The Meaning of Life–Python Style

While watching the Monty Python film, “The Meaning of Life”, I thought how Python humor reduces our traditional positions and arguments to absurdity. It makes us understand how things can get out of hand. For example- In the film we see the glorifying of expensive equipment in the hospital labor room, with a machine that goes “ping”. The doctors love the machine that goes “ping”. This equipment is more valuable than the humans, mother and child. Or take our excessive attention to Growth and Learning in society, this can lead to deadening the spirit of youngsters. Or take the corporate greed that abounds now days, in the skit oppressed workers transform their building into a battleship fighting the big office structures and their inhabitants. It’s Python humor but in many ways it’s true.

The Meaning of Life film brings out the extreme and dangerous DISTRACTIONS that dehumanize us, such as religious ideology, class distinction, science, medicine, technology, education and corporate greed. These distractions take away our happiness and also, it separates us from our fellow humans.

At the end of the film a lady opens an envelope and reads:

“Here’s the Meaning of Life. It’s nothing complex or special. Be nice to people, eat sensibly, read a good book now and then, take a daily short walk and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

Simple, isn’t it?

Once we rid ourselves of piety and dogma then matters of meaning become more pragmatic and demystified.

Humans must create their meaning through a process of self-observation and the enemy of this process is DISTRACTION. To get rid of distraction you have to focus your mind and senses in the present moment, and resist the tendency to wander off into the past or future.

We can humanize ourselves again by taking our heads out of the clouds so we will be better able to know ourselves and make our own meaning.

Remember, Existence precedes Essence, which means we exist first and then we determine our essence (goals and purpose).

We must enjoy being here (in the present) NOW.

At the beginning of the film, there were some fish swimming in a tank. They were taking note of their fellow fish, which were being eaten outside of the tank. They wanted to know what life was all about. It seemed that they had missed the point. Have we, humans, also missed the point?

It has been said, to understand life you must also understand death. That, after all is said and done, is where your life inevitably leads.

Socrates pointed out that the art of living is learning how to die. In other words, knowing that death is coming should motivate us to live a fuller and better life in the meantime.

The laughter we get from the Python’s zany and irreverent humor can liberate us. Laughter frees us from piety and dogma, so we are free to question and think for ourselves.

So, we arrive at one question: What does life mean? In my mind, the meaning is what you make of your life, it’s a journey toward our realistic hopes, reflecting what we know and ought to be doing with our life. When we realize this, we can laugh and be free of the fetters of distraction.

I will leave you with two quips about laughter:

Laughter is the shock absorber that eases the blows of life.

If the world laughs at you, laugh right back because it’s as funny as you are.

Thinking About Thinking

I was recently re-watching some Monty Python sketches, specifically, “Cheese Shop” and “Dead Parrot” plus the film, “Life of Brian”. I was struck by how much philosophy is in Python humor.

Socrates believed in examining your life by constant question and answer sessions. He did a lot of “thinking about thinking”, which is sort of a definition of philosophy. Thinking about thinking is what happens in the Python sketches, in which ordinary people try to overcome barriers by using common sense and reason.

In the “Dead Parrot”, a customer is trying to convince the pet shop owner that the parrot he purchased is dead. The shopkeeper wouldn’t agree.

In the “Cheese Shop” sketch a customer is trying to buy some cheese in a cheeseless cheese shop! It’s the “theatre of the absurd’, where these confrontations between a rational person and an indifferent world, happen.

In the “Life of Brian”, Brian says, to his disciples:

“Look, you’ve got it all wrong. You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody. You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals.”

This is what Sartre was talking about when he declared that our “existence precedes our essence”. We have to think for ourselves and provide our own meaning and purpose in life. We are NOT born with essence (meaning, purpose and goals). We exist first and then we determine our own essence.

Monty Python’s humor makes us re-think our lives by satirizing and parodying the way people fail to get independence of thought and thus don’t use their freedom to choose. Sartre called this “bad faith”, the denial of personal freedom to choose, so these people feel they are not free to change their actions.

We haven’t said anything about Nietzsche, which “Life of Brian” also brought to mind. He declared “God is Dead”, which meant that the scientific world made belief in God no longer acceptable to modern man, and so our meaning and purpose would have to come from us alone, the new “ubermensch” (the superior man, who determines his own meaning and values). Python comedy brought out to us the illogic and stupidity that sometimes underlies our social institutions.

So, there is plenty of philosophy in Python, in fact some sketches and films are understood better by philosophical analysis.

To end, I leave you with a comic line:



Personal Identity and Memory

What is philosophy about? It’s about the basic questions you have when thinking about the world and how to interact within it. Ex.- Does life have meaning? Philosophers examine these questions and make arguments in favor of different answers or positions.

My current project is approaching philosophy from a different angle, from a work of fiction, namely a film, to see if films can make the basic questions clearer with understandable positions.

I’m of the opinion that philosophical themes in films can make the basic questions and their arguments easier to understand.

In this blog post I’m going to analyze the film, “Memento”, from the POV of personal identity and memory.

This film is about the Psychological Continuity Theory of personal identity. What makes ME, me, are my psychological characteristics. These high-level properties, such as my personality, change slowly over time. Another part of continuity is achieved by Memory. I’m the person I was last year because I can remember having some of the perceptions and thoughts that that person had.

A brief synopsis of the film:

Leonard Shelby is a man whose ability to remember anything short-term for more than a couple of minutes is NIL. He was hit on the head during an attack on his wife, who was killed, along with one of the killers. He wants to find and kill the second attacker. The film is told in reverse to disorientate the viewer just like Leonard is. He uses a system of notes, pictures and tattoos to remind him of what’s happening. He has trouble knowing who he is as he proceeds in his quest.

So, does memory constitute personal identity? Leonard, in Memento, can barely function without his memories.

This reminds me of the theory of personal identity by John Locke. He describes the human mind at birth as a blank state. It then gets filled through experience.

A person is always conscious of what they think. So, if consciousness accompanies thinking, then identity is a matter of consciousness to unite your thoughts. You can repeat a thought of a past action and this is a matter of memory. Personal identity is, then, a set of memories that constantly change.

But, poor Leonard, in the film, had to make notes about his memories to keep his identity in tack. Is he the same person as he was when he had a short-term memory? Or, is he someone different?

All in all, what’s this personal identity thing all about? I guess it’s simply having a series of conscious memories.

In the case of “Memento”, a series of conscious memories can be fused with another, so it becomes a combination of two people, two Leonards, or a combination of true and false.

Man is a poor thing, constantly struggling for self-definition. We try to make an identity from the confusing and conflicting assault of experience. The protagonist in “Memento”, like Man, is constantly worried that he has forgotten something.

Are you confused?

Well, philosophy is an orderly way of discussing subjects that we don’t know much about. LOL!

Thirst For Power and The Philosophy In Macbeth

I just watched the new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth with Michael Fassbender. He was an excellent Macbeth. There were some changes to the original play:

The play starts with the witches. This film starts with the funeral of the Macbeth’s child which isn’t in the play. The play doesn’t directly mention the death of a child but it can be inferred.

The play, also, doesn’t show Fleance, son of Banquo, with a sword disappearing into the mist at the end. To me, this implied that Fleance will meet with the witches and kill Malcolm because they said Banquo’s sons would be kings.

In the play, Macbeth is beheaded, the film doesn’t show this.

Brief synopsis of the play:

King Duncan’s generals, Macbeth and Banquo, encounter the witches after the battle of rebellion. The prophesy of the witches is that Macbeth will become King of Scotland and Banquo’s sons shall be kings. Macbeth starts out as a good man but his thirst for power makes him bad. The Macbeths’ plot to kill Duncan and Macbeth becomes King and he has Banquo killed but his son, Fleance, escapes.

Macbeth’s guilt brings on hallucinations and Banquo’s ghost. He then embarks on a reign of terror, Macduff’s family are killed. Malcolm, Duncan’s son, and Macduff decide to lead an army against Macbeth. Lady Macbeth, full of guilt, kills herself.

Macduff and Macbeth fight, but Macduff is the product of a caesarean birth, technically not born of woman. Macbeth knows he is doomed because he can only be killed by a man not born of woman. Macduff beheads Macbeth and brings it to King Malcolm.


Let’s glean some philosophy out of Macbeth. The movie and play are concerned with the effects of evil actions on the mind of the perpetrator.

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” This is one of the many “doublespeak” statements in the play. Good is bad and bad is good is a conflicting statement from the witches.

Macbeth because of his thirst for power turns him from fair (good) to foul (bad).

To Macbeth his bad actions our good for him, he becomes King.

Macbeth is weak in character because he can’t conquer his guilt and self-doubt.

He leans on Lady Macbeth’s steely sense of purpose to push him forward to his evil deeds. But after his wife’s death, he is alone and he succumbs to despair.

Time is a big theme in Macbeth. The play is concerned with the limited time allotted to us humans.

How does the future relate to the present? What Macbeth did in the present has consequences for his future, he must endure the guilt in the aftermath.

He constantly refers to “tomorrow” because he thinks it will be a refuge from the past and present. But he has mortgaged the past and present to the future and he finds the future can’t be unconnected from the past.

We all live in a line of yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows, with death the end of the line. Shakespeare reminds us of the temporal character of our life.

I love the speech Macbeth gives when he knows his queen is dead, this is the translation in modern English:

“She would have died anyway, we all die. So, that news was bound to come someday. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, the days creep slowly along until the end. And everyday that’s already happened has taken fools that much closer to their deaths. Out, out, brief candle. Life is a story told by an idiot, full of noise and emotional disturbance but devoid of meaning.”

This speech expresses the utter meaninglessness of life!

An observation on Macbeth and his death, the two words rhyme: He has his head cut off and it is shown on stage while his body is elsewhere. He is in a bodiless state! So, his mind is detached from his criminal body. He was a man with a dual nature, a man of violent action and a man of imagination. The separation of head from body show us this dual nature.

I will leave you with this statement:

Power is dangerous unless you have humility and power will either burn a man out or light him up.

Is There Rightness In Vigilantism Or Not?

I watched Martin Scorsese’s film, “Taxi Driver”, again the other night and I was reminded of the arguments surrounding justice and vigilantism.

Lets define the terms:

Justice—just treatment and moral rightness.

Vigilantism—taking the law into one’s own hands and attempting to effect justice according to one’s own understanding of right and wrong.

The taxi driver, Travis Bickle(Robert De Niro), cruises the city by night and sees all the scum on the streets(prostitution, drug use, criminals). He would like a heavy rain to wash it away.

Travis is a lonely man and he’s looking for someone to be with. By his voice-over thoughts, we don’t know whether Travis is entirely sane. He feels somebody has to do something about the scum but it seems nobody is doing anything, so he has to take responsibility.

He meets Betsy, a pretty woman who works for a politician. He dates her but she rejects him and this unhinges Travis and he plans to assassinate the politician against all logic, but he doesn’t go through with it.

Then he meets Iris, a young prostitute, who is trapped in between her pimp and his boss. She says there is no way out.

Travis sees the police can’t be counted on to help her and she certainly can’t help herself. So, it is okay, in his mind, to help her out of the criminal’s clutches. He didn’t kill the politician, which would have been insane, but rescuing Iris is justice in Travis’ mind.

Is Travis going to do the right thing by killing the criminals? The law isn’t doing the job so, he thinks: “We the people must take charge.” He is the people.

After freeing Iris, by killing the pimp, the room keeper and the big boss, he tries to kill himself, but runs out of amo.

So, what can we conclude about vigilantism?

It has been said that in a civilized society people give up the right to private revenge, they give that right to the government for purposes of objectivity. So, citizens can’t go out of their way to enact revenge.

One of the problems is that law enforcers are NOT held in high esteem today. Why?

People see criminals getting off lightly in the courts and consequently they don’t feel justice is done. So, is there any rightness to vigilantism?

Well, I guess in the end the world has always acted on the principle that one good kick deserves another!




Can Egoism and Friendship Exist Together?

After watching Martin Scorsese’s film, “Casino”, the question of egoism popped into my mind. Can egoism live beside friendship?

Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro), manages the Tangiers, a casino owned by the mob in Las Vegas. His “friend”, Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), exploits their friendship for his own enrichment. He is the maximum egoist in the film. Egoism is the view that a person’s self-interest is of paramount value in their life.

Nicky says Ace is his friend, but is there such a thing as egoist friendship? They are conflicting terms.

Nicky has a special relationship with Ace, sort of enforcer bodyguard, but is it a friendship? A selfish person can wish another well, but really selfishness and egoism are incompatible.

The philosophy of egoism states that people are motivated by their own interests and desires. Altruism is the opposite of egoism.

Questions arise:

Can an individual ever act only with regard to their own interests, completely disregarding the interests of others?

Can an individual ever act only for others without thinking of their own interests?

The theory is: that people ALWAYS act in their own interests, even though they might disguise their motivation saying that they are helping others, but their altruism is still self-serving.

My opinion is that a person should pursue their own interests as long as it doesn’t hurt others.

There are different degrees of friendship. Even an egoist can wish another well and can be very attached in a relationship, but real caring for others is incompatible with egoism.

In Casino, Nicky always asks himself:

“What’s in it for me?”

His priority is making sure his life goes well. So, an egoist would take advantage of a “friend” when it is in his self-interest.

Nicky believes in maximizing egoism, which means to promote his good to any extent, even to the determent of Ace. In the film, Nicky’s extreme egoism leads him to a horrible end.

But, there is such a thing as satisficing egoism. Some people reject maximizing egoism and take up satisficing egoism instead, which means to pursue a course of action that satisfies their minimum requirements to achieve a goal. Now, this would leave room for friendship. In other words, to make sure your life goes good enough but falling short of the BEST possible life.

This discussion has reminded me of the quip:

Some of us veer to the left and some of us swing to the right, but MOST of us are SELF-CENTERED!





The Minds Of Others

After reading “Othello”, I was amazed how Iago, Othello’s “friend” and ensign, dupes everyone in the play, particularly Othello. Nobody knows what is going on in Iago’s mind. They think he is honest and trustworthy. But, he is a master of linguistic manipulation, in other words, he speaks falsely but people think he speaks the truth. Iago is Shakespeare’s ultimate villain. He is a liar who delights in inflicting pain and suffering on others through his deception.

All this brought to my mind the philosophical problem of our supposed knowledge of other people’s minds. We tend to make inferences about what other people are thinking, but these inferences are fallible. This makes us skeptical of what people say. What’s behind their eyes?

You can observe what a person says and does but you have to guess what’s really going on in their head. The other person’s mind is hidden from you, only the person themself know what’s going on in their mind.

I look at another person and they seem to me as opaque, not transparent, their mind is out of my view. I also know my mind is hidden from them. It’s a funny feeling, at times, knowing that the other person doesn’t know me, just like I don’t know them.

So, the gulf between my outer self and inner self opens up possibilities of concealment that I can exploit if I want to. I remember when I was a kid and I realized my thoughts were not knowable to others and I could misrepresent what was in my mind, a whole new moral world opened up.

The element of trust is wrapped up in this concealment of the mind from others. I have to take your words at face value and when I do this I place my trust in you. But, when you deceive me, that trust is destroyed.

So, when we interact with others we are constantly asking ourselves: “Is this the “real person” or are they deceiving me?” It’s frustrating that other people’s real thoughts are hidden from us.

This reminds me of the quip: The fellow who says he has an OPEN mind may only have a VACANT one.

Hamlet’s Character Is Part Of Us All

I always wanted to read Hamlet but never got around to it until I was a month away from my 78th birthday. I became interested in Philosophy in my retirement and Shakespeare’s plays are chock full of Philosophy.

To start, lets have a quick synopsis of Hamlet:

Prince Hamlet attends his father’s funeral. His father was King of Denmark. His mother, Gertrude, is remarried to Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, brother to the King.

Hamlet is depressed and angry when he encounters the King’s ghost, who tells him Claudius has killed him, he wants revenge, so does Hamlet.

For a while he fakes madness to observe the goings on in the castle. Hamlet wants to kill Claudius but he thinks: “Conscience makes cowards of us all.”

He worries about death, but he realizes we all have to face up to it.

Then the deaths start:

Hamlet gets rid of Polonius, who is counselor to Claudius and father to Ophelia, Hamlet’s beloved. But Ophelia is bereaved over her father’s death. She eventually drowns.

Laertes, son of Polonius and brother to Ophelia, vows to punish Hamlet for his family’s deaths. Laertes and Hamlet fight, but Laertes has a poisoned sword. Hamlet kills Laertes but has been cut by the sword, so he will soon die.

Claudius, meanwhile, wants to kill Hamlet with a poisoned drink, which the Queen drinks making a toast. The Queen dies.

Finally, Hamlet stabs Claudius, so that does Claudius in. Before Hamlet dies, he declares the throne should go to Fortinbras, a Prince of Norway. He, also, wants Horatio, his loyal friend, to tell his story to the world.

The end of a great story with lots of words spoken by the main character.


So, back to the title of this blog: We are all like Hamlet in many ways. That’ right, we are! Hamlet thinks like an existentialist. He wants to know: “Who am I?” Don’t we all? Also, “To Be or Not To Be?” This question haunts all of us. Why do we exist?

We all have thought: “Should we accept out troubles in silence, or should we act to overcome them?” Hamlet feels the absurdity of life and thinks whether death is preferable to life. He delays his actions. Don’t we all procrastinate?

Hamlet questions the meaning and purpose of life. Who among us doesn’t doubt our motives? He, also, has and uses many masks, don’t we all?

Hamlet demonstrates the mechanisms of human thought. His state of mind affects his decisions. So does ours. He procrastinates, so do we. He seeks revenge. I’m sure all of us, at sometime or other, have thought about revenge.

Hamlet seeks meaning in life. So do all of us. But, I’m afraid it’s your responsibility to make your own meaning in your life.

Hamlet is angry and starts to collapse. All of these things are part of being human. This is why Hamlet is us, when you come to think about it.

“I think therefore I am.” Who said that? Not Shakespeare or Hamlet?


Isn’t Shakespeare’s Hamlet wonderful?

Words, words, words. Hamlet loves words, he is all about words, his soliloquizing is world famous. Words are his forte, just like a writer. Give me the words and I will write a story.

We Are Our Mind And Our Mind Is Our Self

After watching David Lynch’s, “Lost Highway”, I thought of Descartes’s quote: “I Think, Therefore I Am.” He claimed the mind and body were two separate entities, because like everything else in this world, the body can only be sensed because there is a mind to sense it.

Our senses deceive us. The thoughts we have when awake can also be experienced when we sleep. I suppose that all the things that have entered into my mind when awake had no more truth than the illusions of my dreams.

But getting back to “Lost Highway”, the protagonist creates alternative realities in his mind to relieve himself of guilt and to help him cope. Each “reality” was real to him. They were cyclical and led him right back to the start.

All along the protagonist’s mind was doubting, perceiving, denying, and imagining. He knew he existed in the created realities because he “thought therefore he existed”. The mind may be confused at times or clear and distinct. We perceive things in our dreams just like when we are awake. It’s all in the mind.

In “Lost Highway”, the main character, when confronted with unsavory aspects of his life, decided to create self-consoling but self-deceptive “realities. He had to deceive himself to make his existence bearable. His “realities” were a lie to disguise unbearable truths.

This deception happens a lot in real life.


The other night I had a dream that was so realistic that I felt I existed in it. Yet none of it was true. Sometimes we all feel that way about our own reality, how much of it is true?

When I wake up each morning, I’m hazy and disoriented, but then I focus on the bedroom and my self gets re-assembled in my mind, which is my first-person observer of reality inhabiting my body.

Then slowly my mind awakes and starts thinking and then my self is complete. I am again a witness of my world and the bearer of my consciousness and identity.

How wonderful the mind is. I truly believe:

“I Think, Therefore I Am.”

My Summer Night’s Dream

It has been said that there are two Dream scenarios, the dream of being awake in the Real world and the other form of dream when you are asleep. This dream that I had made me think about the difficulty of distinguishing sleep dreaming from wakefulness, fantasy from reality. I also remembered what Freud said:

“All dreams are wish fulfillment.”


It was hot and humid that night, my window was open wide to catch any wandering breeze. I only had a thin sheet over my body when I fell asleep…

I was in a forest, the trees were tall and close together. Their branches seemed like arms swaying in the wind and the lower ones would swing down and almost grab me. I started walking fast, the leaves were crunching and the soil was damp under my bare feet.

The whispering wind seemed to be talking to me.

“Writer Dave, oh Writer Dave, why isn’t your novel a best-seller?”

I was turning around and around trying to hear where the voice was coming from. I got so dizzy that I fell on the ground looking up at the stars.

My recent novel, “The Becoming”, came to mind. Fifty copies had been sold but now it seemed like it stopped selling. I had thought the novel was my best work up to now. But now, I was frustrated with the low results.

I closed my eyes, and then a woman’s voice came from behind me.

“Hello, Writer Dave.”

I open my eyes and there was a beautiful woman standing over me! She wore a gossamer dress that rippled in the breeze. Her hair was long and golden, falling over her chest. Her face was milky white, her eyes emerald green and her lips crimson.

This woman was gorgeous, like a goddess brought to life. Her eyes were sparkling like the stars in the night sky.

“Who are you?” I mumbled.

“Don’t you know me? I’m Mary, your publisher.”

I only met my publisher once and I didn’t remember her quite like this.

“What do you want?’

“I’m here to give you some tips on best-selling fiction.”

She then sat down next to me and put my head gently in her lap. Her slender fingers were caressing my temple. She continued:

“To have a best-seller you need clarity and focus on a single idea. You need the novel to bring an issue into clear view.”

“But Mary, my novel does that, I tell the reader that they are “becoming” every day of their life.”

Her fingers circled my lips.

“Relax Dave, I’m just stating the facts. You need writing that provokes, writing to make people think and act.”

“Again Mary, “The Becoming”’ was supposed to provoke my readers to think about change and their “becoming.”

Mary smiled and continued:

“Did you have a fast pace and excitement in your writing?’

“Yes, I did. I tried to inject enthusiasm into my readers.”

“Well, Writer Dave, if you did all that, you should have a best-seller.”

I told Mary, my girlfriend wouldn’t even consider marrying me if my novel wasn’t a hit.

“Dave, she’s not worth worrying about. She just wants money and fame to bask in.”

I thought about that as an owl whizzed past my head.

Then as fast as Mary appeared she was gone.


One of the trees started moving toward me. It was a giant in the form of a tree. Can you imagine, foliage for a head, branches for arms and roots for legs?

“Is that you, Writer Dave?” he said in a booming voice.

“Who are you?” I stuttered.

“I’m your public, your readers.”

“What do you want?”

“Your public want to know: Why should they buy your novel?”

Many voices were yelling this sentence, over and over. It frightened me!

“Why should we buy your novel? Why should we buy your novel?”

Then, after a few minutes, things quieted down.


“Hello, Writer Dave.” It was an angelic voice coming from somewhere.

The next thing I knew a beautiful woman with wings and flowers in her hair and a long flowing white robe was sitting in the tree above me.

“I’m Blossom, your fairy, but I warn you I’m mischievous.”

“Can you help me get a best-selling novel?”

“I’m in possession of a magic potion that might help. I was going to give the potion to your public giant, which would make people love your novel and buy it in great amounts. But I thought I’d have some fun first. So I gave some to Mary, your publisher.”

“So that’s why she was so loving toward me.”

“I’m sorry, Dave, but I told you I was mischievous. I will, now, give some to your public giant.”


A mist came rolling in and I found myself back with my head in Mary’s lap!

“Dave, I’m here to tell you that your novel has sold over one thousand copies in the last month. You’re on the way to becoming a best-selling novelist.”


I woke up in a cold sweat. A voice in my head whispered:

“What is dreamed may prove REAL and what seems REAL may be just a dream.”