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"We don't matter in the 'grand scheme of things'"

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I hope this is the right section of the forum to post this.

I keep running in to people saying that human life doesn't matter in the so called "grand scheme o things". I never really got where this argument came from. It presupposes that there is an actual attribute of "mattering" that exists like mass does.

But as I see it, mattering is an evaluation and not an attribute, i.e. it has to matter to someone, otherwise it's a floating abstraction. So denying the mattering of the only entity with the concept of mattering is faulty since one must deny the source of the concept.

As an aside: one person used this false logic to say that since our lives are meaningless we should be utilitarian and help the most people possible... but I don't see how this follows since 1000*0=1*0.

You might as what is the point of this thread. I'm looking for corrections and additional arguments for this point - or against as I think it's an important issue.

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I keep running in to people saying that human life doesn't matter in the so called "grand scheme o things". I never really got where this argument came from.

When this comes up in the context of a theism/atheism debate, it makes perfect sense. It’s the theist who is ultimately saying the universe was created for us, which provides an opening for the atheist to point out that it sure doesn’t look that way.

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Yes, I think your analysis is sound.

Many people have a religious view of humanity-- we are important to God; we matter because God has a purpose for us. When people realize that God is a myth, they risk believing that humans are insignificant and that our existence is nothing special.

Notice that in your example of the utilitarian, he/she is still attempting to have meaning and purpose (in that case, helping other people, forming a certain type of society, etc.). Living organisms cannot escape the fact of requiring values in order to survive.

A follow-up question would be how to respond to a depressed existential nihilist. Is their problem more a sense of life issue, or is there some direct argument that can be used to show that lack of a theistic "purpose" does not imply that existence is a sick joke?

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Is their problem more a sense of life issue, or is there some direct argument that can be used to show that lack of a theistic "purpose" does not imply that existence is a sick joke?

Sadly it seems to me that many of them actually relish in this belief, but you are right, some of them are definitely genuinely depressed. But I don't really see how they come from a lack of a given purpose to "meaninglessness". I don't see why a self invented purpose would be inferior to one given by a deity.

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One thing I've noticed is that something such as a video illustrating the size of the universe, will cause people to bring up how supposedly insignificant or unimportent we are in the grand scheme of things. They've clearly failed to realize that signficance and importance has to be significant or important to something.

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I keep running in to people saying that human life doesn't matter in the so called "grand scheme o things".

Life's a bitch and then you die...

That's the version of the "grand scheme o things" I've heard often enough. It's essentially a fatalistic statement not unlike, "Who is John Galt?" It represents a kind of rhetorical philosophy more interested in validating impotence than seeking solutions.

"I don't see how this follows since 1000*0=1*0" ~ Exactly; why help anyone if life is meaningless?

I tend to approach this kind of mentality from a perspective of rights. Most people will acknowledge they have a right to live, so I then suggest that it's their right to dispose of their life as they choose to; that even a slave has options. What matters in the "grand scheme o things" is having the freedom to choose to continue living.

To those who argue about having a right to life (and the choice to live it), I say that so long as you remain around to argue the point, I'll take your continuing presence as validation of that which you pretend to dispute.

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Sadly it seems to me that many of them actually relish in this belief

This! And when I pick up on that in conversations I change the subject to something more superficial and agreeable.

"Hey but that Inception movie sure was kick-ass AMIRITE?"

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I take the "we don't matter in the grand scheme of things" to mean looking at something wonderful that happens to be natural, like the cosmos, and not feeling capable of producing something here and now that's even equally as grand. One action you take isn't really going to cause galaxies to shift and mountains to move. The issue I see isn't one of not seeing a purpose, but rather, believing that any personal achievement, even on the level of building a rocket to Mars, is by nature inferior or less meaningful than what goes on in the cosmos. So, why bother if your actions won't amount to much? As far as I know, a nihilist could still argue that self-invented purpose is fine (with twisted logic), yet still say it still doesn't matter much in the end.

I tend to approach this kind of mentality from a perspective of rights. Most people will acknowledge they have a right to live, so I then suggest that it's their right to dispose of their life as they choose to; that even a slave has options. What matters in the "grand scheme o things" is having the freedom to choose to continue living.

DA, I don't think your answer gets at answering why anyone should care about what they do. Acknowledging you have a right to live doesn't mean you care that you live, or even find much meaning in some career goal of building robots. Choosing to live in itself doesn't imply even enjoying life. People can and do go through the motions of daily life out of habit, without ever finding enjoyment or "mattering" in their own actions. Have you ever seen Office Space? Would saying "having the freedom to choose to continue living" lead people in that movie to start caring about life? I doubt it.

Objectivism gives a better answer I find. Your meaning can only be yours, but it also requires understanding how pursuing grand goals *does* give meaning. Identifying that reason, self-esteem, and productivity are core values helps to point out that pursuing those values results in happiness/meaning/joy/"mattering". Still, those concepts are empty without action; understanding that those values leads towards something meaningful like happiness takes some first-hand experience. The ability to choose to live is only the beginning.

Some additional perspective from Rand when Rand was interviewed by Playboy:

PLAYBOY: If a person organizes his life around a single, neatly defined purpose, isn't he in danger of becoming extremely narrow in his horizons?

RAND: Quite the contrary. A central purpose serves to integrate all the other concerns of a man's life. It establishes the hierarchy, the relative importance, of his values, it saves him from pointless inner conflicts, it permits him to enjoy life on a wide scale and to carry that enjoyment into any area open to his mind; whereas a man without a purpose is lost in chaos. He does not know what his values are. He does not know how to judge. He cannot tell what is or is not important to him, and, therefore, he drifts helplessly at the mercy of any chance stimulus or any whim of the moment. He can enjoy nothing. He spends his life searching for some value which he will never find.

Edited by Eiuol

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DA, I don't think your answer gets at answering why anyone should care about what they do. Acknowledging you have a right to live doesn't mean you care that you live, or even find much meaning in some career goal of building robots. Choosing to live in itself doesn't imply even enjoying life. People can and do go through the motions of daily life out of habit, without ever finding enjoyment or "mattering" in their own actions. Have you ever seen Office Space? Would saying "having the freedom to choose to continue living" lead people in that movie to start caring about life? I doubt it.

True enough, but finding ones purpose is a necessarily individual choice; and the key element remains choice. Until a person takes ownership of their lives, the direction of their life remains in the hands of others. The movie "Office Space" provides a wonderful illustration this in the character of Peter Gibbons.

"Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you'd do if you had a million dollars and you didn't have to work. And invariably what you'd say was supposed to be your career. So, if you wanted to fix old cars then you're supposed to be an auto mechanic." ~ Peter Gibbons

"So what did you say?" ~ Samir

"I never had an answer. I guess that's why I'm working at Initech." ~ Peter Gibbons

I love that move... What I mean by "choosing to continue living" is, from that point forward it's all on you; no excuses, and no blaming others for your "fate". We all begin as our parents' property and many simply pass ownership of their lives into the hands of others, e.g. guidance counselors, college professors, bosses. Life remains fairly meaningless (altruistic?) until you take ownership of it.

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I take the "we don't matter in the grand scheme of things" to mean looking at something wonderful that happens to be natural, like the cosmos, and not feeling capable of producing something here and now that's even equally as grand. One action you take isn't really going to cause galaxies to shift and mountains to move. The issue I see isn't one of not seeing a purpose, but rather, believing that any personal achievement, even on the level of building a rocket to Mars, is by nature inferior or less meaningful than what goes on in the cosmos. So, why bother if your actions won't amount to much?

But the nihilist assumes here that just because the universe is "super super large" it means that it's more "important", in some vague sense removed from humanity.

I think a single computer chip is grander than the whole universe because it was created by thinking minds and not mere chance. I don't see anything of importance in moving a mountain, even if it might look grand.

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I keep running in to people saying that human life doesn't matter in the so called "grand scheme o things". I never really got where this argument came from.

I think the argument comes from the fact that even if you live to be 80, your entire life is less than 0.2 cosmic seconds. And as ND mentioned, humans have only been around for an extremely short amount of time (~200,000 years out of the 13.7ga the universe has existed, or the 4.5ga the earth has existed). This doesn't mean that human life is unimportant, but it does help keep things grounded in reality: we live for a short amount of time, and then we eventually die.

Rand argued that everything is what it is by necessity (ie: if we weren't mortal, we wouldn't need a valuing process at all; nothing would be of any importance to us). I believe this makes the whole concept of human life even more meaningful. It's true that we only have a short amount of time to find out what we want to do, set goals, achieve them, etc.. but morality is what allows us to lead a meaningful life.

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