Irrepressibly Meaning-making Species


The human brain is very good at one thing. Seeing patterns. We’re so good at this, as a species, that if there is no pattern, our brain will trick us into thinking that there is one. That’s where having a second opinion can be helpful, but not always. You see, if we are persuasive enough, we can also convince that other brain in someone else’s body that they see the pattern, too. Because that’s what humans want to see. 

The title of this post is from a paper I was reading while researching for something, to check myself and see if there was a pattern there, or just noise my brain was interpreting in a meaningful way. And this phrase, that humans are “an irrepressibly meaning-making species” got me smiling and nodding. We really are. We look for meaning in everything and everyone around us. If we don’t immediately see a meaning, we’ll make one up, just like that pattern from background noise. We tell ourselves stories, all the time. Like any other coping skill, it has both pros and cons. A con is that, of course, if you don’t consciously know you are inserting meaning where there is none, you wind up living with lies and delusions. 

Life needs meaning. Without some kind of overarching intent, why do we bother getting out of bed in the morning? There is a reason we humans are irrepressible, and ambitious, and we turn our faces upward, lit by starlight, and dream great dreams. We have refused, from the time of the neanderthal burials decorated with flowers to honor the meaning that individual had to those left behind still living, to accept that this is all there is. We strive, we dream, we live

We irrepressible humans. 


2 thoughts on “Irrepressibly Meaning-making Species

  1. I wonder if our propensity as a species to seek, even invent, meaning is one of the factors that has made one of the eternal questions, “What is the meaning of life?” so universal, so important, to us. The reality MIGHT be that is has no meaning, that we are simply the result of biology and its tendency to become more complex, to the point that sentience is born. So, as the Greeks saw deities in the forces of nature. people found greater meaning in the bios of a carpenter from Nazareth and a merchant from Mecca.

    1. I’ve long complained that “What is the meaning of life?” is presumptuous and the first question ought to be, “Does life have any meaning?” But who listens to ox?

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