The Will to Meaning

Who, after All, Moves Whom First, Man or His Reality?

“What is the meaning of life?” That question is wrong, because life doesn’t have meaning. Life is meaning. Moreover, a meaning in life isn’t something you claim for yourself, but that which you grant others. Life grants the universe its meaning. We create meaning by making room for meaning. Meaning fights a counter force it must push away—a counter-meaning. Life is that pushing force.

The fact that life is meaningful suggests a free will to shape that meaning. After all, what kind of meaning can be discovered in a purely deterministic universe without a free will? In case the universe would indeed be deterministic, we must wonder where the idea of a free will comes from. How can something that wouldn’t possess free will come up with the idea that there exists such a thing as a free will?

We agree that a concrete slab can’t possess free will, but neither does a concrete slab suspect itself of having one. Only man suspects himself. The idea of free will came into being in us. What kind of thing suspects the universe of harboring a free will, unless it is will itself that thinks so? Man is the will that grants the universe its meaning.

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl posed his idea of the will to meaning opposite to that of Nietzschean will to power.1 However, according to philosopher Sam Harris, free will is an illusion. Mathematical and physical formulas supposedly control people’s behaviors and feelings. We experience a free will that isn’t really there, Harris thinks, because our brains believe in the illusion that we made the choices ourselves that our unconscious subconscious had already decided for us.

The large secondary brain, peeled around the primary brain, supposedly only comes up with the arguments as to why we executed the primary brain’s ‘will’ in hindsight. Simpler put: the brain fools us. This illusion is called cognitive dissonance.

For his ideas, Harris seeks to join evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss.2 Together, this trinity explains human actions away as a natural phenomenon in which man plays no role. According to them, man appears as a computer program on a cosmic display on which man executes his predictable routines. This so-called scientific worldview leaves no room for meaning.

These wise men may very well be right, but man can’t survive without meaningfulness, even if that’s an illusion. Should we really believe in the mechanical meaninglessness of our existence, then we would become depressed, we would sleep without dreaming and we would lose hope for progress. Isn’t it peculiar that a thing of which one assumes it is a deterministic thing becomes ill from a lack of meaningfulness if that meaning were nothing more than an illusion?

Science wants to measure the world without scientists’ interference, but it pays for its knowledge with the improvable assumption that there exists such a thing called ‘real’ reality which comes into being outside of man. Scientists admit they cannot possibly prove what reality might be: “There is no image- or theory-independent concept of reality.”3 Science cannot know what reality is!

Is it possible that human observation provokes its own reality, thus that man creates his own reality by simultaneously taking part in it?4

Brain researchers couldn’t uncover a free will in the human brain’s nerve paths. However, that doesn’t prove will doesn’t exist. After all, geologists looking for Earth’s gravity won’t find it by digging in earth. Yet there is gravity: the Earth doesn’t possess gravity, but it is heaviness. Man doesn’t harbor a will power in his nerves, but he is will.

The phenomenon known as life is an appearance of the universe’s will to meaning; man is the highest consciousness of that will. We can grant ourselves and others meaning by suspecting life of being meaningful. We find meaning where we want to find meaning. Will has meaning.

Who, after all, moves whom first, man or his reality?

1 Viktor Frankl, Der Wille Zum Sinn: Ausgewählte Vorträge Über Logotherapie (Bern-Stuttgart-Wien: Hans Huber, 2005).
2 Sam Harris, Free Will (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012), 5.
3 Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).
4 Richard Conn Henry, “The Mental Universe,” Nature 436 (July 7, 2005): 29.


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The Will to Meaning by Mathijs Koenraadt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.