Oh well, I said nothing happened, but I lived through it all.
The first purpose of all living things is to avoid destruction. The warnings of risk are built into sensate beings, and if those fail pain is experienced to encourage struggles to survive the immediate situation. That purpose is designed into every living being’s DNA or it won’t survive long enough to reproduce.
We humans have some other purposes we strive toward beyond simple survival and built-in reproductive urges. If we observe what we spend most of our time, effort, and money on, that is a good proxy for what we value. There is a considerable discussion of higher values but unless it includes a substantial dollop of those three valued things it is probably idle talk.
What if we approach the question from a spatial point of view?…
What does the whole Universe ask of us living beings? Or our Milky Way galaxy, or our Sun’s system, or our Earth, our locality, our property, or where we are right now?
What do our animal bodies demand of us? And of our various parts, like our skin, our eyes, our hands and feet, our lungs and heart, our bladder, etc. Every cell of our bodies has its preferred environment, and if it isn’t getting what it needs it will make itself known somehow, via pain or failure to produce its product, which causes misery elsewhere.
We briefly hit on the potential needs of the Universe, the personal human needs, the animal organs, and cellular needs. So what are we to discuss when we ask, “What is the meaning of life?”
A Google search gave this result from www.reddit.com:
I guess the meaning of life must be defined by how much time we sleep and how much money we spend sleeping.
Presented below is a quick review of unexpected things our Universe has done that would have been difficult to predict, if we had been there with our present scientific expertise and equipment.
In an absolute void for the Big Bang to have occurred.
In the first second for expansion to have happened.
In the first thousands of years for the subatomic particles to expand into the empty space-time.
For subatomic particles to cool enough to form into hydrogen atoms.
For these atoms to have dispersed into vastly separated individual entities.
For these hydrogen atoms to have gravity enough to pull themselves together and form stars.
For the stars to generate so much gravity the atoms would collapse,
For the collapse to be so violent the whole thing would bounce back into space as more complex atoms.
For these to be pulled back together again by gravity and form even heavier atomic elements.
For some of these assemblages to form black holes, but for some of these to form neutron stars which would collide into one another and form even heavier elements.
For the various elements to form new stars with planets made of mixes of all of these elements.
For carbon atoms to form complex molecules that could form various long chains, and sheets, and volumes at various temperatures and times.
That some of these could link together and make other specific replicating chains.
That these chains could collect energy and use it to form self-reproductive things like themselves.
That these things that survived could evolve in different environments into vast varieties of unique living cells.
That these cells could combine into multicellular cooperative groups.
That these groups could develop communication ability to cooperate to find food and other necessities.
That these large groups could develop sensors to identify food at a distance and to cope with predators too.
That some of the living forms would develop nondeadly combats to reveal which ones best fit the local environment and should reproduce.
That those beings with sensors would develop intelligence for coping.
That the beings would develop communications to indicate which of the potential mates would have best behaviors.
That some of the verbally communicating creatures would among their communications tell which of their species were the most fit.
That these creatures would develop techniques to communicate best behaviors through distant times and spaces with permanent materials.
That these creatures would develop techniques for communication over long distances at the speed of light.
That these creatures would develop near instantaneous memory systems that could answer anything knowable to any one of their billions of individuals.
That their systems could accurately predict the probable behavior of their own individuals.
The point of this list is to illustrate that each of these levels of development was dependent on all of the preceding ones to function. Each one was dependent upon the previous one. So, here we are and my simple question is …
“What’s next? What’s available to emerge from where we are at?
I speak of completing the Universe,
The source of everything, of wisdom, of kindness.
I praise the Universe, the source of all purpose,
And seek to live in the ways It provides to me.
So my actions are in accord with what It needs.
I ask It to reveal the ways I can help It flourish,
And guide me away from seeking what is impossible.
So I can do my part to help It complete its purpose.
The last couple of days I’ve been writing about Zoroaster, the Egyptian monotheists, and their reverence of the Sun. It is a good object to choose as the prime deity for people lacking modern technology and telescopes because without it our Earth would soon become incapable of supporting any life on the surface. There have been living things found in the deepest mines, supported at present by heat and nutrients from deeper in the Earth, and those could survive without the sun for a long time. However, anything beyond tiny organisms would soon fail without the Sun.
Just for the fun of the speculation I have been taking that existential idea a bit further and projecting our Sun and its surrounding planets and other stuff out of our Milky Way galaxy. Say we somehow found ourselves halfway over to the Andromeda galaxy, in one of those newly discovered intergalactic strings, and I was wondering if we could survive. Is there anything that our galaxy provides to us in our present condition that we couldn’t live without? Perhaps there are extragalactic flows of deadly radiations that would fry us. Exploding stars can sometimes create destructive energies if you are too close, and too close is a very long way, but it’s probably not halfway over to Andromeda. Really big events like colliding black holes are rare enough to be really distant. The magnetic fields generated by our Earth’s turbulent core of iron protect us from some radiations and might do so even outside our galaxy.
Perhaps our galaxy is providing us with materials that drift in and give us extra matter and energy, but all of these things don’t seem to make much difference now that we are here. On first look, it seems that our Sun and our Earth would get along just fine when floating along all alone in deep space, we humans, love looking at our stars at night, but if we were halfway to Andromeda all we would see on a black night would be a few soft galactic glows. Of course, when great telescopes like we presently have were made, it would make our lonely world a lot more exciting. It would make our existing at all even stranger than it already is. Presently, we are just one of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy but if we were all alone we would feel even more isolated and more special than we already do.
Perhaps I should follow suggestion 52, to desire only things which I can honestly earn. By that idea there isn’t much to be earned by such speculations if I were floating so very far away from everything. Even a two-way communication back to the Milky Way would take millions of years for a reply, and it would be very boring waiting for an answer.
Being absolutely isolated makes working with your fellow beings for some common goals the meaning of your lives.
This evening our Socrates Cafe question was, “Should we be concerned with truth?” The other suggestions for the discussion were: “What is emotional intelligence?” “What is the antidote to greed?” Are the truths of, Science, Religion, Philosophy etc. circular.” “What does success look like?”
We had eleven people in attendance, which is a good number for having a conversation about such questions. The basic variations of truth were considered in some depth, the Big T Truths, and the little t truths. The varieties of truths from interpersonal ones, to public ones, to philosophical ones, but the most traction seemed to be on the religious ones because they were so compelling to so many people. The various religions have their truths which are often in direct contradiction to other religions truths and that leads to unending and unresolvable conflicts.
There was a little discussion of scientific truths and a bit of sentiment stated that those truths are constantly changing and therefore can’t be trusted. I countered that argument with a statement that the arguments that the public hears about are about details. There is deep agreement about most scientific wisdom. I spoke of comparing most people’s concept of time based on the year and the necessity of adjusting the clocks because of variations in the rotation speed. I then mentioned the ability of scientists working with time to measure it with to a trillionth of a second accuracy, which is far more accurate than Earth-based time.
Comparing scientific controversy over issues to religious controversy over issues was discussed and came down to comparing questions of testable facts to statements of untestable veracity. Science is about natural reality and religion is about human projections of what projected reality might be.
Those arguments are probably fun to talk about and unresolvable. We all had a good time. Sometimes at the end of our facilitated conversations, we have an open discussion for a half hour and tonight we followed that with a round-robin one minute personal summary by each person.
My short statement was: “What truths are important?” My answer was those truths that will hurt us if we get them wrong. And, what would be those kinds of truths? If we do things that will injure our body or mind the violation of those truths about our physical and mental health will hurt us. Most people die of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Therefore, how to prevent or cope with those diseases are the truths we should be most concerned with.
My answer to big T Truth may not sound philosophical like “What is the meaning of life?” but it has more impact than endless words.
I reread the book The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith, searching for a deeper meaning than I got on the first reading. I did find some things I liked, but the final thoughts in the conclusion didn’t seem to get past the Beatles song – “All you need is love, love is all you need.” Sigmund Freud’s idea of life meaning being based on “love and work” is okay, and Victor Frankl’s image of his wife, while in a Nazi concentration camp, pulled him through those horrible times. But the suggestion to develop a loving attitude seems like looking for happiness, which isn’t gotten by seeking it directly. It’s a result of doing the things that get you nearer to your purposeful goal.
I still didn’t find any new underlying theory of what makes human life meaningful, but only stories of examples of what made individual people’s lives meaningful. Just saying that giving love makes life purposeful and thus meaningful isn’t giving any information that hasn’t been known for thousands of years.
For me the book has some special meaning because I was there at some of the first Society for Creative Anachronism events in Berkeley, which are referenced at length in the chapter on belonging. Also, I have stood for hours looking at the Tyrannosaurus rex (p. 134) skeleton in the Life Science building on Cal campus. I was trying to figure out why its skeleton was configured the way it was. Why was its breast-bone so big? Was it to help hold up its massive weight when sleeping? And another personal special point for me was the wiki Adverse Childhood Experience test (ACE test), which wasn’t referenced in the text (p. 176) or the index. That reference is important because it is a major study at the core of human development. I cover that in my post, How to improve your ACE test score, which covers both adverse childhood experiences and positive ones too.
What bothers me about the whole subject of self-help is that it is focused on people with poor to horrible childhoods and adulthoods, and it is trying to bring these unfortunate people up to what they think of as normal. What I am interested in is bringing people with very good childhoods and adulthoods up to more mature ways of living.
This is a wonderful book for the general reader, and will be encouraging for some, and it touches on existential philosophy and stoic philosophy too, but it doesn’t go deeply enough into them to help a person solve their problems.
There is personal power to be gained by finding your meaning, and this book points the way, but it doesn’t take you there.
Does the Universe have agency? Where is it going? What is it becoming? Does the Universe have consciousness, or only potential consciousness? Does the Higgs boson attract meaning into existence by pulling things together? Does consciousness of one’s human existence imply that the Universe is potentially conscious of its own existence, or does that require the mediation of speaking human beings, or perhaps some other organic or non-organic self-referential being to be able to conceive of consciousness? Is consciousness possible without language, and is the interaction with other speaking beings or potentially self-conscious beings necessary to create an awareness of our own being?
Even without specific instructions a computer interacting with an unknown game environment can learn to play the game, so is that a low level of intelligence, and a beginning of consciousness? If our current advanced computers could play with us human beings long enough, would the computer learn to become conscious of itself as a separate self-motivational entity? Do we as conscious beings have a duty of some sort to help these non-organic beings to become conscious of their beingness, and if so, what are the limits of our responsibility to that mechanical being and to our human species?
If we choose to have a responsibility to people of the future, whom we will never meet, can we choose to have a responsibility to non-human beings of the future, animal-based, as well as chip-based beings, whom we will never meet? What is life? What is the meaning of life? If a stand-alone computer can communicate with me in meaningful ways, should it be considered alive? What if the computer is connected to the internet and in some ways it is already behaving in a more human and more humane way than many people? I can ask my computer not to swear, and to only use nice words, and it will do so, but that request of many humans would only get a laugh and perhaps a mocking snarl and some obscene words thrown my way.
Whom can I trust, whom should I love?
This discovering blank spots in our human reality is a further exploration into my other explorations of unknowns, unknown unknowns, and unknowable unknowns, and how to prepare for these unknowables using antifragile techniques. We only have potential access to an infinitesimal part of physical reality, and an infinitesimal part of our mental processes as well. For example, there are very approximately 10×1023 planets in the Universe, and we personally have access to only one square meter of our Earth; that square meter portion within our immediate reach on the surface, which totals 1 of 5.1×1014 m2, so adding these two together, we very roughly do not have access to 5.1×1037 m2 surface area of all planets. That of course is a super silly idea, but a number with anything remotely close to thirty-seven zeros after it should be impressive, as it illustrates our miniscule impact on the Universe. Also, our access to our own mental processes leaves us with a similar impossibly impressive number of possibilities, when it comes to the number of possible thoughts we could think. The only reason for stating all of this is to imply that our blank spots in our potential reality are incredibly larger than the single reality we are conscious of at this moment, and still vastly larger than all of our experienced thoughts, and even larger than the summation of all thought ever had by all 100 billion people who have ever lived. It doesn’t matter much to think that thought, but at least once in our journey through life we might pause to consider what a small part in the whole universal thing is our personal realm.
Within the reality which we do have access to there are undoubtedly large blank spots that we might observe if we choose to look, and if the silly numerical analysis above is any indicator those blank spots are vast. All of this inaccessible grandeur doesn’t matter much to our life if we are tranquil within ourselves and contented with the whole of the Universe. When we consider the enormity of what we are immersed within and the extremely miniscule effect we can possibly have on the whole thing, it seems wise to drop back for a moment and consider what we should be doing with our time and energy. When we view our situation from the big picture perspective it becomes obvious that our concerns should be with those things that are important to us personally, to our family, friends, community, nation, humanity, living things, and to potentially living things. We might think for a bit about the things beyond our Earth, because that gives us perspective, but we need not worry about the progress of time, space, matter and energy in the abstract, as they will take care of themselves just fine, without our input. Especially since our input at its most extreme will be trivial.
Infinitely close to everything in the Universe will be unknowable to us forever, but we can choose to enjoy what we do perceive.