In a universe devoid of meaning... Why give a shit about the future of humanity?

Other than the instinctual drives to procreate and survive, we are each saddled with the awesome task of creating meaning.

We had discussed on another thread "Why do we have a 'need' for the human race to continue after we are gone?" After all, every single life on the planet will end in one lifetime regardless of annihilation. Is it because of love for our children? Is it an extension of our survival instinct? Why do so many of us (atheists) make, "improving humanity" a component of our life meaning?

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In a universe devoid of meaning... Why give a shit about the future of humanity?

Quick answer: We don't

Long Answer: Humans tend to think abstractly in a weird way. We tend to grant concepts, like love, purpose, hope or charity, as examples, a platonic kind of existence rather than look at these concepts as simple biological drives. You can really spot the dualism when we speak of animals acting on 'instinct' but consider our own actions weighted and animated by some unseen force that grants them a higher purpose.

I think, there is an aversion to root these ideals in the biological mud from which they come. It's as if by making them corperal we loose that facade of divinely attuned humanity. That 'moreness' that 'human as' (humans as the pinnicle, divine, inspired, free actors)) rather than 'human is' (ape, animal, biological driven, determism).

The answer can be found in the dualism that pervades much of our existence. We don't care about the future, we can see this in our propensity to take short term gains even when those gains cost us much, much more in the future. We do, however care about our kids, as an extension of ourselves. In turn, our kids act as we act - concerned with the now, the present and short-term, and in-turn their kids and so on. The future is not something we directly reflect upon in our actions, but is tended to as a byproduct of daily survival.

That we can think of the future is another matter. It exists also as a platonic ideal in the netherworld of concepts. It is something we can reflect on, something we can attempt to mold, even visualize in minute detail, however, it is no more real than a unicorn or leprechauns pimping sugary cereals. I would no more act for the future, for the futures sake, than I would cry over the heat death of the universe. These things can exist as notions, but do not exist as drives that animate us. If and when I act for the 'future' I do so because of my children, or because of social pressures or cultural memes, all of which are firmly grounded in the now and in our biology.
We care about the future only in as much as it makes us feel good in the now... Trippin!
Out of a petty sense of jealousy. If I can't learn everything, at least someone will be around to keep trying.
I personally like the sense I get from Camus. Spiting oblivion bring a sense of community. Children? Maybe. Future children? maybe. Might be more of a general abstract humanity. Constantly honing the human monster with no end in sight. Might even become a Nature vs Nurture conversation. The genetic junk gives me the survival drive, and my sense of curiosity drives me to know what happens next. Its the movie with that ends when I die. Improving humanity or me improving my environment improves the movie.
My dad once told me - 'Having kids lets you know you are mortal, having grandkids lets you know you are immortal.'
I saw a cool series from the early 90's by Dawkins (audience were kids - mild 'atheist proselytizing' - but mostly just evolutionary biology) where he suggests (and I have asserted for years) that 'purpose' may well be an emerging attribute of humans (and potentially, other sentient beings) that assists us in our further survival. Since we are self aware (and able to be aware of our own survival instinct) then our definition of survival expands.

One example of this - Stephen Hawking and FDR in wheelchairs - the value of their minds and, pardon the term, spirits warrant keeping them alive. This extends to anyone who is alive - at least in principle - we attempt to keep them alive and productive as possible (The third world shines a light on this as a lie - but, as I said, in principle.)

"We know there is intent and purpose in the universe, because there is intent and purpose in us." G.B. Shaw

But not the 'purpose' of a hammer - to be wielded by some god or state. Purpose beyond sex and survival. This extends first to our second instinct - the survival of the race - and beyond for many - the survival of our great civilizations, our ideas, our pets, our wildlife, our environment, our curiosity, our knowledge base, our joie-de-vivre, our collective individual freedoms. etc.

So, it might actually come down to an extension of fending off death and reproducing - but in a multitude of abstract forms.

In my own atheist terms as opposed to theist ones - rather than wanting to live forever, I want to be survived by the universe.
After recently reading Robert Wrights' book "The Moral Animal", I find my cynicism and understanding of the absurd are reinforced.

I see there is general agreement on the propagation of genes. I think that those who consciously avoid procreation are taking advantage of their unconscious drive to procreate ("recreational" sex): The frontal cortex is teasing the primitive brain areas by not letting the primitive brain get what it wants.

One other aspect that Wright discusses is the social environment in which our species evolved. There are many who find that procreation of your genes is an absurd reason for living. I think many more of us find social climbing to be even more absurd reason. Yet Wright suggests that our genes are also programmed to have us try to increase and maintain a higher status within our social environments. I interpret this as another survival mechanism when it is coupled with our evolved tendency to give preferential treatment to those of higher status. (How many of you would behave the same way at the bar if you were with Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris as you do with your regular agnostic drinking buddies?)

I speculate that our seeming drive to improve humanity originates in more than one place. First, there is the evolved social nature of our species. We generally need each other for survival. Theoretically, we also take care of our next of kin because they share genetic material with us and thus merit our assistance.

Bring industrialization into the picture. In that last 200 years, the social structures of our civilization have changed. For many, status within an extended family group is no longer any advantage. Status in artificial organizations is often more advantageous. But there is still that drive to do good to those among whom we live. Wright suggests that we also have evolved altruism as a survival mechanism. The Tit-for-Tat strategy of social exchange has proven itself successful. When I do good to a stranger living in my environment, I increase the chances that that stranger will not do me and my gene factories harm.

It is possible that by sacrificing some resources to the needs of strangers in a friendly way is adaptive in forming peaceful alliances which can be called upon to withstand aggressors. I think most would agree that peace between neighbors improves chances for survival. Wright suggests that this may be a rationale for social support programs: when needs are met in the community overall, there is less motivation toward aggression and "crime".

So... are we again fooling ourselves when we spend time and resources improving humanity 1) thinking the recipients will some day return the favor or 2) trying to reduce the tendency toward inter-tribal conflict or 3) looking to increase our status in certain circles... or 4) do it because the gods told us to.
There is plenty of intellectualism to be had about the purpose of Humanity, or lack of it. But the more useful questions (in the way religion makes their failed attempt) speak to how individual humans, you and me, assign our own life's meaning. Religion is an immediate impulse once an animal is able to think and recognize patterns. There are patterns from every vantage in the Universe. One may (even logically) insist that "My own existence must be part of a larger pattern." Even we atheists can acknowledge the deductive emotion behind this, no? But in the absence of evidence to confirm this impulse, humanity has simply resolved to invent its meaning...in religion. Far worse to go without a meaning than to go with one not factually grounded. With ignorance, all things are possible.

But what for those of us who have displaced ignorance, and discovered the religiously conceived "pattern" in fact no longer meets the criterion of pattern-ness? The fissures of facts and fiction sends us looking elsewhere. Isn't that how athiests are born? We're still looking to place ourselves in a pattern rather than chaos. I think this is why many professonal scientists equate the emotion religious ecstasy with that found in studying science. There is so much patternization to the universe to behold, accessed fully and richly through systematic observation, be it natural or human social history.


As to our own personal meaning, it's a blank canvas. And that scares most of us.
Well said!
It makes me happy. It might be illusion, but so what? I don't want humanity to die sooner if I can help it. I want my gene to continue as long as possible. If that means what I do can scrap some time for humanity, by all means, go for it!
I've been studying up on the morality stuff. Apparently, regardless of logic and rational thought, we are conditioned by our environment to such a degree that we experience "gut feelings" about such issues. The subjective experience seems to result in a sense that these "gut feels" come from some place outside of the self. Actually, they are simply schemas that are programmed into each individual.

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