Finding the Meaning of Meaning: Emerging Insights on Four Grand Questions

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Abstract

This is a stand-alone reflection on meaning written by two scholars who recently edited a special issue on that topic. The first of four organizing questions concerns the nature of meaning. The meaning of signs (e.g., words) consists of nonphysical connection (e.g., symbolism) and potential organization. Meanwhile, existential meaning (meaning of life) involves purpose, value, mattering, continuity, and coherence. The second question concerns how meaning affects behavior. Answers are diverse and multifaceted, ranging from efforts to grapple with uncertainty and unknowns to engaging in significance-seeking violence and self-regulating in light of abstract values and standards. To the question of whether meaning is made or found, the authors propose that finding meaning is prevalent, while the creation of new meanings is only supported in a limited sense. Although often portrayed as a constructive process, accessing meaning normally involves relating target stimuli to what is already known. A fourth question asks whether meaning is individual/personal or collective/social. The collective dimension plays an integral yet often neglected role in scaffolding personal meanings.

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