We treat meaning as nonphysical connection and potential organization. Meaning is a resource that can be used by animals to improve survival and reproduction. The evolution of brains to exploit meaning occurred in two heuristic steps. First, solitary brains developed mental representations of patterns for learning and guiding adaptive action. Second, humankind greatly expanded the usefulness of meaning by using it collectively, such as by deliberately communicating information, creating a body of shared beliefs and understandings, and using meaning to organize social life. The intentional application of meaning to life, as in the quest for a meaningful life, is a later development linked to ways of organizing behavior to maximize future outcomes and relate the individual to societal systems.
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