Before we can embark on a sturdy sail towards meaning, we have to know what’s really real about our reality. This is because we need a meaning that we can stand on unwaveringly, that we can hang our hat on and say smilingly, yes, this is a true, satisfying, source of meaning.
However, historically and generally, humans seem not to care at all if their source of meaning is true. They seem to be reacting in a I-don’t-care-if-it’s-true, just-give-it-to-me-in-any-flippant-form-because-I-need-it-so-badly-manner. Humans will believe anything if it provides them with meaning when they desperately want it. Hence the existence of innumerable fabricated religious stories. But I want a meaning that I know is in some sense true. Or at least that has a mathematical or rational probability of being true. Generally, science is about truth and religion is about meaning. Then “all we have to do” to unlock a form of cosmic meaning is find a way of making science, or the true, meaningful. But getting our way to a true meaning requires that we know exactly how to get to any piece of “the true.”
Firstly, how do we know what we know and which facets of that knowledge are something “real” or “true” in the universe? Well, you can take somewhat mind-numbing philosophy theory of knowledge (TOK) classes in which you use very meticulous linguistic logic to claim a foundation for particular sets of knowledge… Or you can just get straight to the scientific solution to the matter.
So, let me save you the long nights of eyebrow-furrowing-reading on philosophical logic that I did and just give you the quick skit. All that reading doesn’t really get to the heart of our question anyway.
You must be sitting somewhere while you’re reading this. I’ll assume you’re sitting at a table. Maybe your elbow is resting on that table while you’re wondering where I’m going with this.
… How do you know the table is real?
… What I mean is, how do you know you’re not dreaming up the table?
That’s a big question in philosophy and many a lecture-hook start out with that question. But I don’t think philosophy by itself has much to say about it, as I already alluded. You know the table is real because of science. Specifically, you know the table is real because of evolution. You know you’re not dreaming because of evolution.
Yes, that’s right. Not math, not physics, not chemistry, not language, not “I think therefore I am” – evolution is at the heart and core of what’s telling us what’s real and what’s not real.
This is because all of the components of your human sensory perception that epochs of evolution have developed are allowing you to realize what’s true about your environment. Evolution toiled to bring you hands and eyes and other sensory modes that detect truth-bearing-parts of that table in front of you. Evolution’s a reliable process leading you to truth. If you didn’t have any idea of what’s real and what’s not in the universe, there’s no way you’d survive. Thanks evolution, you’re alright!
Billions of creatures across billions of years have learned to pick up on the parameters of the physical world for their survival and hence discovered some facade of the truth of reality.
All other sets of knowledge (math and science included) have commenced and laid their foundation via the sensory perceptions that the evolutionary process perfected and incorporated into our being.
So are we getting closer to the truth because we are so much more advanced than the other creatures? Possibly. Hardly. We’re biased towards the tiny segment of the environment that our species has adapted to. All of our math and science has no option but to be built on top of the mere way we happened to have adapted to a particular level of reality.
Warning: I now need to make an inevitable, highly-opinionated, nerd-detour: Quantum mechanics and general relativity are realms of reality that humans have absolutely not adapted to and are environments that our sensory perception has no way of understanding. Yes, they are empirically consistent, correct theories on their own, but may not be telling us anything about the “real” of the universe because they are built off of laws that were founded in our adapted sensory environment (basic math and science). You can’t just slap parts of sensory-founded laws of nature onto a non-adapted, non-sensory environment-realm . Uh-oh. That means… there’s no Theory of Everything (TOE) because we can’t squash together two human perspectives of two drastically different environments that we haven’t adapted to. Ugh, sorry TOE. In other words… another advanced intelligent civilization in the galaxy will not have the exact same set of basic physics as we do because they will have adapted differently than us to their particular planet and will have a different way of discovering the truths of said planet.
Anyway, back to finding our meaning podium.
Getting to some of the “true” means picking up on all the sensory facets of our reality that evolution has bestowed upon us. And we can magnify some of those with technology. But there are a lot of instincts and “feelings” or senses about our environment we have as animals that science and society basically ignore because we don’t know of a way to make those things quantitative. But just because we can’t chug it into a calculator or underline it and box it and or graph collected data on it doesn’t mean it’s not real! In fact, evolution is telling us that if we’re having a repetitive biochemical sensory reaction to anything in our surroundings, well, then it might be telling you something real about your environment.
Some, maybe most, of our human sense-feelings, like hunger, don’t really seem to have anything to do with the reality of the cosmos. But… on second thought, the exchange of energy and the physics of sustaining life that are associated with that sensory-desire are telling us some things about how the universe works. We need to consume orderly forms (fruit, vegetables, other complicated, orderly animal forms) to maintain our complex human order. Many structures in the universe function on similar principles. Anyway, some of our senses and desires may let us peer into the truth of the cosmos more than others.
But if humanity is sensing a desperate need for meaning, as thousands of religious ideologies have demonstrated, then there’s something real about the meaning search. Our evolution is telling us- find your belonging in the cosmos! Find your meaning! You need it! You must inherit your connectedness to the cosmic schema because you need it in your spirit to advance, to discover, to survive as a species! … Now if science-logic led us to see a potential reality of meaning and if you find the process of truth-hunting satisfactory (how is the search for truth not meaningful?) because you’re starting to see where that hat-peg and unwavering cosmic-stage are hiding out, then maybe our cosmic meaning is upon us.