I do have a creator. Well, I have several. I come from a long line of people who couldn't keep their hands to themselves... among other things. I am the product of millions of years of evolution. Also, I am convinced that whether or not we were created by gods, that we should be able to determine our purpose through an examination of our nature. That is, we can look at tools from the ancient human past, and through study, we can determine what purpose those tools served. If we were created by a god/gods, then said purpose would be etched into our very nature, just as the nature of the tool dictates it's function. The same is true if we were formed via perfectly natural processes. The blind watchmaker isn't always so blind.
I know someone who once admitted that the real reason they had children was because they didn't like doing chores. Terrible parenting and/or terrible jokes aside, this illustrates a valid point. Our "creators" are our ancestors and they may or may not have had a purpose in mind when they "created" us, but we have most certainly been shaped by the larger society as a whole. That would be an external purpose which is imposed on us by our parents, our family, our social circles, our society, our species, and nature itself. At the very root, I believe that all life shares the same purpose. Past that, it's all just flavors of that purpose. The purpose of life is the perpetuation of one's traits... and I mean that in the broadest possible sense.
That which makes a bear a bear is passed from mother bear to cubs at each generation. Sure, that changes over time, but never too drastically or too quickly. For humanity, we each have a basic concept of what it means to be human. We then pass on our humanity to the next generation. These don't even have to be our children. We can pass on our humanity genetically, socially, economically, spiritually, etc. because there is more to being human than our genes.
And it's not just a bulk transfer either. Since those with "bad" traits are less likely to pass theirs on, we try our best to only pass on what we feel are "good" traits. Each generation is intended to be better off than the previous. You can see evidence of this in things such as the fact that human violence has been dropping precipitously for the entire history of humanity. That's because society, to a degree, dictates who does and does not reproduce. Those who are considered "bad" examples of humanity are more likely to be shunned and ostracized, limiting their reproductive opportunities. Those who are "good" examples of humanity are popular, sometimes nearly worshiped and their reproductive opportunities soar.
Still, that's all external. It doesn't say what my purpose is. The brain, for instance, gives rise to the entirety of human thought. That is the purpose of that organ. However, that doesn't tell you what the purpose of an individual brain region might be, let alone the purpose of a single neuron. Likewise, while the purpose of humanity may be one thing, it cannot tell us what the purpose of an individual human might be, even if the two purposes are inexorably intertwined.
As individuals, at some point we realize that the purposes imposed upon us aren't as much rules as they are suggestions and ultimately, there is no such thing as universal purpose. That is, once you step outside of the lens of life, the universe is completely uncaring. There is no purpose that could be imposed upon you from there. Sure, if gods exist, and they created us for a purpose, then we should still be able to determine that purpose by examining our nature, but even then, we can't sort that out with a single data point. We can only determine the purpose of a large group, not the purpose of a single individual. But does an individual only have a purpose in relation to the group? I'm not so sure about that.
Just like the purpose of a human is to be a good human, then perhaps my purpose is to be the best me. I am uniquely qualified to be me. I'm the only one who can fill the position. As such, there are good things and bad things about me. I should, if I use the same logic I have been throughout this entire rant of mine, with each passing moment, attempt to become a better me. Just like my parents had a choice in creating me. They had a choice in how they raised me, and what mental, emotional, psychological, and philosophical traits they would pass on. Just like my parents, I have a choice in the matter. Every moment I am alive, I am in the process of creating myself. Just as I could build a tool whose purpose I decide, I can choose my own purpose, and construct myself to that end.
There's some cool interplay here with the imposed external purposes. We are going to tend to choose a purpose for ourselves which meshes well with those external purposes. After all, our desires are shaped by millions of years of evolution and by the societies we live in. Sometimes, we might actually chose a person purpose which directly opposes those imposed purposes in an act of rebellion. Those too are beneficial, on the whole, as they test of the limits of acceptable purposes. For instance, we see psychopaths and extremists on the news, and we react by categorizing their chosen person purpose as "bad". We then pass that value judgement on to others and the next generation is better off for it.
So, that being said, the short answer is thus:
I am alive, therefore I should try to be the best sort of life I can be.
I am human, therefore I should try to be the best sort of human I can be.
I am me, therefore I should try to be the best me that I can be.
For every x that I am, if I want to be an x, if being an x makes me a better me/human/life, then I should try to be the best x that I can be.
I would also say that we should try to encourage others to do the same, but I actually feel it's best to lead by example first. I'm with Gandhi on this one. If we want to change the world, we should be the change we wish to see in the world.
That was a rather long rant, and there's a lot of philosophical backstory to much of it, but this just about sums up my sentiments on purpose in general and human purpose specifically.
Wow - Thank you so very much Nathaniel - I sure do appreciate it. That was a very well written response. I am so glad you took the time to write that for us.
Nathaniel Summers, as rants go, yours was superb!
Nice post Nathaniel! :-D-& (I'm wearing my boy scout tie today)
Primary: To learn as much as I can about life and pass useful stuff on to those who may find it useful, children, grand children, etc...
Secondary: Keep my family as happy and healthy as possible.
Other (Sub) Purposes:
Support worthwhile and humanistic causes
Have fun with knowledge and freedom of speech in using these to stir up as many Young Earth Creationists and Deeply Superstitious loonies as possible, though I could put this down as supporting worthwhile causes.
Thanks very much GOD'aye - I agree with you. Those are good purposes.
Purpose and meaning provide a pleasing illusion.
There is no purpose to the universe. Energy and matter interact based upon non-sentient physical laws. This interaction is completely impassive to life on earth. All life could end tomorrow, and the planet formerly known as Pluto would metaphorically shrug with indifference, as would the rest of the universe.
Life’s only purpose is to replicate – from single-celled organisms splitting through fission to the arguably more pleasurable engagement of sexual reproduction for multi-cellular creatures. (Bonobos, I’m looking at you here!). Finding meaning in this replication process is like finding meaning in a Xerox machine stuck on infinite copies.
The purpose of human beings is to be, well, human. This includes love, hate, war, peace, religion, politics, music, torture, sex, murder, etc.
The purpose and meaning for any individual is entirely subjective.
Generally, individuals pursue their own happiness and define these pleasures as meaningful. However, many selectively extricate the myriad moments of unhappiness, ennui, and unconsciousness from this narrative. But lest we delude ourselves that all individual happiness is gained from benign actions, we must face the reality that many individuals throughout history are driven to rape, fraud, stealing, murder, etc. So a carte blanche to be the best you you can be is a dangerous policy when taken to extremes. If you being the best you conflicts with me being the best me, I’d rather you change. In fact, most every human on the planet would change something significant about others if they could (politically, religiously, sexually, morally, etc.). This is the nature of human conflict.
Regardless of whether an individual positively or negatively impacts the lives of others, what they find meaningful is solely their own. The downside to an atheist perspective on purpose and meaning is the acceptance of reality that, when you’re dead, nothing you’ve accomplished will likely hold any lasting significance 200 years from now. The upside is, your mistakes and transgressions won’t matter either.
I don’t dismiss the pull religion has in offering the possibility of a happy afterlife (or a second chance in reincarnation). Those are universally appealing notions. It took a lot of work and a fair number of years to mold my consciousness (dismal though it may be), and it is a pity that all that effort will one day count for naught. Like building a house from the ground up only to have it burn down the day it’s ready to move in. Furthermore, losing a loved one can make life seem nasty, brutish, and short to borrow from Thomas Hobbes. The other side of that is loving another and being loved in return can make life seem magnificent, compassionate, and eternal.
If reality is nature, and nature is indifferent, then purpose and meaning are but illusory constructs which help us feel better. This is not always a bad thing.
I agree with the Nihilist view to a point -we are here by chance most likely. I would add that now things have changed. Our cognition IS NOT an illusion.
If you can perceive beauty, comedy, or anything of the sort -you've passed a simple test for a reason to go on, past simple replication.
When it all is boiled down, meaning - no meaning, I say the ABILITY to even ask the question also allows the person to imbue meaning.
Fine, there's no purpose. So let's make one.
- i like your posts tom (i can't shake being an optimist)
I agree with John Carey. The universe does not need a purpose. And, each of us can live with his own purpose in mind. I think intelligent people are introspective enough to think about how we want to live our lives and what goals to pursue. We GIVE our lives purpose. Isn't that better than a god who says our purpose is to worship him?
That is insane, that's the exact opposite of reality. The concept of an individual having "a purpose" may well be the most destructive force on earth. If all the crappy purposeful leaders of the society/world and all the crappy purposeful industry leaders who with their purpose to acquire wealth and subdue the masses had not had their dumpy 'purpose' the the planet would not be the overpopulated, garbage infested, dead wildlife place it is turning into. And mostly, purpose is what drives faithers and missionaries to bend other cultures to their ilk.
The establishment of "purpose" is like the search for "enlightenment with the Buddhists, or the search for "Heaven" for Abrahamer faithers, it serves as a means to make oneself appear better than all others around. Purpose is to me an 'evil' word.
As true hikers' etiquette states, when going into the forest, leave as you entered, "pack it in, pack it out", that is the opposite of purpose.
But because there is so much "evil" purpose on the planet, my objective that I set for myself as a biologist, is to contribute to undoing the the mess caused by people with purpose.
Like you, purpose has a negative connotation to me. I think of it in relation to a creator. A creator gives purpose to his creations.
However, after looking-up the various meanings, it can also mean an object to be reached; a target; an aim; a goal; a result that is desired; an intention. So, it depends on which definition we choose, what we think about purpose.
I guess "meaning" also has several definitions, but again, the one I first think about, which is "what is the meaning of life", I'm inclined to say life has no meaning.
Again, both words have a negative connotation to me. I've just met too many people (in and out of religion), that try to force their meaning and purpose on me, and I resent it.
Spud thanks for your take on purpose - I agree that it gives a negative connotation - like a religious belief system.
I will take it to mean goal - like you stated it could mean in the definitions.
Life has no meaning - agreed.