GUC:Introspection is crucial for finding meaning

Opinions Column: Macro to Micro

Recently, in one of my classes, a question was raised on why humans, regardless of time and culture, have always wondered about and been preoccupied with the very same existential questions and dilemmas. A student, in response, remarked that it was human tendency to project meaning onto anything that exists, even if it inherently does not hold any such meaning. The implication is that because humans seek meaning, universal questions concerning one’s own existence arise that aim to find that meaning. This internal occurrence takes place despite differences in ethnicity, race, geographical location, nationality and so forth. The student’s comment triggered a thought process within myself that I thought deserved a more careful analysis. If the comment is to be accepted and applied more generally, it could have numerous implications that impact one’s everyday worldview. However, any assertion made — whether it is by a student or an individual of acclaimed knowledge — requires a personal investigation so as to be able to confirm or deny it. So the question to ask and explore is: do we, humans, try to find meaning within things that do not have any inherent meaning? However, in trying to answer this question, it is best to start from one’s own self rather than an all-encompassing “we.” As such, I will instead apply and direct the question toward myself. The significance of this inquiry lies in the fact that on one end, there is the possibility of an objective meaning waiting to be discovered and on the opposite end, it may just be that my consciousness merely colors onto my experiences something that they do not intrinsically hold. The latter option can also be understood as just a “mechanism” of my psychology to satisfy this apparent human need.

First to be tackled is the premise that humans even have such a need for meaning. But such meaning does not need to be understood as being on a cosmic level. As a student, I can affirm that I seek meaning all of the time. When it comes to grades, nearly all students want to understand the reasoning as to why points are given or deducted in a paper or exam. Even in our attendance of Rutgers or college in general, we internally or externally ask for a satisfying explanation as to why we are here studying and working. When it comes to the relationships we build in classes, dorms, organizations or general social life, we want to find a connection that transcends the practical and mundane reasons for why we know and love a person or group. All of these situations point towards a need for meaning in everyday, practical life. So, thus far, it seems that, yes, in my existence and in the existence of other things, I search for meaning. However, the question remains: are things in and of themselves meaningful or do they simply become externally framed with such meaning? Am I the one that thinks them to have a meaning that they do not actually own? Despite the seeming importance of this question, I feel that a step is skipped in this thought process. Before I can go about in determining the existence of independent meaning, the source of existence of my need for meaning must be investigated. Why is it that I have such a quality that demands meaning to begin with? Even if such meaning is projected, the feeling itself exists and it is the existence of that human feeling that I must try to make sense of in terms of its existence.

I am of the thought that one should, ultimately, try and find meaning in one’s interactions, experiences and feelings. It is a part of what makes us human and what allows us to make sense of the world around us. It does not matter if one thinks such meaning is projected by one’s self or if the meaning was just waiting to be discovered. Rather, the core of the situation must be examined and reflected upon: from whence did this human quality to seek meaning come from? Many times, it is matter-of-factly asserted that the meaning derived from life, from existence, from something as small as a flower petal are all imagined — that all of it is just a product of human fantasy. Maybe so, maybe not —that is a different, irrelevant topic. More important than that and what needs to be thought about is why that search for meaning, that “fantasy,” the need to fulfill an apparent void exists in the first place. It is this subtle but significant question that, if given its worth in honest introspection, may offer a satisfying and fruitful answer that goes beyond mere inconsequential speculations.

Aysenur Guc is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in philosophy. Her column,"Macro to Micro," runs on alternate Mondays.

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