Babies and the meaning of life:
Many years ago the “meaning of life” was a pet topic of mine.  In those days I was interested in indoctrination, brain washing as you will.  My research indicated that brainwashing was really no different from real life.  Put a person in a strange environment.  Restrict the choices of the person.  Bombard the victim with novel sensations.  Unless the person is very tough, in which case an illness or a sound thrashing might be needed, in about a month the person’s brain will decide that it must learn to deal with this new regime and become pliant.  Beliefs and even memories can be changed.  You must be very careful.  The person is likely to become suicidal in the process.  And indeed I found no case in which the process had been accomplished cynically.  The brain washer was always convinced of the moral truth of what was being taught.

The implication was that our personalities are dynamic, being constantly refreshed by experiences that we in fact choose.  Since other people are an important part of those experiences, the notion of a monolithic personality is illusory.  It is the community that is ultimately the agency that is aware, that interprets existence and decides what is real and what has meaning.  Individual life has meaning only within the context of a suitable society.  Since the physicists insist that what is real is what can be observed, and what can be observed depends on the mind of the observer, then reality itself is an emergent characteristic of a community. 

That is what I had then thought.  If it is true, then my task here – the task of letting people know that biological life in the long run, over many generations, is possible only within the context of a community – is absolutely impossible, or so it would seem.

Others have tackled the question of the meaning of life.  T. S. Elliot in his collection of poems Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, best known now through the musical “Cats,” avers that the meaning of happiness must be understood over many generations.  I would stick to my guns, conceding that many generations may be crucial, but it also requires many people.  You’ll not be happy if everybody else is unhappy. 

I once went to a lecture on the meaning of life by the great boxing champion Mohammed Ali.  I was a great fan of Ali, although I have never been a fan of boxing in general.  But primed though I was by a speaker I liked and a subject I had thought about, I cannot remember a single thing he said except that he showed us the Cassius Clay shuffle. 

There is a movie “Monty Python and the Meaning of Life.”  It is quite deliberately unhelpful.  (Of course it is side splittingly funny, which it is meant to be and which is probably more important.)

And now there is a new voice.  (A Wealth of Meaning SCIENCE vol. 337 6093 reviewing J. Exp. Psychol. 48, 10.10164 /j.jesp.2012.06.001 (2012))  What they have found is that when people are with their children they report that their life is more meaningful than they are likely to report when they are not with the children.  Tellingly, there is an inverse correlation between the wealth of the parents and the sense of meaning the children bring to them.  The rich parents are less likely to say their life has meaning than those less rich in those circumstances.

I have long heard that happiness correlates with wealth up to a point.  If poverty is a real issue then it makes you unhappy while there is an amount of money, and it isn’t all that much, beyond which further money makes no difference in happiness.  But I had never heard an unambiguous down side to money.

Of course I have a way of tying this to marrying kin.  Presumably rich people have a social pool that is larger than that of poor people  Presumably they then marry others with whom they are less kin.  Necessarily then, their children resemble them less, and evidently as a consequence they value the children less even as they spend more money on them. 

Well it’s a thought.

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