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The Quest for Meaning

Sarius stood besides the river in the ancient glade, looking at his own reflection. “Samara, what really gives life meaning?” The pixie Samara hovered close to his face, slightly below the level of his eyes. “What kind of answer would you like to hear? That’s a very broad and open question.” Standing still, Sarius thought hard, focusing on a point between the eyes of his reflection. “I don’t know. What’s this all about. I can do about anything in this private VR, but is it meaningful? Is anything that I can do in the ‘real world’ meaningful?”

Sarius’ mind seemed still, but it was confused. He didn’t really know what he felt. Neither was he especially happy, nor was he sad about something. If anything, he was slightly disappointed and in an inquisitive mood. Of course, Samara knew all that, because she had direct access to his mood information. “Do you want to know the conditions under which actions or events usually feel meaningful?” Sarius was glad about this kind of question. It felt like it would lead to a conclusion that was satisfying. He looked at Samara and nodded. “Yeah, what makes things feel meaningful? Please, tell me.”

A flat blue screen appeared to the side of Samara when she started talking: “Meaning is basically an evaluation of relevance and difficulty. We all have values, wherever they may come from. We evaluate actions according to their usefulness for obtaining those values. At the same time, meaningfulness is an additional evaluation that is dependent on the difficulty of succeeding with an action. In the easiest case, you could say that meaning is usefulness for obtaining a value times the importance of that value time the difficulty of succeeding with that action. Difficulty is defined as inverse of the probability for success.” In bold black letters the following formula appeared on the screen:

$V$ = One of your values,
$I(V)$ = Importance of V,
$A$ = Action to obtain V,
$P(A)$ = Probability for success of A,
$U(A)$ = Utility of action A for obtaining value V,
$M(A)$ = Meaningfulness of action A

$$M(A) = I(V) \cdot U(A) \cdot \frac{1}{P(A)}$$


The following feels so true:

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