Before we can tackle meaning, we've got to know what meaning is. Meaning is an intention, aim, or design. When we say we want to know what life means, we are really saying we want to know what it's for. What purpose does it serve? Well, the primary feature of life is intelligence. By intelligence we mean purposeful activity. We make decisions and do things. Parameciums make decisions and do things. Rocks do not make decisions, although they can chip a tooth. If we knew why we have intelligence, we would be a great deal closer to understanding why we do anything, including exist. To understand intelligence, we must understand the mind.
Science has given us many answers, but the one thing that science is still completely silent about is the nature of consciousness. Of course, there is more and more information every day about the connection between consciousness and the brain. Scientists, both mad and sane, are undertaking detailed research on how our minds and behavior are affected when parts of our brain are stimulated, removed, and even added. These things affect our memories, feelings, and our thought processes. However, such research still doesn't answer the question of what consciousness is.
If you built a robot that had no real understanding but did have a vast store of stock responses and some clever rules about building sentences, it might fool many people into thinking it had intelligence. Because you programmed it, however, you would know that there were no "mental images" floating around inside the circuits of that machine. It simply took input, processed it according to specific rules, and generated output. The question is, why do we have these mental images and feelings? Why aren't we biological "machines" that simply processes signals and automatically generate responses with no awareness of what's going on? Why do we have consciousness, and where did it come from?
Consciousness is something completely different from other characteristics of matter such as mass, charge, structure, etc. While our consciousness seems to depend on the matter in our brains, we cannot detect anything unusual about our brains that would indicate why consciousness is attached to it. If we agree that consciousness is in the brain as a whole, is it in a single neuron? A single atom? A single electron? Assuming that nothing exists except for interacting particles, somehow within every particle there is something that provides the basis for consciousness.
Complex conscious activity may require highly complex structures such as our brains to occur, but the basis of consciousness must be present in matter itself. Our minds are simply one manifestation of a universal phenomena. People are examples of one way to organize the consciousness in matter. Are there other ways? How can we know which types of organizations of matter yield high-level consciousness like ours, and which do not? Are there structures which support levels of consciousness higher than ours? Are doorknobs conscious?
Well, this page is supposed to answer questions, not ask them, so here is the answer:
Not only is consciousness a universal property of matter, it is the primary property of matter. In fact, it's the other way around, matter is a property of consciousness!
Yes, consciousness is primary. Matter sprang from consciousness. We can't help it if this is starting to sound like Genesis, it's just the way it is. In the beginning was the word, and the word was pinging around the inside some sort of Mind, and it generated the physical universe. How's that for pat?
So, to summarize, the meaning of life is linked to the workings of the mind from which the universe sprang. What does that mind want, anyway?
Go to the next essay, A short story about the beginning of everything.
Return to the Meaning of Life Part II page