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  • On the Purpose of Life

    Posted on January 29th, 2018 Helian 9 comments

    There is no purpose to your life other than the purpose you choose to give it.

    Is your goal the brotherhood of all mankind?  Is your goal human flourishing?  Is your goal a just and democratic society?  Is your goal to serve some God or gods?  The first cause of all of these goals, and any others you can think of, may be found in innate emotions and predispositions that exist because they evolved.  They did not evolve for a purpose.  They exist because at some time that was likely quite different from the present, they happened to increase the odds that the responsible genes would survive and reproduce.  They are the foundation that gives rise to every single human aspiration, no matter how noble or sublime that aspiration is imagined to be.

    There is no objective reason why the goals and aspirations of a Plato or a Kant are more worthy, more legitimate, or more morally good than the goals and purposes of a thief or a murderer.  In the end, every human being on the planet is merely seeking to satisfy emotional whims that he has interpreted or tried to make sense of in one way or another.  Any individual’s assumption that his goals are intrinsically superior to or more right and proper in themselves than the goals of others is a delusion.  The universe doesn’t care.

    What does that imply concerning what our goals should be, or what we really ought to do?  Nothing!  Nothing, that is, unless we are speaking of what some individual should do or ought to do to satisfy some idiosyncratic whim that cannot possibly be objectively more legitimate or praiseworthy than the whim of any other individual.

    How, then, do we choose what are goals and purposes will be.  After all, we will have them regardless, because it is our nature to have them.  In the end, all of us must decide for ourselves.  However, in choosing them I personally think it is useful to be aware of the above fundamental facts.  The alternative is to stumble blindly through life, chasing mirages, clueless as to what is really motivating us and why.  Again, purely from my personal point of view, that does not seem an attractive alternative.  Blind stumbling tends to be self-destructive, not to mention inconvenient to others.  I personally find it incongruous and disturbing to witness the spectacle of emotions and passions inspiring people to pursue ends that are the precise opposite of the ends that account for the existence of those emotions and passions to begin with.

    I personally pursue goals and purposes that seem to me in harmony with the fundamental reason that my goals and purposes exist to begin with.  In other words, my basic goal in life has been to survive and reproduce.  Beyond that, I seek first to promote the survival of my species, and beyond that the survival of biological life in general.  These goals seem noble and sublime enough to me personally.  Our very existence seems to me improbable and awe-inspiring.  Think of how complex and intelligent we are, and of all our highly developed senses and abilities.  Look in a mirror and consider the fact that a creature like you could have evolved from inanimate matter.  Think of the mind-boggling length of time it took for that to happen, and the conditions that were necessary for it to occur in the first place.  Stunning!  We are all final links in an unbroken chain of life that began with direct ancestors that existed billions of years ago.  There are millions of links in the chain, and all of those links succeeded in generating new links, so that the chain would remain unbroken through all that incredible gulf of time.  Under the circumstances, my personal purpose seems obvious to me.  Don’t break the chain!

    There is no objective reason why these purposes of mine are any more good, legitimate, or worthy than any alternatives whatsoever.  They are not intrinsically better than the purposes of an anti-natalist, a suicide bomber, or a celibate priest.  However, for personal reasons, I would prefer that, as others pursue their purposes, they at least be aware of what is actually motivating them.  It might lead them to consider whether blindly breaking the chain, destroying themselves and harming others in the process, is really a goal worth pursuing after all.

     

    9 responses to “On the Purpose of Life” RSS icon

    • As you said, we have to find our purpose of life for ourselves, and every one is equally meaningful (or meaningless). One sees continuing the billions years old chain of life as his highest duty, another could see stopping the wheel of misery and pointless suffering that was turning for billion years as the most noble cause. You have just reinveted existentialism.

      In this case, why you care about the purposes of other people and want to persuade them to “reconsider”?

    • I think you might be a bit lazy here with the truth. It might seem picky, but for people believing in God your advice and statements might actually condemn people to hell. I’m not an Expert on that and I don’t think you should change your advice. But I think you should tell others what you know and what you don’t. I think this would align well with your goals as I understand them. So – do you KNOW that there is no God and that there is no objective morality?

    • I think the number of things we KNOW for sure is very limited. I do not KNOW there is no God, nor do I KNOW there is no objective morality. I have merely reasoned about those things to the best of my ability and concluded that it is very probable that they are true. We can’t live as vegetables, paralyzed because we don’t know positively exactly what’s true and what’s not. I do the best I can to discover the truth, then act according to what seems to me to be the truth until I discover otherwise.

    • Yes, we only have the information we have and we can only use that to the best of our ability. I just wasn’t sure where you stand. To me, one either knows everything or one knows nothing. Because to me, to be able to know everything at all, you must be able to prove without a doubt, that within the vast amount of information in the universe that you do not have, that there is nothing that disproves what you believe you know. But of course I won’t jump out of an airplane without a parachute, even if someone promises me a billion dollars. As far as I know humans can only observe and try to make reasonable assumptions to plan our actions. But in the end, I think we can never be 100% sure of anything.

      I wonder how you would calculate the possibility of whether God exists or not. The only answer I have found yet is that you take the possible answers (yes and no) and the possible “dice throws” (our reality), which would result in a 50% probability. But this isn’t really helpful.

    • I admit that it is not absolutely out of the question that God exists. However, I act on the assumption that he doesn’t exist, because I consider the chances that he does to be infinitesimally small. I base that opinion on my conclusion that there is no evidence for his existence, and no reason to assume he exists to explain the things we don’t understand. That’s why I call myself an atheist. You can find elaborations of the above in books like “The God Delusion,” by Richard Dawkins, or “Faith vs. Fact” by Jerry Coyne. If you want to go back even further, I think Jean Meslier did a good job of exploding the God myth in his “Testament,” written nearly 300 years ago.

    • What kind of evidence would you accept as proof of his existence?

      By the way, I also do not believe that God, as depicted in humans religions, exists. I’m just less certain than you.

    • “What kind of evidence would you accept as proof of his existence?”

      If God exists he must be perfectly capable of stepping out of the clouds, announcing his existence, and convincing me that he does exist. He hasn’t done that.

      Assuming a God explains nothing. It is merely the substitution of something more complicated to explain something less complicated. Why, exactly, is it plausible to assume without evidence that a God capable of doing an infinite number of floating point operations per second must exist as a condition for the existence of the universe? Where did that God come from? Who created Him? If we are to assume that he just is, and didn’t need to be created, why can’t we accept the same thing about the universe?

    • “If God exists he must be perfectly capable of stepping out of the clouds, announcing his existence, and convincing me that he does exist. He hasn’t done that.”

      I agree! But why should he? Do you know how an all-powerful, all-knowing being would think or act at any given time? To my limited understanding, it would be counter-productive to provide incontrovertible proof for his existence, because (at least the Christian God seemingly) wants people to have faith. Faith is not needed if there is proof.

      “Assuming a God explains nothing. It is merely the substitution of something more complicated to explain something less complicated. Why, exactly, is it plausible to assume without evidence that a God capable of doing an infinite number of floating point operations per second must exist as a condition for the existence of the universe? Where did that God come from? Who created Him? If we are to assume that he just is, and didn’t need to be created, why can’t we accept the same thing about the universe?”

      Yes, explaining things people do not understand would definitely be a reason to believe in a God. One of many.

      I only have few experiences with believers. The last company I worded for had a lot of people of Christian belief. I think they are a credit to “their people”. They wouldn’T try to convert me, they wouldn’t preach to me. They rarely provided judgement of character. They would invite me in, because they believed that to be important to me. They independently from each other told be about their “meetings” with God. One for example had a broken ankle cured. I didn’t believe him – I thought there must me an error, some kind of misunderstanding. Or maybe even a lie. But what do I really know? Maybe I just do not WANT to believe in a God, the same way they want to. But how can I know or even calculate a possibility?

      In any case, can you tell me the probability of God’s existence in a number between 0 and 1 – and can you tell me the calculations involved?

    • I left Idaho two years ago after spending five years there. It borders on Utah, and has a large Mormon population. I lived along the Snake River outside of Idaho Falls. All my neighbors were Mormons. They were never pushy about trying to convert me. The only religious types who visited my house were Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, I was invited to their biweekly “Family Home Evenings” which usually included a discussion of religious topics, followed by refreshments. They also saw to it that I was always invited to one of their houses for Thanksgiving and other holidays, and invited me to parties, dinners, etc., at their church. They struck me as very normal people, not at all fanatical. You can get a pretty good idea of what they’re like from the movie “Once I was a Beehive.” They did have large numbers of children, so will be relevant to the future. It was also commonplace for them to go on two year missions to another state or foreign country after graduation from high school, and occasionally after retirement. For example, my next door neighbors went on mission to Zimbabwe and Peru. They had eleven children and 34 grandchildren, and were quite prosperous.

      I can’t give you a number or a calculation on my estimate of the probability of God’s existence. In physics terminology I would call it “vanishingly small,” or “epsilon.” In short, I lived my life based on the assumption that no such entity exists.


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