Between the sub-freezing temps and a gnarly head cold that swooped in on Friday, I spent a fair amount of time curled up on various pieces of furniture in my condo reading this weekend. I finished When Breath Becomes Air by the late Paul Kalanithi and long after I set it down, his incredibly profound, beautiful words were still washing over me. It’s been awhile since I have had a book do that, where I really wanted to absorb and consider every page.
To make science the arbiter of metaphysics is to banish not only God from the world but also love, hate, meaning—to consider a world that is self evidently not the world we live in. That’s not to say that if you believe in meaning, you must also believe in God. It is to say, though, that if you believe that science provides no basis for God, then you are obligated to conclude that science provides no basis for meaning and, therefore, life itself does not have any.
A neurosurgeon at Stanford, Dr. Kalanthini spent the two years after his terminal cancer diagnosis examining what makes life meaningful. His approach from both a science standpoint (he was a doctor after all) and as a lover of literature and words and his family was fascinating. The book examines death but more than that, it examines what one does with the time spent living and that perhaps the elusive search for the meaning of life isn’t that elusive at all.