Do Humans Seek and Create Meaning (Part 3)?
By John Cane, MA
Seeking to Create Meaning at any Cost
Substantiating a theory that humans seek meaning as a necessary means for survival is in their creative ability to rationalize. What are humans willing to do to maintain homeostasis? In regards to Festinger’s (1962) Cognitive Dissonance theory, it may be considered that a part of seeking meaning has to do with maintaining consistency and inner balance at any cost. Dissonance is an energy that creates the need to defend and rationalize decisions and actions, even if they are wrong. Cognitive dissonance is a state of anxiety which arises whenever a person holds two opposing thoughts, attitudes, values or beliefs. This unease generates mental distress and individuals seek to find meaning to reduce it and return to equilibrium. Dissonance is unsettling. Humans spend their lifetimes in an effort to assure themselves that their existence is not meaningless. Festinger explains that people work at making sense out of conflicting ideas and conduct lives which lead to harmonious and meaningful outcomes. Through desperation one is capable of seeking to create meaning as a benefit if they are not willing, able or are afraid to face the truth. Here again, it seems humans are seeking meaning through their creative nature. Wanting something to be true can decrease opposing thoughts and feelings to temporarily bring a false sense of inner harmony and security. Dissonance theory may support the understanding that humans seek and create meaning in a way that is capable of transcending physical laws.
When striving for inner harmony humans have the potential to creatively find meaning just to survive at an organic level. To use an extreme example, it may be that schizophrenia is a sane response to an insane world (Epstein, 1979). Seeking meaning through this interpretation may be seen as seeking survival.
Freud (1963) referred to maintaining inner harmony as “economy in psychical expenditure” (p. 169), a term that described the balance within. According to Freud, it is the ongoing goal of the organism to maintain the balance within through thoughts, consciously and unconsciously. Freud himself stated that, “The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind” (Freud & Strachey, 2010, p. 604). This perspective is consistent with theories in how observing the contents and symbolism of dreams may bear significance in why humans appear to pursue meaning and balance in their lives (Feinstein & Krippner, 2006).
Seeking Meaning as a Prerequisite to Evolve
“Organize” is from the Latin meaning of “Organ” in the sense of how the body is naturally arranged to function to continue living (Merriam-Webster, 2016). Cells comprise matter, which create organs which compose systems to work in unison to create people. One may consider that for this system of the body to function effectively there needs to be an ongoing harmony or agreement within. The universe is coincidentally similar. Suns create galaxies that work collectively as a part of the design in creating the universe. The brain and the universe are miraculously constructed in the same way (Sarokin, 2013). All systems evolve continuously through time. As belief systems evolve, humans seek ways to creatively adapt and find new meaning. Inner forces act on culture and the environment inevitably changes (Bergson, 1983). Evolution involves a pattern of growing order and intricacy through constant repetition and creative solutions. These structures are frequently found throughout the universe in evolving systems. Evolution actually seeks to create ways and means of the previous to create the next (Sarokin, 2013). Joseph Campbell’s (as cited by Groff & Smoker, 1996) writings express a universal theme of seeking inner meaning in all cultural mythologies. Campbell suggests that an individual’s journey can differ from one culture to the next. This being a consideration, it would seem if one would live in a new culture one may need to adapt to that culture in their own way. According to Glenberg, (1997), memory has “evolved in service of perception and action” (p. 1)
An (Hocoy, 2012) outcome of evolution is order, where things fit together (or they become eliminated). Be it dreaming or awake, humans try to succeed in creating things to make sense. We try to make sense of the meaning of things by using imagination and emotion to feel complete, and have a sense of harmony and order within. The only alternative to creating and seeking meaning it seems would be death—spiritual and possibly physical. It seems difficult to comprehend a world without meaning and there not being any relationship between individual experiences and the ordering of the world. Seeking meaning appears to be what humans do to construct personal lives from circumstances. Even if meaning is short-lived, there will always be more to be experienced. Humans inherently create meaning.
Hocoy (2012) explains:
In a universe that appears arbitrary, with human and natural events that seem random and defy understanding, it is consoling to think that there is a level on which it all fits together and that there exists an innate mechanism through which we can effect change and make a difference (p. 470).
Evolution is a pattern which reappears through diverse gradations of reality. From the cosmos to the cellular scale (Sarokin, 2013).
About the Author
For over 15 years, John Cane, MA has helped over 100,000 individuals in areas of Self Improvement. John is a Life Coach, motivational speaker and writer who develops and implements confidence and self-esteem workshops in Baltimore, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. With a background in Psychology, he has six certifications in Personal Growth and Development. His Journal Books, ‘Important Things I Remember from My Parents’ are used in schools and as an aid for adults in gaining strength in self-identity in the United States and Europe.
John Cane is the founder of Edge Advantage, Inc. Edge Advantage is a personal development organization dedicated to research-based, practical psychology training. Our focus is on communication, individual performance, and reducing stress. The objective of John’s websites is to bring the most current developments from these areas to those who use them every day, educating in a form that is clear and practical. John is also the webmaster of Self Help Guides Online (.com) and See the Obvious (.com). He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Psychology at Saybrook University, Oakland, California. His specialization, Psychology of Creativity Studies focuses on finding ways for individuals to experience their potential and realize personal success. John also works with organizations implementing innovative strategies through a systems perspective.