Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Empty And Meaningless, And Meaning-Making Machines

BarnHouse Napa Brews, Napa, California, USA

New Year's Day, January 1, 2023

"Life is empty and meaningless."
... Jean-Paul Sartre
"Life is empty and meaningless, and it's empty and meaningless that it's empty and meaningless."
This essay, Empty And Meaningless, And Meaning-Making Machines, is the seventh in a septology inspired by the distinction Empty And Meaningless: It is also the tenth in a group of ten written on New Year's Day:
  1. Orion
  2. Clean, Well Lit Quarters
  3. External Tank
  4. The Magical Breakfast Burrito Assembly Line II
  5. As Your Natural Self-Expression
  6. Werner's Work In Academia
  7. About Assisting: On Leaving My Baggage At The Door
  8. Another New (Symbolic) Beginning
  9. So What Revisited: The Implement
  10. Empty And Meaningless, And Meaning-Making Machines
in that order.

I am indebted to Paul "Bookworm" Stone who inspired this conversation.

Punctuation has the power to shift worlds. We all know punctuation is mostly imperceptible. It's the minutiae-in-the-background shaping the emphasis and the inflection of everything we read. But to call it world-shifting? Punctuation? Really? Isn't that an overly grandiose, bold, brash  statement Laurence?


Punctuate this:
what is is what is not is not is that it it is
Mouseover text to punctuate (works best with Chrome).

Consider the title of this essay: Empty And Meaningless, And Meaning-Making Machines. He was peering over my shoulder at my laptop screen as I typed. At first it was awkward / borderline inappropriate, but I allowed him. "Shouldn't it be ' Empty  Empty, And Meaningless, And Meaning-Making Machines'?" he finally spoke, adding that lowly comma. "No" I said gently, turning to face him, "it's not that. That would be something entirely different.". He said nothing, pursing his lips. I asked him "What do you do?". "I help my clients find meaning in their lives" he said ("A-Ha!"  I thought, "Houston! We have connection!").

"That interests me" I said jovially, "Tell me why you do it. What called you to that vocation? My personal take on it, is this: if they haven't found meaning in their lives, then they've already realized one of the great profundities there is to realize: that life itself is really meaningless. Why denigrate that for them?".

If there's one thing I've learned from the myriads of my mistakes and the mass of my mis-steps in my conversations for transformation with people, it's that people will listen "jovial" more openly and more generously than they'll listen "confronting" and / or "challenging". The look that crossed his face told me he'd suddenly realized he hadn't merely perchance intruded into the personal space of just another guy typing on a laptop. Something beckoning to him was just out of his reach. He'd quickly realized I wasn't what Werner calls "a guy in a diner" about meaning (in this case, a guy in a coffee shop about meaning).

"Before we continue, let's get back to that actually-not-missing comma: there aren't three distinctions: there are only two" I said. "It's not empty  ... and ... meaningless  ... and ... meaning-making machines  (three). It's only 'empty and meaningless' (the one) ... and  ... meaning-making machines (the other).".

He looked puzzled. "Life is empty and meaningless" I continued. "That's what your clients have already discovered. But they don't get  it yet. So they try to find meaning.". "Yes, and that's where I come in. I work with them to help them find meaning" he said. "But look: there ... is  ... no  ... meaning"  I pressed gently, jovially, "... and they already suspect that. And there are very few things more profound to get than there is no meaning ie that life is empty and meaningless. Life is empty and meaningless. And they can't find meaning? They've realized there's no meaning? Bingo!  They see it. How profound is that!".

His eyes widened to nearly the size of saucers. "The trouble is" I continued "people are meaning-making machines. But wait!" (he'd opened his mouth to interrupt me), "We're not just meaning-making machines. We're meaning-making machines in the face of  life is empty and meaningless. So there ... is ... no ... meaning ... yet we're compelled to make meaning. That's our predicament. Transformation (and if not transformation, then at least enlightenment) starts with the willingness to be the source of the space / the context in which both can co-exist ie to have it be an opportunity rather than a predicament.".

Life is empty and meaningless. Any meaning there is, is meaning we make. We're spring-loaded to make meaning when there's none. That's not bad, good, worse, or better. It's that we don't hang out there much. We're thrown to make meaning. Being with "Life is empty and meaningless" is an acquired taste.

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