View Poll Results: Can science and/or reason give us a satisfying meaning of life?

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Thread: Enlightenment now and meaning of life

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    Contributor DrZoidberg's Avatar
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    Enlightenment now and meaning of life

    I just finished Pinker's new Enelightment Now. In it he argues for that Enlightenment principals and especially science is awesome and the reason why the modern world is so great, and has been the greatest engine for progress. He thinks religions are more window dressing than delivering anything important.

    In the first page he talks about meaning of life and explains how health, beauty, art, happiness, love and so on can give us all the meaning of life we need. That religions... or any other method is redundant. He also has a go at Nietzshe (who I think he completely misunderstands). I'd argue that science and reason can explain or give us a satisfying meaning of life. Since it's unknown (and I think unknowable) we can spend a lifetime reasoning about it and we'll still never get an intellectually satisfying answer. That only leaves arguments from emotion. Which is why I think is the main reason religion hasn't died out yet.

    I became curious what the members of this forum think? I'll create a poll. But I'd very much like an explanation from you in the comments.

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    Mass advertising prompting consumption as happiness has shaped the world. Nothing short of global collapse will change that.The old norms of moderation and self restraint are gone. Instant gratification is the mom.

    Science could become a ritual and religion or philosophy, but science does not provide meaning. That is religion and philosophy. Some people follow science as a religion, it becomes a reason for living.

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    Contributor ruby sparks's Avatar
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    My view is.....that science and reason alone cannot give us a satisfying meaning of life, even taking into account science's amazing progress such as getting us phones that let us watch box sets of tv series while walking down the street.

    Or maybe science and reason can. I dunno. I'm not sure it does for me. But then I'm not sure if my life has a satisfying meaning.

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    Veteran Member Treedbear's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrZoidberg View Post
    I just finished Pinker's new Enelightment Now. In it he argues for that Enlightenment principals and especially science is awesome and the reason why the modern world is so great, and has been the greatest engine for progress. He thinks religions are more window dressing than delivering anything important.

    In the first page he talks about meaning of life and explains how health, beauty, art, happiness, love and so on can give us all the meaning of life we need. That religions... or any other method is redundant. He also has a go at Nietzshe (who I think he completely misunderstands). I'd argue that science and reason can explain or give us a satisfying meaning of life. Since it's unknown (and I think unknowable) we can spend a lifetime reasoning about it and we'll still never get an intellectually satisfying answer. That only leaves arguments from emotion. Which is why I think is the main reason religion hasn't died out yet.

    I became curious what the members of this forum think? I'll create a poll. But I'd very much like an explanation from you in the comments.
    I'm not a Pinker fan because of his politics as I recall. But that's just from the one or two times I've seen him lecture on CSPAN. And I'm not well versed on Nietzsche either. That said, for me it usually comes down to definitions of words such as meaning. What gives anything meaning is how it's defined. That entails recognition of how its related to other things. It's what makes something what it is, as opposed to the religious view that things have an inate nature or essence. I apply that to life, and human life as it goes, and (most significantly) to my own life in particular. Science and the related fields of study including biology, paleo anthropology, history, chemistry, and all the rest are essential areas that provide objective meaning. Not the subjective studies such you mention eg; health, beauty, art, happiness, love, etc. Things that inspire emotions, including religious experience, I consider significant as mostly unconscious responses to those essential truths about how we've come to be what we are. Their function is to inspire purpose as a way of continuing, and to draw attention to areas that deserve more study.

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    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    Mass advertising prompting consumption as happiness has shaped the world. Nothing short of global collapse will change that.The old norms of moderation and self restraint are gone. Instant gratification is the mom.
    The old norms of moderation and self-restraint existed because they had to. People couldn't consume because they didn't have the time or money to.

    Now what 'intellectuals' decry as rampant consumerism is really just people trying to fill their free time with something more entertaining than sitting in a room drinking water, because for some reason that's the better way to spend our lives?

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    IMO, science and reason can't give meaning, it can give an explanation. Having a correct understanding of the world doesn't imply having a purpose, it just means you're living under fewer illusions.

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    Pinker is a wide thinker and he brings a lot of things together.

    But he is not a very deep thinker and many of his conjectures are not very good.

    But he is incredibly active and makes a lot of conjectures. So some are good.

    If you want to wade through the bad ones to find them.

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    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    IMO, science and reason can't give meaning, it can give an explanation. Having a correct understanding of the world doesn't imply having a purpose, it just means you're living under fewer illusions.
    This. Just as often as it illuminates and opens new pathways, they can close them and reveal dead ends. If we stick to the idea that science and reason are for finding the truth, then we can't discount the fact that the majority of their fruits are either bitter or bland. Most of our lives are pretty boring, usually frustrating, and most of the universe is kind of empty and repetitive.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    IMO, science and reason can't give meaning, it can give an explanation. Having a correct understanding of the world doesn't imply having a purpose, it just means you're living under fewer illusions.
    This. Just as often as it illuminates and opens new pathways, they can close them and reveal dead ends. If we stick to the idea that science and reason are for finding the truth, then we can't discount the fact that the majority of their fruits are either bitter or bland. Most of our lives are pretty boring, usually frustrating, and most of the universe is kind of empty and repetitive.
    Anymore, I also think that for many people science can actually *kill* the magic of life. Sure you'll get knowledge-seekers interested in promoting their materialist ideology, but most people believe in a higher-power, spirituality, magic etc because they want to.

    Ever wonder why Harry Potter as a franchise is so popular? It's because it made magic real to people. Most people don't want to sit in a room eating Bran Flakes, optimizing their nutritional efficiency and listening to Sam Harris podcasts, they want to be enveloped by the beauty/mystery of the world. They're not interested in knowing more, because the present, as is, is already enough.

    That's not the kind of life I want to live, but I get it.

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    In the sense meant by the OP, all "meaning" is derived from emotion. Word "meaning" is a different meaning of "meaning" than the "meaning" of life meant by the OP, which is basically synonymous with "purpose" or "significance". Purpose refers to goals and motivations, which are rooted in drives for emotional satisfaction. So, whatever gives us emotional satisfaction, gives our life purpose/meaning. And anything can give us emotional satisfaction including the ideas of science, the methods of science, the uncertainty that science entails, or the broader enlightenment principles that science depends upon, such as reason and liberty.

    Religion is just a way of codifying ideas that some people find emotionally pleasing, such as an eternal sky daddy who will protect them and knows why all the bad things that happen are really somehow for the good, and that we or those we love will never really die.
    The problem is that when emotional satisfaction comes from ideas that are objectively false and/or unsupportable via reason that they are incompatible with reasoning itself and with tolerance for liberty and for minds to be free to reason and challenge any idea.
    Pinker is correct that the Enlightenment values of reason and liberty, which are integral to science have been the engine of not only intellectual, but of moral and political progress over the last 500 years. Which is why the enemy of these principles, religious faith, suppresses progress in times and places where it did and continues to hold more sway than these Enlightenment principles.

    IOW, religion and science can both be a source of purpose and meaning, but when religion is the source then the quest for meaning becomes antithetical to a quest for understanding and progress in all spheres.

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