17 May, 2016

Motions of Meaningness

This is a riff on David Chapman's forever incomplete Meaningness html book. Knowing what the hell that is not required, or beneficial really. I just steal borrow his terminology to point at a neat pattern that would probably better suit a series of twitter postings.

Epistemic Status: I writing this late at night; expect moderate incoherence.


When you ask people 'what's the meaning of life', there are two common answers, and a few uncommon ones I think I saw mention in Chapman's site but forgot too much about to even find the reference again. Nihilism is the total denial of true meaning. Eternalism is Chapman's coinword for what's basically anti-nihilism. They are mirror images in two ways, the one illustrated in his site, which is they they are (mostly) motivated by fear of each other, acting like something of a distributed sorting algorithm for people's emotional proclivities.

The other way is simply in terms of connections. Meaning in logical systems is about isomorphism. This meshes quite well with the intuitive impression of meaning in most cases, where something can be thought of as meaningful if it maps onto something more familiar, in some kind of structure preserving map. These words are meaningful because they map onto concepts in your heed, for instance.

Switching tracks, let me tell you about this idea stewing about in my head for the longest: deep symbolism. Sometimes I wonder about what types of things are intrinsic the humanity and the environs we inhabit, and produce images that are invariant over time and space. Concepts, narratives, images, that all emerge naturally from our neural makeup. Attractors in mindspace. Call these things, if they exist at all, 'deep symbols'.

Occaisionally when checking a musical album, for example, I'll wonder about what deep symbol I'm brushing up against. I think about whatever thoughts/ideas are expressed in the music, and wonder about what paradigm I can fit them into, that would have this particular piece of culture fall out as a specific instance.

At least one time, which prompted this post, I'll have the self-awareness to realize what I'm doing. I'm reaching for meaning; this is what meaning-search feels like from inside. And this gives me a nice, neat analogy for the eternalism/nihilism split: eternalism is the insistence that there is very simple, elegant conceit which you have a structure preserving mapping of everything in existence onto this very simple thingy and isn't it nice?

(fans of Unsong, this is basically what adam kadmon (pls let me have spelled that right) is)

Nihilism is the exact opposite. It sees the world through the lens of a metaphorical sensory processing disorder where everything is noise. No patterns, no regularity, etc. This may or may not be how SPDs actually work, but it's a conceit that's gotten into my head and stuck around.

Even simpler: nihilism is a graph with no connections, and eternalism is a completely-connected graph.

None of this is how reality looks like, when you get down to it. It's a delicate interplay of order and randomness, a transcendental number rather than a integer or a undefinable and real number.

I hope at least I can help other feel and notice this same reaching for insight, for small-m meaning that happens to me from time to time.

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