The Brain and the Meaning of Life

The Brain and the Meaning of Life

The Brain and the Meaning of Life

The Brain and the Meaning of Life


Why is life worth living? What makes actions right or wrong? What is reality and how do we know it? The Brain and the Meaning of Life draws on research in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience to answer some of the most pressing questions about life's nature and value. Paul Thagard argues that evidence requires the abandonment of many traditional ideas about the soul, free will, and immortality, and shows how brain science matters for fundamental issues about reality, morality, and the meaning of life. The ongoing Brain Revolution reveals how love, work, and play provide good reasons for living.

Defending the superiority of evidence-based reasoning over religious faith and philosophical thought experiments, Thagard argues that minds are brains and that reality is what science can discover. Brains come to know reality through a combination of perception and reasoning. Just as important, our brains evaluate aspects of reality through emotions that can produce both good and bad decisions. Our cognitive and emotional abilities allow us to understand reality, decide effectively, act morally, and pursue the vital needs of love, work, and play. Wisdom consists of knowing what matters, why it matters, and how to achieve it.

The Brain and the Meaning of Life shows how brain science helps to answer questions about the nature of mind and reality, while alleviating anxiety about the difficulty of life in a vast universe. The book integrates decades of multidisciplinary research, but its clear explanations and humor make it accessible to the general reader.


Why don't you kill yourself? Albert Camus began his book The Myth of Sisyphus with the startling assertion “There is but one truly serious philo- sophical problem and that is suicide.” a French novelist and philosopher who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957, Camus said that judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy If life is meaningless, there is no point to pursuing traditional philosophical questions about the nature of reality, knowledge, and morality

Why life is worth living is indeed an urgent question, but it is rarely the question of suicide. the question of why you don't kill yourself arises only if you think that there are reasons why you would kill yourself, and people's lives are rarely so miserable that such reasons become prominent. If depres- sion, disease, and despair were the overwhelming character of everyday life, then people would have a daily struggle about whether to go on at all. Unfortunately, such a struggle is not rare among young adults: an American survey of university students found that 10 percent said they had seriously considered suicide during the preceding year.

Most of us face the much less drastic question of how to go on, of how to live our lives. Then the question of the meaning of life is not the skeptical one of whether there is any meaning at all, but rather the constructive one that can have informative answers concerning what aspects of life make it worth living.

For most people today, religion provides a major source of answers to such questions about the meaning of life. When I was a child in Catholic school in the 1950s, I learned from the Baltimore Catechism that “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” From a religious perspective, meaning arises not from any meager aspect of our daily lives, but from our profound connections with God, who brought us into existence and who provides the . . .

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