useful ideas



and notes touching on


(from which meaning is born) 




Our relentless search for meaning is an echo of the relentless creation and discovery of connections, the fundamental activity of our nervous system–but not only our nervous system


“Meaning is more than words and deeper than concepts.”



(Read key excerpts then read about how embodiment is part of phenomenology, the philosophy that defends the relevance of studying real organisms (not lab animals) in real environments (nature, not labs))



There are multiple senses in which “meaning” is deployed (example), particularly in philosophy (example). But at its root, MEANING is a function of connectedness.

Arguably, nothing has meaning except insofar as it is more-or-less connected to other things.

In an important sense, meaning derives from the way information is organized.  Defining words with words (as in any dictionary) exemplifies this, although, of course, any other sensory modality would work: visual, musical, and so on.  At the cognitive level of organization, thoughts may be stimuli or percepts–things–that are more-or-less connected.  Degrees of connectedness may be exemplified by the emergence of greater complexity as connections are discovered or created between stimuli leading to percepts leading to concepts.   There is likely a priority of selectivity in the evolutionary sense that relates to the existential outcomes of actions that result from thought. 

(visit A&O notes on CONNECTIONS)


“For it all depends on how we look at things, and not on how they are in themselves. The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.” –Carl Jung(1933) Modern Man in Search of a Soul.



How far does the network of meaning extend? 

“I don’t know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it. But I know that I cannot know that meaning and that it is impossible for me just now to know it. What can a meaning outside my condition mean to me? I can understand only in human terms. What I touch, what resists me — that I understand. And these two certainties — my appetite for the absolute and for unity and the impossibility of reducing this world to a rational and reasonable principle — I also know that I cannot reconcile them. What other truth can I admit without lying, without bringing in a hope I lack and which means nothing within the limits of my conditions?”–Albert Camus (1942) The Myth of Sisyphus.

A&O: can we argue that a thing (say, a deliberate work of art or an artifact) has meaning in proportion to the connections it creates or discovers?  The more deeply into consciousness it penetrates the greater the number of possible connections.  Have you not had the experience of being “haunted” by something that was not particularly remarkable on first observation? What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of bring connections into the fullest possible levels of conscious awareness?   

Recalling Mark Johnson’s observation, “Meaning is more than words and deeper than concepts” does meaning require memory?

As for the depth of connections, “You may forget with whom you laughed, but you will never forget with whom you wept.” (Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam)


“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

(Maya Angelou) 

(remember Mark Johnson’s “Meaning is more than words”)




I am confident that each of us has our unique meaning, at least at every level of organization above the most primordial requirements of being an organism.   If we can agree (if only for the moment) that everything is in flux, constantly changing, then meaning is constantly changing and a familiar platitude comes to mind: “we can never step in same river twice.”  Look at the A&O notes on BEING and BECOMING and consider, as  Anaïs Nin wrote, “There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”   

Do we pursue the “meaning of [one’s] life” because, failing to achieve that meaning, we decide that we were on the wrong path and get on a different one?  Or because when we have gone as far as we can, we see that this “goal” was but a place to pause and reconnoiter and we realize that there is a further path, another horizon?  Joseph Campbell said, People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about” (from The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, PBS television series, Mystic Fire Video (2001;  Episode 2, Chapter 4)

ARGUABLY (or at least a fascinating perspective) is that MEANING derives from CONNECTEDNESS … at our (organism) level of organization, that means connections within and between us– and not less, our connectedness to our ancestors and our descendants –or at least those who follow us to whom our direct or inclusive fitness has made a contribution (in genes or memes) that will (hopefully) enhance their own biological fitness.   


The pursuit of meaning is to mitigate suffering: “Suffering is admittedly one of the central problems of human existence; but this is because we have a suspicion that it is all for nothing. If we had a certainty about meaning, the suffering would be bearable. With no certainty of meaning, even comfort begins to feel futile.” (Colin Wilson in Frankenstein’s Castle (1980:89).



Considering world traditional literature, what do you make of Ecclesiastes 1:2

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”