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The meaning of life, part 1

July 29, 2006

(The final impulse for this posting came after reading this, so perhaps you should head there first and then come back here.)

There’s one question that keeps being asked over and over again for centuries, with no answer yet that could satisfy everyone asking: Why are we here? Is there a purpose that we are here for?

To start with, the idea that everything is there for a purpose is very human, but not necessarily inherent in the universe. Often things just happen, with no supernatural being pulling the strings in the background, driving the world towards some ultimate goal. This is what we are used to do, any effort that doesn’t earn us something has no sense and wouldn’t be a wise thing to do, and therefore we tend to think, that if something is happening, then there is a reason for it. Whoever created this beautiful world must be the most intelligent being imaginable and wouldn’t do anything without purpose, so there’s got to be a reason and a purpose for everything. But then again, this is how we are used to think. If something stands there, then once upon a time somebody came and put it there, because it can’t just be there without having been put there by someone who had an intention to do so. If it’s too heavy for men to lift, then it must have been god, who formed rocks into landscapes, carved rivers into the ground and planted trees everywhere. And he saw that this was good. 🙂

God is by definition almighty, and this is why, according to certain groups of people, the earth was created in just a week or so, about 5 and a half millenia ago. On the other hand there’s scientific proof that our planet actually exists for 4.5 billions of years. The first assumption is based upon words written by people who supposedly had a link to god, the second is delivered by science and ready for anyone to reproduce and understand. I choose to believe in the scientific version, although imagining 4.5 billions of years is beyond what i can fathom, but this vast amount of time is actually a good explanation for why this world is so complex in its beauty. It’s the result of aeons of changes, driven by forces that still put us in awe when they manifest in earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and volcanos. And since the first life forms appeared on Earth, they have been adapting to whatever conditions they found themselves in, and still do, since billions of years. This struggle for survival has lead to the overwhelming diversity of species that surrounds us. Not created in one day by god. But how can a human with a lifespan a few decades realize that the Earth has existed billions of years before the emergence of Homo sapiens and will stay after we will be long gone (which way ever, into space or towards extinction)? It wasn’t made for us, we just had the luck to have evolved a brain that enables us to ponder about the meaning of our existence.

It may appear as another proof for a higher purpose for humanity that this world provides just the right conditions for us to live under, and this cannot be just a coincidence, but a sign of the existence of an intelligent creator. The more plausible explanation however is, that under hostile conditions, our species wouldn’t have evolved in the first place. All we are is the result of changes our species has gone through during its evolution in order to adapt to its environment, millions of years worth of slow but steady changes towards a more efficient use of available resources and higher survival rates under given environmental conditions. The fact, that we are still here, alone shows that we harmonize well with our environment, otherwise our species would’ve died out or evolved in a different way. (This, by the way, is known as the Anthropic principle.)

We tend to see ourselves as “the summit of creation”, we even have a special term for our species to emphasize that we are not animals, but stand above them. While this may be true in the sense that we are the most successful terrestrial omnivore, how about facing a tiger one on one, with no gun around? Or a white shark? Who will eat whom? Where did the superiority go? It’s the same arrogance that we tend to display when comparing ourselves with other people that backs our claim for the throne of creation. I am better than YOU. WE are better then THEM. Everyone else sucks but ME. Why else does this world exists if not for US (no pun intended, I mean “us” as in “we” 😉 )?

So much for the big picture. To keep the posting at a sane size I decided to split it in two parts. The second one will follow soon.


From → Philosophy

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