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The Carletonian

What do Professors Think is the Meaning of Life?

<ir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-5eb1a36f-3cd7-8a3c-9e48-9c5d38e0b442">What is the meaning of life, from the perspective of different departments at Carleton?  We asked professors to share their take on what it’s all about – informed by the subject that they teach.  

Jason Decker (Philosophy):

I wish you had asked instead about the meaning of ‘life’, the ‘meaning’ of life, or even the ‘meaning’ of ‘life’.  The only harder question in this genre concerns the meaning ‘of’ life.

Frank McNally (Physics):

As we slowly march towards the inevitable heat death of the Universe, life’s purpose is to say, “wouldn’t it be more fun to run?”

Bill North (History):

The meaning of life is not, I think, a historical question, but it is one for which historical inquiry and reflection can offer much that is useful. History provides ample testimony that life’s meaning is not so much something we discover as something we continually make, and that there have been and continue to be, at each moment and across cultures, classes, communities, and individuals, many different ways to make it well or to make it badly. History, in this regard, is profoundly liberating.

Humberto Huergo (Spanish):

Life is all about “mastering the art of losing” and saying Yes—Yes to joy and Yes to suffering, Yes to you my little one and Yes to losing you, Yes to life and Yes to death.  A Spanish Yes in English, naturally, Molly’s famous Yes: I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.  Picking and choosing is not allowed.  You need to will, pace Nietzsche, the whole thing with gratitude and resolution.  

Eric Alexander (Computer Science): 101010

Carol Donelan (CAMS): To quote the Jack Lemmon character in The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960), “It’s just the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.”

Eric Egge (Math): It’s well-known that 42 is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything [Adams, 1979].  The meaning of life is just one part of the answer to this ultimate question, so it must be a factor of 42, but not 42 itself.  So the meaning of life is 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 14, or 21.  This note is too small to contain the arguments eliminating 1, 2, 3, 7, 14, and 21, but 6 is perfect, triangular, the smallest positive integer which is neither square nor prime, and the smallest positive integer (other than 4) which is not a Fibonacci number.  In addition, according to, “6 is actually the most harmonious and stable among the nine single digits”.  Clearly, 6 is the meaning of life.

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