The Purpose of Life: (Uplifting and occasionally humorous philosophy)
© 2008 Paul Seymour
It would be presumptuous of me to say I knew the ‘Meaning of Life’. What does meaning mean? What’s the meaning of the sun? What’s the meaning of a dog? ‘Meaning’ is one of those words, so indicative of our analytical human brains. Everything must have a meaning, we think. The Meaning of Life is, I believe, a meaningless expression.
However, I do presume to know the ‘purpose’ of Life. Who am I, as if that’s important? I'm just an average man who was encouraged to think and ask questions from an early age. Rather than having other people’s opinions or cultural traditions forced on me by idiot parents and the like, I was fortunate enough to be taught by intelligent parents, to work things out for myself and to form my own opinions based on observation or study.
Of course Life has a purpose. It actually
seems to have several.
*The most obvious is: To survive. Most of us are good at that except, perhaps those who jump off things with a rubber band round their ankles and those who put poisonous chemicals in their bodies to see what happens. Most of us, though, are programmed to survive. We would kill to survive. We kill cows so we can eat hamburgers... but that's not survival. That's stupidity. We kill Germans or Asians when our governments say they’re our enemies... But that's not survival. That's politics. You might even kill your best friend to save your own life.. except many of us would go against the survival instict and risk death to save our best friend. You might kill your mother-in-law to save your sanity! That's survival. But I digress.
Why is it so important to survive as
an individual or as a species, if there’s no reason to be here? Why
does every creature on Earth have this built in instinct to survive if our
lives are meaningless?
*The next most obvious purpose is: To multiply. That’s something even the stupidest people are able to do. Just look around most supermarkets. Any moron can breed, they just have trouble raising their horrible children. It’s a worry that the biggest breeders are those whose genes have the least to contribute to the World. And, once again, what would be the point of creating more stupid humans or rabbits or fish or ants… if there’s no meaning to it all. There’s that word again.
*Then, of course, we have those who defer everything to God. This is a very handy cop-out usually employed by simple minded people:
“We’re here to serve God and all Life was put here to serve us”. Yeah, well God must be an arrogant bastard if he created this whole universe just to serve him. It wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t have feelings or free will. Those feeble minded people who believe in that ‘cop-out’ must also believe God is a sadist. He gives us the ability to choose but then punishes us if we make the wrong choice. Worse still, he rewards those who do good. So people do good for selfish reasons, to save their (possibly) imaginary souls, rather than doing good for its own sake.
These ‘purposes’, I think, are secondary to the bigger purpose. Forget personal survival or continuation of any species. Forget silly beliefs in gods or goblins or a heaven that welcomes born-again idiots, or an afterlife that rewards its religious murderers with seventy two virgins for them to rape for eternity. Forget all that crap.
What has the Universe been doing since it began? What has the Earth been doing since it began? What has organic life been doing since it began? What has human society been doing since it began? And what should each of us, as individuals, be doing since we began? Improving.
What? The purpose of Life can be reduced to one simple word? Improvement?
The next question is, of course: Why do we need to improve?
That’s a question you can ask God if you go to Heaven. In the meantime let’s look at this improvement thing. Except for a few ‘special’ individuals who believe that the Universe is only five thousand years old, and that dinosaurs lived alongside humans, and that fossilised bones of long extinct fish buried hundreds of metres below human remains, and that Carbon Dating, are all the Devil’s tricks, designed to deceive us… Except for those misguided fools, most of us believe that the Universe and Life evolved over billions of years.
Scientists say that originally there was, as the Bible even says, nothing but light or at least, energy. Where it emanated from is irrelevant or unanswerable. Somehow particles of negative energy travelling, you guessed it, at the speed of light, got trapped in the magnetic fields of particles of positive energy forming the first matter: hydrogen, which has the simplest atomic form: one particle of positive energy and one particle of negative, spinning at the speed of light around it. The electron’s need to escape is balanced by the proton’s force restraining it. It’s such a simple, beautiful representation of the balance of opposites, which continues throughout all existence.
Then that enormous hydrogen cloud broke up into smaller ones and then those smaller clouds condensed into smaller balls of gas. The atoms in those balls were pulled towards each other even further until they finally collided, causing fusion explosions bigger than a trillion nuclear weapons. These were the first stars, clustered together, yet billions of kilometres apart, in galaxies. Out of that fusion came all the other elements including oxygen, nitrogen, silicon and carbon. These four elements were predominant in the smaller pockets of burning gas that circled the larger ones. These gas pockets became the planets.
On one such planet, circling one of the smaller stars, right near the edge of just one of those galaxies, there was an abundance of hydrogen and the other elements. As this little planet cooled most of the hydrogen had combined with oxygen to form water vapour. The silicon mixed with other elements and became molten minerals. The nitrogen and oxygen formed an atmosphere. The water vapour condensed into steam and finally water droplets. It rained for a million years or more.
You may question whether this evolution of clouds to galaxies to stars and planets could be called improvement. It basically went from dead simple to more and more complex. What was the universe trying to achieve? It’s like it had a will to try new stuff. By trial and error it found more and more successful results. The Earth and perhaps a billion other worlds now had a solid surface with a boiling liquid centre. It had two thirds of its surface covered with water and it had a blanket of gas: two thirds nitrogen and one third oxygen, around it.
This tempestuous young world was settling.
The skies became clearer as most of the water had become oceans. The sun beat
down filtered by the air and in the oceans or perhaps some little puddle of
water, something magical happened. Nitrogen, carbon, oxygen and hydrogen had
combined in many different ways. One such combination was what we call protein.
Somehow, by the ‘will’ of God or by sheer chance, protein was
infused with energy to become protoplasm. Organic Life was born.
This new substance did have a will of its own. Just like certain chemicals seemed to know how to find each other to make more interesting combinations, protoplasm had the ability to absorb other substances around it which it could convert into its own substance. When it had increased its size enough it could then split in half.
So there were now two, where there was one. Through trial and error over another billion years small cells of protoplasm would group together with other cells to form colonies, take on different forms, grow appendages which became limbs, grow organs to assist digestion or to better perceive the world around it and so on. This happened because as those cells continued to split within those colonies (or living organisms) the new bits would be slightly different, so the new organisms would be slightly different. Some adapted better and survived. Others didn’t.
Later when life discovered sex the same thing happened. Two different organisms would come together, combine their cells and as a result create a new organism similar but not the same as the parents. Some adapted and survived. Others didn’t.
Life was improving itself continuously.
This improvement or evolution was a slow process. Nevertheless, new species kept branching off old ones, new improved models kept coming off the production line until the oceans were teaming with plants and animals all eating, growing, having sex, having babies and improving.
To cut a long story short: Life crept out of the sea onto land. For a very long time there was nothing but plants and insects. Finally other animals evolved and very much as an afterthought, humans were one of the most recent genetic experiments.
Now, anyone who thinks the Earth was created for us humans, think again.... If the history of the world was represented by one week, starting at midnight on Sunday: Life would have only existed on Earth since Wednesday. Animals would have only crawled out of the sea on Thursday afternoon. The dinosaurs would arrive 5:30 in the afternoon on the last day, gone again by 10pm, mammals arrived about 9pm.... and humans would only appear in the last two minutes before midnight!
THE EARTH IS NOT OUR PLANET! We do not own it and it is highly unlikely it was created just for us. It's the hieght of arrogance to believe so.
Are humans an improvement on previous species? That’s debatable. We do have ‘powers and abilities’ far beyond those of other mortal beings. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. In actual fact, the only marked differences between us and other animals are: an opposable thumb and an enlarged frontal lobe. These evolutionary developments could have happened to any species. Look at some of the specialised add-ons many animals have to help them adapt and survive: antlers, hoofs, enlarged limbs, two stomachs, etc, etc. Our little changes seemed almost insignificant.
Primates were mainly fruitarian so their front legs evolved to be used to reach and grab fruit. These front feet were very versatile and could be used for other things like picking each other’s fleas off or playing with their genitals. For some reason, maybe a genetic mistake, some primates seemed double jointed and were able to move their thumb across their palm. This meant they were able to pick and hold fruit better than their close cousin species. It also meant they could hold rocks, sticks, weapons. This alone wouldn’t have accounted for the technological leaps human primates made.
The frontal lobe of the brain is the part that is aware of past and future and where imagination is born. All animals must possess some rudimentary form of imagination but when the apes with the bigger foreheads and the sticks sat quietly they could see things in their minds that weren’t yet in the real world. Combined with that ability to hold things, it wasn’t long before tools were created to fashion other things like shelters, clothing and better weapons. They created safer surroundings by killing predators and other humans who would steal from them.
Humans began improving their lives. No longer was mere survival the only concern. Comfort and enjoyment were now important too. Was it enough though? For most it was, but for a minority throughout history it wasn’t enough to work, eat, sleep, have fun, have sex, have babies, get old and die. For some, improving their own life wasn’t enough. They had to improve the World. Why? Call it a universal instinct that goes back to the beginning when those first stars were born.
In some people it can be misguided. The need to feel they have a purpose turns them into work-aholics. Even if their work doesn’t help anyone but themselves or their families, the thought of going home and relaxing is abhorrent. Then, of course their partners become estranged or have affairs. They miss seeing their kids grow up and lose touch with them, don’t understand their needs and the kids then resent these work-aholic parents.
In other people this ‘universal instinct’ becomes obsessive-compulsive behaviour, where everything must be perfect. It also fuelled great artists to do great art, great musicians (and some not so great) to obsessively compose. The desire to improve oneself or one’s surroundings is perhaps the singularly most powerful driving force in human.. and animal.. and plant behaviour… apart from the need to breed more supermarket morons!
It’s often the feeling of having no purpose that causes depression, which if left untreated, can lead to suicide. If only troubled souls like that could see: We all have a purpose. We’re not just here to follow in our parents’ footsteps, or to ‘feather our nests’. We’re not just here to make money. Many millionaires have felt lost and died in misery. There’s a very simple rule that saves people from the purposeless blues:
Everywhere you go, leave it better than how you found it. In other words: Improve everything and everyone you have contact with, in some way.
Whether it’s by political activism, developing medicines, rescuing animals from cruelty, painting landscapes, composing symphonies or simply by helping an old lady across the street, or putting a smile on a child's face, when you improve what’s around you or create something beautiful, you are fulfilling our purpose.
There are some people who seem to be here for a reason… there’s that word again. Their purpose seems to be to improve Life on Earth. Unfortunately, it’s often those rare individuals who give the most, that end up depleted of life and joy. They need to be reminded of the fact that whether they’re a president or a pensioner, they are the most important people on Earth and joy is not a privilege but their rite. They, more than anyone, contribute to the purpose of the Universe:
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