The Meaning of Life
This may not be the last word on the subject
I was lying in the bath this morning thinking about the meaning of life. I used to read in the bath, but since my eyesight has faltered, I consider things like the meaning of life. Last week I figured out why there are generational gaps in music; but I’ve forgotten the answer. The meaning of life is, I concluded: It is important to go through life, neither too hot nor too cold, but more or less in the middle. The Stoics, a group of philosophers who lived long ago thought something similar. You have to take life as it comes, without getting too excited by ups and downs. It all evens out in the long run. And what difference does it make anyway? That isn’t exactly the way they would have put it, but they were writing in Greek at the time.
But then, I thought that that business of not too hot or too cold may have occurred to me simply because I was in the bath. The meaning of life might have seemed very different If I had been at a party where everyone was drinking and singing college songs (This scene is hard for me to imagine because I don’t think I was ever at such a party, or if I was, I have forgotten it just like I forgot just why we used to like Beethoven and my kids liked the Beatles, and their kids don’t.) In any case, in the middle of a gay party, I might have decided that the purpose of life is to have a really good time, even if you get a headache the next day. The Epicureans, another group of ancient philosophers, said pretty much that. It would have translated to “Live and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” An idea that is also typically Christian: Corinthians 15.32. (I bet you didn’t know that.)
It is all a matter of perspective. Imagine you are a frog sitting on a lily pad. The meaning of life might sum to the idea of catching enough flies. Or maybe if you saw a female frog sitting on a nearby pad, (Frogs can tell a female from a male frog at a distance, which is more than you can say for a nuclear physicist.) you might think of the importance of making love. “Love makes the world go round,” which is the kind of wisdom you might hear in a Cabaret, but not in a courtroom. Another example of perspective dissonance. (I don’t know what this phrase means, but it sounds right.) I don’t think frogs think of sex as the need to perpetuate the species, but, then again, I haven’t studied frog cognition much. By the way, I like to think that with the development of supercomputers there is someone somewhere who is, indeed, studying frog cognition, because that is the way science works.
Perspective is everything. Think of the meaning of Thanksgiving from the turkey’s point of view. Also, getting back to the bath, whether or not you feel cold getting out of the bath depends on just how hot the bath was—and also on whether or not the window is open. Also, you can’t enjoy a big turkey sandwich if you have just eaten a big turkey sandwich—a blessing for turkeys everywhere. Remember the saying, “Things have been down so long, they are beginning to look like up to me.” That is pretty much one of the unconvincing explanations for the existence of evil—it makes good things look and feel better by contrast. God thought that this explanation would make everyone feel better—which just goes to show that God is not omniscient after all. If he had some similarly subtle reason for creating the mosquito, he has not communicated it to me.
So, the meaning of life depends on who you are, where you are, and how hungry you are. I’m going to mark this down right now, before I forget it. (c) Fredric Neuman Author of””Come One, Come All.”