Doing meaning better

warrior woman taking a stance

This is the main division of the book Meaningness. After a couple of introductory pages, each of its chapters discusses one dimension of meaningness, and the stances we take to that dimension.

It discusses both confused stances—dysfunctional, incorrect ways of relating to meaning—and the functional, accurate complete stances. For each confused stance, it suggests antidotes, and ways to shift to the complete stance for its dimension.


This page introduces a section containing the following pages:

  • The Big Three stance combinations

    Dualism, nihilism, and monism are the three main approaches to fundamental questions of meaning. This book proposes a better, fourth alternative.

  • Schematic overview: all dimensions

    A complete summary overview of all the dimensions of meaningness, with all the common stances one can take to them.

  • Meaning and meaninglessness

    Eternalism fixates meaning; nihilism denies it. Recognizing that meaning is both nebulous and patterned resolves this false dichotomy.

    • The puzzle of meaningness

      What is the meaning of an extra-marital affair—or any relationship? A philosophical short story illustrates the puzzle of the nebulosity of meaningness.

    • Meaningfulness and meaninglessness

      Some things are meaningful, and others aren't. This is obvious; yet most confusions about meaning begin by denying it.

    • Extreme examples, eternalism and nihilism

      Claims that everything is meaningful, or that nothing is, are motivated by fears: fear of the opposite.

    • So how does meaningness work?

      We have a choice of explanations: ones that are simple, clear, harmful, and wrong; or ones that are complex, vague, helpful, and approximately right.

    • Schematic overview: meaningness

      A schematic overview of eternalism and nihilism as confused responses to meaningness.

    • Eternalism: the fixation of meaning

      Eternalism is the wrong idea that everything has a definite meaning, fixed by an external ordering principle.

      • I get duped by eternalism in a casino

        Gambling, religion, and addiction: a personal story.

      • ⚒︎ No cosmic plan

        Great confusions about meaningness stem from the mistaken assumption that there must be some sort of eternal ordering principle.

      • The appeal of eternalism

        Eternalism promises everything you could want from meaning: safety, support, certainty, reassurance, and control. Solid ground!

        • The promise of certainty

          What we want most from meaning is guarantees. Religions, political ideologies, and other eternalist systems promise certainty; but they cannot deliver.

        • The illusion of understanding

          It’s deluded to think we mostly understand issues of meaning (ethics, purpose, value, politics). Ideologies deliberately create and sustain that illusion.

        • The fantasy of control

          Eternalism promises complete control over life—but that is an impossible fantasy. Influence through collaboration and improvisation are possible, however.

        • The wheel of fortune

          Eternalism promises answers about good and bad—the meanings we care about most—but cannot deliver.

        • Eternalism as the only salvation from nihilism

          Eternalism's final promise is to keep nihilism at bay. There is a better alternative to both!

      • Eternalism is harmful

        Eternalism—belief in fixed meanings—makes promises it can't keep. It makes us do stupid, crazy, evil things. And we still love it and keep going back for more.

      • Eternalist ploys and their antidotes

        Ploys—ways of thinking, feeling, talking, and acting—which stabilize eternalism; and antidotes to use against them.

        • ⚒︎ Imposing fixed meanings

          Forcing fixed meanings on experience always eventually results in unpleasant shocks when reality refuses to conform to your pre-determined categories.

        • ⚒︎ Smearing meaning all over everything

          Monist eternalism—the New Age and SBNR, for example—say everything is meaningful, but leaves vague what the meanings are.

        • ⚒︎ Magical thinking

          Magical thinking—hallucinating causal connections—is powerfully synergistic with eternalism (the stance that everything has a fixed meaning).

        • ⚒︎ Hope

          Hope is harmful in devaluing the present and shifting attention to imaginary futures that may never exist.

        • ⚒︎ Pretending

          Eternalist religions and political systems are always partly make-believe, like children playing at being pirates.

        • ⚒︎ Colluding for eternalism

          Because eternalist delusion is so desirable, we collude to maintain it. To save each other from nihilism, we support each other in not-seeing nebulosity.

        • ⚒︎ Hiding from nebulosity

          Hiding from nebulosity is a ploy to preserve eternalism by physically avoiding ambiguous situations and information.

        • ⚒︎ Kitsch and naïveté

          Eternalist kitsch is the denial of the possibility of meaninglessness. This leads to willfully idiotic sentimentality.

        • ⚒︎ Armed & armored eternalism

          When nebulosity becomes obvious, eternalism fails to fit reality. You can armor yourself against evidence, and arm yourself to destroy it.

        • ⚒︎ Faith

          Privileging faith over experience is an eternalist ploy for blinding yourself to signs of nebulosity.

        • ⚒︎ Thought suppression

          Thought suppression is a ploy for maintaining faith in non-existent meanings. It leads to deliberate stupidity, inability to express oneself, and inaction.

        • ⚒︎ Bargaining and recommitment

          When eternalism lets you down, you are tempted to make a bargain with it. Eternalism will behave itself better, and in return you renew your faith in it.

        • ⚒︎ Wistful certainty

          Wistful certainty is a ploy for reinforcing eternalism based on the thought that there must exist whatever it takes to make eternalism seem to work.

        • ⚒︎ Faithful bafflement

          Faithful bafflement is a ploy for maintaining the eternalist stance that remains committed but begins to doubt.

        • ⚒︎ Mystification

          Mystification uses thoughts as a weapon against authentic thinking. It creates glib, bogus metaphysical explanations that sweep meaninglessness under the rug.

        • ⚒︎ Rehearsing the horrors of nihilism

          Reminding yourself and others of how bad nihilism is can help maintain the eternalist stance. This is the hellfire and brimstone of eternalist preaching.

        • ⚒︎ Purification

          Purity is an obsessive focus for dualist eternalism. It mobilizes emotions of disgust, guilt, shame, and self-righteous anger.

        • ⚒︎ Fortress eternalism

          In the face of undeserved suffering, is difficult not to fall into the stance that most things are God’s will, but not the horrible bits.

      • Accomplishing eternalism

        Accomplishing eternalism would would mean knowing the meaning of everything, and acting accordingly. This is impossible, because there are no fixed meanings.

      • Exiting eternalism

        Learning skills for escaping the grip of eternalism—the delusion that everything is meaningful.

      • Non-theistic eternalism

        Freeing ourselves from theism is only a first step toward freeing ourselves from a host of ubiquitous, harmful, mistaken ideas about meaningness.

    • Nihilism: the denial of meaning

      Nihilism is the wrong idea that nothing is meaningful, based on the accurate realization that there is no external, eternal source of meaning.

      • You’ve got nihilism wrong

        Whether you think you are a nihilist, or think you are not—I think you are mistaken. Nihilism is impossible—but so is avoiding it.

      • Rumcake and rainbows

        Nihilism recognizes, accurately, that meaning cannot be either objective or subjective. But meaning does exist: as interaction.

      • ⚒︎ Cold comfort: the false promise of nihilism

        Nihilism promises you don’t have to care, because nothing means anything. But you do care—and you can’t escape that.

      • ⚒︎ The nihilist elite

        Nihilism requires unusual intelligence, courage, and grit. Nihilists know this, and consider themselves an elite class. Membership is a major attraction.

      • ⚒︎ Nihilism is hard

        It’s a pity that it’s so hard to be a nihilist. Nihilism is mistaken and harmful, but its insights into what’s wrong with eternalism are accurate and useful.

      • Spam from God

        Nihilism starts with the intelligent recognition that we have been conned by eternalism—ideologies of ultimate meaning.

      • The emotional dynamics of nihilism

        Nihilism relies on three emotional strategies to deny meaning: rage, intellectualization, and depression. It also causes anxiety.

        • ⚒︎ Nihilistic depression

          Realizing that eternalism will always fail can result in anguish, pessimism, depression, stoicism, alienation, apathy, exhaustion, and paralysis.

        • ⚒︎ Nihilistic intellectualization

          When desperate to deny all meanings, we use absurd pseudo-rational, pseudo-scientific, intellectual arguments to justify nihilism.

        • ⚒︎ Nihilistic rage

          Nihilistic rage wants to destroy whatever has meaning, and whoever points to meaning.

        • ⚒︎ Nihilistic anxiety

          Anxiety is a natural reaction to uncertainty. In nihilism, pervasive loss of meaning makes everything uncertain; existential angst is a response.

      • 190-proof vs. lite nihilism

        Nihilism says nothing means anything—but no one actually believes that. Lite nihilism weakens the claim, to make it plausible.

      • 190-proof nihilism: intoxicating intellectual idiocy

        Nihilism defends itself from the obviousness of meanings with spurious intellectual arguments. Here’s how to dispel them.

    • ⚒︎ Sartre’s ghost and the corpse of God

      Existentialism, a hopeful alternative to rigid meanings, makes wrong metaphysical assumptions, and cannot work. It collapses inevitably into nihilism.

    • Meaningness: the complete stance

      Meaning is nebulous, yet patterned; meaningfulness and meaninglessness intermingle. Recognizing this frees us from metaphysical delusions.

      • The appeal of complete stances

        Resolving problems of meaning by recognizing inseparable pattern and nebulosity will improve your life.

      • Peak experiences

        Peak experiences and the complete stance are similar in texture, but differ in intensity, conceptual content, and causes.

      • Obstacles to the complete stance

        Meaning and meaninglessness, pattern and nebulosity all obviously exist—yet we resist recognizing and admitting this. Why?

      • ⚒︎ Observing meaningness

        How to catch meaningness in action; ways of watching confused and complete stances.

      • Finding the complete stance

        The fundamental method for resolving problems of meaning: by finding nebulosity, pattern, and their inseparable relationship.

      • Textures of completion

        Patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting in the complete stance, which resolves problems of meaning.

        • Wonder

          Wonder at the vastness, beauty, and intricacy of the phenomenal world: a texture of the complete stance.

        • Open-ended curiosity

          Open-ended curiosity gives you the freedom to interact with the world without metaphysical presuppositions.

        • ⚒︎ Humor

          Recognizing the inseparability of nebulosity and pattern gives experience a texture of good humor, and the funny sort too!

        • ⚒︎ Play

          Playfulness, which recognizes the mingled pattern and nebulosity of meaning, is a characteristic texture of activity in the complete stance.

        • ⚒︎ Enjoying the dance of nebulosity and pattern

          Enjoyment of the intertwining dance of nebulosity and pattern is a characteristic texture of the complete stance to meaning.

        • ⚒︎ Creation

          Creation is the characteristic activity of the complete stance; its densest texture.

      • Stabilizing the complete stance

        Going beyond resolutions of specific problems: consistently maintaining an accurate stance toward meaningness.

  • Unity and diversity

    Stances concerning connection and separateness: monism, dualism, and participation.

  • Selfness

    Abandoning selflessness and egoism equally, we can play with the ambiguous self/other boundary; supple, skillful selfing for successful, satisfying interactions

  • Purpose

    Dividing purposes into higher and mundane, mission pursues higher ends and rejects pragmatism; materialism seeks only selfish goals. Both are mistakes.

  • ⚒︎ Personal value

    Agonizing over whether you are ordinary or special—or feeling smug about one or the other—can be resolved by choosing to be noble instead.

    • Schematic overview: value

      A schematic overview of stances toward personal value: specialness, ordinariness, and nobility.

    • ⚒︎ Specialness

      Specialness is a sense of having been picked out for destiny by the Cosmic Plan. That causes you and others much trouble.

    • ⚒︎ Ordinariness

      If we could just manage to be ordinary, we would not have the responsibility of living up to our potential. Fortunately, ordinariness is impossible.

    • ⚒︎ Nobility

      Nobility is the aspiration to manifest glory for the benefit of others.

  • ⚒︎ Capability

    Resolving a false dichotomy between unrealistic views: being a helpless victim and being totally responsible for your circumstances.

  • ⚒︎ Ethics

    Available ethical theories are either eternalist or nihilist; both are useless. We must recognize that ethics are both nebulous and meaningful.

  • ⚒︎ Authority

    A better alternative to the dysfunctional stances of mindlessly opposing authority and mindlessly obeying.

  • ⚒︎ Sacredness

    Resolving the twin delusions that nothing is sacred and that the only sacred things are those designated by some authority.

    • Schematic overview: sacredness

      Schematic overview of stances toward sacredness: religiosity, secularism, kadag.

    • ⚒︎ Religiosity

      Religiosity is the confused, eternalistic view that the sacred and profane can be clearly separated.

    • ⚒︎ Secularism

      Secularism is the stance that sacredness is mere superstition; nothing is sacred.

    • ⚒︎ Kadag

      Kadag: Because nothing is inherently sacred, everything can be sacred.

  • ⚒︎ Contingency

    Causality is inherently nebulous; many things have no definite cause, but still we can find useful patterns.

    • Schematic overview: contingency

      A schematic overview of stances toward contingency: causality, chaos, and flow.

    • ⚒︎ Causality

      The eternalist stance of causality: Everything happens for the best, in accord with the Cosmic Plan. (Except free will lets us do evil.)

    • ⚒︎ Chaos

      The stance that things happen for no reason.

    • ⚒︎ Flow

      There are no ultimate causes, and causation is nebulous, but we naturally observe patterns.

The previous page is Stances: responses to meaningness. (That page introduces its own subsection.)

General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book. Start with an appetizer, or the table of contents. Its “metablog” includes additional essays that are not part of the book.

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The book is a work in progress; pages marked ⚒︎ are under construction.