As Proposed: LIFE Spring 2021 Course ...

Search for Meaning

Many have asked “What is the meaning of life?” And more specifically, “What does my life mean?” The answers have ranged widely over the centuries. The six sessions of this course, each offered as a conversation, are aimed at shedding light on these and similar questions. We’ll begin by considering some of the more famous answers that have been proposed. We’ll consider who asks such questions today and what might be acceptable answers. Science has developed new understanding of the “self” and the communities shaping it. We’ll examine whether that understanding could be used to lead us to more satisfactory answers to “What could I take as a purpose in my life?” Don’t expect any final answers, but do expect interesting conversations about what participants feel is important, and why.

The primary focus will be on reasoning about the questions and their possible answers. Faith has led many to answers that they find satisfying and rewarding. There will be no attempt to challenge such answers. The hope is that reason can enrich our understanding of the answers, whatever may have inspired them. Expect six interesting conversations that could help with questions about possible purposes in life.

Each session will be introduced by a brief description posted online before the session. Selected references will also be available online as will questions offered to begin the session’s conversation. [6 sessions]


Seven years ago, Bob Fabian introduced a course to LIFE, Our Search for Meaning. He then led a wide range of courses on classical music, urban planning and technology. He is now returning to questions about meaning in the light of what the cognitive sciences have to say about the self. The answers aren’t new, but new perspectives are available to assess those answers.

First Conversation

Second Conversation

Third Conversation

Fourth Conversation

Fifth Conversation


This "course" is intended to be six conversations about meaning, purpose, life and self. It is to be expected that what the next conversation is about will depend on what has just been discussed by the participants. The following "plan" is just an initial suggestion. Everything begins with the material to be presented in our first conversation.

Initial Plan for the Six Sessions:

Session One: Who finds questions about meaning and purpose to be personally important. A brief overview of some famous and some infamous answers to “What does it all mean?” and “What’s my purpose here?” Why are such questions personally important, or not so important?

Session Two: Darwin started the naturalistic explanation. Cognitive Science is providing a naturalistic explanation for the self as embodied and embedded. The interplay between the individual and her environment goes far towards explaining development of the self.

Session Three: We’ll dig into questions about meaning and purpose. When is a question properly structured, but meaningless? When does a question admit only answers that cannot be assessed? Leading towards a more modest: “What would be a fit purpose in my life?”

Session Four: With all of this as background, it’s time to consider a catalogue of answers that have been developed to questions about meaning and purpose. The answers to be considered will have a naturalistic bias, but theistic answers will be open for consideration.

Session Five: Candidate answer, “Give back to the important social, cultural and physical environments that are shaping one’s self.” Is it a possible purpose in life? Does it make emotional sense? Can its value to assessed? Do contributions echo into the future?

Session Six: What’s different after discovering a purpose in life? Is it just about feeling a measure of satisfaction about what you have done and are doing? Will it, should it, shape what you do into the future? How important are such contributions to our overall social well being?

First Conversation

Wednesday, May 5th
{Zoom link to be separately distributed}


1) Very brief introduction – 5 slides [part 1]

2) Everyone: What would make our conversations a success

1:20 PM – BREAK – 1:30 PM

3) The ultimate answer – “42”  (4 min BBC clip) [part 2]

4) Faith and the infinity challenge [part 3]

5) Introduction to reference material [part 4]

2:20 PM