Friday, July 30, 2004

Meaning and Value 

In attempting to define the nature of meaning, I keep coming back to the concept of value. How can anything continue to have value? Objects wear out and become obsolete, data become stale, degenerate corroded, rotten and irrelevant. How can value persist? Is there anything that can hold value -- that can continue to have meaning?

One answer to this set of questions is to stop looking at things, and instead look at actions. There is a sense in which the value of an action can compound over time to infinity. Every time you take an action you are opening up the possibility of a new future with opportunities of value, which in turn leads to actions that open up even more possibilities, without end.

But in some sense this begs the question of – value for whom? Value is a subjective concept that must be linked to a sense of agency. What is valuable for someone will not have the same value for someone else. For an action to have persistent value, its effect must propogate and select a future that has value to the actor. If we fix our definition of what things are, or more importantly who we are, there is a kind of entropy of closed systems that leads to an inevitable dissipation of value. One of the interesting things about actions is that they not only let us choose between a pre-defined set of definitions and possibilities, but they let us choose to define the future in different terms, including who we are.

The molecules that make up our body are constantly changing. The people that we interact with are changing. The way that we see the world and define ourselves is also in constant flux. Therefore, to understand the nature of meaning, it is essential to understand the difference between actions that select between a closed pre-defined set of things, and actions that change the nature of our definitions, that open us up to new possibilities. To keep alive the possibility of increasing value we must take actions that ultimately increase the scope of how we define ourselves.

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