Why I think there is no such thing as anything meaningless
I read something recently that stuck with me. It was describing people finding meaning in the meaningless. So I stopped to ask myself, what is meaningless?
I think the answer is simple. Anything “meaningless” can have meaning when viewed from the right angle and with the right information at hand. Any collection of physical things is meaningless, unless you define them in terms that you understand. The ideas of matter, physics, etc. is all easier to grasp because the meaning can be physically verified by multiple people. I will define this as Physical Meaning.
So that is one class of “meaningless”. Let’s examine another. Imagine all of the event that have happened to you in the past week. If that is all the structure I provide, there is a jumble of events that may or may not be related. So let’s add some more structure. Take those events, put them in chronological order, and look for cause/effect chains. Some cause/effect chains will be more obvious than others, but that is okay. We are able to understand meaning by carefully framing our environment in a certain way. I will define this as Temporal Meaning.
I think there is one more class of “meaningless”. This is the hardest for everyone to understand. I think it can very much appear as a Eureka moment, either all at once, or more slowly over time. This is the case in which someone finds meaning in something in their life. The problem is that this kind of meaning can’t be easily shared. Finding this kind of meaning requires looking over a life lived and seeing how everything fits together. It is a deeply individual experience. But if we work hard at it, sometimes we can share this meaning we have discovered with others. Then people don’t have to find it on their own. And they can search for other meaning, elsewhere. Humanity is the sum of its shared meaning. I will define this as Personal Meaning.
So be careful if you decide to cast something as meaningless. Anything can have meaning in certain experiences. Finding meaning in something that doesn’t appear to have any only means that you have found a structure in which the meaningless exhibits meaning. And that is valuable.