Saturday, April 30, 2022

Part VI: On Meaningness

Faith, Doubt and Anti-Metanoia series, part VI
For context, start at the introduction. I started writing this summary in 2016.

Photograph of David Chapman (used with his permission).

In, David Chapman presents a life philosophy that intends to be practically useful. The essential idea is that meaning is both “patterned” and “nebulous.” Chapman argues that meaning is circumstantially and collaboratively created, rather than either being eternally present and fixed or being completely nonexistent. The titular coinage, “meaningness,” is designed to evoke the notion that the boundaries of meaning are blurry. Meaningness purports to offer “Better ways of thinking, feeling, and acting—around problems of meaning and meaninglessness; self and society; ethics, purpose, and value.”

I suggest that you visit and read everything there. Each of Chapman’s words is worth fifty of mine. I credit Chapman in part for saving my life (on the order of a decade worth of rescue) from the bleak spectre of abysmal nihilism. Part I explains more of my personal story. The upcoming posts in this blog series, Parts VII through X, will build on the ideas of

Chapman calls the application of a specific approach to meaning as a ‘stance.’ For example, “Eternalism is the stance that everything has a fixed, clear-cut meaning,” and the opposing stance, “Nihilism[,] says that nothing really means anything.” Chapman claims that both Eternalism and Nihilism make the same metaphysical error of considering that “real” meaning is always fixed. Furthermore, Chapman claims that the “Complete” stance corrects that shared error by recognizing that meaning is nebulous. Meaningness expounds on the concept of a stance and discusses a range of stances that relate to unity & diversity, self, purpose, personal value, ethics and other topics. Finally, Chapman discusses the history of meaningness and how Western society has progressed from a ‘choiceless’ (pre-modern) approach to meaning, through a ‘systematic’ (modern) approach to meaning and now has entered a period of atomized meaning (post-modernity).

I find it ironic that one main idea of is our failure to recognize the nebulousness of meaning, but that the whole website is devoted to describing idealized categories. But I'm also highly grateful, because I'm a category junky. I wonder if some people who use non-category-based thinking approaches have direct and intuitive understanding of the dual nebulous and patterned nature of meaning. On the other hand, the medium is a “hyper text book” that is being gradually written over years while simultaneously in the public view. As a recovering Eternalist, I would have preferred a book with a front and a back cover, but I acknowledge the irony in such a preference. Because Chapman published some parts before the whole work was done, I was able to read important parts at a critical juncture in my life.

Accepting the nebulous nature of meaning is a feasible path around the infinite quagmire of reasoning via formal logic from the ground up. Macroscopic human life must be guided by well-chosen heuristics rather than an all-encompassing system built only from physical laws and the initial condition of the universe. Even the basic laws of physics have so far been insufficient to derive what we now know of chemistry. (For more about traversing levels of complexity, including physics-to-chemistry, see “The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the simple and the complex” by Murray Gell-Mann.) Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” is not the right starting point; a formal logic system will not get us to what to feed our guests for dinner (and Gödel's incompleteness theorem is not the limiting factor). The difficulty with such foundationalism is not "merely" a practical problem; reality is fundamentally not amenable to such an approach.

Brief notes on specific parts

  • Sometimes says that ideas are 'obvious,’ but I think the obviousness of an idea is actually quite subjective.
  • I believe that the author's main idea is useful to people who are ostensibly inside 'eternalist systems' such as Christianity, because stances are actually continuous and many people who carry the "Christian" label actually think and act according to stances that are partially (and even wholly) complete. (Chapman realizes this.)
  • Existentialism is wrong in the sense that meaning is not personal. Meaning is social. 
  • One way to see aspects of the complete stance is to look at history and see how the meanings of certain things have changed. This illustrates how meaning is both existent & dynamic and might help one avoid fixating or denying meaning. However, it's difficult not to impose one's current meanings on the past if one adopts an Eternalist stance. 
  • Re: I don't get what he's saying here or perhaps I'm not convinced.
  • Christianity (in my old form) uses a blend of total responsibility and victim thinking in the concepts of sin and redemption. 
  • Streaming is the atomization of the meaning found in music.
  • Re: Hypothesis: "Agile" software development is useful when it's applied as a Level 5 meta-systematic practice, but quickly breaks down when people try to interpret and apply "agile" as a Level 4 system. Or even a Level 3 system: “Agile is what my buddies do.” (This page used to be on the domain, but has since moved.)
  • I think Richard Hamming's "The Art of Doing Science and Engineering" has meta-systematic reasoning, at least for technical matters.

Hit parade of quotes

"Runs of unexpected good or bad luck trigger the eternalist stance automatically."

"Discovering that you have been betrayed by eternalism, and have lost out on the promises it made, is a horrendous emotional blow."

"Vajrayanists will recognize these—along with “wondrous, delicious, and vivid”—as structural equivalents of “coemergent emptiness, bliss, and clarity,” respectively."

"With the countercultures having passed, there is room for the fluid mode to reclaim a relativized, non-foundational, pragmatic rationality."

"'How do we rescue meaning from nihilistic atomization?' is a more urgent question than whether God exists. Scriptural literalism has definitively failed." (This blog post series is yet another too-little too-late exposition on the definite failure of Scriptural literalism.)

"The atomized mode generates paranoia, because without the systematic mode’s ‘therefores,’ its structure of justification, there are no memetic defenses against bad ideas."

"But at some point you realize that all principles are somewhat arbitrary or relative. There is no ultimately true principle on which a correct system can be built. It’s not just that we don’t yet know what the absolute truth is; it is that there cannot be one. All systems come to seem inherently empty." Bold font is mine. See also “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari.

“There can be no systematic ‘scientific method.’”

"When it’s obviously impossible to form a systematic self, the task is to surf your own incoherence. Increasingly, this is a practical problem, not an existential threat." This seems to relate to my Nash and the Strawman essay in the following ways: I was mistaken to think that a foundationalist philosophy was desirable, right or even possible. I was right that "Maybe we don't have enough time to eliminate insignificant inconsistencies from our worldview", but maybe I was wrong about both the quantity of inconsistency that one has to tolerate and the general quality of having abundant comparable propositions. Consistency is the exception. Inconsistency is much more common, but fuzzy vagueness is the widespread rule.


Thanks to David Chapman for reading a draft of this post.

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