The Emergence of Meaning
The word meaning indicates intention or purpose.
Our wish to discover meaning is a natural impulse in all human beings; one might say that the entire endeavor of human consciousness, both as an individual for center collective one, is an effort to discover meanings. That is to say, the question of agency, of the ability to formulate a purpose and work to achieve it, is essential to the human enterprise.
From the perspective of mechanistic rationalism, all of this takes place strictly as a consequence of the material, and there is no actual reason for it. It just happens — all by accident. The fact that there appear to be meanings is a happy coincidence for us humans; but we’re delusional, because no such meanings actually exist.
This is an interesting line of argument, if only from a strictly technical point of view, but it belies every humanist piece of evidence on the table. The fact is that without the trajectory of meaning, there is no point to anything, no morality, no sense or aim. Metaphysical humanism begins instead with the premise that we are creatures of meaning itself; and that orders of meaning greater than we are exist both on the level above us and the level below us. When I say orders of meaning “greater than” us exist, what I mean is that they have implications that exceed our intellectual capacity. This is definitely true of operation on the cellular and molecular level; and the hypothesis is that the same remains true on the level of planets, solar systems, galaxies.
Meanings are crafty things. What I mean by this is that meanings are constructed, emergent, and intentional.
Meanings are constructed (physical)
Mechanistic rationalism calls the fundamental meanings that govern the universe physical laws; physical laws craft entities (identities) from the quantum soup the moment that it differentiates itself and aggregates into elemental atoms. These identities are further crafted by aggregates of the atoms that assume physical properties transcendent to the quantum state; and crafted further still by molecules. At each level of craftsmanship, purpose and intention are evident. Not so much so, perhaps, in the simple relationships of electromagnetic charges; but it becomes much more apparent on the molecular level, when we encounter molecules that have embody living actions.
The difference between metaphysical humanism and mechanistic rationalism is that mechanistic rationalism consists all meanings we perceive are, ultimately, accidental, and at their root random and arbitrary, even though they do not give random and arbitrary results. Metaphysical humanism maintains that meanings in the universe are not random, arbitrary, or accidental in any sense. In this context I would say it most closely resembles Emmanuel Swedenborg’s universe, in which everything in the universe, including mankind, is an aspect of God’s manifestation — God being that supreme conscious force which gives birth to the universe we are in. This universe is constructed of meaning — intention and purpose are crafted from the very energies the universe is made of, and they arrive in existence with the characteristics of intention and purpose already active within them. That intention and purpose has been given the name of laws by mechanistic rationalism; and I say this because law is, just like intention and purpose, deterministic. Laws create the foundation for relationships that impart meaning. Meaning is the deterministic (as opposed to probabilistic, at the quantum level) manifestation of law after law interacting with one another. So laws construct meaning.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.