9. Meaning: Sorry Fellow Hitchhikers, It’s NOT 42!

“Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist, in “Man's Search for Meaning”

“Human being is meaning making. For the human, what evolving amounts to is the evolving of systems of meaning; the business of organisms is to organize, as Perry (1970) says.”

- Robert Kegan, American developmental psychologist, in "The Personnel and Guidance Journal"

"Ask yourself these two questions: What do I want to exist even if I don't. And how much of a difference I make to it. If you've got good answers to both of those, you have meaning in life. If you have only the first but not the second, you are seeking. If you have neither, you are in trouble."

― John Vervaeke, Canadian philosopher and cognitive scientist, in "Solving the Meaning Crisis"

Man's Search for Meaning

Let us start with a quick introduction to Viktor Frankl and his seminal book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. His book is credited with raising awareness of the idea that finding meaning in our lives was critical for human beings.

Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and a Holocaust survivor during the second world war. He spent about 3 years in various concentration camps, where he witnessed as well as personally endured horrendous suffering and saw how various people dealt with it.

It was his experiences during that time, observed through the lens of a fellow prisoner as well as a psychiatrist, that led him to write the book.

In the book, Frankl discusses the concept of "existential vacuum," where people experience a sense of emptiness and purposelessness when they lack a clear sense of meaning in their lives. We have used the term “meaning void” to describe essentially the same idea in this book.

Frankl argues that filling this vacuum with meaning is the primary human motivation. According to him, people can endure suffering with dignity and inner strength, even in the most extreme circumstances, if they can find some meaning in their trials.

The following quote by him conveys this idea well:

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

― Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist, in “Man’s Search for Meaning”.

Needless to say, I have been greatly influenced by these ideas. So much so that I felt using a slight variation of the title of Frankl’s book would not only be perfect for my book, but also pay homage to his ideas.

As stated earlier, my goal here is to take a rigorous, First Principles-based approach to the concept of meaning, so one does not have to take leaps of faith or rely on someone's opinion to get there.

In order to do so, we have to first define what exactly we mean by "meaning".

The Meaning of “Meaning”

Right off the bat, we should note that most people, including many scientists themselves, believe that the concept of meaning, used in this context, is beyond the reach of science or reason.

In my opinion, people who say this are, knowingly or unknowingly, admitting that meaning can only originate either from a supernatural power, or somewhere deep inside our subconscious which, in their opinion, is beyond the reach of reason.

Many others think the concept of meaning of life itself is meaningless or totally made up. Still others think that you can make it whatever you want it to be.

I wonder if Douglas Adams, the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide series of books and the one who popularized the phrase “Life, the Universe and Everything”, had similar thoughts in mind when he came up with “42” as the answer to the question of the meaning of life.

Here is the relevant excerpt from his book:

"Alright," said Deep Thought. "The Answer to the Great Question..."


"Of Life, the Universe and Everything..." said Deep Thought.


"Is..." said Deep Thought, and paused.




"Forty-two," said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

― Douglas Adams, English author and humorist, in “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy”

Needless to say, none of these answers are satisfactory for our purposes. We should try to, and as we will soon see, can, do better. A lot better.

Apart from long-held religious and philosophical ideas, I believe a major part of the reason for all this confusion about “meaning” is that the word itself is not defined very clearly. It goes without saying that concepts need to be well-defined before we can apply any significant amount of rigor to them.

And, as it turns out, we can actually define “meaning” quite crisply and when we do so, it becomes quite amenable to rigor.

To start with, let us note that a lot of academic literature uses the phrase “meaning in life” to distinguish it from the colloquial phrase “meaning of life”. This is probably because the phrase “meaning of life” is very closely associated with religion. Defining a different phrase, “meaning in life”, allows us to distinguish ourselves from these old religious and philosophical notions and the confusions associated with them.

With that introduction, let us dive in and take a deeper look at what the scientific literature says we mean by the phrase “meaning in life”.

“Meaning in Life” Based on Psychological Analysis

Luckily for us, this topic has already been studied quite extensively by psychologists. And based on various studies and surveys, they have converged on 3 primary components that comprise the notion of “meaning in life”:

A) Having coherence or comprehensibility in one’s life,

B) Having a sense of purpose in one’s life, and

C) Having a sense that one’s life matters or has existential significance.

(This is from a recent comprehensive review of the field, “The Science of Meaning in Life” by Laura A. King and Joshua A. Hicks, published in Annual Review of Psychology (Vol. 72:561-584), January 2021.)

Let us take a look at each of these categories in a little more detail.

A) Meaning as Having Coherence or Comprehensibility in Life

If you see structure and inter-relatedness between your life’s experiences and recognize understandable patterns in them, then you have Meaning as "having coherence or comprehensibility" in your life.

In simple words, it refers to our commonly held expectation that “my life makes sense” or that “I can tell a coherent story about my life”.

Human beings have always been storytellers. Stories are the way we make sense of everything, from a kindergartener coming home from school excitedly shouting “guess what happened today”, to people sitting in lecture halls listening to some scientist telling them “the story of life, the universe and everything”.

It is natural for us to be able to do the same for our own lives in order for it to feel meaningful.

One of the popular bumper stickers from the 80’s was “One who dies with the most toys wins”. It was used to justify a lifestyle of materialistic excess. But now that we are older and wiser, maybe we can replace it with “One who dies with the most meaningful life story wins”.

Needless to say, I like that phrase a lot personally. You may recall that this was exactly how I got started on this journey: My desire to make sense of my life and tell a coherent and meaningful story, starting from First Principles.

B) Meaning as Having a Sense of Purpose in Life

Meaning as "having a sense of purpose in life" refers to the expectation that you are aware of your aims or core goals and direction in life and you adhere to them to the best of your ability.

In other words, if you are convinced that your life has a purpose, then you feel that your life is meaningful.

When asked about their purpose, people typically come up answers such as “I need to support my family”, or “I have a mortgage”, or “I like to accomplish things”, or “I feel a need to fulfill my natural calling”, or “I want to become rich” and so on.

Here is a famous quote along these lines:

“We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise, why else even be here?”

― Steve Jobs

In my case, researching and writing this book has provided me with a strong sense of purpose day in and day out while I have been at it. Due to this, by the time I publish it and before anyone has read it, it would already have provided immense value to me! (As an aside, I would highly recommend writing a book about a subject you really care about. It is incredibly rewarding even if no one ever reads it.)

C) Meaning as Existential Mattering or Significance

A common refrain you might hear when talking to people about meaning in life is that they feel they need to contribute to something “much larger than themselves” or “make a difference” in the world somehow.

What they are referring to here is “existential mattering” or “significance”. People who feel that their lives matter or are significant in some way feel that their lives are meaningful.

This need probably arises from the fact that we are consciously or subconsciously aware of our mortality as well as our relatively minuscule sphere of influence when compared to the unimaginable longevity and immensity of the universe. We want our lives to have an impact well beyond our limited lifespan and our local niche.

The reasonable way to achieve that is to look for something that is likely to survive far longer than ourselves and has a far larger scope than ourselves, and make a contribution to it.

This is why people usually like to associate themselves with something large and long-lasting, such as a well-known religion or philosophy or a long-lived institution or cause that has survived for a long time and is likely to continue and grow for a long time. As long as their contribution helps that entity survive and maintain or increase its scope, they can feel that their life is meaningful.

The "intense conscious experiences" that we talked about in the chapter on Consciousness, such as listening to sublime music or watching a reading particularly moving story or even appreciating the mathematical beauty of some formula also fall into this category. The heightened states of consciousness experienced at such moments give us the feeling that we belong to some sort of divine, all pervasive and immortal reality.

As you might have noticed, there is some overlap among all three components of meaning mentioned above, but there is also something unique in each. Also, most peoples’ definition of meaning in life will probably contain some amount of each of these components.

Meaning from First Principles

Normally, the definitions of meaning provided above would be adequate for our purposes, but one may still have some discomfort over the fact that they are derived from surveys rather than from the ground up.

You may ask: Is there a way to derive these definitions of meaning starting from First Principles?

And there is! The Free Energy Principle and Active Inference comes to our rescue here again.

As we saw in the chapter on Life, Active Inference is the process that all living organisms perform in order to continue to survive in a dynamic environment. Active Inference involves the living organisms building a generative model of their environment, which generates counterfactual scenarios and then seeks evidence for them, thus improving the predictive power of their models.

Moreover, conscious living organisms such as ourselves need to build a constantly improving internal model of not just our environment, but also ourselves in relation to it. This allows us to make better predictions and avoid a larger number of surprises.

It goes without saying that as our internal model gets better, things within as well as outside of ourselves start to make more and more sense to us. This implies that our sense of coherence or comprehensibility improves, which improves our sense of meaning in our lives.

As conscious beings, we are able to reflect upon this process and analyze it. As a result, we can detect patterns in our environment as well as ourselves. We start to realize that these patterns have a direction to them - they are heading towards something. This gives it the flavor of having a purpose.

When we realize this, and align ourselves better with this sense of purpose, our sense of having meaning in our lives also improves.

And, ultimately, as we saw in our discussion of mindfulness and Active Inference, as we get better and better at this process, our sense perception improves, our internal model becomes more aligned with our environment, and our actions in the world get more effective. As a result, we become better participants in the activities of the universe overall.

This could be interpreted as us contributing to something much larger than ourselves. Moreover, being conscious beings, we can understand this ourselves, which provides us with a sense of “existential mattering” or significance.

This whole process can also be seen from the point of view of the communities we are a part of. If one thinks of these communities as living organisms themselves, then our participation in Active Inference at the individual level contributes to the Active Inference process at the community level also.

Essentially what I am getting at is that "meaning" may be how our consciousness interprets the process of Active Inference that we must perform in order to continue to exist, as individuals as well as parts of society or whatever communities or institutions or organized groups we consider ourselves to be a part of.

Thus, we can say that the emergence of the 3 components of meaning that we identified earlier can all be explained from First Principles, via Active Inference. This gives the concept of meaning a very solid foundation.

But it gets even better!

Deeper Dive into Meaning-Seeking

Let us take a look at the hypotheses we have put together about consciousness in the last chapter:

  1. Consciousness may be a virtual life form that we give birth to and nurture all our lives

  2. Consciousness itself may be performing Active Inference in order to continue to exist

  3. Our desire for meaning arises in our consciousness

Could we hypothesize that “meaning in life” is really the just the internal generative model created by our consciousness as a result of it performing Active Inference?

In other words, our search for meaning is how the conscious living entity that lives inside us interprets its own motivation to continue to exist and, which, in turn, motivates us to do the same for our physical bodies.

What I like about this way of thinking is that it is somehow more palatable and frankly, even more meaningful, as compared to the idea that consciousness is a myth or something we make up. Sure, we may be making it up, in the sense that it is an abstract living entity that we give birth to. But that does not make it meaningless. In fact, it is what gives rise to the concept of, and the desire for, meaning, and is thus critical for conscious living organisms such as ourselves.

Agreed, that this idea is mostly speculation on my part, but I think it is a rich vein of thought, and I hope many more meaningful ideas will come out of it.

Getting back to our main thread after that bit of diversion, let us we revisit the list of Universal Tendencies that we have been putting together over the last few chapters, and see what interesting insights may emerge out of that.

List of Universal Tendencies

As we already saw in the previous chapters, the universe appears to exhibit some well-defined features, and follows some well-defined laws and processes. We observed that these features, laws and processes, taken together and observed over time, give the appearance that the universe has some inherent tendencies, a set of directions it appears to "want" to go in.

These tendencies are strong, ubiquitous and omnipresent. All of them can be seen to exist right here, right now. Here is the list:

1) Universal Tendency #1: Coherence

The universe appears to have a natural tendency to create definite or coherent things out of uncertain or foggy things.

For example:

  • Quantum fields => Elementary particles,

  • Clouds of atoms => Stars and planets,

  • Chaotic chemical soup => Living cells,

  • Subconscious thoughts => Conscious thoughts.

2) Universal Tendency #2: Complexity

The universe appears to have a related but slightly different natural tendency to form more complex structures out of simpler ones.

For example:

  • Elementary particles => Atoms,

  • Simple atoms => Heavier atoms,

  • Atoms => Simple molecules,

  • Simple molecules => Complex molecules (proteins, RNA, DNA),

  • Complex molecules => Living cells,

  • Living cells => Living organisms,

  • Living organisms => Societies of living organisms and ecosystems,

  • Simple thoughts => Complex thoughts.

3) Universal Tendency #3: Continuity (of Existence or Identity)

The universe appears to have a natural tendency to create “Living Entities” that try to continue to exist or maintain their identity over time.

The most obvious examples of this tendency are living cells, living organisms and organized groups of living organisms including entire ecosystems all strive for continued existence even in the face of a dynamic environment and increasing entropy.

One could argue that, at present, we have only one known place in the universe where life has emerged. But, based on theories like Dissipation-Driven Adaptation and the Free Energy Principle, it is possible to show that the emergence of life-like processes is universal.

In addition, we have a lot of other evidence, based on the ubiquity of planets with water on them, their location within the "Goldilocks Zone" of their stars, and the potential for totally different life forms, supporting the idea that Living Entities of various types probably exist in many other parts of the universe and it is only a matter of time before we see incontrovertible evidence of this.

Suffices to say that Continuity of existence or identity appears to be another inherent tendency of the universe.

4) Universal Tendency #4: Evolution

The universe appears to have a natural tendency to create complex entities that evolve towards more complex and sustainable forms through a process of natural selection.

This tendency can be observed in living organisms, but also in other entities such as organized groups of living organisms and ecosystems.

Beyond that, there are theories that proclaim that other processes such as the emergence of concrete particles out of quantum wave functions can also be interpreted as evolution by natural selection at the quantum level.

5) Universal Tendency #5: Curiosity

The universe appears to have a natural tendency for creating Living Entities that are inherently wired for curiosity.

Curiosity involves going out and seeking new information or experiences. The “Active” part of Active Inference involves going out and looking for evidence for the counterfactual scenarios envisions by its internal generative model, which is the essence of curiosity.

In other words, all Living Entities are inherently curious at least to some extent within their own sphere of influence. This may take the form of simple activities like looking for resources to sustain oneself, all the way to advanced activities like trying to understand the nature of reality and our place in it.

6) Universal Tendency #6: Creativity

The universe also appears to have a related natural tendency for creating Living Entities that, in turn, exhibit creativity of their own.

This should be the most obvious one: Another name for the universe is “Creation” itself!

Everywhere you look, the universe is constantly creating things: elementary particles, atoms, molecules, stars, planets, living cells and living organisms.

Every Living Entity creates things, starting with making copies of itself. In addition, many of the more complex organisms create shelters, communities and even music or art.

Even our ability to create completely imaginary concepts, in the form of poetry or fiction can be seen as our consciousness imagining counterfactual worlds in the hopes of discovering evidence of their existence someday. This may be why we appreciate poetry or art so much and we keep trying to bring them to life!

7) Universal Tendency #7: Diversity

The universe appears to have a natural tendency for creating a large amount of diversity of various types.

As we have noted, the universe contains a tremendous amount of diversity of all types, starting from the various types of elementary particles to types of celestial bodies, with a wide variety of characteristics. And everything in between.

Also, all of these things combine and interact with each other in complex ways, creating a combinatorial explosion of diversity.

8) Universal Tendency #8: Consciousness

The universe appears to have a natural tendency for creating advanced Living Entities that are capable of phenomenal experience, or consciousness, to various degrees.

Simple creatures display a rudimentary level of consciousness, such as moving deliberately to avoid danger or obtain resources. Even little creatures can be seen planning and executing on their plans to hunt or gather food.

Many slightly more complex creatures display a sense of awareness of themselves or of other creatures. They also observe or infer and learn each other’s behaviors.

As Living Entities get more and more complex, they seem to display higher and higher levels of consciousness. So, even within consciousness, there appears to be a tendency towards increasing complexity.

That completes the list of Universal Tendencies we have collected.

As I already mentioned when I introduced the concept of Universal Tendencies in the chapter on Physical Reality, some of these tendencies may have overlaps with others. Still, each of them has some unique characteristics, so mentioning them separately makes sense.

Also, having them spelled out this way makes it easier to identify them in the various phenomena we see around us, and also to see how they could be helpful in our own lives, as we will soon see.

But before we get there, as good engineers, our next step is to come up with a memorable name for this list so it is easy to remember and talk about!

The Ingredients for Our Ultimate Success

Given that we have 6 of these tendencies starting with “C”, one starting with “E” and one with “D”, how about calling them the “6CED” Tendencies?

[ Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? It almost looks like the universe has, embedded in its behavior, the word "Succeed!" Who would've thought? ]

I feel like this calls for another obligatory quote from the Matrix series:

"When I see three objectives, three captains, three ships. I do not see coincidence, I see providence. I see purpose."

- Morpheus, in “The Matrix: Reloaded”.

If I were a superstitious man, I would treat this incredible accident of discovering exactly the right number of universal tendencies starting with exactly the right first letters as a sign of divine blessing.

But since I am not, I am simply going to marvel at the complex structure and evolution of the English language, as well as the universal tendencies themselves, that appear to have miraculously "conspired" to give us such a curiously creative name!

In other words, sorry Morpheus, but I am going with “coincidence” here.

Don’t worry, we are not going to add “coincidence” to our (seemingly ever-increasing) list! In fact, we are about to declare the list closed and sanctify it with a formal definition:

The “6CED” Tendencies of the Universe:

Based on an overwhelming amount of evidence and the rigorous application of logic, human beings have discovered certain patterns in the universe, in the form of certain features, laws and processes.

Based on the fact that some of these patterns are ubiquitous and ever-present, and we can find deeper explanations for them in physical laws, we can conclude that the universe appears to exhibit certain inherent tendencies.

We have strong evidence that they have existed for a very long time, and, as far as we can predict, will continue to exist for a very long time in the future. But far more importantly for us, they can be seen to exist right here, right now, all the time and everywhere.

The Meaning-Seeking Entities (MSE) Framework identifies 8 such tendencies: Coherence, Complexity, Continuity (of existence or identity), Curiosity, Creativity, Consciousness, Evolution and Diversity.

Based on the highly curious fact that 6 of them start with the letter C, one with E and one with D, we are solemnly calling them collectively as the “6CED” (pronounced “Succeed”) Tendencies.

Doesn't that feel great?

We aren’t quite done yet, though. We need to define one more concept and coin one more term before we can finally put everything together into something even more meaningful.

“Meaning-Seeking” Entities

Finally, we get to talk about the concept that gives meaning to the “Meaning-Seeking” part of the MSE Framework. Let us start by defining the concept.

Meaning-Seeking Entities are complex Living Entities that are:

  • A result of all the "6CED" Universal Tendencies mentioned earlier,

  • Exhibit the tendencies themselves,

  • Have the desire for Meaning, Purpose, Hope in their life, and

  • Can experience them, too

Before we unpack this, let me just start by saying that every conscious Living Entity can be said to be a Meaning-Seeking Entity. In other words, we ourselves are Meaning-Seeking Entities.

Everything that follows in the book takes these terms as their basis to get to our final goal of finding meaning, purpose and hope.

The following diagram gives a visual representation of what we mean by the "6CED" Tendencies and how they give rise to Meaning-Seeking Entities.

Meaning-Seeking Entities (MSE) - Overview

This diagram depicts how Meaning-Seeking Entities evolve, starting from the foundation we have built so far.

The upper part of the diagram should be familiar, since we looked at it in the chapter on Ultimate Reality. It depicts the deepest concepts we know, which we take to be axioms. They are The Great Unknown, Physical Reality and Consciousness.

On the Physical Reality side, we can see its relevant features listed, including all the "6CED" Tendencies except for Consciousness.

As we have seen in previous chapters, the evidence for these “6CED” Tendencies can be seen in the fact that Physical Reality contains some regular patterns (the physical entities, their features and laws) and specifically the phenomena of quantum wave function collapse, self-organization, Dissipation-Driven Adaptation, Active Inference, evolution and emergence.

On the Consciousness side of the diagram, we can see the features of Consciousness that are relevant to the MSE Framework listed. They include the experience of and the emergence of many of our desires. Our needs for meaning, purpose and hope originate in our Consciousness.

Consciousness itself can also be seen to exhibit all the 6CED Tendencies.

As we saw in the chapter on Consciousness, the above can be established on the basis of widely corroborated introspection reports. In addition, have put forth a highly plausible hypothesis that desires are a result of Living Entities performing Active Inference in their physical bodies as well as in their consciousness.

Further down in the diagram, you can see that the Physical Reality and Consciousness arms combine to form conscious Living Entities, which, as I noted earlier, I am calling Meaning-Seeking Entities.

Ok, so now we have a rigorous definition of meaning and a list of inherent tendencies of the universe that give rise to Meaning-Seeking Entities that also embody those tendencies.

Now, if we can show how these inherent tendencies of the universe can satisfy all the requirements for meaning as defined earlier, then we would have a rigorous way for Meaning-Seeking Entities to find meaning in their lives!

So let us do that.

The Connection between Meaning and the “6CED” Tendencies

What I want to demonstrate is that the “6CED” universal tendencies can satisfy all the components of Meaning we have come up with. Or, in other words, these tendencies are inherently “meaning-satisfying”.

Let us look at each of the components of meaning mentioned earlier and see this connection.

A) Meaning as Having Coherence or Comprehensibility in Life:

Right off the bat, let us make the observation that Coherence is already a member of the list of the universal tendencies.

The mere fact that the universe is full of discernible or comprehensible patterns, in the form of definite features, laws and processes, and is continuously creating more coherent patterns, is strong evidence of its tendency towards coherence.

Some of the other universal tendencies, such as Continuation of existence or Creativity or Consciousness can also be seen as having some overlap with the tendency of Coherence.

As we have seen in the previous section, we ourselves, as Meaning-Seeking Entities, are a culmination of all the 6CED Tendencies we have mentioned, and continue to exhibit those tendencies ourselves.

It is possible that our innate need for coherence in our lives is just a manifestation of this fact.

Of course, when most people talk about their desire for coherence in their lives, what they typically mean is that they want to find the coherent "thread" that goes through all of their lives. If they tried to narrate their "life story", they would be able to say who the main characters were, what were their interesting attributes and motivations, how they acted as a result, what events transpired, what led to what, what were the main lessons learned, and so on.

This is of course result of the fact that we are a social species and, as a result, we typically spend most of our time thinking in terms of other people or groups of people.

Still, scientists and engineers (and STEM type people in general) typically have a desire to go a little deeper. They don't just want to know the story of their lives; they want to know the story behind the story.

They don't just want to know the main characters and events, but the principles underneath them. What made them the way they are? Why did the events occur the way they did?

They don't just want to play the games of life, they want to know the rules of the game, and how those rules came about and why those rules. no some other ones.

They want to go deeper and trying to understand things from First Principles. Their desire for coherence in life goes a lot deeper and wider.

For such people, becoming aware of the 6CED Tendencies and how they affect everything around them as well as within themselves, helps them achieve this deeper level of coherence, and through that, a deeper meaning in their lives.

B) Meaning as Having a Purpose in Life:

The fact that the universe relentlessly exhibits all these natural tendencies at all times and everywhere gives us ample evidence that it appears to be working towards something. In other words, it appears to have an inherent purpose.

Some people may object to this and say that I am anthropomorphizing the universe, associating human qualities like purpose to the universe.

This objection is understandable, but how else would you interpret these universal tendencies? And isn't this a lot preferable to postulating a supernatural power (with anthropic features, I might add) who may have created everything for some unknown purpose? And even if that was true, how would this supernatural power manifest this purpose besides embedding it in the inherent tendencies of its creation?

Also, note that all of these universal tendencies can be observed right here, right now. So we have not had to postulate some “end state” of the universe, followed by some sort of a revelation of the greater purpose by The Great Unknown. Or some other form of revelation.

The 6CED Tendencies provide a far firmer ground, backed by abundant evidence. It is these tendencies that have created everything around us and brought us to where we are and will carry us forward as far as we can predict.

As per our Mindful Bounded Rationality methodology, in the absence of the knowledge of the ultimate truth, we must "satisfice" by choosing the best alternative among the available ones, while remaining open to further discoveries.

So, once again, we can say that these universal tendencies inherently provide the ingredients for creating a sense of greater purpose.

Moreover, if we simply realize the existence of these tendencies, and align ourselves with them, then we can say that we have the same purpose as the universe. There is no "greater purpose" than that!

In short, we have succeeded in showing how the 6CED Tendencies can help us define our greater purpose, and through that, meaning in our lives.

C) Meaning as Existential Mattering or Significance:

What can be more existentially mattering or significant than aligning oneself with the ubiquitous and ever-present natural tendencies that appear to be embedded in the structure and laws of the universe?

It should be a no-brainer to see that these universal tendencies inherently provide the ingredients to satisfy our desire to do something that matters or is significant existentially.

We all have a need to belong to something greater than ourselves, that has a high probability of existing far beyond our comparatively minuscule lifetimes and our limited scope. Well, looks like we have found it: It is the universe itself, along with all these tendencies it has and has already imbued us with.

Once again, all we need to do is to realize this fact and align ourselves with it to confidently say that our lives matter or are significant in an existential sense.

In conclusion, based on the above discussion, we can conclusively state that the 6CED Tendencies are inherently capable of satisfying all the 3 components of meaning that we have identified. In other words, these tendencies are capable of providing meaning to the lives of all Meaning-Seeking Entities, including ourselves.

We will formalize this discussion with a diagram showing our definition of Meaning in Life.

Defining “Meaning in Life” Using the MSE Framework

The following picture depicts what we have described so far.

In the above diagram, we start with Meaning-Seeking Entities at the top.

The left arrow coming out of that box represents the desire for meaning that all Meaning-Seeking Entities have.

The right arrow shows the Meaning-Seeking Entities exhibiting the 6CED Universal Tendencies that give rise to them and continue to be expressed by them.

In other words, we now have both sides of the equation: a desire and a way to satisfy it. All we need to do now is to connect the two sides of the equation by defining “Meaning in Life” accordingly.

So we now have the complete picture, at least in theory.

Unfortunately, theories often have problems when they have to survive in the real world.

We can't just leave things at the theoretical level. We have to see if any problems arise when we try to convert theory into practice.

So let us do that.

Practical Considerations and Solutions

A) Misaligned Desires

We saw earlier in our discussion of Active Inference, that our internal generative model is generating all kinds of counterfactuals for us to seek evidence of.

But note that not all of these may always be aligned with our 6CED Tendencies. In fact, very often they will not be. Some may be downright contradictory to the tendencies.

In other words, Meaning-Seeking Entities may be getting pulled in various directions by various desires emerging out of their Consciousness. (The proverbial “angel and devil sitting on our shoulders”.)

So how do we ensure our continued alignment with the 6CED Tendencies?

As we had already seen in the chapter on Life, the way to become better at executing the process of life is to add mindfulness to the picture. And doing so also helps with this "alignment problem".

Mindfulness not only increases our sensitivity and attention to our perceptions, it also improves our ability to generate counterfactuals (i.e. desires) deliberately and realistically, and act on them as effectively as we can.

Thus, adding mindfulness to the picture ensures that we always keep the goal of aligning ourselves with the 6CED Tendencies in mind when we perform our Active Inference in life. If we do that, we not only become better at the process of life, but our alignment with the 6CED Tendencies improves, and our lives become more meaningful as a result.

B) Nebulosity and Unknowns

Another complication that arises is due to ever-present nebulosity and unknowns which, as we have noted earlier, are also inherent features of the universe.

The existence of these factors implies that we can never be too confident or rigid about our theories, even when they are derived rigorously from First Principles. We need to remain somewhat flexible and allow for a process of constant learning and refinement.

The good thing is, as a result of us being followers of the Mindful Bounded Rationality methodology, constant learning and refinement is our middle name! Our methodology requires us to always behave accordingly.

So, with the addition of those considerations, we finally have a resolution of all the issues and can proceed with a rigorous definition of Meaning that we have been aiming for right from the beginning of the book.

Definition of “Meaning in Life” based on the MSE Framework:

Meaning-Seeking Entities, as defined in the MSE Framework, can make their lives meaningful by mindfully living in alignment with the universe’s “6CED” Tendencies of Coherence, Complexity, Continuity (of existence or identity), Curiosity, Creativity, Consciousness, Evolution and Diversity.

Given that it was these exact tendencies that gave rise to the Meaning-Seeking Entities in the first place, they already, inherently embody those tendencies. Thus, all they have to do is to become aware of these tendencies they already have and allow them to be expressed through them.

In addition, given the existence of nebulosity and unknowns in our reality, they need to avoid being dogmatic about this and always be humble, flexible, and willing to learn based on new evidence.

Adherence to these principles provides all the ingredients to find meaning in their lives, namely, having coherence or comprehensibility, a sense of purpose, and a sense of existential mattering or significance in their lives.

Notice that this may sound somewhat similar to the advice we typically hear from various religious doctrines or philosophies.

But what is different, and significant here is that now we have a rigorous definition that we have derived from First Principles, without requiring any leaps of faith or appeals to authority or opinion.

In addition, we have practical advice on how to bring this definition into practice.

In other words, not only do we have the “what”, but the “why”, as well as "how" of finding meaning in our lives.

As a result, we can have a lot more confidence in our answer and can defend it using only evidence and reason if questioned. Moreover, we can think analytically about meaning, come up with potential objections or improvements, and keep evolving our theory and practices around meaning.

Most importantly, we have a way to implement these ideas in our lives, and constantly monitor how we are doing, and improving accordingly.

These aren't some sweet-sounding ideas that you hear everywhere, that you forget immediately because you have no reason to trust them, nor know how to implement them, nor to challenge or improve them.

This is the whole point of this book.

Finally, while we are on a roll talking about religious ideas, let us take a quick look at another one.

Meaning is Built into the Universe

Note that now we can make another seemingly religious statement, but based on rigorous analysis:

The universe appears to have inherent natural tendencies for creating meaning.

Moreover, since we are a result of the same tendencies, we have automatically been enrolled into this effort, whether we recognize it or not.

All we have to do is to realize this and mindfully align our thinking and our lives to that to make our own lives meaningful.

The meaning of my life, your life, everyone’s life, and the phenomenon of life itself is exactly the same.

It all boils down to aligning our thoughts and actions with the natural tendencies of the universe.

These tendencies all point towards the struggle for continued existence of Living Entities, to higher and higher levels of coherence, organized and intelligent complexity, evolution, diversity, curiosity, creativity and consciousness.

This isn’t a commandment from an authority either. Neither is it just someone’s opinion nor a poetic idea with no way of realizing it. It is not a popular meme that intrigues you for a second before being forgotten.

It is based on a rigorous analysis of phenomena that are ubiquitous and ever-present.

There is no need to project them into the far future or work backwards to some event in the distant past either. They are present right here, right now.

We are simply stating known facts and using logic to reach a purely scientific / engineering conclusion.

Looking at the Stars

Allow me to finally conclude the chapter with an interesting but slightly weird quote.

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

- Oscar Wilde, an Irish poet and playwright, in “Lady Windermere's Fan”

Based on everything we have seen, maybe we could modify this quote (with apologies to Oscar Wilde) as follows:

“We were never in the gutter. We were always living among the stars!”

We just had to wake up to this realization.

We have done the hard part of the work now. Things get easier from here. In the next chapter, we will look at Purpose.

Deep Dive: The "Science of Meaning"

As I have mentioned earlier, I believe that we now have sufficient motivation, and, more importantly, meaningful material, to develop something like a "Science of Meaning". And, luckily, there already appear to be researchers working on this.

Here are some excerpts from a recent review of the current thinking in this area. ("The Science of Meaning in Life", Annual Review of Psychology 2021, Laura A. King and Joshua A. Hicks, https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev-psych-072420-122921).

“Meaning in life is a subjective sense that one's life makes sense, has purpose, and matters to others.”

“Lives may be experienced as meaningful when they are felt to have significance beyond the trivial or momentary, to have purpose, or to have a coherence that transcends chaos.”

“Meaning provides us with the sense that our lives matter, that they make sense, and that they are more than the sum of our seconds, days, and years.”

“Purpose is a central, self-organizing life aim that organizes and stimulates goals, manages behaviors, and provides a sense of meaning.”

“Purpose enhances the feeling that one is engaged in life; one's intentions and actions are perceived as meaningful and may even help make life itself feel worthwhile.”

“Whether my life ever existed matters even in the grand scheme of the universe.”

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