Matter, Evolution and the Meaning of Life

Lecture for the School of Materialist Research promotional lecture series, 29th June 2021.

The Meaning of Life. A Journey to the Origins of Worlds

The question of the meaning of life is a totalizing question: It seeks to connect the small with the large, the part with the whole, the individual with the universe, the finite with the absolute. Thus, unsurprisingly, the phrase “meaning of life” dates back to Fichte and the Romantics, who were searching for an antidote to the material-mechanistic worldview based on pure rationality and instrumentality. Today though, such totalizing moves fell out of fashion in the Western world. Being thrown into the kaleidoscopic multiverse of cultures there seems to be no ground left for a universalizing perspective. In a world that is just “text” the human became both metaphorically and literally ungrounded, deterritorialized, living in constant flux, be it in the labor market or in the markets of meaning. This “transcendental homelessness,” which Lukács had diagnosed in 1920, has characterized the 20th century through Postmodernity up to today, leaving us with a systemic, hyper-individualist monadicism, virtualism, and contingency. But while a dominant faction in the cast of high priests of globalized capitalist cultures continues to preach the dogma of non-materiality and contingency of existence, the material today in fact is as “active” as it never was before: the fossil-capitalism induced climate catastrophe, the potential production of posthuman entities via information technology and the manipulation of the material substrate of all life in biotechnology are entirely based on real, concrete materialism (not to speak of the basis of the Western luxury to look away from the material conditions of this luxury, namely exploitation, which continues unabated). The challenges these developments pose are forcing us to rethink and revise our position within the real and the universe. Where do we come from? Where do we go from here? This talk will investigate the potentials of a re-embedding of the present within the larger process of the evolution of life, culture, technology, and mind. By radicalizing the material perspective on existence and becoming we will find that the past phase of meaninglessness and contingency was itself a meaningful, logical period in history, which then may be understood as a transition period between two worlds.