X-Message-Number: 12346
From: "Scott Badger" <>
References: <>
Subject: Re: The Purpose of Life
Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 14:51:06 -0500

Hi everyone,

Let me say in advance that I do not mean to preach nor to offend.  Much
wiser minds than mine have contemplated these questions.  I only offer my
admittedly foggy thoughts to stimulate discussion.  I do think this is very
relevant to cryonicists, though, because if we achieve greatly extended
lifespans, I think we're going to be increasingly confronted with these
issues. Sorry if it's a bit long-winded.  Constructive feedback is welcome
[hidden pun].

In a nutshell . . .  There is no meaning beyond that which we impose upon
this universe.  There is only relevance.

We construct meaning.  We are accomplished meaning-makers.  People certainly
seek purpose out in this world, but just because they seek purpose doesn't
mean there is purpose.  How DID we come to be the species that invented the
question, "Why?"

This is the interesting question . . . Why ask, "Why?"

Why do we ask so many questions?

This IS one of the more distinctive qualities of our species, isn't it?
Other animals notice correlations (relationships) in their environment, and
their behavior is shaped and conditioned by those correlations.  For
example, your cat hears the can opener running and it runs into the kitchen
because it knows there's a good chance it's going to get food.  Our larger
brains allowed us to develop the higher order cognitive skill of perceiving
causation, in addition to correlation.  We ask "Why?" because we can . . .
AND because it's often profitable to do so.  Asking "Why?" helped us figure
out which correlations were spurious and which were reliable.  This ability
gave us a profound advantage.

Well, as soon as you have a creature examining it's environment for causal
relationships by asking questions like "Why?", the quest for personal
meaning ("Why me?") isn't far behind.  But again, just because we seek
purpose doesn't mean there is purpose.

I believe Dr. Hughes has it backward when he states, "Knowledge acquisition
does give us both pleasure and meaning, this is not coincidental."

Knowledge acquisition doesn't give us meaning . . . we give knowledge

It also seems to me that some are confusing the ideas of "drives" and
"purpose" when they say things like "The purpose of life is to maximize
pleasure".  We are information processing mechanisms, hard-wired it appears
to derive pleasure from novelty. I can think of lots of reasons why that
attribute might have been selected for, but it's misleading to suggest that
the "purpose" of our lives is to seek knowledge, novelty, or anything else
that gives us pleasure.  You would have to logically add that the purpose of
life is also to avoid pain.  That doesn't sound quite as majestic though, so
it's rarely said.  But the point is that most people, when referring to the
"purpose" or "meaning" of life, are really referring to some spiritual
phenomenon that lies at the core of our existence (you may have guessed that
I place little credence in that hypothesis).

My eventual take on the question, "What does my life mean?" was to ask the
same question of any other life form.  For example, what is the purpose of a
Birch Tree's life?  What meaning is there in the existence of that
particular species?  One might respond by saying that the Birch is very
meaningful to other species that rely on the birch for their well-being.
It's part of the ecological web of life and thus has purpose.  But this
implies that the Birch only has meaning as long as it is *relevant* to the
lives of other creatures.  And that's what meaning comes down to for most of
us.  Something is meaningful to the degree that it is relevant to our life.

Is there then no intrinsic meaning to my life? . . . no purpose beyond the
context of my relationships with others and the environment?

This is pretty much the existential crisis many of us confront isn't it?

Many deal with this crisis by becoming morose and depressed when they
conclude there is no *true* meaning.  Personally, I find the idea quite
liberating.  If there was an intrinsic purpose, then I would be restricted
by the limitations associated with that purpose.  Instead, *I* am in charge
of establishing the purpose in my life.  I can construct or deconstruct
whatever meaning I choose to.  I'm not bound by some pre-ordained directive.
I am gloriously free in this respect.

We're not here to find meaning.  We're not here to do anything.  We are
simply here, we're in charge, and it pleases us to create meaning where
there is none.

So I eschew the notion of purpose.  I simply am.  I am a human . . . being.
We are humans . . . being.

Being is good.

As a cryonicist, I seek to continue being.  It's just about that simple.

Best regards to all,

Scott Badger

Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=12346