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The Noimetic View of Meaning

Why meaning is a renewable resource and infinitely available

Traditional views argue that the universe is ordered in a certain way, either according to the wishes of a god or gods or in some other specific way, and that "meaning" is the word we use for apprehending that order and getting in right relationship to it. In the traditional view, we experience life as meaningful only when we are correctly aligned with godly, cosmic, or universal forces. In this traditional view, meaning is something that must be sought: you must correctly understand those unseen forces "out there" if you are to experience life as meaningful "in here."

In this widespread view, the view held by the vast majority of humankind, meaning is not a "mere" psychological experience but rather the result of correctly apprehending what god or the universe wants of you and then aligning yourself with (and giving yourself over to) those demands. In the traditional view, you do not possess the ability to create new meaning or positively influence your psychological reality through self-awareness. Rather, you are obliged to locate meaning according to your detection skills and then win it by virtue of your willingness to abide by the universe's demands.

Noimetic psychology is at odds with traditional psychologies, philosophies of life, philosophies and religions that define meaning as "alignment with 'x,'" however 'x' is defined, and that see meaning as a kind of reward for obeying "what the universe demands." In noimetics, there are no such external demands. Rather the demands are built right into our creatureliness, as are the remedies. In the noimetic vision, there is nothing 'out there' with which to align. Instead, there is work to be done to make personal sense of one individual life: your own. The question is not "Where is meaning?" or "What is the meaning of life?" but "How do I intend to live?"

In the noimetic view, you make informed guesses about what will provide you with the psychological experience of meaning and you act on those guesses. It is no more meaningful to walk in a beautiful garden than to toil away in a dingy office cubicle, no more meaningful to pray than to root at a baseball game, no more meaningful to write poetry than to write a to-do list, no more meaningful to climb to the top of a mountain than to have a chat with your daughter. Nothing is 'more meaningful' than anything else by virtue of some supposed alignment with some external system, apparatus, being, or set of values. You discern which values you want to promote and you learn from yourself how best to create your own value-driven experiences of meaning.

"Meaning" is "merely" a feature of psychological subjectivity, not a feature of the universe. This is tremendously disappointing news to someone who needs meaning to be a different sort of thing, but it is nevertheless the truth and also not such a terrible reality once embraced. When we embrace this truth, we take a giant step forward in understanding a central idea of noimetics, that it is possible to "make meaning." The news that meaning is merely a subjective psychological experience, disappointing at first hearing, opens the door to an exciting reality, that meaning is actually a wellspring and a renewable resource. It is perhaps a different thing from what we had hoped that it would be; but maybe, just maybe, it is a richer thing than we had ever imagined.

My class on this subject, the first class to look in detail at how we make personal meaning, begins on January 3, 2012 (and can be joined at any time thereafter, as MP3s are available of any missed classes). The class is called Infinite Meaning: The Breakthrough of Noimetic Psychology. I hope you'll join me and become one of the first to learn the details of meaning-making.


Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, bestselling author of 40 books, and widely regarded as America's foremost creativity coach. His latest book is Rethinking Depression: How to Shed Mental Health Labels and Create Personal Meaning (New World Library, February, 2012). He is the founder of noimetic psychology, the new psychology of meaning. Please visit Dr. Maisel at or contact him at You can learn more about noimetic psychology at

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