On the Meaninglessness of Life

Photo by Paul Volkmer on Unsplash

“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”. Those are the wise words written by one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. Douglas Adams is his name.

He developed a theory which he went to elaborate across four books. What he believed (and elaborated) is that the Earth was created by a species of super-intelligent mice. Humans, he further elaborates, were put on this planet as part of a huge experiment. Experiment with a sole purpose of finding the Question which bears an answer to the number 42.

Whether you agree is up to you. Feel free to read his books and figure out your own opinion.

But if you were to ask myself – I believe that the sole purpose of life is to have as much fun as possible. As simple as that. Really.

Do I believe there’s a deeper meaning? A hidden mission we are all on? An ultimate quest (i.e. find the question to the answer, as Adams puts it) if you will? Nope. I highly doubt so.

Somebody (I think it was Neil deGrasse Tyson?) once said that “the Universe doesn’t give a flying crap about your opinion”. It doesn’t care about your thoughts, problems, your career and your inner belief that only if you had _____ (input multiply of million at will), you’d meet your goal and be happy.

The thing is that, on a grand scale of things, Universe is such a MASSIVE place that thinking that we are somewhat special, is just comic to begin with.

No, you are not ‘placed’ on Earth to fulfil a special meaning. There’s not ultimate MEANING to life as it is. Life is meaningless.

BUT! Hear me out! BUT! What you need to focus on is using the time that you are given to HAVE AS MUCH FUN AS POSSIBLE! Period.

Easier said than done. Sure. And you’ll be surprised that there are TWO types of fun. One being completely meaningless whereas the other one is what you need to aim for. So let’s talk about that now.

Cheap Fun as a Meaning to Life

As part of this article, I bring up two types of fun – Cheap and Expensive ones. The latter is what you want to aim for, but for clarity, I will discuss the former one first.

What I define as Cheap type of fun is any kind of fun that doesn’t require ANY kind of sacrifice in order to gain a satisfaction. Yes, I’m talking here about boozing yourself up, doing drugs, having meaningless sex, chasing (more) money, etc. On the outside, all of those activities seem tempting and satisfying, and yet, once you do experience them and once the short-term excitement wears off, all you are left off is misery.

And how do you treat that misery? By thinking that you just need MORE of what you did in the first place (e.g. more drugs, or more money). Because, you know, you spent so much time CHASING that feeling in the first place that it’d be ridicolous to have a cold-shower realization that MAYBE, just MAYBE, it actually sucks. It doesn’t give any purpose, or meaning. It creates misery!

I heard (sadly can’t remember the source) of a really cool description of “what cocaine makes you feel like?”. “It makes you feel like MORE cocaine”. That’s it. Temporary excitement and then misery. And you cure misery by putting more Cheap fun on top of it. Rinse & repeat until dead.

I mentioned Sunk cost fallacy in multiple articles, but I’ll repeat it here:

In economics and business decision-making, a sunk cost (also known as retrospective cost) is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Sunk costs are contrasted with prospective costs, which are future costs that may be avoided if action is taken. In other words, a sunk cost is a sum paid in the past that is no longer relevant to decisions about the future. Even though economists argue that sunk costs are no longer relevant to future rational decision-making, people in everyday life often take previous expenditures in situations, such as repairing a car or house, into their future decisions regarding those properties.

Source: Wikipedia

Let me translate that to something more meaningful. What this says is that people tend to invest more time, money and energy in the endeavors that they believed will bring them something, and yet they didn’t. They didn’t bring anything, but since you put effort in it, you keep adding MORE effort in an attempt to make up for your losses.

So you keep drinking; or gambling; or trying to fix that bug instead of sleeping over it and getting a fresh perspective in the morning!

That’s cheap fun. And it’s shit. It’s shit because it brings nothing but tendency to chase MORE cheap fun, without ever actually having fun in the first place!

Expensive Fun as a Meaning to Life

The problem with Cheap types of fun is that they require NO effort. And frankly, as much as you might hate me for it – the effort IS what makes you derive real pleasure.

Problem with this statement is that trying to elaborate on what I mean is like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in it. You keep pouring water but there’s always MORE to be added. For a reason, I guess.

So instead of trying to argue what I said above, I will give my personal opinion which I simply built over time. And yes, you should always DOUBT somebody else’s opinion and use it as a reference to build your own! So, doubt mine all you want, but here is what I think.

Think of a last time when you did some physically demanding thing (e.g. worked out, went for a run, or helped your friend lift a couch). How did you feel afterwards? Tired possibly, but there surely was a rush of ‘damn, that feels good!’.

Now think of a last time you went for a coffee or dinner with friends that you enjoy spending time with. How did it feel like afterwards? You likely felt refreshened, inspired, and full of life.

What about a time you learned something new? Or built something new? How did THAT feel like? Felt awesome, no?

What’s common for all three cases is that you invested some EFFORT upfront and got rewarded afterwards.

In case of a workout – you invested energy and some sweat. In case of a dinner with friends you actually invested years BUILDING those relationships. In the case when you learned or built something, you actually invested time and mental energy to learn and solve whatever it was in front of you.

The best part? It ALSO makes you feel like wanting MORE of it! You want to exercise more, you want to hang with your friends again, you want to learn more of new stuff, … the list goes on, but the thing is that you are trading EFFORT for further GRATIFICATION; and just like investing – it compounds and pays dividends in the future!

That’s why I call it EXPENSIVE – you need to GIVE something in order to GET something in the future. And I do agree, in case of drugs, you do give money to get instant boost, but the difference is that you PAY for feeling good NOW, but are actually sacrificing what is to come TOMORROW (or later on).

So, to put it as bluntly as it gets:

The ultimate meaning to life should be to have as much expensive fun as possible! Period.

Learning and Exploring Stuff as ULTIMATE type of Expensive Fun

Hear me out here, a’ight?

The first version of this article was COMPLETELY different. I wrote it, showed it to my wife, and then spent 45 minutes explaining “well that’s not really what I meant”. She claimed that the article is “too dark and depressive” and I kept saying “well yes, but no, because it’s about lack of meaning, while still advocating to have fun”.

She proceeded to bring up Nikola Tesla as an example. “Would you say his life had no meaning?”. Interestingly enough, I’d argue that YES, from what I know, he spent most if his life feeling miserable, but not only did he leave a huge mark on humanity, but he served me a PERFECT example of what I was trying to say in the WHOLE article — the ULTIMATE type of having fun in your life is LEARNING and EXPLORING stuff!

(for anyone interested, I saved the OLD version of article aside. If you want to read it, ping me privately and I’ll send you the link)

Let me say it again:

I strongly believe that the ULTIMATE satisfaction (Expensive Fun) that you can have is by engaging yourself in learning new stuff & exploring uncharted territories. Period.

Why do I think so? Too many reasons. But I’ll give you two on top of my head:

  1. One of the main things that distinguishes HUMANS from other mammals is our curiosity. And that’s exactly what drove us to where we are today.
    People who were curious enough to WANT to learn and were brave enough to suffer temporary pain (i.e. pain of NOT KNOWING and TRYING TO LEARN) for long-term gains (i.e. figuring something out) are the main driving force that got us where we are today.
  2. Exposing yourself to unknown and learning about it is inexhaustible source of motivation.
    Just think about it, really. Think of a time when you engaged yourself in something you were curious about, then explored it, then figured something out (or felt something new). It felt awesome, right? And not just that, but it made you want MORE of it. It’s a non-stop fuel and source of additional motivation! Perpetuum mobile can go to hell!

One huge problem, though, is finding something that interests you. It’s not only hard, but some people never even manage to discover their driving force.

For this, I honestly blame society and societal pressures, constantly requiring us to bend over the way that others dictate. But that’s a huge and vastly different topic that I’d avoid engaging in now.

What I want to focus on is – how do you find your passion? How do you find something that you will be able to spend HOURS being engrossed in?

Good news is – by applying the same principles I specified above – being curious and just trying as many things as possible. Literally. Just GO and TRY as many things possible and do not stop until you find something that drives you.

A really good friend of mine spent 10 years in IT, being a developer and then for a short time exploring Management options. She never was happy, I believe. Eventually, she managed to find her passion in Astrology and, from what I hear, she’s able to spend HOURS these days just learning, playing and exploring it! And I think that’s just freaking amazing.

Here’s another example – Richard Feynman, one of the most famous physicist and Nobel Prize laureates. If you never heard of him, that’s really on you and you MUST and absolutely MUST check the book called Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! It’s a personal biography of Mr. Feynman, where he elaborates all the (crazy) things he tried in his life (and still managed to win a Nobel Prize). And when I say “all the things”, he literally tried everything from becoming a master at picking locks, being a pick-up artist (he seems to have had a thing for “picks”), all the way to painting nude female models.

So, if a famous physicist can try all and still be successful – what’s really your excuse here?

A word (or two) about Nature

I’ve heard so many variants of Nature wants us to succeed. Nature wants us to survive. Nature wants us to be great at what we hope for …

That’s all great. But Nature doesn’t give a flying shit about you. Really.

Let me show you something:

To the best of our knowledge, Earth itself is ~4.5 billion years old. First primitive forms of life have appeared around 3.7 billion years ago, while humans, as we know them today, have ‘appeared’ (or, evolved into what we are today, more or less), around 300.000 years ago.

One issue with humans is that we just suck with big numbers. Hence, difference between 4.5 billion (i.e. 4.500.000.000) and 300.000 sounds big, but doesn’t really give us much of a clue.

This is where the picture above comes into play. It represents the existence of Earth as a 24-hour clock. 00:00 is basically when the Earth “appeared” (again, to the best of our knowledge). Then, for three straight hours, there was NOTHING. NOTHING. It was lifeless extremely hot mass. It doesn’t help that during that time it was also being nuked with meteorites (btw, there’s a great theory called “panspermia” that argues that one of the meteorites brought life from another planet).

Then, around 4AM in the morning, first basic forms of life started appearing. And when I say “first forms”, don’t even think about anything resembling what exists today. The first forms of life were single-cellular microbes which, well, aside from having a single cell, served not much purpose other than that (for comparison – humans have around 37.2 trillion cells – that’s 37.200.000.000.000; we’ve come a long way as you can see). And then, objectively speaking, for some 14 hours, NOTHING significant happens again. And then, around 6PM do things become interesting.

The biggest surprise for me was the fact that dinosaurs, which we think of FAR AWAY in the future, actually happened around 11PM! Yep. It took 23 hours, so to speak, for dinosaurs to appear! And humans, as we know them occupy not even the last 2 minutes of the whole existence!

So, would you really argue that we were created with some grand purpose? If so, why did it took 23 hours and 58 minutes for it to happen? Didn’t it make sense to happen way earlier, if we were to serve any purpose?

Oh, and did I mention that the age of the universe is 13.8 billion years? And that’s only the KNOWN part of universe (it could be way older for all we know, but 13.8B is farthest we could “see” in the past.

So if Universe is so damn old, why it took so much time to create Earth in the first place?

My wife argues that everything great takes time to create, while Douglas Adams argues that it was all planned by mice, … I’d encourage you to think of your version of the truth 🙂

Want more?

I understand that this article might be against your inner-beliefs and what not, so you might feel like it betrayed you. Or that I betrayed you. Maybe feel the urge to block everything related to me.

That’s OK. But my point still remains – you really should invest time learning stuff about stuff in order to be able to deduct reasoning for yourself. Or you can keep watching Big Brother and other shit invented to occupy your attention, all the while making you wonder why the fuck are you watching it in the first place …

For those with actual curiosity to step out of their comfort and knowledge zone, here are some materials I can highly suggest:

  • Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund — an amazing read for anyone who’d claim anything among the lines of “well, people in the past did ______”. Turns out that in 10/10 of the cases, people in the past had it way harder than you could imagine, and you have no clue how better off we are these days.
  • “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard P. Feynman — what a better way to learn how to have fun than by reading thoughts of one of the greatest physicists of our time?
  • On the Shortness of Life by Seneca — some would say that it’s a bit outdated as, from Seneca’s point of view, the ultimate satisfaction in life should be to serve to a public office, which I can’t really comment on as I don’t have enough info to understand the politics of the ancient Rome. HOWEVER, it’s a great read as 95% of what he writes directly maps to TODAY.
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson — an amazing book to help you put things into an actual perspective (e.g. earth is ~4.5 billion years old, whereas what we refer to as Homo Sapiens today ‘appeared’ some 300.000 years ago).
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari — a bit opinionated and not up to everyone’s taste, but a really great book in my opinion. It covers the, as the title says – everything from the appearance of first humans all the way to what we call ‘modern societies’. What’s fascinating is how likely you have no idea how different events played in tremendously different time frames.

Appendix: What’s MY purpose in life?

I just couldn’t help but ask myself. Like – I’m preaching what YOU should be doing, but what is it that I’m finding passion in? What are MY sources of Expensive Fun?

Sadly or not, lots of what I can do these days is really shaped by bite-sized pockets of time that I get when little one is sleeping (or being outside with mommy). Here’s more or less what I’m trying to focus on:

  1. Learning C++ (and C# later on). Why? Primary reason – because I’ll use them at my new job. Secondary reason – because I love exploring new languages, and this came as a perfect opportunity to make an excuse to do it.
  2. Learning about Azure, Azure SQL and SQL Server. And not only am I learning, but I’m planning to start a completely new Blog (or, technically a Newsletter on Substack) where I’ll be sharing bite-sized pieces of knowledge I manage to acquire.
  3. Running this blog. As you probably noticed, lots of my articles are actually summaries of what I’m learning at the moment. Hence, I use this blog both to strengthen the knowledge that I’ve acquired AND to improve my writing (because I have more grandiose plans in the future!).
  4. Trying to build my Public Speaking profile by giving lectures on various Conferences. It might not be obvious at first, but Public Speaking is a kind of an art form on it’s own (just like writing is) and hence, I’m pretty much trying to sharpen that skill by doing it as much as possible.
  5. Being a Parent. Probably the ultimately hard never-ending tasks that keeps demanding and rewarding 🙂 Suffice to say – I’m learning and failing a lot as I go.

So far that seems to be pretty much all I could fit into very very very limited free time I have. On the topic of what I’d LOVE to be doing and what I’m hoping to start doing once the little one starts sleeping through the night:

  1. Start a podcast. This is exactly what I wanted to do for a long time, and just about when I got it started, I became a dad as well 🙂 Frankly, this is rather a long-shot but definitely something I’m looking forward to.
  2. Start writing a book. This started as a joke actually but one of my friends and colleagues (you know who you are, you dirty-minded scumbag :P) asked me “well, why the heck don’t you do it?”. I have this crazy idea of writing series of stories titled “Doorian’s Adventures” which would basically be my attempt at throwing Doorian (the main character, obviously) into a random timeframe in a human history (e.g. at the time of a Big bang, or during a time when Roman empire was being built) and explore what he sees, who he meets, how he behaves, etc. My primary idea is to learn and explore History through a series of stories 🙂 Quite complex to explain, I get it, but that’s what I’m aiming at really.

And I think that’s about it 🙂

Other stuff you might like:

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2 thoughts on “On the Meaninglessness of Life

  1. ‘I believe that the sole purpose of life is to have as much fun as possible. As simple as that.’ This. It is oversimplified, but the message is spot on. And believe you me, when a cynical bastard, too often prone to bouts of misanthropy, and nihilism approves of your message, it really says a lot.
    Yes, life is inherently meaningless, especially in the grand scheme of thinks–think mass extinctions, like the Permian one–but should one simply give up on it? Hell no. The problem is, humans tend to search for a meaning in anything–which is why so many people still follow religious teachings, or believe in astrology–and when they inevitably come to a conclusion that any meaning is simply inferred, they have a crisis. And usually turn into obnoxious straw nihilists. But why should anything–not just life–have any inherent meaning to it? It’s ridiculous. Since the topic is life–or, rather, its meaningless–well, life’s what you make it. Its meaning is whatever the hell you want it to be. Hence – 42. Alt-42 being the ASCII code for asterisk, the joker sign in computing… Now, DNA claimed that this wasn’t what he meant, but it would be too much of a coincidence. After all, he was a computer geek–an Apple fanboy, alas, but nobody’s perfect–so chances are this was intentional.
    So folks, go out and live your best life–or at least, try to; that’s a win, regardless–do good as much as possible, and don’t bother looking for life’s meaning.

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