Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Meaning of Life

Jan 18, 2015

“So — what is the meaning of life? I think people ask that question on the assumption that ‘meaning’ is something you can look for and go, ‘Here it is, I found it. Here’s the meaning I’ve been looking for.’ That scenario, however, doesn’t consider the possibility that ‘meaning’ is something you create…you manufacture it for yourself and for others.

So when I think of ‘meaning’ in life, I ask, ‘Did I learn something today that I didn’t know yesterday, bringing me a little closer to knowing all that can be known in the universe?’ If I live a day and I don’t know a little more than I did the day before, I think I wasted that day. To think brings you closer to nature. To learn how things work gives you power to influence events. Gives you power to help people who may need it — to help yourself and your trajectory.

So when I think of the meaning of life, that’s not an eternal, unanswerable question — to me, that’s in arm’s reach of me everyday.”

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Music: “All Boundaries Are Conventions” from the motion picture, “Cloud Atlas,” by Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil and Tom Tykwer

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29 comments on “Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Meaning of Life

  • The nice thing about the universe is you get to assign your own meaning. You don’t have to take the one picked by some gloomy Christian. Further, you can change it, or have 10.

    It is a little more work, but you get a much better fit.

    I have this on the highest authority — a disembodied chorus of anonymous voices.

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  • Whether meaning is sought and found or created seems irrelevant if the point is to have a meaningful life (assuming that’s possible). Meaning that is found is no less “meaningful” than meaning that is created. (In fact, I think found meaning often has the higher value.)

    No matter, though, as meaning is just as illusory as consciousness and the self.

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  • What is the meaning of life? – For me, this has always been the most stupid question there is. Unfulfilled people invented this question. There is no meaning of life,… we as well as other life forms on Earth, are transformers of energy. Everything in Universe transforms energy from one shape to another. So does Earth, plants on Earth, and people (animals) on it. Even evolution is transformation of energy,… energy transformed into different shapes. Isn’t that the most beautiful thing?

    In my opinion, this question of meaning of life has always been so stupid. And so incomprehensible for the believers.

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  • “Isn’t that the most beautiful thing?”

    Beauty, as we all know, is in the eye (mind) of the beholder. So is just about everything else.
    Behold stupid.
    Behold energy.
    Behold beauty.
    Behold meaning.

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  • Religious “meanings of life”, are about, religions selling life-long leadership packages to the non-thinkers, who they can keep looking for “meanings” in the gapologists’ wrong places, to ensure on-going subscriptions to the (mis)guidance service they provide!

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  • Doug Jan 20, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    But what of the non-religious “meanings of life”?
    Please sing their praises, that we may be enlightened.

    Non-religious meanings of life, are the objectives and choices we make for ourselves.

    Some of mine are “adding to collective human knowledge to make better informed choices”, and “passing on a life-supporting planet, infrastructure, and facilities, in good condition to future generations”. ( .. and my own children and grandchildren in particular)

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  • Noble indeed. But to what end, pray tell?
    What is it that makes these “meanings” so “meaningful” (assuming they actually have any meaning) or moreso than any other meanings?
    What shall we do when these personal “objectives and choices” conflict?

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  • My dad was a few days away from dying in hospital and confided in me in the clearest way to date what his life had meant to him and, as a bonus, why death was a necessary part of it.

    He said it was the greatest of privileges to gift the coming generations the “best seat in the house” just as others had done for him in an unbroken chain. At this very moment we see the very furthest into the cosmos and beneath the skin of reality, beneath the very tiniest particles to the fields they may really be. We know more about ourselves and our planet. We see more than any before us ever have. And we do this only because we evolve physically and intellectually and to do this we have to die, each one of us, no excuse. To not die is to freeze us in our tracks. Much as we may want to hang on, intellectually the novelty of our thinking leaks away with age and we need to make way for new formed brains starting from a new place.

    He believed all took part in this gifting of the best seat, both those working at the intellectual coal face and those bringing soup, and all the myriad others between.

    He had innoculated me against boredom by the age of seven. He himself had been permanently cured of boredom by Professor Soddy (chemist, discoverer of isotopes, economist, teaching electronics) during the war in Glagow and being trained in wireless and more besides. At other times he imagined this great winding flow of humanity like a mass relay race carrying this burgeoning potential, the enthusiasm and its intellectual product, forward.

    I derive a great sense of purpose contemplating this unbroken chain of racers and their ever more remarkable view, but I have two additional purpose-bringers, meaning-givers of my own-

    Meeting remarkable minds, minds that you peer around and realise are palatial compared to your modest little bedsit brain. The three Richards, Feynmam, Gregory, Dawkins can stand in for many others.

    Finding worthwhile problems.

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  • He said it was the greatest of privileges to gift the coming generations the “best seat in the house”

    Wonderful expression Phil. We have a saying in Australia when something is really good.

    “That’s going straight to the pool room.’

    I intend to plagiarize this saying often with accreditation.

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  • A=0
    There is no meaning in life, yet somehow we can have meaningful experience? (Where do we get it if there is none?)
    My dog has no hair, but because he has hairy experiences my dog is hairy.
    How can such a contradictory, nonsensical (meaningless) statement come out of a human brain?

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  • Grumpy 🙂

    Meaningful also = Consequential.

    As a consequence of living, you have meaning to your life……..(sort of 🙂 )

    The meaning to this universe, in my opinion, is to survive. From the first big bang, that found the right conditions to not collapse in on itself, to the first star and on to the first thinking collection of atoms. We are just echoes of the big bang that vibrate our way to a conceived meaning.

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  • Doug Jan 20, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    Noble indeed. But to what end, pray tell?

    End imply inherent purposes which do not exist.

    What is it that makes these “meanings” so “meaningful” (assuming they actually have any meaning) or moreso than any other meanings?

    Nothing! They are only meaningful in terms of satisfaction in achieving objectives.

    What shall we do when these personal “objectives and choices” conflict?

    A person with empathy for others, would look at the interests of various parties and make a moral decision based on a sense of fairness.
    Selfish people would simply be self-serving without regard to wider issues.

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  • He said this at a talk in Boston on the 15th. What made it even cooler was that a “six and three quarters” child had asked him the question and not only did he take the question seriously, he hopefully inspired this child to a life of learning.

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  • Doug Jan 30, 2015 at 7:00 am

    So what does that say for those who never become parents?

    Work amicably with your relations who do, – as aunts, uncles cousins etc. – or your genes will become extinct.

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  • I suspect my genes are a bit duff.

    I think our new paradigm for individual legacy is not genes but memes (if I can use the word loosely). Cultural heritage cuts it for me. Refining that wealth of attributes, values and behaviours that allow a culture to maximally enable the talents of its members is the most rewarding job in the world. Passing on how this might be better done is for everyone to take a crack at, everyday.

    Having younger relatives is a useful reminder to get weaving.

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  • The point of my (rhetorical) question (to Mr. Ribbands) is that if the “one-word” (which I interpret to mean “only”) answer is “parenthood”, then that implies that those who don’t become parents have meaningless lives (assuming the belief is true).
    But, of course, you already know that.
    The problem with all of this is that if we truly belief there is no “inherent” meaning in this thing we call “life”, then we must also belief that there can be no meaning in anything at all. Its all made up, pretend, convince yourself because it makes you feel better stuff. (Sounds a bit like belief in gods or the afterlife, doesn’t it?)
    And why should any work I do be done “amicably” if all that matters (has meaning) is that I keep those genes “alive”? Isn’t treachery just as effective?
    If we are all gone in 30 years, what difference does it make to life, existence, reality, the cosmos, if my genes or any related genes “become extinct” or not?

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  • ” Refining that wealth of attributes, values and behaviours that allow a culture to maximally enable the talents of its members is the most rewarding job in the world.”
    I wonder if that’s what “the prophet” Muhammad believed. Now, there’s a meme (or two or three) for the ages!

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  • I wonder if that’s what “the prophet” Muhammad believed.

    With some confidence….no. I’m sure he felt he was doing some good…for someone, but not that. He neededsomething with great focus, something far less open ended and certainly not serving the disparate needs of individuals in diverse communities.

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  • There is a very long shaggy dog story (Not to be repeated here, just the gist, others can embroider !), about the young seeker who goes to the wise man to ask the meaning of life.
    The first wise man says he has heard that the meaning of life is “poi”, but that the seeker should consult an even wiser man, and he tells him where to go.

    The seeker goes to the second wise man and is given the same answer…….

    [You can add in as many wise people as you wish, and as many locations as suits]

    Anyway the young seeker ends up in New York with the final wise man who knows the most about “poi”.

    “Oh mighty wise man please tell me all you know about poi. ” He pleads.

    “Would that be apple poi or steak n’ ale poi, boy ”

    (Sorry, runs for cover stage left.)

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