The Meaning of Life

A little while ago, Tyler Cowen blogged about whether there are values more important than happiness:

“Happiness” to me sounds boring, as if the person has a limited imagination when it comes to wants and an inability to be frustrated by the difficulty of creating new peak experiences.

I think happiness is extremely important, and most people do not spend nearly enough of their life trying to be happy. But in my own values, I rank knowledge even higher. And every time I read about this topic I am reminded of one of my favorite exchanges from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“I’d far rather be happy than right any day.”
“And are you?”
“No. That’s where it falls down, of course.”

Yet happiness is a “thick” concept. As a dear friend once put it on her now-defunct blog:

A professor once asked me, apropos of why I don’t party or why I spent Friday nights in the library or some such thing, what I thought I was, some sort of ascetic? I said that no, I was actually a hedonist. We just had very different ideas of fun.

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gladly beyond any experience

A few days ago, I forgot my iPod and so was forced to entertain myself on my walk to work by reciting the poems I have committed to memory– or had half-forgotten. (A friend and I discuss this in the comments here).

One was the poem that has been in my head the longest: e.e. cummings’s delightful “somewhere i have never travelled.” Aimless googling led me to this bizarre little review attacking the poem.

The author complains about the spelling of “travelled” and “colour,” calls one of the poem’s best lines (“nothing we are to perceive in this world equals / the power of your intense fragility”) a “non-sense remark” (and also misquotes it), and then gets hung up on some irrelevant botanical nitpicking. Its wrongness is so fascinating that I simply had to share it.