The Meaning of Life, part 1

In an interview a while back, they chose a headline saying that I was looking for the meaning of life. But I don’t think I ever said that. I wouldn’t have, because I believe I already discovered the meaning of life a long time ago. But there are (at least) two problems with it. The first is, of course, that it’s not really the “Ultimate Question”.

Looking for the meaning of life is a bit like asking what a musician does: there is a simple answer, but it wouldn’t capture the beauty of the process, nor the essence (soul) of being a musician, nor how music means different things to different people. Better questions might be “how does a musician work” or “what are some examples of the work of various kinds of musicians”. Similarly, there is a simple answer to what the meaning of life is (one that could even be condensed down to a single word), but for those who don’t already understand the meaning, that answer would be unsatisfying, unhelpful, and not actually explain a whole lot. Which suggests that it’s the wrong question.

The second problem is that, for similar reasons, I don’t believe the meaning of life can, or should, be expressed in words; words alone wouldn’t convey the essence. That’s one reason I started my graphic novel project, Black Hole Dawn, a while back. For me, it’s an experiment: if the essential meaning of life can’t be expressed in words, then maybe some of it can be expressed with a story. We’ll just have to see how this experiment turns out (assuming I can afford to keep paying my starving artist).

But still, even if I don’t think the most interesting questions can be answered in words alone, maybe it would still be worth it to try to at least share some thoughts on what it’s all about. (I won’t give the one-word answer, though, at least not here.)

I’ll start with a bit of traditional wisdom. It’s not groundbreaking insight, but it’s important, and has profound effects that we don’t often think about, so it seems worth mentioning.

There’s a principle that many cultures have expressed in different ways. Balance, harmony, dualism, yin-yang, and so on. Complexity, even life itself, usually emerge in the space between two opposites, even when both of those two opposites are simple or deadly. In astronomy, you have something called the goldilocks zone, where a planet is neither too warm nor too cold to harbor life. In capitalism, the idea is that the most innovation happens between wealth and bankruptcy, and that it may be possible to use this to improve quality of life for people. (That has actually worked well as far as it goes, but not without quite severe, even life-threatening, costs in other areas, unfortunately.) In democracy, it turns out that civilization thrives in the balance between the political left and the political right, even though civilization would decay, fall apart, and die if either were allowed to rule unchallenged.

This principle is everywhere. It allows the universe, and us, to create something that’s more than the sum of its parts, something that didn’t exist before. And these new things can, in turn, be put together to create more new things. These building blocks are layered on top of each other, throughout the universe and our world, ultimately resulting in us creating an advanced world of diversity, knowledge, and beauty (even in spite of our tendency to want to destroy each other).

Doesn’t that make you wonder?

Read more in The Meaning of Life, part 2: Masculine and Feminine.