What exactly is Nihilism? It is often associated to extreme pessimism and believed that it is an active negation of life, or thinks of it as empty of inherent meaning. In other words, that there is no such thing as “meaning” or “value”, no meaning in the universe, no meaning in the search of meaning and no desire in finding meaning.
Well, let’s just forget all that for a moment. Today we are going to look into a complete different meaning of Nihilism offered by Nihilist Engima.
As I’ve come to understand it, “Nihilism” is just the word used for the realization that the universe at large is indifferent.
That there is no meaning beyond that which we make, as the very concept of “meaning” is a phenomena of mind.
That, outside the context of minds, things such as beauty become pointless to discuss.
As does pain, joy, love, hunger, color – Any of it.
It only ever ‘matters‘ if you exist as a mind capable of saying it does;
Capable of experience,
There are many who seem to hold the perspective that nihilism is best summed as:
“Nothing means anything” or a self-contradicting “Belief in nothing”
leading them towards;
“therefore why ascribe value to subjective meaning when – in the view of a nihilist – there’s no ‘objective‘ meaning”
This line of reasoning seems to me to miss the point entirely.
There’s this fatalistic pessimistic nihilism that’s become the standard way of thinking of the idea. Fixated on the seemingly unfortunate fact that meaning doesn’t matter to the universe – and never did – But this interpretation fails to realize minds as the only context in which the word “meaning” has ever had a definition.
To fixate and get lost in this unfortunate reality – that meaning is only of us – is to lose sight of the core of it all:
Have you ever enjoyed an experience? or an interaction with a pet?
Ever appreciate a moment with someone?
Or really enjoyed a good meal or sight or sound?
Have you ever lost someone? hurt yourself? felt Real hunger? been angry, or sad, or proud, or glad, or any of it?
How about these s y m b o l s ?
Through which my thoughts reach your mind within your mind, do they form into something coherent? something meaningful?
At base, they have no meaning at all, until they reach you. and it is only through you that the meaning they are meant to carry can take form.
Are these not all, at base, forms of creation of “meaning”?
Is meaning, at base, not inherent to conscious experience?
It is only within the context of Minds that the concept of “meaning” has its foundations.
And it only ever has been.
The universe is, was, and will remain to be indifferent to these concepts that to us are central.
morality, beauty, value
But to Us, to Minds, They Are Central.
This is not a negative realization. Just because the universe is indifferent, – uncaring and incapable of care – doesn’t mean we should – or even can – be.
The struggle to discover what is truly worth valuing, in the vast landscape of possible “meaning” inherent to consciousness, is a worthwhile one.
A necessary one, by virtue of existence itself.
Appreciation, respect, love, beauty, these are all ways in which meaning exist, but only within the context of minds.
Meaning arises from Being. Being precedes Meaning. Talking of meaning in any other context, becomes fallacy.
Supposed or asserted “greater meaning” – founded in something “beyond us” – is failure to realize the only and actual foundation of meaning as Being us.
Life is empty of ‘inherent’ meaning,
But that has always been the case. Meaning has only ever existed following the existence of minds, not prior to. It rises and falls both with and within us.
There is no meaning in the pursuit of meaning, no meaning in love, no meaning in these very words- but that depends on how we define ‘meaning’.
To the universe beyond perception of the conscious agents involved? No meaning, never was. Not real. Nothingness and chaos.
But, when you emerge as a mind – By the very virtue of seeing colors, hearing sounds, and being an evolved mechanism of perception, the illusion of ‘meaning’ emerges. But it is only real through us, and is a by – product of thought.
Once an organism can see, and hear, it thinks- to arrange what it perceives – give that time and variation, and many many types of thoughts emerge – many of which we’d call ‘meaning’.
These values i talk about are innate to our being, but they are emergent and neurological in nature- and you can see it develop both in the mind of a growing child, and all across the animal kingdom.
All this is not pessimistic inherently. It is simply an acknowledgment of the situation we are in as minds emergent here, now. “nothing matters”, is both a correct and incorrect statement.
Nothing matters; to the universe at large – nothing can matter to it as far as we know, unless you anthropomorphize reality itself, as for something to ‘matter’ there must be consciousness at play – but, as emergent minds, we must seek food, shelter, company – we must see sights, feel emotions and sensations – have thoughts –
As a Mind, meaning is inescapable, yet just as the concept of beauty, or pain, it only retains definition in this one context that is perception and being.
Being precedes meaning.
Conversely, in this framework Absurdism then becomes a sort of fundamental laughter in response to nihilism. Realizing the pursuit of meaning to be a folly, as meaning arises wherever it is attributed by a mind.
Laughing at the reality of the situation, in contrast to our “need” for a type of meaning that was never there. Between the reality of nihilism, and the dizzying pursuit of existentialism.
To sum nihilism as pessimistic, as Nietzsche himself did at times, is to miss half of the point. In my opinion, the more profound half.
We’ve often talked about the concept of nihilism in a pessimistic way – especially in the Nietzschean sense. That the death of god creates a void without any value structure, and thus people struggle to find meaning in life and are susceptible or at risk of falling into nihilism. Nietzsche proposes in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, three core teachings: the Overman, the Will to Power, and the Eternal Recurrence, which are substitutes for the disappearance of this “value structure”, and to avoid falling into the void of nihilism.
However, this view of nihilism gives an entirely new viewpoint. People who call themselves “nihilists” often consider themselves pessimistic. But that is not inherent to nihilism, the universe is indifferent and this is merely a reality. Trying to seek for a greater meaning in something superstitious or beyond us is a failure to understand the only and actual foundation of meaning as the mind itself.
Thus, Nietzsche’s teachings are not to be used to fight against nihilism, but rather to embrace it as our reality, and then to strive for self-overcoming and acceptance through the concept of the Overman, the Will to Power, and the Eternal Recurrence.
It is us, our minds, that create our meaning and value.
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7 thoughts on “(mis)Understanding Nihilism”
So, in a sort of way, the nihilists are Stoics? Just some similar views of the world. I’m sure I’ve misused the term “nihilist” as others have misused “Stoic.” Thanks for sharing. Good read.
I’ve misused nihilism as well, this post opens my horizon quite a bit! I do see some similarities between the Stoics, although I’d say it’s a much more specific kind of philosophy – “not focusing on things you cannot control”, “loving your fate”, “meditating on your morality”, etc.
Thanks for reading!
Behold! I have kept myself alive. And I have done so because I hope to feel those small meanings in life. I never know when I might laugh or get intimicy or be awed. Maybe it was tough to determine this world was not a mind and thus could have no sense of “meaning”, but what would be taugher is going years without feeling even small personal meanings. If I get just some inrigues and wonder in this life then that will be enough reason to keep on going somemore.
Absolutely, right Jerrod. To create a meaning is very challenging but awe-inspiring.
“The blazing fire makes flames and brightness out of everything thrown into it.” – M. Aurelius
This looks great. Thank you
Anytime! Thanks for the interesting view 🙂