Wow, lots of great stuff! I never knew Einstein was really a buddhist! ;-)
Doug, I agree with your restatment of the question, in that when people say “meaning” I think they mean purpose, value, best way to live, etc. I do think the semantic issue of “meaning” signifying only representation is a bit of an artifical technical issue since I think the larger sense is the more common among those not formally acquainted with philosophy as you are. Lots of things are included under the conventional sense of “meaning” in the phrase “meaning of life,” so we are bound to touch on a variety of related but not identical topics, but the word is commonly used in this way, so I think it’s an appropriate one. But as always, we need to start with knowing what the question means, and I think you’re summary of the ideas included in the word is fair. [written while you were posting, so I see we agree]
It sounds like the question is itself meaningless or illusory to some, which I hadn’t thought of before but can see the logic of. To even ask it one must assume that human lives and actions can have a meaning, which is a bit teleological. Still, if one includes the senses of value and appropriate action as well as purpose, then the question is still meaningful. And I was looking specifically at the issue of how religion relates to the meaning people perceive in their lives, since it is usually held up as the source of meaning for the majority, yet it still seems to me in many ways less satisfying than non-religious approaches to the question. I would actually say the religious notion is very similar to what morgantj descriebd as his determinist notion, in that what we are “meant” to do is essentially predetermined and fixed even while seeming to be something we control. The difference, of course, is what determins our actions (physical causes or god’s plan) and the issue of what if any “free will” we have, which I beg no one to bring up in this thread!
As for what I think, I suppose I think there is no meaning in the teleological sense but that we conceieve of purposes and values and moral exigencies that stem from our biology, our culture, and our reason and that these constitute whatever meaning our lives have. The larger universe is, I believe, indifferent to our existence. Now I’m willing to admit I don’t always find this a comforting thought, and unlike apparently most people here I can see why the sense that the master of it all loves me personally would be comforting. But, I can’t see any reason other than comfort to belive it is true, and that’s not enough for me. In a strictly biological sense, of course, our “purpose” is to reproduce, but I think we all acknowledge that our cognitive apparatus is capable of, and driven to, much more than that, so that level of meaning is real but probably not satisfying to very many people.