Appendix: Glossary

This is a glossary of words I’ve used in non-standard ways in Meaningness. Ones in blue link to pages that discuss them in more detail.

190-proof nihilism
190-proof or full-strength nihilism is the stance that nothing has any meaning whatsoever. It contrasts with lite nihilism, which admits that some things are sort of maybe slightly meaningful, in some way that doesn’t really count.
“Accomplishing” a stance means adopting it consistently whenever its dimension of meaningness comes up. This is difficult and rare; perhaps psychologically impossible.
“Adopting” a stance means using its pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting to address the dimension of meaningness it relates to. Often one adopts a stance only momentarily, and typically without noticing it.
allied stance
Some stances ally with others, based on a shared emotional “texture,” or on making similar promises, or because they provide plausibility for each other. For example, the stance True Self allies with monism because it is a ploy for explaining away your apparent limitations and differences from other people. Other stances clash with each other. For example, True Self does not go well with nihilism, because the True Self is supposed to be extremely meaningful, and nihilism denies all meaningfulness.
Antidotes destabilize a confused stance with patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting that reveal its errors and harms, and that guide you toward adopting the corresponding complete stance instead.
“Appropriating” a confused stance means using it as a communicative tool, while actually adopting the corresponding complete stance instead.
atomized mode
The atomized mode of relating to meaningness abandons coherence, but provides access to all of globalized culture via the internet. The atomized mode resembles nihilism because systems of meaning are impossible. There are no standards for comparing value, so everything seems equally trivial, and equally a crisis. However, whereas the threat of nihilism is the loss of all meaning, the atomized world delivers far too much meaning, in a jumbled stream of bite-sized morsels, like sushi flowing past on a conveyer belt, or brilliant shards of colored glass in a kaleidoscope.
Chaos is the stance that nothing happens for any particular reason; the universe is essentially random.
choiceless mode
In the choiceless mode, you are unaware of differences of opinion concerning meaningness. You take meanings for granted, without asking “why” questions. It could also be called the communal mode or “tradition.”
Committing to a stance means resolving to adopt it consistently, whenever the dimension of meaningness it addresses comes up.
complete stance
Complete stances acknowledge the nebulosity and pattern of meaningness, avoiding the errors of fixation and denial. They are more difficult to adopt than confused stances, but are more accurate and more workable in the long run. The complete stance (singular) is the most fundamental, natural one. It recognizes both meaningfulness and meaninglessness, and recognizes that they are inseparably intertwined—although some things are clearly more meaningful than others.
confused stance
Confused stances try to avoid the anxiety of nebulosity through fixation and denial within a dimension of meaningness.
Cosmic Plan
“Cosmic Plan” refers to any idea of an ultimate source of meaning, such as God, the Absolute, destiny, Reason, highest consciousness, or whatever. All such ideas are inherently eternalistic.
countercultural mode
The countercultural mode of relating to meaningness attempts to develop a new, alternative, universalist, eternalist, anti-rational system for society, culture, and self, that is meant to replace the mainstream. I discuss two countercultures in depth, the monist “hippie” counterculture of the 1960s-70s, and the dualist “Moral Majority” counterculture of the 1970s-80s. Both failed because neither’s vision appealed to a majority, and they could not accommodate diversity, due to their universalism.
Denial is the psychological strategy of refusing to admit the existence or significance of a dimension of meaningness. It is one defense against the anxiety provoked by nebulosity. See also fixation, another defense.
Dualism is the confused stance that everyone and everything is a clearly distinct, separate, independently-existing individual. Dualism denies connections and fixates boundaries. Compare monism, which fixates connections and denies boundaries.
enjoyable usefulness
Enjoyable usefulness is the stance that purposes are co-created in an appreciative, compassionate dance with the world; both mundane and higher purposes can be meaningful; you might as well find things to do that are both enjoyable for you and meaningful for others.
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge, belief, and truth. *An* epistemology is a specific theory of what can be known and how; what a belief is, what justifies a belief; and what it means for something to be true. Compare ontologies: understandings of how things are.
eternal ordering principle
An “eternal ordering principle” (or Cosmic Plan) is any supposed fundamental basis for the universe, providing an ultimate source of value, ethics, and explanation. God, Fate, Rationality, The Absolute, Cosmic Consciousness, Progress, Science, and many other candidate fundamental principles have been proposed. The view of this book is that there is no such thing.
Eternalism is the stance that sees the meaning of everything as fixed by an external principle, such as God or a Cosmic Plan. It forms a false dichotomy with nihilism, which regards everything as meaningless. The stance of meaningness recognizes the fluid mixture of meaningfulness and meaninglessness in everything.
ethical eternalism
Ethical eternalism is the stance that there is a fixed ethical code according to which we should live. The eternal ordering principle is usually seen as the source of the code.
ethical nihilism
Ethical nihilism is the stance that ethics are a meaningless human invention and have no real claim on us.
ethical responsiveness
Ethical responsiveness is the stance that ethics are not a matter of personal or cultural choice, but are fluid and have no definite source.
In this book, existentialism means the stance that meaningness is subjective. In contrast, eternalism and nihilism both assume that meaningness must be objective. Usually existentialists also say meaning should be a purely individual creation: a perfectly free choice, possible only when you throw off all cultural assumptions and social pressures. That is not actually possible, and existentialism collapses into nihilism when you seriously attempt it. The complete stance is that all three are wrong: meaningness is neither subjective nor objective. It is a collaborative accomplishment of dynamic interaction.
Fixation is the psychological strategy of attaching spurious certainty and definiteness to pattern. It is one defense against the anxiety provoked by nebulosity. See also denial, the other defense.
fluid mode
The fluid mode of relating to meaningness is the cultural and social analog of the complete stance. It incorporates the accurate insights of eternalism and nihilism, recognizing that meaningness is always both patterned and nebulous. Likewise, the fluid mode acknowledges structures of meaning without attempting rigid foundations. Its values are collaboration, creativity, improvisation, intimacy, disposability, aesthetics, and spiritual depth through community participation.
higher purpose
“Higher” purposes, such as creative production, disinterested altruism, and religious salvation, apparently transcend animal existence. These could also be called “eternal” or “transcendent.” Their value should survive your physical death, or have significance in realms beyond the material. Mission is the stance that only higher purposes are meaningful.
intermittently continuing
Intermittently continuing is the stance that selfness comes and goes, varies over time, and has no essential nature.
Lite nihilism
Lite nihilism is the stance that reluctantly admits *some* things are *slightly* meaningful, but holds that their meaningfulness is inadequate or defective: trivial, or of the wrong sort. It is intermediate between 190-proof nihilism (nothing has any meaning whatsoever) and existentialism (things only have the subjective meanings you personally give them). We tend to cycle through these three [without noticing that they contradict]( each other.
To maintain a stance is to adopt it continuously for an extended period. That is: to use it consistently to address the sorts of problems of meaningness it applies to.
Materialism is the confused stance according to which only self-aggrandizing, mundane purposes (such as money, sex, power, and fame) count as truly meaningful. It forms a mirror-image pair with mission, the confused stance according to which only selfless, transcendent, higher purposes are truly meaningful. “Materialism” also refers to the metaphysical belief that only things made from physical matter exist. Meaningness rarely uses the word in that sense.
“Meaningness” is the quality of being meaningful and/or meaningless. It has various dimensions, such as value, purpose, and significance. This book suggests that meaningness is always nebulous—ambiguous and fluid—but also always patterned.
Miserabilism is the stance that everything is awful. It is often confused with nihilism, because they have similar emotional effects—especially rage and depression. They are conceptually quite different, because awfulness is a meaning, and nihilism denies all meanings. However, it is common to slip back and forth between miserabilism and nihilism without even noticing you are doing it.
“Mission” is the stance that holds that only your unique, eternal, transcendent purpose is truly meaningful.
mode of meaningness
How meaning fell apart” suggests a series of modes of relating to meaningness. In the choiceless mode, meaningness is taken as given, without question. In the systematic mode, meanings have to be justified. (This is closely connected with eternalism.) As systematic justifications break down, the countercultural, subcultural, and atomized modes are successive attempts to relate to the fragmentation of meaning. Finally, the fluid mode synthesizes the functional aspects of all the previous ones.
Monism is the confused stance that All is One; that my true self is mystically identified with the Cosmic Plan; that all religions and philosophies point to the same ultimate truth. Monism denies boundaries and fixates connections. Compare dualism, which fixates boundaries and denies connections.
A *member of the public* who participates in a subculture only casually.
muddled middle
Confused stances come in mirror image pairs: extreme views on meaningness. Each pair shares an underlying mistaken metaphysical assumption about the nature of meaning. A muddled middle is an attempt to compromise between the extremes, to find a correct middle way. These fail because they do not correct the metaphysical error. The stance that corrects the error is complete, meaning that it neither fixates nor denies any aspect of meaningness.
mundane purpose
Mundane purposes are those we share with other social mammals: food, security, reproduction, and position in social dominance hierarchies. They also include limited altruism, on behalf of one’s immediate relatives. Materialism is the stance that only mundane purposes are meaningful; higher purposes are not. Mission is the mirror-image stance that only higher purposes are meaningful, and mundane ones are not.
Wistful certainty, a ploy for maintaining the eternalist stance, follows this pattern of thinking: “There *must* be a…” For example, “There *must* be a true meaning to life.” *Wistful* certainty occurs when one can’t think of a reason there “must” be whatever it is. One is sure, however, because eternalism wouldn’t work if whatever it is weren’t true.
native mode
Your native mode of relating to meaningness is the one you are most comfortable using. Typically people adopt the mode that is most popular during their late teens and early twenties. Thus, for most Baby Boomers, the countercultural mode is native; for Generation X, it is the subcultural mode; and for Millennials, the atomized mode.
Nebulosity is the insubstantiality, transience, boundarilessness, discontinuity, and ambiguity that (this book argues) are found in all phenomena.
next stance
Because stances are unstable, it’s common to wobble from one to the next, without even noticing. There are predictable patterns of which stances are likely to come after one as it becomes untenable, based on the emotional resonance of the first stance’s failure with the next one’s promise.
Nihilism is the stance that regards everything as meaningless. It forms a false dichotomy with eternalism, which sees everything as having a fixed meaning. The stance of meaningness recognizes the fluid mixture of meaningfulness and meaninglessness in everything.
nihilist apocalypse
The nihilist apocalpyse is the catastrophic social breakdown that eternalism fears would occur if people lost faith in eternalism. Eternalism sees no alternative to itself other than nihilism; and it sees ethical behavior as impossible without eternalistic justification. In fact, there are other alternatives, so a nihilist apocalypse seems unlikely. However, nihilism actually can lead to unethical action, so one should not dismiss the possibility altogether.
Nihilizing is refusing to see meanings that are right in front of you. It is the active form of the stance of nihilism, the denial of meaningfulness.
Nobility is the stance that resolves specialness and ordinariness. Nobility consists in using whatever capacities one has on behalf of others.
Confused stances allied with nihilism often insist that a particular sort of meaning is entirely non-existent. Such meanings are usually actually only nebulous (vague), rather than absent.
Stances toward meaningness are unstable because they are inaccurate, emotionally unsatisfactory, or both. These inaccuracies and unappealing aspects are obstacles to adopting the stance.
An ontology is an understanding of how things are. Typically an ontology includes an explanation of what sorts of things there are, what their characteristics are, and how they relate to each other. Compare epistemologies, theories of what can be known and how.
Ordinariness is the confused stance that no one is better than anyone else, and that one’s value derives from herd membership.
Participation is the stance that there is no single right way of drawing boundaries around objects, or between self and other. Things are connected in many different ways and to different degrees; they may also be irrelevant to each other, or to you. Connections are formed by meaningful, on-going interaction.
Pattern is the quality that makes phenomena interpretable: regularity, causality, distinctness, form.
Eternalist ploys are patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting that stabilize the eternalist stance by denying nebulosity and fixating meanings.
proving too much
An argument proves too much if it is a special case of one that would prove other things that are obviously false. Proving too much is not itself a logical error; it just shows that there must be a mistake somewhere in the reasoning. It’s fair then to conclude that the argument doesn’t work, and move on. However, it’s often worth figuring out exactly where the flaw is, and why the argument might seem convincing anyway.
Rationalisms are ideologies that claim that there is some way of thinking that is the correct one, and you should always use it. Some rationalisms specifically identify which method is right and why. Others merely suppose there must be a single correct way to think, but admit we don’t know quite what it is; or they extol a vague principle like “the scientific method.” Rationalism is not the same thing as rationality, which refers to a nebulous collection of more-or-less formal ways of thinking and acting that work well for particular purposes in particular sorts of contexts. See also: meta-rationalism.
Meaningness and The Eggplant use the word rationality specifically for more-or-less formal, systematic rationality (and therefore not as including informal reasonableness). Rational methods are explicit, technical, abstract, atypical, non-obvious ways of thinking and acting, which have some distinctive virtue relative to informal ones.
“Really” is a weasel-word. It is used to intimidate you into accepting dubious metaphysical claims. When someone uses it, substitute “in some sense,” and then ask “in what sense?”
reasonable respectability
The stance that one should contribute to social order by conforming to traditions.
To reject a stance is to try to avoid ever adopting it as a way of thinking, feeling, or acting with regard to meaningness. This is the opposite of committing to it. Both are difficult because [stances are unstable](/stances-are-unstable) and we naturally slide in and out of them without even noticing.
Religiosity is the confused stance that the sacred and profane are kept always clearly distinct by the eternal ordering principle.
Confused stances are resolved by dissolving their fixations and accepting what they deny. Specific antidotes—counter-thoughts—can help with this.
romantic rebellion
Romantic rebellion is the confused stance of defying authority, in an unrealistic way, to make an emotional, artistic, or personal status statement.
Secularism, as the word is used in this book, refers to the confused stance that nothing is sacred.
“Selflessness” is the confused stance that there is, or should be, no self. Some interpretations of the Buddhist doctrine of anatman are examples, as are some Christian ideas of saintliness.
Someone is thought to be special if they are given a particular distinct value by the (imaginary) Cosmic Plan. This is not actually possible.
Stances toward meaningness are inherently unstable, because they fail to fit reality or are emotionally unattractive. One uses specific patterns of thinking, feeling, talking, and acting to stabilize a stance, making it easier to remain in it. Typically this is unconscious, but with practice one can deliberately deploy particular patterns to move from one stance to another.
A stance is a basic attitude toward meaningness, or toward a dimension of meaningness. Most stances wrongly fixate meaningness, or deny the existence or nebulosity of a dimension of meaningness. Typically stances come in pairs, which form false dichotomies. The simplest examples are eternalism and nihilism.
subcultural mode
The subcultural mode abandons the attempt to find universal meanings suitable for everyone. Earlier modes of meaningness claimed to base such meanings on some foundational eternal ordering principle—but there is none. Subculturalism abandons eternalism and instead provides multiple “neotribal” systems of meaning that are meant to appeal only to small communities (subsocieties) of like-minded people.
“Systems,” in this book, are conceptual, methodological, and institutional structures that make claims about meaningness. These include, for instance, religions, philosophies, political ideologies, and psychological frameworks. A system includes a structure of justification, which explains why you should believe its claims, and typically grounds in an eternal ordering principle. I contrast systems with stances, which are much simpler attitudes toward meaningness.
systematic mode
The systematic mode attempts to justify all meanings with some explanatory structure. Typically, this system builds on a foundational eternal ordering principle. The systematic mode is eternalistic, claiming to offer absolute certainty, understanding, and control. In the late twentieth century, it became clear that this is impossible, and the systematic mode failed.
The textures of the complete stance are ways of being that recognize the inseparability of nebulosity and pattern. They are [wonder](/wonder), [curiosity](/curiosity), [humor](/humor), [playfulness](/play), [enjoyment](/enjoyment), and [creation](/creation).
thought soup
Thought soup is the incoherent mass of disconnected fragments of dead ideologies that survive in popular culture as ways of talking, and therefore of thinking and feeling and acting: clichés, bromides, plot points and story arcs. Its metaphors and intuitions powerfully influence the ways we relate to meaningness, in ways we’re never fully conscious of.
total responsibility
Total responsibility is the stance that we each create our own reality and are solely responsible for everything that happens in it.
true self
The “deep” or “true” or “authentic” self is an imaginary, inaccessible superior identity, which has a magical connection with the Cosmic Plan. “Depth psychology” is particularly big on the true self, but this confused idea has become wide-spread.
“Ultimate” and “ultimately” are words that often turn up in discussions of meaningness. They can be legitimate, but are often advertising hype, obfuscation, or intimidation.
Utilitarianisms are ethical theories that say that the morally correct action, in any situation, is that which maximizes the amount of “utility” (goodness, more-or-less) in the world as a whole. A workable utilitarianism would allow you to decide what to do at every moment through plain arithmetic: adding up the utility resulting from each possible action, and choosing the best. This is never possible in practice, and every utilitarianism fails as a general ethical theory. Nevertheless, “the greatest good for the greatest number” is the best way of looking at some moral quandaries. Utilitarianism is closely allied with rationalism, due to its spurious mathematical flavor.
The stance that “it’s not my fault and I am too weak to deal with it.”
When you have committed to a stance, but have not accomplished it, then you are “wavering.” Wavering means that you are trying to adopt a stance consistently, but are finding it difficult or impossible to do so.