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Life Revisited: Finding Meaning and Purpose in an Age of Nihilism - Book Review

Updated: Feb 18, 2021

As with all reviews on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete overview of the book; rather, it is to examine how the book relates to the meaning of life.

About the Book:

Life Revisited: Finding Meaning and Purpose in an Age of Nihilism is approximately 220 pages in length and was written by Luke R.H. Schiller, a Canadian educator, and consultant. The book, as the title suggests, focuses on how to find one's purpose in a world increasing trending towards nihilism. With that said, the book is primarily split into two sections. The first is statistical and fact-driven, the second which serves as more of a self-help guide.

Schiller is not the first author to struggle with finding meaning in an "age of nihilism." Will Durant expressed his woes and concerns in the introduction to his 1932 book On the Meaning of Life, which begs the question: Is the world really becoming increasingly more nihilistic? Schiller does his best to show this through the social evolution of humankind as shown throughout history. Schiller would go on to reason:

The transition from meaning and purpose being attached solely to survival towards more complex moral codes based in mythology would take approximately 140,000 years. The predominance of mythology as the primary source of meaning for humans would last until shortly after the Common Era began in the year 1 A.D.

That is, our meaning and purpose took 140,000 years to transition from being solely that of survival to one that would embrace mythology, e.g., that of the Greeks. Mythology spawned religion, though the two are not one and the same. Here the author notes that 56% of people today follow one of three monotheistic Abrahamic religions. However, Schiller makes a mistake in assuming that these individuals find meaning in religion; and although that may often be the case, it is not always the case as research at endev42 has clearly shown.

Schiller notes that the crisis of meaning can be attributed to five major trends in the world:

(1) The Fragmentation of Our Global System

(2) Widespread Immigration

(3) Our Increased Knowledge & Understanding

(4) Decline of Religious Thought & the Rise of Non-Religion

(5) Capitalism & Globalization

As a result, there has been a 66,727% increase in the number of atheists in the world, jumping from 226,000 in 1900 to 151,000,000 today. In comparison, Christianity and Islam grew by 367% and 620%, respectively. This shift, according to Schiller, has resulted in a massive crisis of meaning for a large number of people. One that has been artificially pacified by empty hedonistic tendencies, e.g., sex, pleasure, food, etc. Although initially gratifying, these empty pleasures bring no long-term fulfillment.

Having laid out the numbers to support his thesis of a crisis of meaning, he moves onto defining the "meaning of life" as The most significant quality of life, which often holds hidden or special significance. Furthermore, to differentiate meaning from purpose: meaning prompts the question “Why do I live?” while purpose prompts the question “In what way should I live and why should I live that way?

So according to Schiller, what is our purpose? Our broader purpose is therefore to act (using our reason and decision-making capabilities) in a way that fulfills our ultimate responsibility (ensuring the well-being of ourselves and other lives), which is granted to us by virtue of that which we are uniquely capable of doing (using our higher intellect and capacity for emotional awareness).

As noted in the opening of this blog post, Schiller, in the second half of the book goes on to provide a step by step guide on how one can find his or her purpose and meaning in life. He advises the reader to use a number of techniques to do this, including using a Johari Window as pictured below.

Other items for self-reflection: worldviews, beliefs, biases, sociocultural influences, familial influences, and sociodemographic influences, etc. Added all together, through this self-reflection, an individual can create a Foundational Document which will aid in finding meaning in an age of nihilism.

One final note from Schiller, Never forget that when we live in accordance with our meaning and purpose is when we are truly happy and are able to help others reach that same true happiness instead of endlessly chasing immediate pleasure.

Although I didn't care much for the self-help section of the book (mostly because I'm not into self-help guides), it was well written and thought out; albeit, a bit dry. The first part of the book I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the statistics and the evolution of meaning throughout human history. Overall, pretty good read for the $2.99 price at the time of purchase. I'd definitely recommend the book to others.

Book rating:

Overall - 6 Meaning of Life Relevance - 8 Uniqueness – 5

What did we miss?  Is the meaning of life anything and nothing? 

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