The Search for Meaning

March 08 2018

Eighteen. Vacant. 37. Orange. Touched. Migrate. Patient. 1120. Tortoise. Illustrate.

The previous words have no meaning, at least not on their own. Not without context. Why are they organized the way that they are? Even I don't know, and I'm the one who wrote them. As they exist in their current form, they're practically chaos. Indecipherable. There's no reason why they are in the order they are, or why they exist at all. We can only understand what they mean in a sequence with proper context.

"I wanted to tell her something."

Now this has more meaning. You can understand it as a sentence. Still, without more knowledge you can't understand what it really means. Who is speaking? Who is this "her" they refer to, and what did they want to tell her? Again, there's no context, and no way to find true meaning without it. That's where the issue lies. The search for meaning.

Our entire lives, we learn to find meaning in things. Words, environments, actions. We learn to find patterns, and to construct meaning from those patterns. Connotations. Day and night. Right and wrong. Good and evil.

What about when there is no pattern? Let's say within a story, there is a recurring motif. A lighthouse, for example, or maybe a lamppost. Throughout the story, the protagonist keeps on running into this object. The fact that it is a reoccurring image tells us that there must be some greater relevance to it. It must symbolize or stand for something, right? But what if it doesn't? What if there really isn't a reason that it exists at all? What if a lamppost is just a lamppost?

For another example, let's say that I'm an artist. In all of my paintings, I include an image of a lamppost. It's not the main subject of the paintings, but it's always there. Again, the fact that it's in every one of my paintings surely means that there is some relevancy to it, right? Why does it exist, or why is it a lamppost? Even I may not know. Maybe I just decided to put it there, with no greater reason than because I chose to.

This is the part I'm curious about. I want to know if there is a name for this, the concept that something doesn't have to have a sort of reason or purpose to exist. Sometimes a lamppost is just a lamppost, isn't it? The closest thing I can find to it is the "people sit on chairs" trope listed on TV Tropes, but I'm genuinely curious if anyone has an answer, or knows more about the idea. Please let me know if you know more about it.

People like to say everything happens for a reason, but I'm not sure if I believe that. That feels like a way to try to explain things that you are unable to. To try to apply some sort of meaning where there is none. But maybe there isn't always a reason for everything. Maybe some things just are.

Joshua Y
[email protected]

comments powered by Disqus