Extracting the Meaning of Life
Imagine a friend asks you to explain the essence of a basketball game. So you 1) carefully explain there are 2 teams of 5 players, each attempting to acquire the most points by tossing a ball into a hoop, 2) provide the dimensions of the basketball court, then 3) list all the rules of the game.
Imagine that friend coming back to you to in anger, claiming that, they have been to a basketball game, that that a real basketball game does not seem anything like you’ve described. There was excitement, and passion, and disappointment and euphoria! How can you claim that a basketball game is merely what you’ve described! Where’s the fun in the dry physical description of the game? There must also be some special magic that make the basketball game become what it feels like!
This is the same type of protestation made by theists who believe in a spiritual realm. How can our essence be based on a merely material composition when we experience life as so much more? What about the joys and sorrows and love we experience? There must be a spiritual realm above our material realm!
Let’s dig deeper into this apparent problem.
According to your friend, the essence of a basketball game had to be one of 2 things.
- A rigorous, dispassionate and mechanical explanation of the objectives
- A special magic that transcends the physical aspect of the game mentioned above
According to theists, the essence of a human life had to be one of 2 things.
- A rigorous, dispassionate and mechanical explanation of the material components of the human’s existence
- A special spiritual existence that transcends the material components of life mentioned above
What are we missing? Are we forced to choose between only these 2 options?
This is what is called a false dilemma. There is actually a 3rd option that will remedy the apparent lack of explanation for #1 in both of these scenarios.
Emotions are what make the basketball game worth playing or watching.
Emotions are what make life worth living.
We don’t need to invoke magic to explain the essence of a basketball game.
We don’t need to invoke a spiritual realm to explain the essence of life.
So here is what we actually have.
The essence of a basketball game.
- A rigorous, dispassionate and mechanical explanation of the objectives…
- …plus the emotions evoked by playing or watching a basketball game
A special magic that transcends the physical aspect of the game mentioned above
The essence of life.
- A rigorous, dispassionate and mechanical explanation of the material components of the human’s existence…
- …plus the emotions evoked by living life
A special spiritual existence that transcends the material components of life mentioned above
Basketball games and life can be described both objectively and subjectively. But there is no need to invoke transcendent magic or a transcendent spiritual realm in their explanations.
If you want to call our emotions (which are wholly emergent of and dependent upon the substrate of our material existence) amazing, join me in doing that. But let’s not invoke unsubstantiated magical or spiritual essences when we have a comprehensive explanation in the subjective emotional experiencing of basketball games and life. The joy of living does not need to include a magical or spiritual realm to constitute an adequate description of our objectively material and subjectively emotional existence.