Saturday, 3 April 2010

On the meaning of life...

Almost every time I've been busking with my friends in Falmouth this year we've met a girl called Auburn. See is young; much younger than her remarkable self-possession would seem to suggest. She carries a notebook in which she records The Meaning Of Life, as dictated to her by the buskers of Falmouth. 'Meaning of life?' was in fact the first thing she said to me.

The question flummoxed me then as indeed continued to on subsequent encounters. On about the third time we met Auburn I asked if I could have a look at a few of the other buskers' responses, just to get some clues. No such luck. As one might expect, most read 'to be happy', 'to love and to be loved', 'to help others', and all the rest of it. I wasn't seriously hoping for a singular solution to millennia of existential uncertainty, but I'd hoped for something less nauseating.

I'm going busking tomorrow, and I'm going prepared. The following is perhaps best read aloud in the poorest of French accents:

What is the meaning of life? For a start it is a strange question. What do we mean by 'meaning', and what do we mean by 'life'? 'To mean' is often understood as 'to signify', so are we asking 'what does the word 'life' signify'? The answer would, I suppose, be something like 'animate matter, biology, the condition that differentiates animals and plants from rocks and gasses'. Or, perhaps, 'human existence'. Or simply 'existence' alone. But that is not what is being asked. Perhaps we are asking 'what does existence itself signify?', to which the only possible answer could be 'itself'.

Perhaps it is the definition of 'meaning' that ought to be broadened. Neuroscientists speak of 'meaning' in terms of linkage; it is the neurological pathways between words, concepts, memories and emotions. Those concepts, memories and emotions that one may associate with the word 'life' will depend less upon cultural agreement than upon one's own idiosyncratic experience of life. In these terms, the meaning of 'life' is necessarily defined by the pursuit of its own definition.

Dear God, that's far more nauseating isn't it? I'm reminding myself of this video, in which Jacques "Jacques" Derrida is forced to make up his bullshit on the spot:

Go on, Derrida! Do some philosophy! Do it! Do it!

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