It can be painfully easy to hit what we call a crisis of meaning. It can be painfully easy to hit what we call a crisis of meaning. In these moments we feel the following: What I am doing makes no sense. I am not contributing to anything. I am living day to day repeating things for a logic I just don’t understand. At such points, it can help to step back, and consider something we don’t usually address. What is the meaning of existence for the species as a whole? What is the underlying narrative logic for the mess, full starts, occasional progress, and fitful path of human history? The 200 thousand year old history of Homo Sapiens. By this we of course don’t mean a God given meaning. We mean a logic that drives human behaviour at its best. The most generous interpretation of what knits human action, when it isn’t driven by evil motives. Here we can make the following rather bold declarations: There are four drivers of meaning in the human race. Firstly, to continue the species. Secondly, to master our minds – understand ourselves. Thirdly, to master our environment – increasing our command over it through knowledge, control of resources, and reduction of the role of accident and misfortune. And fourthly, the increase of our satisfaction. These vast headings help to explain a lot of our day to day activity. Take the human drive of continuing the species. Which explains parenting, courtship, love. Take mastering our minds, and understanding ourselves. That explains philosophy, psychology, education, even media. Mastering the environment. That explains business, defense, science, architecture. And as for our quest for happiness, this explains religion, culture, art. It is because of our need to master the environment that we store up capital. It is because we are collectively engaged in continuing the species that we become parents. It is in order to reduce the role of random accidents that we have science. Crucially these four drives are vast collective movements. And no one human ever makes more than a tiny contribution to any of them. From a sufficient distance, even the so called ‘great names’, Shakespeare and Newton, Eistein and John F Kennedy. Only ever add a little bit to the unfolding river of humanity. The greatest might adjust its course by a millimetre. Naturally, in relation to the mighty goals of humanity, each of us is puny, and therefore measuring our contribution individually is bound to leave us defeated. We shouldn’t be doing this. We should think that we are but temporary actors of a species with broadly collective goals. Though our goals can feel very personal to us, when for example we’re building up our own business, we’re just partaking in the species will to master the environment and husband resources for a while. The history of humanity unfolds in time. We only ever make our contribution at one moment. And the changing circumstances mean that our achievements do risk seeming absurd at another point in time. A very important nobleman in 14th century England is mere dust now. We remember almost no human who lived in the 11th century. Almost nothing stands out in the whole of 9th century. All those people who lived and died are as nothing. This is similar to what will happen to us today. We can tell by looking backwards and anticipating forwards that very little of what we do could conceivably have much of an impact. Nevertheless, we can, at best, see ourselves as making a contribution to the goals of humankind. Maybe over a lifetime we’ll collect a few resources. We’ll understand a few bits of the puzzle of the mind. We’ll have children, who’ll have children, who’ll have children. We’ll alleviate the suffering of a few other people. It won’t be much on its own. But we shouldn’t measure it on its own. That is the sickness of individualism. We have to measure it against the broad stream of what humanity is up to. In James Joyce’s ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’, there is a charming moment where Stephen Deadalus who’s nine years old and central character writes his name on a geography book on a way to position him in space. He begins, Stephen Dedalus, Class of Elements, Clangauces Wood College Sallins, County Kildare, Ireland, Europe, the World, the Universe. All of us exist in these kind of multiple dimensions. The immediate, the class we’re in, our name. And the grand, within the universe. We need to do a version of this positioning exercise, except we are not looking for geographical positioning, we are looking for purpose positioning. None of us is going to make a huge contribution to the history of the meaning of the species. We will just tinker with one or two elements. We’ll have kids, we will make a bit of money, we will understand one or two things. So we have to take species pride. And reconcile ourselves to our smallness in the larger scheme. But it can still help us to know that a connection exists between what we are up to and what the grand story of humanity means. If today you made some money, that’s connected to humanity attempting to master its environment. If today you looked after some children you’ll have furthered in a tiny way the survivor of the species. If today you taught someone something, you’ll have continued our attempt to understand the human condition. If today you tied up the house, you helped to make life be slightly less random and accident prone. What we call being depressed means not being able to find oneself on the grid of meaning. Not being able to plot one’s own coordinates on the map of the meaning of humanity. But if we look the right way, everything can be connected. One is almost always in some way helping to continue and enhance the project of our species. We just need to get better at spotting meaning. At narrating the meaning of ones life in relation to the meaning of the whole species. We publish new, thought provoking films every week. Be sure to subscribe to our channel, and take a look at more that we have to offer at the link on your screen now.