My general response to the question of the meaning of life is from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: “The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem.”

 

As is often the case, what many see as a profound philosophical question is actually an empty confusion caused by careless use of language.  There are a few definitions of the word “meaningful”, but regarding “the meaning of life” there are two to consider.  (1) “Meaningful” as in useful or relating to utility.  A hammer is “meaningful” to a carpenter because the hammer has a utility which exists outside of itself, a utility relating to constructions made by the carpenter.  (2) “Meaningful” as in emotionally significant.  One might say that listening to Glenn Gould’s 1955 performance of The Goldberg Variations is meaningful to them because it generates a certain emotional response in them.

 

Life (defined as the totality of existence) cannot be objectively meaningful in the first sense of the word because there is nothing outside of existence to which existence can refer (in the way a hammer can refer to the carpenter’s construction).  But life is subjectively meaningful in the second sense of the word in that we treat our existence as emotionally significant and react negatively towards those situations which could diminish or end that existence.  This is not too difficult to understand in terms of evolutionary psychology: individuals with genes which tend to make them run from predators rather than stand still are more likely to have children with those same genes.  “Treat life as important (meaningful)” genes flourish in the gene pool, “treat life as unimportant (meaningless)” genes disappear quickly.

 

The confusion arises when people conflate the two meanings of the word “meaningful”.  When it is understood that life is logically meaningless (in the first sense) while one is still very much wired by genes to feel that life is meaningful (in the second sense), this creates a cognitive dissonance which is called “the problem of the meaning of life”.  This problem should disappear when one sees the origin of the confusion; the actual problem is in coming to terms with how much we are the marionettes of evolution, but even this is childishly trivial in comparison to the billions in this world who suffer real problems.