by Graham Veale
Sooner or later, we all have to face the problem of significance: we all try to find meaning in our lives. While it is fashionable to deny that life has a meaning it is quite difficult to live as if life was pointless. We all act as if we have import and we all seek significance in some way or other. We try to make a difference with our lives. We search for authenticity in our relationships and careers. We share iPhoto slide shows and profiles on social networking sites to tell others the story of our lives. This is odd behaviour if we truly believe that there are no answers, and the universe is the result of impersonal forces.
Things can only “matter” if someone is concerned about them; they can only have a purpose if someone has shaped them according to a plan. Our lives do not matter in any ultimate sense if they are the accidental outcome of impersonal forces working on impersonal particles. We have absurdly short amount of time to live under the Sun and the human species will not outlive the Galaxy; we cannot create the value we desire. So humanity craves a deeper significance than physics can offer or that we can invent. Why is that?
This craving for significance goes beyond a yearning for purpose; examining our desires reveals what we are searching for. Search for those desires which are felt cross-culturally and reoccur in literature, art and religion. Look for enduring needs that can last for a lifetime and not momentary
whims. Leave out desires and impulses which would satisfy some at the cost of others: blood-lust, revenge and greed will rob some individuals of their quest for joy. Eventually we discover a logically coherent set of fundamental needs: a vision for life that would let us all exist in harmony, and that every human could live out and find satisfying.
What are these needs? First, we need to escape the terror of death – to know that our value does not disappear when we die. This is why we want to build something – be it a business, a family or some artistic project – that others will value when we are dust. But we know that, like the vapour, these projects will pass away in time too. So we need to know that someone is watching us, that someone takes account of the good we try to achieve. We also need a life full of goodness, kindness, patience and love. We need to love and be loved fully and unconditionally; we need to be known and accepted by someone who truly knows us.
When we encounter a new-born child, the vastness of the galaxies, or the complexity of the cell we are reminded of our limitations…
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