awareness of awareness itself." Norman Cousins
"Although a man may have no jurisdiction over the fact of his existence, he can hold supreme command over the meaning of existence for him." Norman Cousins
"Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them." The Dalai Lama
"The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth..." Albert Einstein
"Hide not your talents, they for use were made." Benjamin Franklin
"Do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of." Benjamin Franklin
"Be the change you want to see in the world." Mohandas K. Gandhi
"If you live for love you spread kindness and compassion everywhere you go. When you stop believing in your heart you are but a sterile vessel wandering in the wilderness." Francis Hegmeyer
"It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is." Hermann Hesse
"Use those talents you have. You will make it. You will give joy to the world. Take this tip from nature: The woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except those who sang best." Bernard Meltzer.
"We spend all our time looking for some concept of Truth, but Truth is what is left when we drop all concepts." David Merzel
"The great and glorious masterpiece of humanity is to know how to live with a purpose." Montaigne
"This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not be false to any man." William Shakespeare
"I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no 'brief candle" to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations." George Bernard Shaw
"To freely bloom - that is my definition of success." Gerry Spence
"He that is kind is free, though he is a slave; he that is evil is a slave, though he be a king." St. Augustine
Please feel free to share your favorite quotes that inspire you or make you think. Also, what is your meaning of life?