On reality, emotion/experience, negentropy, meaning and purpose
Note: this is a work in progress and will likely be edited in the future. I welcome discussion on any of the ideas discussed.
The most reliable tendency of the universe is the trend toward irregularity also known as entropy or chaos. This is referred to as the second law of thermodynamics. Everything material we observe has entropic tendencies which only balance out in a state of maximum irregularity.
Except for life. Life is negentropic.
Anything that lives is a self and selves all work to maintain dynamic restraints that attempt to prevent them from ending (dying) disintegrating into maximum entropy. In fact, the dynamic restraints are the definition of those selves.
“The self is not a thing apart, not a thing at all, not a ghost and not the machinery. It is the self-Regeneration of the mechanism, a constraint that enables the mechanism to continue to exist despite the second law” - Jeremy Sherman (Neither Ghost nor Machine)
“I” as a self, am not the molecules of my material body (there is no weight change if I die, all of the same molecules were there the moment before I died and the moment after I died), nor disembodied consciousness inhabiting it. I am a dynamic process, constraining the many possible states of my molecules into a regenerative self that enables the process to continue despite the second law. “I” am not static but constantly in flux. But my tendency for self regeneration is static as long as I live and this, along with my aims is what defines me as a self and also what distinguishes me as “alive”.
Thus far we have not produced human-made conditional simulation/emulation of proto-life that gives rise to life or consciousness.
As emotions (joy, love, sadness etc) are embedded within both a living self and it’s consciousness, any mechanistic explanation of an emotion such as love is incomplete, since science works with predictive models that can be tested and verified before we can say that anything is “true”.
Let’s take apart the notion that “love is merely oxytocin release in the brain and only evolved as a result of evolutionary selection and therefore is meaningless and pointless”
What is love? Love is a very wide concept but for the sake of this argument we’ll narrow down love to the verb, specifically that which we feel when we embrace someone we are close to. This feeling could be described as a mix of:
- joy (a direct feel that cannot be reduced to a simpler concept and can only be understood via direct experience)
- compassion (wanting the other to be well)
- attachment (joy in the presence of the other + fear of loss of the other)
- peace (also a direct feel, synonymous with comfort - ultimately the lack of fear and disturbance)
- connection (recognition of characteristics of one’s self in the other, and the other’s recognition of themself in you)
- trust (belief that the other will not harm you and will help you if you are in need)
This above example of the verb-definition of love is inseparable from:
The human sense of touch + an identification sense such as sight, smell or hearing
Another human with a body (to embrace)
Model and concept of the other person (identity, behavioural tendencies etc)
Somehow the experience of love (which in this example is a combination of the above) becomes its own emotion that can only be understood via direct experience; which is variable and can take on its own felt character depending on the person with who it is associated with (much like we have unique intuitive concepts of different people in our lives) and is in itself distinct from joy, compassion, peace, attachment etc.
“Merely oxytocin release in the brain”
We have exogenous oxytocin and we have MDMA, dopamine etc. Put a human alone in a white lab room and administer the drug/s. They may experience feelings of joy, elation and perhaps peace*. But any notion of compassion, attachment, connection, trust requires the presence of another human or self, and specifically in this case, the embrace of a known, loved and trusted human. Until there is a drug which reliably replicates the complex social bonding interactions of humans and the multitudes of complex responses that afterwards occur, love is not “merely oxytocin”.
*Even feelings of self-love, peace and joy still require a self to relate with. Hormones are not information or emotions unto themselves. Without a self to interpret them, they are simply molecules.
Any emptiness felt after such a drug experience would suggest a lack of either trust in one’s self to love, or trust in the other to continue the bonded experience. This again speaks to the complexity of love - it is something that needs to be harnessed within oneself and with another, which takes work and time to have continual experience in the longterm.
Love is also a phenomenon within consciousness. Since we have not created any human-made life (or the conditions for it to spontaneously emerge), let alone intelligent or conscious life, any theory of what love is, or isn’t, is also incomplete without a full theory of consciousness.
“Love only evolved as a result of evolutionary selection”
This is like saying “the tree only exists because a previous tree created a seed that dropped in the soil”
Perhaps, but the tree is still a tree. It may be true that the most efficient method for social bonding in mammals is the direct sense of love. Or it may be that love is expensive and not necessary for social cohesion but we have it anyway (we assume that ants do not feel love for each other). Or perhaps love is a direct sense of experience of which negentropy itself is, a direct sense of order expressed in symmetrical Connectome-Specific Harmonic Waves in the brain - a self-recognition of what we ourselves embody as members of negentropic life on earth.
Regardless, love is still love and is as real and true as any conscious experience. We know consciousness to be real because we directly experience it. It is perhaps the only thing we know to truly exist without any doubt. Love can only be truly understood via direct experience. And because it is a direct experience - a “raw feel” we can say that it is true and real.
“...therefore is meaningless and pointless”
Meaningless and pointless to whom? If you’re asking the universe, then it’s tempting to say perhaps yes, it may be meaningless and pointless. But the concepts “meaningless and pointless” only make sense to selves - not the universe. If we’re arguing that everything is pointless from the point of view of the universe: the universe has no point of view and the concepts of pointlessness and meaninglessness don’t have any definition whatsoever. Nothingness has no inherent information at all without a self to interpret it. A human can look at nothingness and decide that because there is nothing there is no meaning or purpose. But meaninglessness and pointlessness are not inherent properties of nothingness. Those are concepts overlayed onto nothingness by selves. Nothingness is nothingness.
The purpose of life
As selves all aim to self-regenerate and continue to exist in spite of (and at odds with) the second law, the fundamental purpose of life is to continue to exist and therefore to be negentropic. The ground of purpose and meaning is simple existence. It is the most basic thing that we embody.
An infinite game
Since we are embedded in negentropy, along with all life, we are in a sense in a battle with entropy. Since the universe is infinite and eternal, it might be that our most basic purpose could be to ensure negentropy continues, and that it may perhaps in billions of years be such a force in the universe that it rivals entropy.
We value experience most of all. Everything we experience is embedded within life and negentropy. Our most important fight may be that to maintain and increase negentropy, or lose experience. We won’t care about experience once we’re dead because there won’t be a self to care about it. But all life aims to live. And future generations would likely appreciate having the chance to experience consciousness (provided we don’t engineer a hellscape). It would make sense that our imperative is to protect and maintain into perpetuity the thing that we value the most - (neutral, positive or the possibility of mostly neutral/positive) experience.
Meaning is an experience of significance to a self. Significance is something “sufficiently great or important to be worthy of attention”.
The root of the word "meaning" is "mean", which is the way someone or something is conveyed, interpreted, or represented.
All meaning is contained within selves that can interpret what significance is. There is no meaning to non-selves.
Since all experience is subjective and unique to the observer-self, a sense of meaning is equally subjective and unique. It is the interpretation of something that in turn triggers a “raw feel” such joy from the laugh of a baby or sadness/loss at the funeral of a loved one, or the old gardeners satisfaction from planting an oak tree that future generations will enjoy in its full majesty despite the fact that this will occur long after the original gardener is dead.
As discussed earlier, love can contain a feeling of attachment.
When a loved one dies, the irreversible loss of the direct experience of that person - the raw and unique emotions they elicit in us via communication and touch - is significant, something important that is worthy of attention. The loss of that person is interpreted by a self in respect to their experience of that person. In this case that experience can no longer be had, and this is then interpreted as negative. This is because the unique emotional relationship with that person can never be experienced again, and because emotion/experience is the most important thing to a human (see happiness and anti-psychotic drugs in mental patients) this results in a response of sadness/loss.
The interpretation of sadness from the event is amplified by the significance - the combination of the concept + the emotion is what is meant by “meaning”. The event is not meaningful to the universe (the non-living majority of the universe has no meaning or meaninglessness) but it is meaningful to the unique experience of that particular self and will only be felt in that particular way by that particular self.
Raw emotion/experience + self-regeneration (not dying) is what matters most to a human ape, given our evolutionary history as social hunter-gatherer apes.
As mentioned earlier, raw emotion/experience is real (perhaps one of the only things can be sure is real) and this emotion/experience is the primary reason we do anything at all. Blind hedonism cannot replace meaning (at least in typical human-apes). This is because we can intuit between what is truly significant and meaningful (to ourselves and other selves) and what is not. Although this is hugely variable between individuals, some universalities occur such as the death of a loved one. The feedback between the raw emotion of sadness + the significance of the sadness (which means the amount of attention and weight given to the emotion) creates a sense of meaning. It’s meaningful that this person died because of the self’s emotion/experience.
Eating easily-obtainable sugary food may elicit a response of joy and elation in a human-ape but the half life of this interaction is very short and will not produce a powerful emotional state that is worth paying great attention to and that persists in the long term. It is not a meaningful experience in the same manner as the death of a loved one, or the birth of a child.
To do something meaningful is to confront what one knows is actually significant to oneself and/or others, in that it will produce a significant emotion (and potential behaviour change) that will persist in the long term.
It may be that one experiences a sense of meaninglessness if one :
doesn’t believe emotions are true or real experiences (although as discussed earlier it is beyond doubt that they are real)
has an inhibited or nil capacity to experience those emotions; sense them in others; empathise with others (psychological trauma, spectrum disorders, psychopathy, sense-disability etc)
doesn’t take responsibility for eliciting meaningful behaviour in themselves or for others
Meaning comes down to behaving in a manner which creates significant positive long term emotional (and potentially as a result, behavioural) change in one’s self and others, or maintains such a state.
Behavioural change can allow the positive emotion/experience state to emerge more regularly.
As emotional experience is real, and because we know we prefer positive emotional states to those of fear, anxiety etc, we can say that positive emotions are a moral imperative as they are universally what is most important to us and others as apes, and that if we can increase the regularity of positive states in ourselves and others, this is a moral good.
It is ultimately up to the individual to become intimate with their own raw emotion/experience, and to act morally not only to others but to themselves.
Self destructive behaviour is immoral behaviour to one’s self, in that it makes negative emotion/experienced states more likely to regularly occur in the long term.
Meaning: comes from moral action or response within emotion/experience, unique to the individual’s life, preferences and social bonds. Is grounded in simple existence.
Purpose: is to continue to exist, to be negentropic rather than entropic. If the most important thing for us is our emotion/experience while we exist, it follows that the purpose is to make the emotion/experience the best it can possibly be for ourselves, others and future selves in the long term. We can evaluate how well we do this ourselves and if we have the capacity to be honest on our evaluations of our behaviour, most of us already know what needs to be changed for things to improve.
“In the end there is no point”
There is no end. It’s an infinite game. Let’s exist and do well.