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The meaning of life, part 2

August 6, 2006

(While in part 1 of this topic i’ve focussed on issues in a global scale and geological timeframe, this one is going to be more about those facets of human existence that affect us in our daily life.)

Humankind may be special in certain aspects, but mainly we are still an animal species, and as such have many things in common with the rest of the animal kingdom. Leaving birth, death and nutrition aside, the most important thing is reproduction, to keep the evolutionary competition going, that proccess that has shaped everything living on Earth, and still does, with no goal or aim, it just goes on, endlessly. And if you look at the hard facts, that’s pretty much all there is. The life is usually all about finding a reliable mate and producing offspring, or better known among humans as falling in love, making love and bringing up the fruits of this love. Even if a huge part of what we do every day may seem not to have much to do with sex, indirectly, it usually does. Well-paid jobs, fashionable clothing, perfumes, trained bodies, luxurious cars: it’s all about attracting potential mates and showing that your social position is a stable one and a long-term undertaking like raising a child with you will take place under safe conditions. Though today (in “developed” countries) sex is usually not followed by a pregnancy, but close your eyes for a moment and imagine that suddenly all contraceptives would disappear. Then people would again be doing what nature intended their sex drive for.

But, if reproduction is really the only reason why we are here, then why doesn’t our life end in a bright flash of sexual activity, like it does for e.g. salmon? If there is a distinct goal that a human has to achieve in life, shouldn’t it be something more ultimate, like moving on into some higher reality (heaven) with full awareness, finding a way to defeat death or changing into an enlightened being? Well, no. 🙂 Even if reproduction is all there is, reproductive strategies vary between species, and ours is that we usually have one child at a time that at first is rather helpless by itself and therefore needs parental care until it reaches a certain level of independence. After that the parents are free to bring up another one, and another one, each time increasing there reproductive success, which is exactly what the biological term “fitness” stands for. The better your adaptation to the evironment, however it may be shaped, the more children you can bring up under given circumstances and pass on the genes that made you this successful.

What does distinguish our species from others is our ability to accumulate and store knowledge, made possible by the evolution of language, or better a brain that is able to operate in abstract ideas and pictures, and so share thoughts with others by expressing them with spoken or written word. Other animals are far from unable to teach their offspring, e.g. the right hunting and survival techniques, but they can only do this by direct demonstration, and therefore only the same very basic knowledge can persist over generations. (Interestingly, animal children don’t need explanations of how the whole reproduction stuff takes place, as human children do, or rather as adults think they do. How other species find which ends to connect and have survived the last hundreds of millions of years without proper sex-ed remains a mystery. 😉 ) Whereas we multiply our knowledge (which, by the way, is not the same as wisdom), and keep it for following generations, laying a foundation for them to build upon instead of starting at point zero over and over. But, even with this steady progress that defines our culture and civilization, each persons life remains the same old cycle of “birth → survival → reproduction → death”, with added spice in form of art, technology and science, that maybe give our daily life more diversity, but, in my opinion, ultimately don’t help you advance towards achieving whatever purpose there is in life.

However, i wouldn’t write about enlightenment if i were convinced, all we are here for is being fruitful and multiply. As i said, this is what’s left if we look at the hard facts. What makes me doubt are those days when seemingly impossible things happen three times in a row, as if some mysterious force was trying to tell you something; when a song you haven’t heard for years but for no reason have been singing to yourself since the morning suddenly plays on the radio, when people you’ve been thinking of calling on the phone suddenly call you instead. And reports of people remembering their previous lives and reporting details from that time that can be proven to have happen with no chance that this person could have found out in any other way. Although, as long as this doesn’t happen to you, you have to trust the sources, be it stories or TV, and they may be just making things up they know the audience wants to hear about. And the only way to deal with it is to follow the quote from X-Files: Trust noone, and from Timothy Leary (quoted by Tool): Think for yourself, question authority. Try to find your own way and make up your own mind about everything, listen to what your hearts tells you, or whatever organ it is that tends to give you subconscious hints every now and then.

And i think it’s crucial to stay open minded and unbiased in everything you do, or you could miss something important, like when your destiny knocks at your door and you choose not to open because you think it’s yet another agent. If in fact there is some kind of a supernatural being, and it looked like, say, a three-headed ogre, and it appeared right in front of you to reveal the secrets of human existence, you wouldn’t know it’s god talking to you because you’d expect a tall white man with a glowing halo above his head, and simply turn around and run away. Perhaps, if you listen more frequently to your intuition, its voice will become louder and clearer, and maybe guide you to your own purpose. You might as well, because you won’t lose anything if you do.

But as long as i don’t make a deeply spiritual experience that gives me some answers, i think, the only way to live your life is to try to be always satisfied, give your best to make decisions so that won’t regret them later. And if your life should unexpectedly come to an end, you’d have no reason to wish having done anything differently.

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From → Philosophy

3 Comments
  1. Interesting posts. Some other thoughts on the soul: as you seem to believe in evolution then the idea of a soul leaves one with two choices:
    1) all living beings (flies, birds, monkeys, humans) have souls since evolution started with simple organisms and moved up to humans
    2) the soul was part of evolution and humans “evolved” a soul in the same way of opposable thumbs, which just seems unlikely since it gives no competitive advantage in the survival of the fit which determines evolution

  2. The possibility (1) is what i’d tend to believe, although (2) is perfectly possible as well, there’s a t least no way to disprove it.

    But what you said about competitive advantage may also be a reason for why we don’t consciously percieve souls (in case they exist at all). Animal (=our) senses have evolved to increase their survival rates, which means either to notice a predator earlier or find food better. But if a soul is some kind of a field surrounding one’s body then it may be fun to know it’s there and maybe read something therein (if it has some kind of structure, like karma imprinted on it etc.), but survival goes completely unaffected by this abilities, so they aren’t important and wouldn’t survive in a population for long.

    I simply don’t want to abandon the idea that there’s more to living things than biochemstry, and that free will does exist :). Even if science suggests the opposite, scientific knowledge is constantly changing and things that we take for a fact now can turn out wrong in future. Just look at how many atomic models there have been and all are valid for some aspects, but have almost no similarities to one another.

  3. Fair enough. I respect those ideas.

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