E.O. Wilson: Science, Not Philosophy, Will Explain the Meaning of Existence

Please not Ayn Rand. Her thinking will be the doom of our society. The Right just love to quote her, the worst parts of her writings that is, and it only points to a fatalistic society.

Ayn Rand was a Social Darwinists, who believed in “survival of the fittest”—the idea that certain people become powerful in society because they are innately better.

It is what Prof. Albert Bartlett called the “greatest human dilemma”.

Darwinism is fine, but Social Darwinism is very problematic. I think Social Darwinism is an attempt of white people twisting Darwinism.

Yes and no. In the domain of philosophy, I think it is really correct not to take her seriously. And I do not know how the general public would react, when (many) academic philosophers would publicly declare she is/was not a philosopher. ‘Ivory tower’, ‘fake science’ are just 2 reactions I can think of. But it is important to notice that she never went into serious discussions with academic philosophers.

Of course not! Didn’t I say:

Social Darwinism: another example of the naturalistic fallacy.

A fallacy held by humans, not by nature. Evolution via natural selection produced humans. Difference is that humans are one of the few species that is actually at war with itself.

Prof Bartlett was a mathematician and predicted that the exponential growth of the human world population would eventually result in overpopulation and a culling.

There will come a time when humans will be forced to make some hard decisions, else nature will take care of it.

What we consider good will add to the overpopulation problem, what we consider bad will solve the overpopulation problem.
Therein lies the dilemma.

I believe we’re talking about two different things, it’s not about “declaring” her a fraud, or inviting her to conferences - in my perception, it should have been about deconstructing her ideas, exposing her fallacies, education and providing constructive building (learning) blocks that help others see through her deception and self-serving but destructive nonsense.
Sort of what SkepticalScience strives to do in regards to climate Science. Of course, someone could retort, and what good have they done in turning around our head long rush towards a self created hellscape on Earth?

… and that those powerful people had no duty to their fellow humans or society in general, let alone our biosphere.
Besides, Social Darwinism is a lie, it’s actual “Social Herbert Spencerism” - and every time anyone uses Social “Darwinism” they’re simply reinforcing the lie (even if unwittingly).

Oh boy, not sure where to go with this. We have gone into a downward spiral so many times. I have been tooting the horn of “listening” for years now. I know you’re fine with that, but sometimes it’s really challenging, like listening to a racist moron go on and on about how racism is justified. There are people that are beyond hope. Unless it’s someone you have a connection with, or care about, and can do the long-term work to build a relationship, there are cases where you just need to step away. So, step 1 might be to consider the goals you have, with your life, with the person in question.

This is where the conversation gets confusing. Because I also believe there should be no “red line”, there shouldn’t be some value, some comment, some attitude, that causes me to write someone off and cut them out of my life. The distinction could be the difference between a “line” and a “boundary”. If I’m going to engage someone who has very different beliefs from mine, there might be some agreements we need to make before having a conversation. That’s a boundary. That could include something about safety, like no loaded weapons in the room, that would be a line that I couldn’t cross.

So, that’s a start.

Okay that’s fair enough. I practice it all the time, for instance, especial in this suburbia world I get immersed in occasionally. There’s no end of things I could complain about or bitch about future consequences of short sighted thinking. But it’s off the table, they’ll not hear me, instead it would lead to places I don’t want to go.
I’ve had to arrange my own set of priorities, it’s all about the kids and the now moments, the future will turn out as it does and the parents are in charge. Period. I manage to see the good loving side of them and work with the common ground we do have, and leave the rest alone.

This space at CFI is where I can be open and honest and provocative, always hoping to connect with those who do have the prerequisite background to relate to my lofty thoughts.

So when I’m writing it’s about refining my thoughts and words as best I can, not in putting words together that the masses can relate to. It sounds sometimes that you think I am, or ought, to be writing for every Tom, Dick, or Emily.

Of course that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t strive to make my writing kinder or gentler, more accessible, of course I’m trying to do that. But in the end, I’m only realistically hoping to connect to people who are already on this road I’ve been on all curious little life.

You are talking about people outside of this forum. I’m responding to things you talk about. I’m kind of busy for a discussion where I have to point out obvious stuff like that

Good at advice, though I dare say I’ve achieved the goals I had/have with my life and its appreciation/understanding of myself and life on Earth in general. My heart is full and my soul is at peace, and death doesn’t terrify me, and a whole series of life long questions have been pretty well resolved.
Now it’s about refining what I’m striving to communication and living one day at a time because the future society is creating is not going to be a pleasant place for us or other creatures or this planet’s bio systems (the thing all of us depend on, but way the hell too few appreciate).

Thanks for being one of my coaches.

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I was hearing references to “Atlas Shrugged” during the Paul Ryan years, so I finally picked it up and slogged through it. As a sci-fi book, it’s not horrible. The idea of an engine that gets power from the air is pretty childish, and the “heroes” of the book all talk about working hard to get what you want, but all of them are from rich families. Maybe my worst critique is that the “extras”, the people on the street, are so few. Sometimes the streets are literally bare for no reason.

I was about 1/3 in and thought I could predict the rest of the story, and couldn’t believe how flat the whole thing was. Basically, it’s greedy people who aren’t happy, and think that being more greedy will help. So, I went looking for what people were saying to Ms. Rand while she was alive and how she responded.

Long before the internet, we had “trusted news sources” to do this for us. I think Mike did a decent job.

The Mike Wallace Interview with Ayn Rand - YouTube

One of those communication things, that I hear a lot because I talk to psychologist types, is to interpret people’s word as generously as possible. It goes along with recognizing they have a past, and there might be something you need to know to get who they are.

Doing that for you, I think “on this road” are the people we should be talking to, those within our “lane”, on our side of the “line”. Loretta J. Ross breaks it down by percentage, and I think she would call these the 10%, your friends and associates. But, even within those, you have some “small differences”. Just be aware of that.

Loretta then breaks down other groups, eventually getting to those that it’s not worth it, that you have to agree to only talk about TV or sports. You can speak against them as a political group, in the proper context, but you may never be able to be social with them or engage them in person. When I was younger, first I thought everyone would think like me because I was learning fairly simple things that I thought everyone else would see the same, then for a while I thought there were more stupid people than I’d realized and figured additional information and education would fix it, then I realized I’m the dumb one :slight_smile: that people are people, that we still have tribes completely cut off from the rest of the world and everything else along the spectrum, representing centuries of thought and histories around the globe. Somehow, I gotta figure out how to live here, and leave it a little better than I found it.

And the big unanswered question

  1. Qualified scientists using the scientific method can give us the best available information about what things are and the dynamics of how things function.
  2. But qualified scientists using the scientific method have no ability to say authoritative things about the “meaning” of things.
  3. All meaning is fictional (an illusion of the human brain).
  4. Human brains are programmed by biological evolution to need meaning, to seek meaning, and to find or invent meaning. This deficit of meaning is filled in by fictions (stories) found in religion, philosophy, political culture, movies, novels, stage plays, music, folklore, legends, etc.
  5. Some people are attracted to “right wing” forms of meaning. Others are attracted to “left wing” forms of meaning. This difference is determined by factors such as personality type, life history, and present life circumstances.
  6. So, in sum, for human beings, meaning is real (a real experience) and it is necessary. People can and do find meaning, and also sometimes lose meaning.
  7. But, observing from a scientific point of view, all meaning is fictional.
  8. But, in the hot struggles of our daily living, we are forced (at least most of the time) by our brains to treat meaning as if it is not fictional, as if it is real and describes the eternal reality (but systems of meaning don’t describe reality at all–only science does that).
  9. Much of the confusion about meaning comes from the history of Western Philosophy, in which, for a long time (but no longer) it was widely held that philosophical reasoning could arrive at true, definite, real, undeniable knowledge.
  10. Footnotes: I think some of what I’ve just written is stated by the professional philosopher Alex Rosenberg (Rutgers University). Also, I think some of it was stated by the late philosopher Bertrand Russell. My last authority would be Plato, who in his book “The Republic,” advised philosopher kings to rule over others (and even over themselves) by means of “noble lies” (meaningful myths that are publicly represented as being true stories that descibe reality even though they are actually fictions invented by the philosopher kings).

Gets kind of circular from here on.

“Noble lies” section of Plato’s is really facinating. He ends with the conundrum that the lie has to be maintained. Catholics pulled it off for a few hundred years at the expense of education. It almost ended with Mongols taking over Europe.

Oh dear, I was going to make a short comment and discovered I made a long comment that I never completed - but that the computer gremlins decided to save for me, just in case.

I read it a couple decades ago to see what the fuss was about and found it about as amateurish as it could be, style & substance, but it offered answers that satisfied too many self-serving agendas, so it carried the day.


A common question posed to philosophers and hermit gurus is, “What is the meaning of life?” It’s an important question. Having a sense of purpose in life is associated with positive health outcomes; conversely, not having one can leave a person feeling listless and lost. Friedrich Nietzsche even feared that a lack of meaning would plunge the world toward nihilism, a transition he believed would prove disastrous.

Several philosophers have proposed answers to the age-old question. Here, we will consider four. The list is not exhaustive, however, as many thinkers from many different schools have considered the problem and proposed potential solutions.

With respect none of those provides a serious path to existential enlightenment, because they are all about strategies that deal with mental matters, and mental health, rather than objective deeper existential understanding.


Existentialism is an approach to philosophy that focuses on the questions of human existence, including how to live a meaningful life in the face of a meaningless universe. Many thinkers and writers are associated with the movement, including Nietzsche, Simone de Beauvoir, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. But perhaps the most prominent of the 20th-century existentialists was Jean-Paul Sartre.

Sartre’s ontology is explained in his philosophical masterpiece, Being and Nothingness , where he defines two types of reality which lie beyond our conscious experience: the being of the object of consciousness and that of consciousness itself.

That is simply inaccurate. Both of those states come from within our minds.

First base to enlightenment requires starting with a realization that the two types of existential reality are simple: A) what’s unfolding within our minds B) what unfolds within the physical world of material substance and "laws of nature.’


Absurdism is a philosophy created by Sartre’s one-time friend and later intellectual rival Albert Camus. It is based on the idea that existence is fundamentally absurd and cannot be fully understood through reason that we exist within.

I’d define that as human over self-indulgence and an absurdity in itself.
The cure, is to appreciate that “you” are at root a biological creature. Your mind is in the first order the result of that biological organism reflecting on its own body dealing with itself and the world. This explains why our body has so much control over our emotions and habits, etc.

Jean-Paul Sartre was perhaps the most prominent of the 20th-century existentialists and is known for his argument that our choices give our lives meaning. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Existentialism is an approach to philosophy that focuses on the questions of human existence, including how to live a meaningful life in the face of a meaningless universe. Many thinkers and writers are associated with the movement, including Nietzsche, Simone de Beauvoir, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. But perhaps the most prominent of the 20th-century existentialists was Jean-Paul Sartre.

In Existentialism Is a Humanism, Sartre lays out the fundamentals of the philosophy. He explains, “Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world — and defines himself afterwards.” In other words, for humans, existence precedes essence. Humans have to decide what it means to be human through their actions and thereby give their lives meaning.

Those choices also define humanity as a whole. As such, Sartre argues that some variation of the categorical imperative — the moral rule that states you should only act in a way that everyone could logically act in — is a vital part of decision-making. Those afraid of existentialists choosing values that would ruin society might also breathe a little easier with this knowledge.

For Albert Camus, Sisyphus was an absurdist hero because he can rebel against the meaninglessness of his task by placing his own value on what he does. (Credit: Museo del Prado / Wikimedia Commons)


Absurdism is a philosophy created by Sartre’s one-time friend and later intellectual rival Albert Camus. It is based on the idea that existence is fundamentally absurd and cannot be fully understood through reason. It is related to, but not the same as, existentialism.

Camus argues that absurdity arises when humans try to impose order and meaning on an inherently irrational and meaningless world. However, the irrationality of the world and the inevitability of the end of our time in it always come together to mock our best attempts at meaning. This is the struggle we all face.

… For Camus, the answer lies in embracing the meaninglessness. …

That’s doesn’t actually make sense, meaninglessness is a conceit in the eyes of the biologic reality that is “you.”

You are a biological creature, your meaning in life is to live your life and strive to eat, sleep, survive and procreate, that is to thrive, as it is for all other biological entities.
Why wish away the meaning in natural reality?

Religious existentialism

While the primary existentialist thinkers were all atheists — Nietzsche raised the alarm on nihilism when he declared “God is dead” …
Kierkegaard is concerned with actually living one’s life, not just thinking about it. But in every life, there comes a point where reason runs dry. At that point, passion can help, but Kierkegaard argues that faith is required to really find meaning.

But, this conceit overlooks that God is a creation of our mind, and not something that endowed us with a mind.
So “God” can never help one achieve a realistic insight into the essence of our reality, since God is a product of our mind, and because our Gods are confined by our own limitations of vision and a handicaps to understanding.


Another religious take can be found in the works of Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. Nishitani studied early existentialism under Martin Heidegger, himself a leading existentialist thinker, but provided a Zen Buddhist approach to many of the same problems the existentialists addressed. …

He describes human life as taking place in three fields: consciousness, nihility, and emptiness (or śūnyatā, as it is often named in Buddhist thought). We live in the first field most of the time, and it is where we get ideas like dualism or that there is a self. However, nearly everyone eventually encounters the nihility and has to face up to the idea of death, meaninglessness, and the void inherent in our ideas. Stopping here is what causes problems. Nishitani argues we must push through to the third field. Emptiness surrounds the other two. It allows the individual to understand the true self, how nihility is just as grounded in emptiness as consciousness, and the interrelation of all beings. …

Guess I simply take more comfort in the answers I find within the confines of the physical reality of nature, as opposed to the mental realities of my coddled mind’s rudderless imaginings.


Human are programmed by biological evolution to solve problems,
it requires seeking meaning in things and event.

It’s philosophers who decree that seeking meaning equals creating fantasy.
Sometimes it does, often it doesn’t,
as in discovering a practical solution to a practical problem.

As opposed to the unresolvable games we love playing in our minds.

Nirvana is not my goal. “I quit trying to be a great man, and just tried to be a man” – Mriana knows this one. It’s from the guy who invented hyper drive in Star Trek

Darn straight. The next sentence is your bias.

Yeah I should probably stop listening to philosophers all together.
But, probably won’t