Comments on “An appetizer: purpose”

5 Confused Attitudes

Sabio 2010-12-17

Are these 5 your list? Can you give a source or are you trying to divorce this from Buddhism?

Divorced from Buddhism

David Chapman 2010-12-17

Yes, this is just my list. It doesn’t have a Buddhist source that I know of.

More generally, nothing on this site should be construed as Buddhism. Some of it might accord with Buddhism, but I make no claims about that one way or the other.

Didn't you mention a book you

Sabio 2010-12-17

Didn’t you mention a book you were reading about Monism and such? I thought that might have inspired this.

Old stuff

David Chapman 2010-12-17

No, this is old stuff… It’s from my thinking as of about 2004 (written up originally in 2006-7). There’s a connection with eternalism and nihilism in Buddhism, and also in Western philosophy. And “mission” tends to go along with monism. But there’s no direct source.

"meaning" "purpose" and the misuse of English

Karmakshanti 2011-02-28

One of the constant difficulties of writing in English is its tendency to degenerate into deceptive dead metaphors. “Meaning” and “purpose” as they are used here are such degenerated metaphors. The non-metaphoric use of “meaning” applies to language and other proto-linguistic structures. “Life” is not a language and it does not literally have “meaning”. “Meaning” is a metaphor for whatever it is in life that is “like meaning in language”. So what does life possess that is like meaning in language? Good question.

In fact, it is so good that it is the real question that we should be asking rather than “What is the meaning of life?” Without reanimation of the metaphor and the acknowledgment that it is a metaphor the “meaning of life” question is literally nonsense and the set of five different pat answers given above are also literally nonsense.

When we stop asking “What is the meaning of life?” and start asking “What does life have that is like “meaning” in language?” what becomes clear is that we do not have a choice of pat answers from which we have to pick the right one. We have no immediate answer at all. We also have the real possibility that there may not be an answer at all.

“Purpose” is a literal characteristic of objects such as tools. Life is not a tool, and the “purpose of life” is a metaphor that has died into mere nonsense. So what is in life that is like “purpose” for tools? Ask it that way and again the pat answers evaporate into nonsense. And we are left with the fact that we have no immediate answer at all, not even a wrong one.

But matters are even worse than this, for without the metaphors we have no obvious place to even look for the answers. This is strong evidence that we are not only asking the wrong question, we are also asking the question about the wrong thing.

What life does have is praxis, which is neither “meaning” nor “purpose” and is in no way like real “meaning” in language or real “purposes” for tools. Everything that lives is in the middle of doing something and remains so for the duration of life.

The wrongly asked questions about the wrong thing can now easily be framed into two correctly asked [and easily answerable] questions about praxis: What am I doing? and What should I be doing? Looked at this way there is no such thing as a “subjective” answer to either question. There are merely things that are possible to do [go to college and get a degree] and things which are not possible to do [sprout wings and fly like an eagle]. Everything in either of the categories is objective, objectively possible or objectively not possible.

This allows us to put the subjectivity back where it belongs, into the reasons for the action and the legitimate questions you can now ask are Why am I doing this? and Why should I be doing that? These questions are legitimately subjective and make it possible to articulate our subjective opinions, not about life, but about the world in which life exists.

Use the categories of subjective answers [eternalism, nihilism, search for a mission, and existentialism] as answers about the world, and not about “life”, and use the subjective answers they propose as reasons to do objective things and most of the proliferation of derivative neologisms [such as “meaningness”] offered here is simply not necessary.

Pace Wittgenstein: The solution to the problem is the disappearance of the problem.

On retreat...

David Chapman 2011-03-01

Hi, Karmakshanti,

Thank you for your thoughtful comment here, and another one elsewhere on the site today.

I’ve just come out of three days of retreat, and am about to go into a different retreat for a week, so I am unfortunately unable to reply immediately. I promise to do so shortly after emerging.

Best wishes,



Karmakshanti 2011-03-02

Good luck. I’m having to remind myself once again that my real business is sitting and meditating, so I a welcome a break.

Wrong and right questions

David Chapman 2011-03-08

Sorry for the delay in replying, due to having been away from the internet for ten days.

Most likely we are in substantive agreement here.

In case this wasn’t obvious, my point on the page was not that any of these five stances to purpose is right. They are all bad ones. In fact, they are obviously bad, and actually unworkable, so it’s practically impossible to adhere to any of them consistently. Rather, the point is that because no good approach is readily available, these are the stances that people typically adopt in practice. (I will present what I consider a good approach later.)

You are right that it is a major problem in writing about this material that the word “meaning” has two meanings—the linguistic “meaning of a sentence” one and the “meaning of life” one. I invented the word “meaningness” partly to address that problem. (Probably not very successfully.)

And, I agree strongly that “the meaning of life” is a wrong framework for thinking about the issues. It suggests there is a single, “true” meaning; and that hasn’t been plausible for a hundred years at least.

However, the wrong formulation “the meaning of life” points at a set of issues that I think are important and not meaningless: purpose, value, the relationship between self and other, ethics, and so forth. I don’t think these issues can be dissolved by Wittgensteinian linguistic analysis.

I do think that what you say about praxis is pointing in the right direction. Your point that “everything that lives is in the middle of doing something and remains so for the duration of life” will be a central theme (in a part of the book none of which I’ve yet posted to the web).

I’ll be using the terms “participation”, “activity”, and “interaction” in discussing this. Meaningness can only be understood in terms of doing things in the world; not as an isolated individual but as an inseparable part of a physical, social, and cultural context; and not as a box whose contents can be examined and understood at an instant in time, but as a varying process that extends through time.

(Probably that is gibberish at this point; it will take tens of thousands of words to explain in common-sense terms.)

The comment from Karmakshanti

Andrew 2011-03-28

The comment from Karmakshanti made me think of Jordan Peterson’s book, “Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief”. Have you looked at it at all?

He is more concerned with addressing belief. His background is Psychology. But, I think the book could be useful to your project and help out in developing your terms “participation”, “activity” and “interaction”.

(I say this now in ignorance, only now starting to read what you have done on “Meaningness”. I felt the connection come up in my head and thought I should communicate it now rather than lose the thought.)


Jordan Peterson

David Chapman 2011-03-29

Andrew, thank you very much indeed for pointing me at Jordan Peterson’s work. I was entirely unaware of it. I’ve been poking around on his web site and have found much of interest. This paper, for instance, directly addresses both the AI issues and the social/pschological development issues I wrote about in my last page. Remarkable timing.


Andrew 2011-04-07


His book, M o M, has become an important resource for me. In fact, maybe I rely upon it a little too much (ah, the neophyte in me…).

He has some vids too, I think on his webpage. Basically just a lecture series on the text. And there are two hour-long, more condensed versions through TVO (Canadian public broadcasting, kinda like PBS).

I haven’t read the C M Theory paper yet. Thank you back for the link, and further reading! :-)

Cannot be unseen

Weston 2015-11-05

I’m curious David,

What are your thoughts on this text with respect to making life more enjoyable? Do you feel this endeavor has created more enjoyment or less enjoyment with life? I’m a fringe rationalist reader… meaning I mostly let friends select things I’d like readings and send them my way. I’m not a hyper-truth seeker, and am perfectly fine walking around with horse blinders on if the barn is going to burn down on me anyway. Sometimes I find rationalists to be great at solving problems, and too trapped in their truth to find enjoyment in things that are common, incorrect, but use to make them smile.

Unique Personal Gifts

Jordan Bates 2016-10-16

Hey David,

Just had a clarifying question about this sentence:

“The problem is that no one actually has a ‘unique personal gift.’“

I assume you’re referring to something like a divinely-endowed gift that one is more or less predestined to discover and pursue? It seems to me that we do all in fact have “unique personal gifts,” in a broader sense. You, for instance, have an ability to write this book in the way you’re writing it that no one else could precisely duplicate. Every human being seems to do things in such a way that no one else could precisely duplicate their activity. And it seems that this entails that we perform our talents in ways that only we could perform them, making them “unique personal gifts.” Perhaps you could clarify your meaning on this.

Unique personal gifts

David Chapman 2016-10-18

Yes, your interpretation is correct!


Sasha 2017-05-23

Excellent site/book! Fascinating topic.

On the terminology, especially following the comments discussion on this page:
- Perhaps “meaning” in this context actually refers to something more like “value”. That is: “What is the value of my life (or of any particular activities or aspects thereof)?” If value is construed only instrumentally, then value collapses into mere purpose, one’s life as a “tool”.
The problem, of course, with defining the value of one’s life by one’s purpose (instrumental value as a tool), is that actually devalues your life intrinsically. Consider: If you were to fulfill that purpose, wouldn’t your value then disappear? You would become superfluous.

Regarding the term “eternalism”, is this your own coinage of use? In philosophy, “eternalism” typically refers to a certain philosophy of time.

Thank you for this site and your comments.


David Chapman 2017-05-23

Glad you like what you have read so far!

Yes, there are multiple “dimensions” of value; purpose is just the one I used as an example in this introductory page.

I’m using the word “eternalism” in a way derived from Buddhist philosophy; specifically Dzogchen. I’m using it not exactly the same way, but pretty close. I thought I had explained this somewhere, but I can’t find it. Maybe I never got around to writing it up, because I thought I already had!

The original meaning of “eternalism” in Buddhist philosophy is the view that there is an eternal soul (which most brands of Buddhism reject). Later it came to mean “denial of emptiness,” where “emptiness” means roughly what I mean by “nebulosity.” And that’s quite close to my usage.

I’m aware of the quite different usage in Western philosophy. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough words to go around, so they get reused!


Sasha 2017-05-24

Thank you for the response. Understood.
Perhaps “absolutism” would work? That also goes beyond the temporal dimension to include spatial (geographic, trans-cultural, etc). That is, such “meanings” are supposed to apply absolutely across all times, places, cultures, individuals, etc.

I quite like Karmakshanti's

Bad Horse 2017-07-01

I quite like Karmakshanti’s comment.

This is the stance of materialism. Realistically, most people adopt this stance much of the time. However, at times everyone does recognize the value of altruistic and creative purposes, which this stance rejects.

Without accepting the “meaning of life” question, I must note that you’re straw-manning materialism. Genuine materialism recognizes all of the values humans have evolved, and these include atruism, creativity, friendship, love, and so on, which give us warm fuzzy feelings in the same way that sex, domination, and so on do. The difference is that the former evolve via kin and group selection, while the latter evolve via individual selection. There is confusion between values evolved via group selection and values merely proclaimed by cultures, but to the extent that a social, moral value has been selected for in evolution, it has become an organismal value in the same way as enjoyment of sex or pleasure.

Meanings of "materialism"

David Chapman 2017-07-01

Bad Horse, thanks for your comments today!

As with all words, “materialism” has multiple senses. I would guess you have in mind something like “the theory that all phenomena are ultimately reducible to matter and energy.” That’s not the sense of “materialism” I’m using here. Rather the non-technical sense of “he’s so materialistic” meaning “he values mostly only possessions and maybe sex and power.”

Almost all the key terms in Meaningness run into this problem—that in common usage they have several meanings. So I try to flag which sense I’m using; but don’t always succeed.

Thanks for the response!

Bad Horse 2017-07-02

Thanks for the response!

I would rather call your usage “hedonism”. I don’t think it’s a real position–I find it in the wild only as a straw-manning of materialism. The people who characterize materialism as hedonism are eternalists who despise and misunderstand materialism. Nobody, or at least no philosophers or thinking people whom I’m aware of, actually hold hedonism as a philosophical position. So I don’t think it belongs in your list; that just perpetuates the slander of genuine materialism.

I should add that I think the

Bad Horse 2017-07-02

I should add that I think the word “materialism” is meaningless. On one hand, no one can be a materialist anymore, as we are aware of many important immaterial phenomena such as gravitation and magnetism. And if we expand our definition of materialism to include “energy”, we find that we have included everything–there is no way to conceive of a spiritual force that is not energy. Anything that can affect mass is by definition energy.

There is no principled distinction between miracles and magnetism. There are merely some people who wish there to be phenomena that are not explainable, repeatable, or analyzable to human minds. But that is a distinction based on human cognition rather than on the nature of the world. It is a desire to be smaller than the world, to have something to be in awe of which can be our /logos/.

"Materialism" is not a philosophical position

David Chapman 2017-07-02

Ah… It’s important to understand, when reading Meaningness, that its “stancesare not philosophical theories, systems, or positions. They are moment-by-moment ways of thinking, feeling, and acting, which are highly unstable. I believe everyone adopts materialism transiently, often, although maybe few are committed to it.

"Materialism" is not a philosophical position

Bad Horse 2017-07-02

What I was trying to say in my last comment was that one can’t “adopt materialism”, because it’s an incoherent concept. There is no distinction between the viewpoint called “materialism” and other viewpoints. It is all confusion created by jamming words together in ways that cannot denote anything, and assuming that the resulting sentences have meaning.

In 1300 AD, magnets were magical items. As people became familiar with them, they became less magical, until finally Maxwell came along and said “The curl of the electric field is the negative of the derivative of the magnetic field”, etc., at which time magnets became not at all magical. This demonstrates that whether an item or process is magical or spiritual is socially-constructed.

This comes up in my own life whenever someone really presses me on the question of whether I believe in God or souls, and I have to say, “Well, I think it’s highly likely that our universe has a creator whom I would call God, and we may have immortal patterns saved and/or recycled many times which I would call souls.” But if they ask me about the properties of that God, I say, “God is perhaps some other universe’s equivalent of a grad student, and our universe is her experiment. Or God is an artist or storyteller, and our universe is like a book or artwork made for the entertainment or enlightenment of the other gods. Or possibly a game they play, say a massively multiplayer roleplaying game in which they may take on the personas of various historical characters for a fee proportionate to their importance.”

Whenever I give the full explanation, people say, “Oh, that’s not God. That’s just another person. You’re a materialist.”

Similarly, if they ask me if I believe in the non-material world, I say yes, but I mean gravity and electromagnetism, and then again they say I’m a materialist. Whenever I dig deep enough and long enough to try to figure out what makes the difference to them between spiritual and materialist beliefs, the only difference is that a thing can only be “spiritual” or “magical” if you don’t understand it / it isn’t predictable.

But a thing that truly isn’t predictable in its interactions with matter, not even merely predictably destructive like entropy, must by definition have no interactions at all with matter. Statistically regular, random and destructive to ordered substances, or no interaction, are the only possibilities.

A snarky observation about meaning

Timothy Miller 2017-11-22

I’m delighted to have found this… uhh… project? work? Very well written and it addresses questions I have spent much of my life wondering about. I’m also fascinated by the format and method of developing this project. I suppose it will eventually develop into a conventional book. By then, it will be fine-tuned by many iterations of reader feedback, in a way that is not possible with the conventional book-writing process, and it may have a loyal, engaged following by then. By the way, I learned about this site from /r/askPhilosophy on But, that’s not what I logged on to say…

A lot of homeless people live near my home. There’s a park nearby where they hang out, and a freeway underpass where they can stay dry when it rains. It often seems to me they do not lack purpose. Aside from getting enough food and staying warm, their lives seem to revolve around getting cigarettes, getting liquor, and caring for their dogs.

This raises the disturbing possibility that a pretty ordinary human can contrive a “meaning trap” for him or herself. Drug addiction is one way to do that, and nicotine is the most arresting example, because cigarette smokers “need” about one cigarette per waking hour. Behavioral addictions might also serve that purpose, and I can’t claim to be entirely free of that, myself. Ever since Donald Trump threatened to win the presidential election, around July of 2016, I’ve become addicted to checking Google News every few hours. It feels important, even though I know it isn’t. As if my wishful thinking and personal approval and disapproval might save the world.

I know a number of pet owners, pet lovers, whose lives would probably feel loneliness and pointless without their pets, caring for them, feeding them, interacting with them, and so on. I understand this feels meaningful to the owners, and possibly also to the pets. To me, it seems like a trap, probably because I don’t own a pet, and don’t want to. I once had a dog, which I loved very much. I’ll never forget it, but I prefer not to enter that situation again. In addition, it sometimes seems to me that loving a dog or cat is “cheating,” and it sometimes strikes me as a kind of moral complacency. It’s much easier to love a dog or cat than a human being. Dogs never criticize you, they don’t care if you’re attractive, charming, intelligent, rich or poor, and they are always happy to see you. I generally feel that “meaning” is supposed to arise from loving your neighbor, forgiving your enemy and charity for the poor, not from loving your dog, forgiving your dog when it pees on the carpet and getting it a nice new chew toy on Christmas.

On the other hand, I have a nice wife, to whom I am devoted, and two children, to whom I am devoted, whether they are nice or not. Someone who is happily unmarried and childless might have good reason to claim that I have built a meaning trap for myself, in a way that is morally and psychologically indistinguishable from loving a few dogs. I don’t know how I might defend myself from such a claim, though it feels wrong to me.

I haven’t read all the pages yet. I don’t know if these issues have been discussed. I’d be interested to read reactions from the author or other subscribers.

Re: A snarky observation about meaning

Bad Horse 2017-11-22

A good and well-put question, Tim. I don’t know if we can distinguish between “meaning traps” and “meaning opportunities”. The fact that animals made out of meat can find meaning /at all/ is pretty amazing. Be wary not to dismiss this miracle because you were holding out for more.

The same issue comes up with values: I’ve known people who’ve tried to become rational beings by stripping away all their “illogical” values and desires–for sex, status, good food, say–and the thing is, there’s nothing left if you strip them all away.

Most human cultures have believed that some transcendental realm must provide meaning–often literally, as in the meanings of words. People who think in this fashion reject every meaning, value, desire, or moral that isn’t transcendental. The problem is that /nothing/ is transcendental. The pattern revealed by history indicates there are only things we can still pretend are transcendental, because we don’t understand them yet.

Re: A snarky observation about meaning

Shiv 2018-01-08

I also have a wife and two children all of whom I love dearly. And I know that I am caught in a meaning trap. But that’s ok with me.

I once believed my wife was my soul mate. But the truth is that as wonderful an individual as she is, it is the meaning I project upon our relationship (and that she does in turn) that forms the foundation of our relationship. In reality, the person is secondary to the projection and replaceable.

The same is true for my children. I tuck them into bed at night and gaze at them, my heart brimming with love. Yet, I simultaneously understand that had they been switched at birth with any other two children without my knowledge I’d probably feel exactly the same love for them.

In other words, it is not the people we love but the ideas they represent to us. In short the “meaning” we attribute to them.

And so yes, we are caught in a meaning trap. Endlessly. That is what it means to be human. Without meaning the human condition would be reduced to null. Things like beauty, love, goodness, generosity exist only upon a foundation of meaning. They are projections upon a fundamentally meaningless world.

On the flip side, grief, hate, evil, selfishness also exist on that same foundation of meaning. And so it is because of meaning that we thrive and it due to meaning that we suffer.

One day I will witness the dissolution of the ones I love or they will witness mine. And in the grief that ensues I will participate wholeheartedly, while remaining acutely aware in the back of my mind that this whole story from start to finish was nothing more than a figment of our imaginations.

Argh. Find myself saying, "wait a minute" already.

Steve Crozier 2021-08-15

This may be a personal flaw of mine. I stumbled onto your book and read some random pieces with great interest. Then I went to the beginning to properly read. Right off the bat, I found myself picking at much of the five stances.

For example, on eternalism, you say, “Unfortunately, it often seems that much of life has no purpose. At any rate, you cannot figure out what it is supposed to be.” It’s certainly not contrary to a stance of eternalism that sometimes one might feel that much of life has no purpose. If one always felt that life has no purpose, one might want to rethink one’s eternalism stance, but “often” seeming some other way doesn’t negate the primary stance.

“Priests or other authority figures claim to know what the cosmic purposes are, but their advice often seems wrong for particular situations.” This is puzzling. Why even bring priests or other authority figures into the picture? They’re not required for eternalism (even if they’re common). And so what if their advice often seems wrong? That seems a weak criticism of eternalism.

I had similar misgivings about the existentialism section.

I guess this feels a bit anecdotal to me, and perhaps it needs to be, in this early chapter. But it’s putting me off a bit. Could this section need work? Or am I passing judgment too soon?

How do you understand "eternalism"?

David Chapman 2021-08-15

It’s certainly not contrary to a stance of eternalism that sometimes one might feel that much of life has no purpose.

The page said that, with respect to purpose, eternalism is the stance that:

Everything has a fixed purpose

Do you have a different understanding of what “eternalism” means?

It’s a word I basically invented....

It's the human element of doubt that I'm focused on

Steve Crozier 2021-08-16

Fair enough. I didn’t mean to question “eternalism.” :-)

I think my quibble is just in phrasing. I can hold a stance or worldview or position and still feel differently occasionally. We humans do it all the time. I can say, “Green is my favorite color,” and still occasionally say, “Gosh, that’s a beautiful blue; maybe even nicer than some greens.” That doesn’t negate my “core” position. So I guess I’m saying that, “sometimes I feel differently” doesn’t seem like a strong refutation of eternalism.

Stances are unstable

David Chapman 2021-08-17

Yes, if you read on a bit, you will get to “Stances are unstable,” which goes into that in some detail!

Meaning(ness) as a Guide to Decision-Making

Brent 2021-09-20

I am still trying to read this book in order, but being that it’s a website, I find I read bits and pieces erratically and sporadically. Sometimes in response to your tweets.

Unfortunately, while I admire and enjoy most of what you have written, I often feel frustrated while reading, a frustration which grows the longer I am reading. I think it’s because the ideas are presented in a different order than I desire to encounter them.

There is a microcosm of that in this page, where the second in the list of sample questions is, to me, the most important one: “What should I do?”

The central challenge of living in our contemporary “pop pomo” world comes down to feeling confident in one’s decisions. The “postmodern” problem, as I see it (as a lay-person), is mentioned here, and seems to be the driving force behind this book. But it deserves to be confronted more directly, even aggressively.

People become very unhappy when they can’t make decisions. Uncertainty is very painful. Time passes, opportunities come and go, the future is scary and uncertainty: the solution seems to be to take action. But what action?

Now, this assumption may be wrong, if we don’t consider patience and waiting an action. But we probably should. Waiting for more information, or for the right opportunity, may be the best choice. But as we are constantly barraged with advice and suggestions and opportunities—to work, play, learn, socialize, create, or consume—it is difficult to step back and be patient. But that doesn’t solve the problem of how to be confident that our choice will be the best, or at least good enough, in retrospect.

Or, assuming every choice will look bad in retrospect, how do we learn to live with the curse of incomplete knowledge, and not judge and castigate ourselves for doing something wrong? Even then, there seem to be times when we do make avoidable errors. How do we confidently tell the difference between avoidable errors and unavoidable ones? When it ignorance an acceptable reason for making a mistake? (“What kind of mistakes are forgiveable?” is a question that we also want to answer, but the answer seems to come from culture, not from personal agency.)

There are so many complications that arise from trying to find a good working strategy, or heuristic, to filtering the overwhelming number of options we have in life, and overcoming the paralysis of choice which our wealthy consumer society has offered to us. People in the past, when scarcity ruled our lives, and when there were far fewer competitors for our belief allegiance, were probably far less worried about how to be confident about what they did, when they rarely had more than one or two options, which were starkly different, or which a habitual or intuitive reaction—however logically wrong—made choosing virtually automatic.

The challenge of life is to make decisions that we can live with. While I can’t fault your work, because it does seem to be mostly about that, it also seems to be too coy about it.

I will try to be patient, and give the book the benefit of the doubt. But the inherent pressure to solve these decision-making problems—sooner rather than later—does increase the challenge.

In any case, thanks very much for this resource.


David Chapman 2021-09-21

The challenge of life is to make decisions that we can live with.

Well, that’s one framing of it. (I’m guessing you are coming from an LW-rationalist background, which takes that framing?)

It’s not the only framing, and I suspect (without having specific data in mind) that it’s not a particularly common one.

While I can’t fault your work, because it does seem to be mostly about that,

I’m sorry if you have wasted your time: it isn’t. It might help with that in some way, but it’s not the topic, and the book will never have much to say about that.


Brent 2021-09-21

I had to look up what “LW-Rationalist” was.

I have merely observed that a lot of life involves making decisions (including decisions about how to think and interpret—or “frame”—our experiences), and a lot of people’s quality of life is impacted by those decisions. Of course most of it isn’t: it is outside our control. But what control we have comes from making choices, including what to believe, and how to think. It seems important.

Anyway, yes, even if you aren’t specifically concerned with questions of choice, it does seem easy to frame anything that way, especially philosophy and thinking and belief.

You listed a number of systems and stances, and implied that people choose them, and thar they often choose bad ones. Aren’t you implying they are making an error? And that the consequences are significant? E.g. that choosing nihilism leads to unnecessary suffering?

Certainly many people are not fully conscious of the consequences of their choice of belief, or stance or ideology or frame, but if choosing one that better aligns with reality can improve their life, then that seems consequential.

Am I wrong to think you are making an argument? That you are offering an alternative choice, that you think is better than other choice? Because there are a lot of indicators that that is exactly what your purpose is.

I assume you are writing with some kind of assumption that your are creating something valuable, and meaningful, in and of itself, and that it is not a waste of time, even if it’s not what one might expect. I don’t think it’s a waste of time, though it does seem like it is sometimes working against its implicit intentions, which I may have misunderstood (or projected), for whatever reason.

I offer this in the spirit of an honest attempt to interpret and make sense of what I’m reading, and my interest in trying to glean practically useful insights to help me make decisions, specifically about the best way to think about life, even if that is not the book’s intention.


Decisions, decisions

David Chapman 2021-09-21

I had to look up what “LW-Rationalist” was.

Oh, sorry, bad guess…

I think you might like LessWrong. It’s mostly about how to make life-sized decisions. The approach is eclectic but informed particularly by cognitive psychology. I have mixed feelings about it overall, but there’s a lot of worthwhile stuff there.

You listed a number of systems and stances, and implied that people choose them, and that they often choose bad ones.

So, there’s a several misunderstandings in your comments, which may be useful for me in making the writing clearer. I want to make it as accessible as possible. Although, everyone comes to any piece of writing with different backgrounds, and so is subject to different likely misinterpretations, and it’s impossible to have something make sense to everyone.

So… We don’t choose stances. They’re highly unstable, we slip into and out of them on a scale often of seconds or minutes, we don’t notice we’re doing that, and mostly people are unaware that they even exist.

Am I wrong to think you are making an argument?

Yes. This is not philosophy. If there are any arguments in the book, they are incidental and unimportant and could be omitted.

I offer this in the spirit of an honest attempt to interpret and make sense of what I’m reading

Thanks. I’m sorry its approach is (for you) unclear and misleading! It is not the sort of thing you thought it was. It’s possible that if you can set aside preconceptions, it will make better sense.

The meaning of life?

Lucifer 2022-01-14

Hi! I’m just getting into this book and I haven’t read it yet. However, everyone else seems to be giving their opinion so I thought I would too.

I have never understood why people twist nihilism the way they do. Yes, life has no intrinsic meaning, but would that not just mean that your life is therefore whatever you want to make of it? It seems to me more like that’s a positive thing than a negative thing.

Intrinsic is the key word there

David Chapman 2022-01-14

Life has no intrinsic meaning, because meaning isn’t the sort of thing that can be intrinsic. That does not mean that there are no meanings.

This page might be a good one to read next! It’s about that.

There’s a more detailed discussion of the non-intrinsicness of meanings here.

There is a 6th answer (or more)

Jeffrey Stukuls 2022-11-16

A while back, let’s call it 13.8 billion years ago, there was a phenomenon in what I’ll call our local part of the universe called the big bang. What’s interesting about that local phenomenon is that it was so intense that for up to the first second not even sub-atomic material could form and the first atoms took 380,000 years to form. The point? Matter, as we know it, didn’t exist - so it’s hard to comprehend logically that perception could have existed. For the next point, fast forward however many billions of years and much more complicated forms of matter (larger atoms and collections of them) come into existence. Then, at least on earth, around 3.7 billion years ago, the first microbes came into existence. The first form of simple perception in the universe. The first way for the universe to perceive any part of itself, however basically.

From them, over the following 3.7 billion years to now, ever more capable means of perception, understanding, motivation, and intentional (or not) modification of the universe has been developing, of which we are part. To borrow MLK’s phrase, this, when seen as a process, is a long arc of the universe’s developing capabilities to experience, interpret, and modify. That carries both meaning and purpose, at least to this point of perception. (Of course there is more to this understanding, but this is a toe-touch into why I perceive meaning and purpose.)