The Meaning of Significance

Updated: Nov 25, 2020



We believe that somethings in life are important. In all our interpretations we create meaning along a gradient upon which value is created. We attribute meaning to things in this way. So,it naturally occurs for us that things, ideas, or persons have inherent significance. But this is true only in the conversation we generate about that significance. It is all a matter of our assessments and interpretations. What actually exists is the world, and in our minds, what exists is what we have to say about it. The qualities of nature only exist as our assessments of what constitutes and defines them as qualities. The fact is that the world exists as we find it. It has no inherent meaning at all that is separate from our interpretations about it.


The attributions of people alone create all of the meaning, significance and value that we consider important. Seen in this light all beliefs, religions, teachings, and claims can be understood as fictitious when compared to what really exists. The best we can do, is simply describe something accurately without adding an interpretation of meaning. Yet it is very difficult for people to do this. Even more so, the propagators of meaning and significance are nothing more than those who make attributions of meaning, or conserve them. Their actions ensure that the significance of their assessments remain powerful interpretations of meaning. Such persons as priests, guru’s, and spiritual authorities, or politicians, commentators, and editors as well as teachers of all kinds are all advocates of the particular views they consider significant. The meaning they propagate, which is created or maintained through their actions, actually has no actual existence outside of the language used to assert them. What is thus put forth is intended simply to be believed by those who take it in. The result is that we live in a world full of significance that determines what people think, and how they interpret the reality they experience. This is the power of influence upon our world, the great craft by which attitudes and beliefs are formed. This is actually, the worlds oldest profession.

The world of phenomena is itself. Its state is complete, even as it changes in its state of being over time. Its creation, evolution, and destruction are simply evident as facts existing about something in the world. What comes to pass then, is simply what is so! Such developments are continuously happening, without regard to attributions of meaning made by people. For example, climate change and global warming are facts. There is no meaning to the extinctions and environmental changes themselves. They are simply happening. Yet the meaning of these events, are very significant for people. Our opinions about this are shaped by the influence of the propagators of the significance of these events.

The attributions that I am making are the significance I am generating. They don't exist without my words. When I speak or write, I create meaning and significance. But in reality, what I say doesn't change the world. It is my interpretation only, and likewise is empty and without meaning in the world. However, in my own life, it is very meaningful. When I create meaning, through my words, I create significance. There in lies the generative power of words for people. The significance that exists in the world is only the meaning we create about the world, and nothing more. It is the meaning of our inner life, regardless of whether what I say is ultimately found to be true or false. And we live at the effect of the meaning we create.

This has fascinating implications. First, making this distinction we see that little that we hold to be true we know with certainty to be actually true. These are attributions and not truths for the most part. The “truth” of them must be validated in some way. Often we find that when dig into it, we have false beliefs, and do not see it. Secondly, we see that human beings operate through the attributions that we make that grant significance regardless of the veracity of them. In effect we are like a factory that manufactures meaning and makes attributions of significance. We could not survive without our constructions of meaning. The attribution of significance by people, as well as the world itself, are independent processes of nature. They are part of the natural order of things. On what basis can we actually believe our own assessments? We really do need a way to ground them solidly in a reality, that is void of actual meaning.

The implication of this is even more shocking. The reality we live in appears then to be a social construction. It is the totality of accepted attributions that form a consensus among people about reality. We exist and participate in this social construction without awareness of the fact that this situation is propagation of a narrative constructed of meaning and significance. We live as if the story’s that we create and share about how life actually are true and significant. We do not recognize our role in creating and maintaining the network of conversations that constitutes this narrative. Without actually verifying the truth of their beliefs, people often act is if what they believe is in fact true, even to the extent that they will defend their views with violence. Is it any wonder that our history is one of conflict between alternative views of reality.

Now, observing from the realization that significance is a subjective assessment of meaning, I can see that nothing in life has any inherent meaning. All that meaning is a human creation. In effect emptiness is the natural state of being in which human beings generate meaning to fill that void. Our personal identity is the set of personal truths about our selves that signify our assessments and interpretations as the source that generates these assessments and interpretations. This realization, as a deconstruction of our process of identification, creates a certain new freedom for being. This freedom is a clear state in which we can recognize that we exist simply as observers who generate meaning. We are capable of perceiving our lives in exactly the fashion in which they occur, including the manner in which we establish meaning and significance. In essence, we have the possibility to observe ourselves from this realization, and to experience the existence of our own life in the moment that is occurring. When we watch the way we make meaning, we can see the machinery of our being. If we can simply be present without the need to shape our perceptions to fit our already held attributions, and we can allow the world to occur for us exactly as it is. Then what we say about the world, may actually constitute a description of it, rather than a set of beliefs that we identify with.

Seeing this to be the case, I see clearly that the fact that there is no inherent meaning to anything itself also has no meaning. I can actually experience that I am part of what Great Nature has created in order to experience itself, which I can know through my own eyes, without also realizing are the eyes of something that exists beyond my personal self. What remains then is being present to what actually is occurring, including the logos of meaning that participates in generating and conserving meaning. The reality, is that I am part of that nature, and that includes the networks of conversation that constitute me, and that I conserve. These are the containers for the meaning that exists only in the consciousness of human beings.

Now you may say fairly, that these attributions that I have made in this essay are exactly what I have been speaking about. That I am propagating them in the same manner that everything else is propagated. I think that this statement is true! Seeing the human being as a biological meaning-making machine at work in life doesn’t change the fact that he or she is such a machine. However seeing what the machine produces could perhaps change what that machine subsequently generates. After all, if we generate all of the meaning and significance in our lives about the world, why not create meaning and significance that actually works for people and helps us in our lives?


Photo by pine watt on Unsplash


Copywrite 2006, Robert Fertman, All Rights Reserved

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