Ancient philosophy, new-age spirituality, psychology, modern lifestyle design, social anthropology, and more are intimately tied to personal development. Even though each of these areas impart life-changing wisdom, I’ve always felt unsure as to which set of ideas to adopt as my core beliefs.
For example, is the “Law of Attraction” a tried and true phenomenon steeped in quantum physics? Does everything happen for a reason? Is fate a myth? Are all events, good and bad, meant to tell you something? Is the world truly a meaningless place filled with randomness? How does God fit into this equation? And so on. After four years of sorting these ideas in my head, I’ve finally built a set of core beliefs about life and the world that we live in.
This post will be a bit controversial because, for the first time since creating this blog, I bring my personal views on life into my writing. If you disagree, I’d love to hear constructive criticism in the comments section below (though flaming and disrespect won’t be tolerated). But I’m confident that you’ll find some interesting points in this post, and my hope is that—whether or not you fully believe in my thoughts on life—these ideas will challenge you to think deeply about life and what it means to be human.
Randomness Rules Our World
Everything that occurs in this world happens through randomness. Books such as The Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness, and A Random Walk Down Wall Street demonstrate this quite well through decades of research on everything from evolution to the stock market. The fact that you’re alive and able to read this very article is the result of many chance events (being conceived, being born with good eyesight, growing up in a country with Internet access, stumbling across my blog, etc.)
There are many people who genuinely believe that everything happens for a reason or that they are given signs from the universe. So rather than events being random, this belief argues that events happen with the intent of communicating a message to the viewer of the event.
However, I have a hard time believing in signs from the universe (or from God). For every person who claims that they were given a sign from the universe which led to their success, there is someone out there who was following the same “signs” in life, and then one day, loses everything he has worked so hard for, whether through a car crash, a flood, earthquake, terrorism, or something equally as horrible. Such random events, both good and bad, have such a wide range of consequences, I find it hard to believe that the world gives us signs that were specifically meant for us.
Although, for the sake of keeping an open mind, I can’t definitively prove or disprove anything I’ve just argued. For all I know, in a few years, someone will prove that the Law of Attraction is a real phenomenon that occurs at the energy level. For all I know, perhaps we will soon discover that the world actually delivers relevant signs to each individual on this planet through some sort of quantum mechanic. To assume that we have all of the answers in the year 2011 is ludicrous.
That said, I’ve chosen to base the beliefs to follow on phenomenon that are very well grounded in research on the human mind, statistics, and economics. For the sake of a name, I’ll call this set of beliefs “infinite meaning.”
Meaning Exists in Infinite Quantity
This set of beliefs rests on the idea that there is meaning in randomness. Just because randomness cannot be predicted doesn’t mean that there cannot be meaning attached to it. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that each event has infinite meaning attached to it, and it is the role of the person experiencing the event to extract and interpret a fraction of that meaning. This process of extracting meaning from such events occurs subconsciously, so we often aren’t even aware of the process.
Now here is the key point that makes infinite meaning so powerful: Whichever meaning is extracted from an event is the one that will most likely manifest in one’s life, a phenomenon known as the self fulfilling prophecy.
Self fulfilling prophecies occur in quite a few areas of life, including economics. In economics, if a prominent authority predicts a recession on national television, even if there were no signs at all of one coming, he can inadvertently cause one. You see, if the nation trusts this prominent authority, they will get nervous and cut down on spending to prepare for the supposedly upcoming recession. This nation-wide reduction in spending will cause businesses to suffer from reduced sales, and they’ll begin to pull back on hiring new employees, and even lay off current employees. This stagnation in the job market and reduction in economic growth are the very definition of a recession, and have now come to pass, all because an entire nation believed that one was supposed to be coming. The prediction came true by the very belief of it being bound to happen.
So how does this apply to people living in a world of infinite meaning? Let’s look at an example.
Infinite Meaning and the Self Fulfilling Prophecy In Action
Let’s imagine that my friend Erik recently had a painful breakup with his ex-girlfriend Jamie. One day, both Erik and I watch Jamie talk to a handsome stranger. The meaning that Erik and I individually extract from that event will be worlds apart.
Erik, who is still hurt from the breakup, will likely interpret the event as Jamie choosing to blatantly flirt in front of him, which will cause him to feel jealousy, emotional pain, and anger. He’ll conclude that she’s a manipulative, horrible person for doing this to him. I, on the other hand, not knowing of Jamie and Erik’s recent breakup, interpreted the event as an innocent conversation and had no subsequent emotional reaction to it. So Erik and I both extracted different meaning from the exact same event. But let’s take this example a step further to demonstrate the self fulfilling prophecy.
Because of the intensity of the negative feelings he felt, that event stewed in Erik’s mind for days until he ran into Jamie again and couldn’t hold it in any longer. He argued with her about it, she got defensive and argued against the accusation, and the situation blew up into another huge fight. Lo and behold, Erik walks away confirming his original interpretation: that Jamie’s a horrible and manipulative person.
The truth is, neither Erik nor I knew what the real intention was behind the conversation. As it turns out, the handsome stranger was just randomly asking for directions with no ulterior motive and Jamie wasn’t trying to flirt in front of Erik to make him jealous. Yet, the extracted meaning that Erik chose shaped his future through the mechanism of the self fulfilling prophecy. And another way to look at the self fulfilling prophecy on an individual level is that interpretation creates thoughts, thoughts create emotion, emotion creates action, and finally, actions shape reality.
It’s also worth noting that the self fulfilling prophecy can work for people in a positive fashion too. Someone who believes that life is filled with opportunities will be more perceptive of any opportunities that randomly come up—and will be more quick to take advantage of them—confirming his original belief that opportunities are everywhere. The brain does an amazing job of filtering reality, so the very belief that opportunities exist everywhere will actually make your brain that much more perceptive to any opportunities around you.
Putting the Final Touches on Infinite Meaning
So in essence, we are creators of our own worlds through our interpretation of the randomness around us. What we interpret from a random event filled with infinite meaning ultimately becomes what our future holds because interpretation yields thoughts, which yields actions, which yields reality.
Many claim that any given event has zero meaning, but from whose perspective? If each person in the world finds unique meaning from events, how can none exist? Rather, I think these people mean that there is zero ABSOLUTE meaning. In other words, there is no such thing as one true meaning for any one situation, since every person views the world differently. I see the world as a place of infinite meaning with each person extracting a different portion of it depending on their past and present memories and state of mind.
However, there is a bottleneck in this process. Going back to the example of Erik, his past experiences, beliefs, and emotional state all interplayed to determine the meaning he extracted from the situation involving his ex-girlfriend. Because of those factors, Erik had a very limited range within which to select his interpretation. So although the situation itself had infinite meaning, each observing person can only perceive a limited set of possible meaning because of their history, beliefs, and emotional state. This is why it is so important to learn to work with your emotions and beliefs so that you can expose yourself to a wider set of potential meaning for everything you experience. The wider your perception of the world around you, the more likely you will be able to find the meaning that best propels you towards success and happiness.
To conclude, I find it hard to believe that the world conspires to help you achieve your goals if you happen to feel abundance or obey the Law of Attraction, which is espoused by many new-age self help books. Rather, the world provides opportunity for an infinite amount of meaning, some of which will propel you towards success, others of which will make you crumble from negativity and pessimism. And if the interpretation itself doesn’t propel you forward or wear away at you, the soon-to-follow self-fulfilling prophecy will surely do so.
When you extract the right meaning, you will begin to see adversity as an obstacle to overcome, rather than a reason to give up. You will begin to see a world of opportunities, rather than a world of closed doors. You will begin to see the best in people, rather than flaws and reasons to dislike people. Really, the possibilities are endless when you realize how vast and enlightening a world of infinite meaning can be.