Meaningness: the complete stance

If you arrive unfamiliar with the term “complete stance”: postpone this page! It will seem boring and technical. Instead, read “Preview: eternalism and nihilism” for an introduction to the topic.

Dramatic cloudscape over Sydney opera house
Image courtesy Trey Ratcliff

The complete stance recognizes that meaningness is both nebulous and patterned. Put another way, it neither fixates nor denies meanings. Or, equivalently: it enables the realistic and creative possibilities that emerge when you let go of eternalism and nihilism simultaneously.

The complete stance looks unattractive from a distance because—unlike eternalism and nihilism—it does not claim to be The Ultimate Answer. Unlike eternalism and nihilism, it makes no comforting promises of certainty, understanding, control, or non-responsibility.

From a distance, it also looks dauntingly complicated, because it works with both pattern and nebulosity, plus their intricate interrelationships.

You are already in the complete stance

From its own point of view, the complete stance is simpler than either eternalism or nihilism. It sees only one thing (meaningness) not two (meaning and meaninglessness). It does not attempt to divide pattern from nebulosity—an artificial and impossible separation that causes endless complications.

It’s always obvious that meaningness is both nebulous and patterned. This means that the complete stance is also obviously right.

Because it is obviously right, we are all always already in the complete stance.

Maintaining the confused stances—eternalism, nihilism, and existentialism—is actually impossible, because they are obviously wrong. At some level, we are always aware that they require extensive make-believe.

Nevertheless, we are usually somewhat effective at pulling the wool over our own eyes, using the eternalist ploys and nihilist evasions. So we often act as if we were genuinely eternalists, nihilists, or existentialists; and this has awful consequences.

The complete stance looks boring from a distance

The road to the complete stance appears dull, at first, because it is obvious. The way is deflationary: it strips away the enticing dramas of the confused stances:

Eternalism
“You are on a Mission from God to fulfill the Ultimate Meaning of the Universe!”
Nihilism
“You have seen through the illusion of meaning and joined the intellectual elite who recognize the hard and cold reality of Ultimate Meaninglessness!”
Existentialism
“You have thrown off the fetters of mindless social conformity, and have the courage to create your own meanings out of raw nothingness!”

We manufacture these dramas because we fear that actually-existing meanings are inadequate. But—exciting, colorful, and appealing as fantasy-meanings may be—they are imposed, delusional, and noxious. We are better off without them.

Freedom from metaphysical delusions

The negative definition of the complete stance, as not fixating or denying meaning, is unappealing. However, it points to the main promise: freedom. Freedom from metaphysical delusions, and their propensity to limit action.

The shared metaphysical error underlying eternalism and nihilism is that the only meaningful kind of meaning would be non-nebulous: objective, eternal, distinct, changeless, and unambiguous. Recognizing that meanings are never that way, yet real all the same, is a more positive definition of the complete stance.

This chapter will begin to answer the question “how can meaning be nebulous and yet patterned?”—although bits of explanation will be scattered through the rest of the book. Partly that is because various seemingly-disparate and unfamiliar concepts are necessary as background, and I introduce those only gradually.

Mainly, however, “how” is not the point. This book is not academic philosophy. Meaningness aims to be a practical guide to working with meaning, not an abstract treatise attempting to explain it. Practically speaking, what is necessary is to recognize that meaningness is nebulous yet patterned, not to understand exactly how that can be.

Finding, stabilizing, and accomplishing the complete stance

We may begin by asking:

What is creative, but not eternalistic?
What is realistic, but not nihilistic?

Dropping attractive delusions is the antidote to eternalism. Allowing meanings to be as they are is the antidote to nihilism. Then you discover that meaningness is adequate after all—more than adequate—wondrous, delicious, and vivid!

If we are always already in the complete stance, are we already done? No. The aim is to stabilize the complete stance, so we fall back into confused stances less often; and to gain skill in working with fluid meaningness.

Curiosity, enjoyment, and creativity are three aspects of that skill.1 These are not separate; just three different ways of talking about the same art. I will say something about each in this chapter; and more throughout Meaningness.

Because this whole book is about finding, stabilizing, and accomplishing the complete stance; and because the stance is—from its own point of view—so simple and obvious, the chapter is quite short.

  • 1. Vajrayanists will recognize these—along with “wondrous, delicious, and vivid”—as structural equivalents of “coemergent emptiness, bliss, and clarity,” respectively.

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General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book (in progress), plus a “metablog” that comments on it. The book begins with an appetizer. Alternatively, you might like to look at its table of contents, or some other starting points. Classification of pages by topics supplements the book and metablog structures. Terms with dotted underlining (example: meaningness) show a definition if you click on them. Pages marked with ⚒ are still under construction. Copyright ©2010–2017 David Chapman.