Why are you reading this? Perhaps you think that this page may offer a solution to the problem faced by nearly anyone who really bothers to think about things really hard. Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? Well, before this page tries to answer that, maybe it should answer a simpler question. What is the meaning of this page?
The meaning of this page is to answer itself. It seeks to justify its own existence by being useful. I hope that this page ends up being useful to you. If not then feel free to forget about it.
But why should a page be useful? Well a page is nothing more than a collection of writing containing information. What is information except data that informs, that is useful to you, the subject.
This page is about you. This page is about subjects who are capable of experiencing things such as information from pages. This page thus has a bias I shall call, Subjectism. This is a bias towards subjects, who are capable of experiencing things, over objects, which are not capable of experiencing things.
Subjects are said to be sentient. They can feel and think. If you’re reading this, you are a subject. It is the nature of reality that all subjects are also objects, but not all objects are subjects. This page is merely an object, meant to help subjects understand both subjects, including other subjects, and objects. It offers nothing to mere objects, and so shows a bias towards subjects. This bias might also be called Sentientism because all subjects are sentient.
My hope, as a fellow subject and sentient, is that this page will provide you with answers to important questions, by showing the connections between various innate truths that can be gathered from the experience of reality. This hope is a desire to see your happiness maximized by acquiring useful knowledge that will help you do so. Why should I want to do this? Read on to find out…
Existence and Truth
“I think, therefore I am.” What does it mean? If I think, then I am? How do I know there is an I to do this thinking? What prevents there from being, for instance, a god who is imagining my thinking? I think I think, therefore I think I am? No, the line is backwards. I am, therefore I think. If I think not, perhaps I still am, I could be asleep. But if I am not, then there is no way for me to think. What am I though? I am implies existence. But we haven’t proven the I yet, so really all this says is that there exists.
There exists. There exists something. There exists existence. Existence exists. That is an axiom we can all agree on. If existence didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be existence at all. Thus, the most basic thing we can prove automatically, because otherwise there would be nothing to prove, is that something exists. If we know there is existence, what else entails from this innate, obvious truth?
Existence deals with something that is fundamentally objective. Objectively, we know that something must exist. We go so far as to call this existence, reality, because it is certainly real. Thus, we have proven that there exists objective reality. Note that we have not yet proven that we exist, or that we know anything about objective reality other than that it exists.
Enter perception. There is something that perceives that existence exists, otherwise there would be no thoughts regarding it. That which perceives is the subject. Thus subjective experience exists, because otherwise there would be no thoughts regarding these perceptions. I perceive, therefore I think I exist.
Perceptions also create an awareness of two distinctive subjective things. The subject becomes aware that there exists stuff that can be affected directly by thoughts alone, that we can feel and sense with and are connected to, and stuff beyond the previous stuff, that can only be affected through the indirect application of the first set of stuff. The first set we call the self, or the body, and the rest we call the world.
Now here an experienced philosopher will object, how do we know that we are not a brain in a jar being fed perceptions? Well, there’s no way of knowing that, because that would be objective reality. We can only know the subjective reality that we can experience. Anything else, for all intents and purposes, is beyond our comprehension entirely, and thus effectively doesn’t matter to us. All that matters is what we can know, which we hope to be as close to objective reality as possible, but which we can never be certain is.
So, subjective reality is like the surface of an object. We cannot know what lies underneath just by touching it, but we can feel its shape and form, and get a reasonable idea of what shape and form it takes.
There is an objective reality, but all we can know for certain about it is that it exists. Everything else is subjective. Objective truth is the physical reality of matter and ideas. Ideas are perceptions, figments, and beliefs. Subjective truth are these beliefs. Therefore, subjective truth exists as a conditional subset of objective truth.
Thus the objective truth can tell us everything about subjective beliefs, but subjective “truths” don’t appear to say anything about objective truth.
So how then can we begin to connect subjective beliefs to objective truth? If our beliefs conform to reality, if reality really exists, then the results of our actions should be predictable, that is to say, they should have consequences that are consistent. That this appears to be generally true leads to the fundamental assumption of science and knowledge, that the universe is consistent.
Order and Chaos
But how do we draw the conclusion that the universe is consistent? Couldn’t the universe be totally chaotic and random, rather than ordered?
The nature of reality could in theory be totally chaotic, but if it were, we would be unable to do anything with such a universe. Universal chaos would mean that nothing we did would matter, and there would be no cause and effect. However, such a universe would not be universal in any sense of the word, because it would not have a definite space or time either. The very fundamental basis of our understanding existence depends on that existence being ordered in some way. Time is an order of events. Space is an order of distances. All these notions depend on order and consistency.
Furthermore, existence continuing to exist requires order. It requires that it is not possible to just cease to exist in the next moment. Any existence that was totally chaotic then, would be popping in and out of existence, and wouldn’t be a reliable existence. Thus, existence as we understand it depends on order.
We call this order, cause and effect. It is a fundamental property of the universe, because without it, continuing existence would not be possible.
The universe appears chaotic to us because of the sheer complexity of everything. But there is an order that underlies the chaos. Scientists call our understanding of these the Laws of Nature. Essentially, subjects are able to subjectively determine certain reliable patterns or rules that appear to us to be consistent and conforming to some objective reality. Though these truths are subjective, they are reliable enough that subjects are able to use them to act effectively. Thus, because science works, we can say with some degree of confidence that objective reality does exist apart from our subjective realities.
Thus, even though we cannot say with absolute certainty, what objective truth is, we can, with some degree of confidence, assert that certain subjective truths correspond closely enough with objective truths to be powerful.
Power and Responsibility
The existence of the object indicates that there exists something that has the physical qualities of mass and energy. The existence of an objective reality means that things can affect one another through cause and effect. This means that certain objects can expend energy to exert force on other objects. This capacity to influence objects is called power or control. The Sun for instance has power over the Earth in that it influences the path of the Earth as gravity forces it into an elliptical orbit. In a sense, the Sun controls the Earth’s movement.
What separates the human animal from a plant? Humans and other animals move. They are motivated to act. They are more than merely subjects, but also actors. A subject that is also an actor is an agent. All such agents are subjects, but not all subjects have to be agents, though in practice, most of them are. The existence of the agent indicates that some energy is under the agent’s control. An agent can thus be said to have a domain over which it has control over. This control is power over the surrounding objects in the environment, but also potentially other subjects and agents.
If the agent has this capacity for action, it can be responsible for actions and inactions. The agent can act on other objects and the results of those actions are usually found to be somewhat predictable. This predictability allows us to make plans and extend our control of things into the future, and is powerful. But that doesn’t answer why an agent would want to act. More on that later.
But first, consider that our ability to control things into the future gives us a certain degree of responsibility for causing things to happen. Thus, power comes with responsibility for consequences. This responsibility will be important for understanding why we should do certain things rather than other things. This is because the subject has values.
Values and Wills
A neuron has the capacity to be excited or inhibited by input. The subject behaves fundamentally in the same way, choosing to value things, liking or disliking stimulus, and outputting a response. We perceive this as pleasure and pain. We desire things that please us, and avoid things that are painful. In general we value pleasing things and disvalue painful things.
But more than just the pleasure itself, a subject can value actions that allow it to reach a pleasurable state. Pleasures can also be more complicated than simple stimuli. The pleasure of learning new things comes in part from the value that learning new things has in getting other pleasures, but it can itself become pleasing to a subject based on association.
All of our emotions can thus be reduced to desire/love and fear/hate. Love is the emotion of liking a stimulus because it brings us pleasure, while fear is the emotion of disliking it because it hurts us or threatens to do so. We want what we love, and we avoid what we fear. We fear not getting or having what we love, and we love being protected from our fears.
Because we have these values that direct our agency, we can be said to have a will. Note that this is not to say that this will is free. In fact, it appears that wills are subject to, and constrained by their values. In this way, a will can never truly be free. But then, why would a will ever want to be free of values? Such a will would have no desires or drives and lack motivation. It would not really be a will at all.
The only sense in which subjects possess free will is in the sense that they are free to obey their own values rather than anyone else’s. In this sense, the will is free.
Needs and Wants
Needs are premised on the essentiality of existence. If we do not accept this essentiality, then needs do not really exist. In essence, needs are things that are essential to survival. They are values that are genetically ingrained in most life forms.
Note that not all living things are subjects. Plants don’t think or act intentionally. And not all subjects are necessarily living thing. An artificial intelligence could very well be a subject, but not a form of life.
Needs are basically the cost of existing. In general the cost of existing is the consumption of energy to run the machinery of existence, whether that is biological or otherwise.
Wants are things that we desire but do not need. Plants and other non-subject life forms do not have wants, though they have needs. Wants are unique to the will.
Happiness and Morality
Happiness is a feeling we are rewarded with when we do something that accomplishes or fulfills a need, a want, or desire of the will. In humans it is the result of increased dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. Subjects with wills seek happiness as the emotional goal state. Happiness is thus innately valuable to subjects, and directs them towards the fulfillment of their needs and wants.
Happiness is a feeling. It doesn’t exist outside of our self. And yet, when we feel it, it is an innate truth. It is simultaneously subjective and objective, because unlike other subjective truths, when we know we are happy, we can say that this is objectively true, and yet this innate truth exists only for the subject that experiences it.
Ultimately, we cannot know that our experiences are objectively true, but we can know that the feelings that are elicited by our experiences are objectively true. And these feelings, by the nature of the subject’s value discrimination tendency, are automatically judged to be positive or negative or neutral.
Happiness is how we describe the positively valued feeling. Suffering is how we describe the negatively valued feeling.
By the nature of the subject’s capacity to feel then, happiness is intrinsically good, while its converse, suffering, is intrinsically evil. Everything else is only good or evil according to how they affect the feelings of subjects.
Goals are a future state that is valued by an agent. An agent can only value things if it has a will. Things can be said to have moral value when they affect a subject’s ability to achieve its will. This is because, achieving its will, will make the subject happy. And thus we can say it is good for a person to make dinner so that he can eat. The morality of actions towards oneself is usually not controversial, unless one is self-destructive.
Actions and inactions can have an effect on other subjects. These can positively or negatively impact the subject, in terms of its values, and therefore its happiness.
As a subject has power to influence the outside world, so it too has a moral responsibility to wield that power in such a way that its effects are good rather than bad.
According to the principle of indifference, also known as the principle of maximum entropy, when we know nothing, we should treat all things as equal. Thus, it is an objective truth that no subject is inherently more special or more important than any other. This is the basis of what we call fairness. So, we value each subject’s happiness equally.
Thus, we can be said to have a duty to maximize the happiness of everyone we can influence, including ourselves. This often means in practice that we should try to maximize the achievement of the goals of everyone affected by our actions.
This does not necessarily mean interfering in other people’s lives. Our lack of knowledge about others and how to best achieve their happiness means that often the best course of action is non-interference. However, when we have the knowledge that we can bring someone happiness, this knowledge is power, and comes with a responsibility to act.
To that end I am suggesting a form of Utilitarianism. But what form of Utilitarianism? And what of Utilitarianism’s detractors?
Kant would argue that any moral decision must “act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” Kant’s own system of morality fails to uphold its own principle. To treat people always as ends in themselves means to take into consideration their desires and interests, but Kantianism does not do this. Instead it follows the categorical imperative that says to “act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” This imperative does not in fact treat people as ends in themselves, but rather as merely a means to fulfilling one’s moral duty.
Utilitarianism on the other hand, does treat each individual’s happiness as the primary end of all moral consideration. If we are to restrict Utilitarianism as strictly as possible to this rule, we find ourselves with a kind of Pareto Optimal Consequentialism, where people are never required to sacrifice anything for anyone else. However, such a system leads to questionable moral situations where many people’s potential happiness can be sacrificed to maintain the happiness of a single person.
Utilitarianism on the other hand places demands upon the individual to be sacrificed in the name of the greatest good. This however is a compromise with reality. In the ideal situation, Utilitarianism would seek to maximize the happiness of everyone without exception. It is only in admitting that there are some zero-sum situations that we are forced to consider making sacrifices.
This makes sense. Pareto Optimal Consequentialism would never allow for instance, a murder to be punished. Utilitarianism however accepts that the murderer’s happiness may be sacrificed for the sake of justice, which serves the greatest good by creating the most happiness in the long run.
Is Utilitarianism just? What about evil subjects deserving punishment? Why should we care about their happiness equally with good subjects?
The reality of the situation is that all subjects, with the exception of the conjectured God, are imperfect beings with limited power and whose values are determined in large part by forces beyond their control.
A human being, for instance, is a product of their genetics, experiences, and circumstances. These forces all cause us to be who we are. We are all born into this world knowing nothing, and having to struggle to learn the truth in universe filled with ignorance, lies, and uncertainty. Furthermore, by our nature, we subjects feel our own pleasure and pain directly, and the pleasure and pain of others only indirectly, through empathy.
The subject is therefore, not fully responsible for being themselves, but responsibility is shared among a wide variety of forces and subjects. Thus, the notion of deserving reward or punishment is flawed. No one, strictly speaking, deserves anything good or bad. But it is preferable that subjects experience or feel happiness rather than suffering. In a sense, it can be said that all subjects deserve to be happy rather than suffer.
So why punish evil people? Because of the power of deterrence. From a practical perspective, the greatest good is achieved by rewarding good actions, and punishing evil actions, encouraging good, and discouraging evil. True justice is thus about maximizing the greatest good in a manner that is fair and consistent and orderly.
But why should we care about justice? Why should we be moral? What does this have to do with the Meaning of Life?
The Meaning of Life
The Meaning of Life has two forms.
One is fundamentally subjective. It is the meaning that we ascribe to ourselves and others ascribe to us. This meaning is dependent on whose perspective you take. Most of the time, we care about our own perspective, the meaning we ascribe to ourselves, and not so much what others ascribe us.
If God existed and decided that we are to be food for angels, would this be the purpose of our existence? This would be God’s purpose, but it would not be our purpose, our subjective Meaning of Life. Ultimately, it is up to the subject to determine their own Meaning of Life.
In that sense, the Meaning of Life is to live a life you consider worth living. What is a life worth living? It is one that maximizes its value, and achieves its values. It is one that has the correct goals to further its values, to create the state of the universe that it desires.
But can we go further than this? The subjective Meaning of Life is subjective truth. It is only meaningful to the subject that chooses it. What about objective truth?
The other form of the Meaning of Life is objective. This is not the meaning of life as we see it, but what a disinterested neutral omniscient being, like God, would see if it existed. That is to say, this meaning would be the sum of all the subjective meanings in the universe. It would be your meaning in relation to the universal moral framework.
Why morality? Well, because determining the objective Meaning of Life is a question of what we should or ought to do. It is a question of intrinsic purpose and ultimate value. The only thing that can answer what the true Meaning of Life is must be a moral philosophy that can judge whether our choices or goals, our values themselves, are right or wrong.
Utilitarianism stakes the claim that the right values are those that maximize good and minimize evil. As a universal moral framework, it actually affirms an objective moral Meaning of Life. It suggests strongly that the correct values and goals to have can be calculated.
In this sense, the objective Meaning of Life is to live a life you consider worth living, but also which others consider valuable as well. It is one that maximizes its value, not only to itself, but to all subjects. It takes responsibility for the extent of the universe under its domain. In essence, it does what it can to maximize the happiness of everyone. In essence it invokes the notion of True Love.
True love is a state of wanting the best of all possible lives for your beloved, and being willing to do whatever is necessary to bring about this end. It is also known as Agape, and is the type of love associated with a benevolent God. Showing this type of love towards others is the strongest way to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest number.
The reality of the situation is that most subjects do not have the capacity to be everywhere at once. They have limited resources of time and energy that can be devoted to any particular project or goal. Thus, as a practical consideration, it makes sense from the perspective of division of labour, to focus one’s time and energy on a select few and maximize their happiness by becoming an expert in how to make them happy. This is a possible strategy, one that can be used to justify monogamous relationships and also that of family and friends.
Note that these practical limitations would not apply to a subject such as God.
God is a conjectured subject who has several unique properties. God is apparently omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (everywhere), and omnibenevolent (all-good).
A being that was omnipresent would, assuming it had the perceptual capacity, be omniscient, and such omniscience would essentially grant it omnipotence. Such omniscience would also grant it perfect information.
In a state of perfect information, such an entity would be able to process the experiences of every subject and itself feel what every subject felt. It would by this nature, be inclined to want to feel positive, rather than negative feelings. And thus, it would, by nature, be omnibenevolent and motivated with a will towards the greatest good.
More than any other subject, a subject with perfect information would be bound by the responsibility that comes with knowledge of the true morality and the feelings and experiences of other subjects. God’s Will would be determined to do what is right. Thus, it is most likely that if God exists, God is a Utilitarian.
How would an all-powerful God go about maximizing happiness? Perhaps it would look not unlike a kind of Eternal Life of Bliss, a Utopia, which is not unlike the commonly understood notion of Heaven. Eternity for all in a state of maximized happiness would produce effectively infinite amounts of good.
If our conjectured Utilitarian God existed, it would almost certainly be motivated to create Heaven, a place of infinite happiness for as many subjects as possible. Such a notion may seem impossible at first, but scientifically, it would not be difficult assuming that God, or a God-like entity possessed the ability to time travel, to upload minds, and to create some kind of eternally existent realm.
Thus, the grandest mission we can contemplate is one that ensures that our conjectured Utilitarian God exists. If such a being already exists, we should do everything possible to support its goals. If such a being does not exist, then we should endeavour to create it at the soonest possible time.
But we may have a strong impetus to believe that such a being could in fact exist. Consider the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. It suggests that if a God could exist, then this God would almost certainly exist in at least one of the Many Possible Worlds. If such a powerful and benevolent being did exist in at least one universe of our multiverse, then it would almost certainly expand to every universe in an effort to be as all-benevolent as possible.
Regardless, of whether or not God actually exists, the perspective of God is a useful one to take.
Once we have the perspective of God as a hypothetical position, we can take subjective happiness and step out of our subjective box into an objective view of happiness. This would be true or authentic happiness. For our purposes we shall take the Greek word Eudaimonia, which closely resembles this kind of happiness. Eudaimonia is the happiness one would feel in a given situation only if they had the objective, God-like perspective.
In the God-like perspective, you would know everything that happened. This includes secret actions that violate your values. To that end, Eudaimonia differs from subjective happiness in that what you don’t know can hurt you. It concerns itself with the objective, rather than the subjective truth.
Eudaimonic Utilitarianism thus advocates maximizing an objective happiness. Practically speaking this is simultaneously equivalent to maximizing the conjectured God’s happiness, and maximizing every subject’s happiness. In practice however, Eudaimonic Utilitarianism requires a God-like perspective to undertake. As such, most subjects would not be able to undertake it. Thus, for most subjects, Eudaimonic Utilitarianism collapses into Classical Utilitarianism.
The Grand Mission
As previously noted, the meaning of one’s life is a subjective notion that is open to one’s own choice. Life is as significant as we want it to be. Well, if one wants their life to be as meaningful and significant in a positive way as possible, then one needs to act accordingly.
Power comes with responsibility. A subject has the power to live their life in any number of possible ways. They have a responsibility to live that life in a way that fits a coherent, rational, moral system. The most rational moral system is a form of Utilitarianism that maximizes the total Eudaimonia or long-term potential happiness of all sentient beings.
How can a mere human being, even contemplate such a grandiose objective? We start by optimizing a function that determines what kind of work to do. There is work that will improve happiness greatly, but be very difficult, such that a person of a particular combination of talents and abilities will not succeed at. There is also work that would be easy for that person, but not particularly useful. The ideal is to find what is within the person’s capacity to do well, and the most useful of these.
Determining the most useful requires looking at long term considerations of the major problems of human society, and their potential solutions. For instance, the solution to the energy problem is a carbon neutral energy storage system such as an algae-based biofuel technology, or some kind of new and superior battery cell technology.
One of the most significant problems however is the nature of human occupation. Our entire society is modelled around the expectations of labouring in the economy as producers of goods and services. Given how much of our lives are devoted to work, it is arguably the largest restriction on our freedom as human beings, and a cause of considerable unhappiness.
What if we could do away with mandatory labour or wage slavery? Imagine for a moment a world where altruistically programmed machines could do all the tedious and undesirable work, leaving humans to work or play as they pleased.
Even if you don’t agree with this utopian image, you have to admit that corporations are going to take advantage of robot labour if they can get away with it. Machines have high upfront “hiring” costs, but much lower maintenance “wages”. Intelligent machines are a fusion of capital and labour, and those that control these machines, will effectively control the means of production in the economy of the future.
Those that doubt the capacity of A.I., need only to see the recent examples of Google’s Alpha Go, and Open AI’s GPT-3, to see that very smart people are making progress on the problem. Given its potential to revolutionize the world dramatically, I see it as an obligation and an opportunity to be a part of the development of such technology.
There is also a moral responsibility in this. The potential of A.I. is such that could also cause great unhappiness if directed irresponsibly. Sentient machines, regardless of how altruistically we program them, may well deserve civil rights. Amorally designed sentient machines could very well do considerable harm and pose an existential threat to the human species. It is a duty to design the neural networks of such machines with altruistic emotions to prevent this.
Moving a bit away from the science fiction for a moment, even something as simple as existing neural network technology has tremendous potential to do valuable things like predict the future. Given sufficient data, they can theoretically find any relationship. An obvious example of a potential application with enormous benefit, would be Earthquake prediction. Earthquakes, and the Tsunamis they cause are just about the most catastrophic and destructive natural disasters that occur in terms of human lives lost. Being able to accurately predict such events and thus mitigate the damage, would save countless numbers of lives and have an enormous impact on the future.
One possible version of the grand mission then, one tailored to a certain set of talents and abilities, is to try to improve and save as many lives as possible using technological superiority. Perhaps there are others. Different people may well be able to achieve different versions of the grand mission, tailored to suit their particular talents and abilities. The common thread of course, is the goal of maximizing Eudaimonia for all sentient beings.
The ultimate goal of the grand mission is to achieve what should best be called Pax Scientia, or a better world through knowledge.