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The Power and Paradox of Meaning

As I pondered the word meaning this morning the phrase “The Power and Paradox of Meaning” popped into my head as a summation of my thoughts.

Our lives each unfold in both expected and unexpected ways. Some things we desired, intended and forced into being while others were undesirable, unintended and nothing could stop them from materializing. These are simple facts about life that we have all observed and experienced in our mortal sojourn.

Whatever transpires, we each do something quite interesting, we assign a meaning to those things; we crave a meaning. When something happens we want to take responsibility or assign responsibility. We want to frame the events in some kind of paradigm so that it fits into our worldview. Ultimately, whatever happens, we want to feel that we have at least some kind of control and we can exercise control by assigning meaning.

Something good happens and we say that God blessed us, something bad happens and we say that God is punishing us. Both could be true in different cases but what is the meaning we decided upon and why? What influences the meaning we assign? An optimistĀ tends to prefer more positive meanings where a pessimist may look for the opposite. This is what I find paradoxical about meaning, it is difficult to nail down. How do we determine what something means? When the ability to assign a meaning escapes us, I think it can cause stress and incredible frustration. An example of this may be the unexpected loss of a loved one or a natural disaster. Why did that happen? Was there a reason for it and who is responsible?

I think that the difficulty in assigning meaning appears to revealĀ something intriguingĀ about the power of meaning. Could it be that the power to assign meaning is related to our agency and the purpose of life? Perhaps the meaning that we choose to give things is a reflection of our knowledge and intelligence. Or on another level, our ability to assign meaning can be a source of comfort in an otherwise devastating situation.

We can find meaning in our own reasoning, in the world around us, it in the scriptures, and meaning can be revealed to us by God. Still thinking about this. What do you think?

  • Particle Man

    Fun questions. Here’s some brief exploration.

    Meaning is derived through analysis, assessment, judgment. Where there’s meaning there’s power or influence. Without meaning, a thing is likely to make no impression, carry no weight, be meaningless. Meaning is prerequisite to progress. But meaning is subjective, sometimes isolated, temporarily or not, and and other times interconnected, dependent on connections to other things with meaning.

    Related to the paradox of meaning is the paradox of knowledge. One may be content with one answer to a question. Another may recognize multiple answers through multiple contexts. And yet another may see greater power in the question than in any particular answer, and thereby not set up stakes to halt potential further understanding. As knowledge is ostensibly infinite, so are the possible answers to a question. Remaining open to further knowledge allows meaning to ever expand.

    • Great thoughts. Meaning appears subjective at first glance but is any meaning that is objective? Is there objective meaning in any eternal sense? Or would we simply be learning meaning from God’s subjective vantage point?

      Your points about the expanding nature of meaning and knowledge are also on point. I’ve been thinking about how one of the key things that we do here in mortality involves the meanings we arrive at.

      • Particle Man

        Yes, objective meaning would seem to be relative to God’s perspective, to omniscience. However, is not omniscience also relative?

        Having all knowledge relative to the mortal sphere is one perspective; this one would assume, at the very least, is had by our Heavenly Parents. But there is also exaltation upon exaltation. Is not this eternal progression? Is not omniscience relative to not only the eternities in general but to each eternity thereof, each with its own perspective, knowledge, and meaning to be gained therein?

        Objective meaning is surely acquired in the resurrection. Every kingdom of glory still comprises individuals, including the [G/g]ods. None gains all knowledge relative to his or her sphere all at once. But perhaps exaltations in the eternal worlds include different stewardships or callings, being one means through which to gain further knowledge and meaning?

        • Yes, it does appear that all meaning is in fact subjective but on varying degrees and from varying perspectives. The argument would be that the perspective of the gods would be the correct meaning or the meaning that leads to salvation, exaltation, and endless knowledge.

          This should stir each person to consider where they are obtaining their meanings from in reference to certain teachings. There are many worldly philosophies that cannot be sourced from the revealed word but instead come from the minds of men. While truth may be given to men in any nation, anything revealed must be in accordance with what has already been revealed.

          The problem today is that people will just run with whatever feels good to them or matches what they are interested in and value. It takes intellectual honesty and humility to hold them up to the revealed doctrine and see how things square up. The verse “there is a way which seems right unto a man…” comes to mind.