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We live in a world without a moral absolute. No; there are moral absolutes, for some, but these are often seen to be inadequate, false, misguided. In fact, people with moral absolutes appear suspicious; they smack of extremism. Certainty is a characteristic of the terrorist, the evangelist, the holy warrior.

Where there was once an unquestioning belief, sat so deep in our culture that its meaning remained unquestioned, in the existence of a god, or gods, superior power external to us in the face of which we were powerless, unimportant, now there is left a vacuum.

Now, the very idea of unquestioning faith leaves many of us worried. We who lack that faith. With this loss of faith, of a religious foundation to our being and the possibility of knowing right from wrong, comes a shadow into our lives; how can we be good? How can we know that we are doing the right thing? How can we judge the choices and decisions of others which effects us?

If our lives have any meaning insofar as they exist, this meaning is ethical. To be human is to be aware of the need to face others – to actually face others – and engage in a way which is profoundly moral. The meaning of what we are is to be found in the way we face others and in what we do in that facing.

The questions we ask about what it means to exist are tied inextricably with the questions of what it means to be good, to do right, to add to the net value of the universe, rather than to take away from it. We want to know, with more clarity, what goodness is, what right doing is, what is positive. (Add and subtract, positive and negative, are simple enough ideas, but they contain implied value as well; this needs to be resolved at some point).

Why do I make this claim? Because it seems that to ask such questions about the meaning of being is to ask how we can be of worth. We can understand who, what we are; we can understand the difficulty of facing others and being for them open to their meaning; but we do not easily comprehend the value of our existence.

To ask ‘What is the meaning of life?’ is, therefore, actually to ask ‘What is the value of (my) life?’ We seek a way of placing value on our existence and our actions. this is a key to the project.

As always, be loved.


The mind can be a fickle beast. There are times when there would be no gain from trying to say anything, as it would always be corrupted by other, unimportant matters. So there are times when silence is best.

But the silence must end at some time, within the bounds of existence, at least. A side thought is whether, for the meaning of being, silence has the same status as darkness; the place of anxiety and terror, of shame and guilt. In which case, the saying would have the same status as light, as transcendent in itself. merely a speculation.

You were asking why you exist. You could have a purpose, or a primal cause in mind. There is a problem with the idea of a primal cause (a divine purpose, if you like), an original intention outside you, which you were created to realise. That problem is that such an intention, if it did exist, must be unknowable. You may complain that, even if this were so, through contemplation and sincere reflection, it can be possible to work out what that purpose might be. But to say this requires that you already assume the existence of that purpose. For some, this might be acceptable, for others, it cannot be.

Then you have to ask; from where, if I contemplate the divine purpose as a possibility, does my understanding come? Regardless of if the purpose is real or imagined, the understanding of the purpose has to come from you. You are the person who does the understanding. It is your consciousness of your being which is considered and which does the considering. If the divine purpose is imagined, this is where the source of it is; in the conscious understanding of yourself. if the divine purpose is not imagined, but is real, it can only come to light through the selfsame process. So there will always be doubt; am I sure that this is the correct interpretation of my ‘purpose’? Have I understood correctly.

You can see, though, that it would make no real difference; whether the purpose is imagined or real, you consciousness, your understanding, belongs to you. You are the source of the bringing-to-light of such a meaning. In other words, a search for divine purpose is of no greater or lesser value than a search for a personal, immediate and secular ‘purpose’. For this reason, I say to you, can you put aside the question of the divine? For you, this question may require an answer at some stage, but the answer isn’t needed now. Which leaves us with the question: ‘Does my life have a purpose?’

In the sense that you imagine that you may have been created to fulfil a specific purpose – a destiny – the answer must be no. To assume this is to assume that the future is set, or at least, your defining identity is set, prior to your existing. This cannot be; more accurately, it cannot be known. If it cannot be known, then it must be set aside. The meaning of your existence is not to be found in the puzzle of a destined purpose. You can create a story of your being which incorporates a purpose, but it must always be an interpretation, a metaphor. It may inform your actions and decisions, may influence the way you exist in the world, but it always remains only as your version, your story of yourself. For some, this can be enough, for others, the search for the meaning of being must continue.

Whichever you are, be loved.

Sometimes, the horror of the real overwhelms. The ability to be for-the-other dissipates and living in the world becomes difficult. Though this is not a necessary response to the real; the nausea, the fear, it can happen.

What can be done? If the possibility of the transcendent/immanent being is gone, temporarily, then, perhaps, being in the world has to go too, for a short while. This is not to speak of dying – though it can be used as a metaphor – but as abstraction, retreat.

it is not that there is any particular benefit in retreat, though this too is possible. It is that if there can be no moral presence, no accepting of the other, then the other should be avoided, for their sakes. When in the inauthentic condition of appropriative interaction we can only damage others and ourselves. This is why retreat may be needed.

And the language changes; the simple words become impossible and instead a complex web of metaphor and ambiguity replaces it, acting as insulation and the self’s own cry of ‘do not kill me’.

There are times when there is nothing to be heard, no clarity. At these times, even words become problems.

Be loved.

The first three questions I offered before were these:

  • Why do I exist?
  • Why does anything exist?
  • Does anything really exist at all?

Staring with the third of these is necessary. Removing the doubt from this most basic inquiry allows progress to be made on the more – interesting subjects.

The answer to the third question is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If the answer is ‘maybe’, it isn’t an answer at all. If the answer is yes, something exists, then there is no problem. The real problem seems to be when the second question ‘how do I know that anything exists?’ follows from the first. This is because it takes us into the world of what ‘know’ might mean.

But it is, really, a false dilemma. For the sake of argument, let it be assumed that what we think of as ‘existence’ does not, actually, ‘really’ exist. What is it that we think is going on then? If not ‘actual’, then it must be imagined – perhaps the dream of a butterfly, or of a divine figure, of a ‘cosmic mind’ – who knows? Perhaps all that we imagine exists is our own fevered dream, and we are trapped in ‘the Matrix’, some kind of dream-state, as in the film of that name.

There are two responses to this; first, if it is imagined, then it must be being imagined by a consciousness of some kind, a ‘mind’ must exist to do the imagining. And if a mind must exist, then something exists, there must be something, in or outside the Universe, which actually does exist. Ah, you say, but what if that mind’s existence is also imagined? Then the step goes one stage farther back. It doesn’t make any difference how far back you take it, at some point, infinitely far down the line, perhaps, at bottom, there must be an existence.

‘Ah,’ you say, ‘but all it might be is radio waves, or electromagnetic forces, or the accidental collision of particles of energy.’ it makes no difference; whatever the cause is of imagined existence, it in itself must exist. So, it is not possible for nothing to exist.

Do you see where this takes us?

The second response (roughly) is this: It makes no difference to us and our lives whether what we think existence is is real or imagined; in terms of how it effects us, both the real and the imaginary have equal power; the imagined may only ‘seem’ real, but that seeming has the force of reality; it is immanent and experienced (or perceived). The status does not change what happens in our lives one jot, permits no escape from some kind of real. It is simpler, then, to accept that what appears to be real actually is real, rather than worry about how real it might not be. In the end, the question is not worth asking: it makes no difference to us, to you.

So, this is the first axiom, or principle, of the meaning of life: Life is real; the world is real, we are real; everything actually exists as it appears to, by and large. To speculate otherwise is pointless. Accept this first: existence is.

And be loved.

 It is possible to argue that discussions of global warming have got out of control in recent months, not just in the media, but within the academic and political arenas, too. But, even if there are exaggerations and examples of hyperbole, there still has to be a baseline position from which a case for optimism can be made. How far can one go with scepticism about GW?

I have done a bit of the required reading – even as far as some of the mathematics – and it is reasonably clear to me that, when it comes to some of the alternative explanations for GW, the numbers really don’t add up; and this isn’t the models’ numbers, its the observed data. Whilst it is possible to argue attributions of warming, it is not really feasible to argue that there hasn’t been a warming trend over the last thirty-five years and, beyond that, over the last hundred. Even if the temperature measurements were all wrong, they are wrong in the same way and show the same trend. Apart from the coincidence that would imply, plus the underlying implication that scientists are incompetent, we’d then have to face the fact that other ‘symptoms’ of warming; ice loss, glacial melt, regional temperature changes, droughts, all show the same general trend. My argument then would be that we have to accept that it has warmed in modern times.

In addition, when I say that ‘it isn’t solar variation’ or ‘it isn’t volcanoes’, these observations are based on the known relationship between measured variations in such forcings and measured variations in temperatures. no models, no assumptions, simple fitting of data to data. If, on top of this, we then posit the hypothesis that at least some of the measurements of some of the variables tend to underestimate them systematically, which is at least a plausible argument, then one possible conclusion we can reach is that the measured forcing of CO2, calculated in relation to these other forcings, may be exaggerated. Because of the physics, I can’t see how it can be eliminated completely as a forcing, however.

Then there comes the issue of climate sensitivity. This is a heavily mathematical/statistical field of research and I simply don’t have the background to critique methods and formulae. I can, however, follow arguments and challenge conclusions. It is in areas like this where I tend to follow the lead of specialists, who not only can do what I cannot, but also offer what I judge, based on my knowledge of logic, to be reasoned and balanced judgements.
As things stand, these specialists have narrowed down the range of equilibrium climate sensitivity (response to a doubling of CO2) to 2-4.5C, very unlikely less than 1.5C, unlikely more than 5C. Most of the main players work with a figure between 2.5 and 3C. Even if their work is based on an exaggeration, it is still hard to reach a climate sensitivity figure below 1.5C.

So,  an individual who was cynical about many of the claims, and dubious about some of the figures offered, can reasonably argue that temperatures are as likely to rise by only 2C as they are by more, if CO2 levels are doubled. Pushed hard, a case might be made for only 1.5C.

But then comes the big political issue; under what circumstances are CO2 emissions limitable to 550ppm? (the doubling). How much CO2 are we going to pump into the system, and how quickly? These are not questions of climate science at all, but political matters, and depend on human actions and decisions, not on how the climate works.

Has it warmed? Is some of the warming human-induced? Is some of the warming able to be fitted into natural variations and forcings? Here, I suggest that the answer to all of these questions must be ‘Yes’. The challenge for the sceptic, if this is the case, is to demonstrate that the human component of climate change is less than has been suggested, and not sufficient to merit undue concern.


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March 2007