Meaning & Purpose

discovery process

For more on the Discovery Process:

People Who Feel They Have A Purpose In Life Live Longer (NPR)

A Meaningful Life

What is Meaning?

The Power of the Human Spirit:

Understanding Meaning and Purpose requires a very different way of thinking, a “new order” of thinking. Here is why:

“At present, a truly creative dialogue, in the sense that has been indicated here, is not at all common, even in science.

“Rather the struggle of each idea to dominate is commonly emphasized in believeinmost activities in society. In this struggle, the success of a person’s point of view may have important consequences for status, prestige, social position, and monetary reward. In such a conditioned exchange, the tacit infrastructure, both individually and culturally, responds very actively to block the free play that is needed for creativity.

“The importance of the principle of dialogue should now be clear. It implies a very deep change in how the mind works. What is essential is that each participant is, as it were, suspending his or her point of view, while also holding other points of view in a suspended form and giving full attention to what they mean. In doing this, each participant has also to suspend the birthrightgiftscorresponding activity, not only of his or her own tacit infrastructure of ideas, but also of those of the others who are participating in the dialogue. Such a thoroughgoing suspension of tacit individual and cultural infrastructures, in the context of full attention to their contents, frees the mind to move in quite new ways. The tendency toward false play that is characteristic of the rigid infrastructures begins to die away. The mind is then able to respond to creative new perceptions going beyond the particular points of view that have been suspended.

“In this way, something can happen in the dialogue that is analogous to the giftsdissolution of barriers in the “stream” of the generative order that was discussed at the end of the previous chapters. In the dialogue, these blockages, in the form of rigid but largely tacit cultural assumptions, can be brought out and examined by all who take part. Because each person will generally have a different individual background, and will perhaps come from a different subculture, assumptions that are part of a given participant’s “unconscious” infrastructure may be quite obvious to another participant, who has no resistance to seeing them. In this way the participants can turn their attention more generally to becoming aware, as broadly as possible, of the overall tacit infrastructure of rigid cultural and subcultural assumptions and bringing it to light. As a result, it becomes possible for the dialogue to begin to play a part that is analogous to that played by the immune system of the body, in “recognizing” destructive misinformation and in clearing it up. This clearly constitutes a very important change in how the mind works.

“There is, however, another extremely important way in which the operation of the mind can be transformed in such a dialogue. For when the rigid, tacit infrastructure is loosened, the mind begins to move in a new order. To see the nature of this order, consider first the order that has traditionally characterized cultures. Essentially this involves a strong fragmentation between individual consciousness–“what the individual knows all together”–and social consciousness–“what the society knows all together.”

“For the individual, consciousness tends to emphasize subjectivity in the sense of private aims, dreams, and aspirations that are shared to some extent with family and close friends, as well as a general search for personal pleasure and security. In society, however, consciousness tends to emphasize a kind of objectivity with common aims and goals, and there is an attempt to put conformity and the pursuit of the common welfare in the first place. One of the principal conflicts in life arises therefore in the attempt to bring these two fragments together harmoniously. For example, as a person grows up, he (or she) may find that his individual needs have little or no place in society. And in turn, as society begins to act on the individual consciousness in false and destructive ways, people become cynical. They begin to ignore the requirements of reality and the general good in favor of their own interests and those of their group.

“Within this generally fragmentary order of consciousness, the social order of language is largely for the sake of communicating information. This is aimed, ultimately, at producing results that are envisaged as necessary, either to society or to the individual, or perhaps to both. Meaning plays a secondary part in such usage, in the sense, for example, that what are put first are the problems that are to be solved, while meaning is arranged so as to facilitate the solution of these problems. Of course, a society may try to find a common primary meaning in myths, such as that of the invincibility of the nation or its glorious destiny. But these lead to illusions, which are in the long run unsatisfactory, as well as dangerous and destructive. The individual is thus generally left with a desperate search for something that would give life real meaning. But this can seldom be found either in the rather crude mechanical, uncaring society, or in the isolated and consequently lonely life of the individual. For if there is not common meaning to be shared, a person can be lonely even in a crowd.

“What is especially relevant to this whole conflict is a proper understanding of the nature of culture. It seems clear that in essence culture is meaning, as shared in society. And here “meaning” is not only significance but also intention, purpose, and value. It is clear, for example, that art, literature, science, and other such activities of a culture are all parts of the common heritage of shared meaning, in the sense described above. Such cultural meaning is evidently not primarily aimed at utility. Indeed, any society that restricts its knowledge merely to information that it regards as useful would hardly be said to have a culture, and within it, life would have very little meaning. Even in our present society, culture, when considered in this way, appears to have a rather small significance in comparison to other issues that are taken to be of vital importance by many sectors of the population.

“It is possible to have such dialogues in all sorts of circumstances, with many or just a few people involved. Indeed even an individual may have a kind of internal dialogue with himself or herself. What is essential here is the presence of the spirit of dialogue, which is, in short, the ability to hold many points of view in suspension, along with a primary interest in the creation of a common meaning. It is particularly important, however, to explore the possibilities of dialogue in the context of a group that is large enough to have within it a wide range of points of view, and to sustain a strong flow of meaning. This latter can come about because such- a dialogue is capable of having the powerful nonverbal effect of consensus. In the ordinary situation, consensus can lead to collusion and to playing false, but in a true dialogue there is the possibility that a new form of consensual mind, which involves a rich creative order between the individual and the social, may be a more powerful instrument than is the individual mind. Such consensus does not involve the pressure of authority or conformity, for it arises out of a spirit of friendship dedicated to clarity and the ultimate perception of what is true. In this way the tacit infrastructure of society and that of its subcultures are not opposed, nor is there any attempt to alter them or to destroy them. Rather, fixed and rigid frames dissolve in the creative free flow of dialogue as a new kind of microculture emerges.

People who have taken part in such a dialogue will be able to carry its spirit beyond the particular group into all their activities and relationships and ultimately into the general society. In this way, they can begin to explore the possibility of extending the transformation of the mind that has been discussed earlier to a broader sociocultural context. Such an exploration would clearly be relevant for helping to bring about a creative and harmonious order in the world. It should be clear by now that the major barriers to such an order are not technical; rather they lie in the rigid and fragmentary nature of our basic assumptions. These keep us from changing in response to the actual situations and from being able to move together from commonly shared meanings.” David Bohm and F. David Peat, Science, Order, and Creativity (New York: Bantam, 1987), pages 240-47.

One Response “Meaning & Purpose” →
1 Trackback For This Post
  1. what is meaning? | Living with Open Hands

    […] Meaning & Purpose […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: