The Meaning of Life on Earth
Chapter 1: The Ultimate Taboo
What is life about? Why are we here, on this tiny planet circling a totally ordinary star which is one of billions that are in this minor arm of a basically insignificant galaxy, which is one among hundreds of billions of galaxies in the part of the universe we can see?
In order to get some insight into answers, we have to have some idea about how we got here. If we accept different ideas about how we got here, we come to different conclusions about why we are here. For example, many people believe that an invisible superbeing that lives in the sky created all this using processes that can’t be explained with science. If this is the way we got here, we may conclude that the meaning of life is to figure out what the superbeing wants of us and provide it. Others believe that life came to exist as a result of random processes: a random energy surge like lightning hit some ‘soup’ of chemicals and, as a result of the functioning of some set of chemical and quantum-mechanical processes that simply happened, life came to exist. If this is the way we got here, life appears to have no meaning at all.
As we will see shortly, there are other explanations for ‘the way life came to exist on Earth’ that have an extremely high mathematical probability of being correct.
If life came to exist on Earth as a result of these other processes, we may very well be here for a definite reason.
What We Aren’t Supposed to Think About
The issue of ‘the meaning of life’ seems like an important one.
At a certain point in history, the highest beings on the earth became self aware. We became aware of our own existence. It seems that, once people became aware of this, they would have wondered why it was true. Why are we here? This seems like it would have been a burning question, on that they would seek to answer at every junction. It seems that people should have devoted so much thought, so much money, so many resources to this analysis that we would have long ago worked through all of the possible answers to this question. Once we had figured out everything that was possible, we would have gone over all of the possibilities, sorted them out into a logical order, and come to some sort of logical consensus about which was the most likely to be correct.
But this has not happened.
There appears to be a very simple reason this analysis has not take place, at least in the last few thousand years:
Until very recently, most of the world’s nations had laws that prohibited this kind of analysis with very severe penalties for violations. Officials claimed that everything that could ever be known about the meaning of life was already known: An invisible being (in some areas ‘beings’ as in ‘the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’) in the sky created everything and made it exactly as it is.
Everything existed because the superbeing in the sky wants it to exist. The meaning of life was exactly the same as the meaning of everything else: it existed for the pleasure and benefit of the superbeing. We have the power of independent thought. The only possible reason for this power would be so that we could figure out how to use it to glorify, worship, and adore the superbeing that created everything and all of the earthly things that only exist by the grace (and therefore desire) of the superbeing.
For example: We live in a world cut up into ‘nations’ with imaginary lines that people fight over using weapons up to and including nuclear bombs. What is the meaning behind all of this? These things exist because the superbeing in the sky wants them to exist. (This is specifically stated in the texts of all religions that are called the ‘Abrahamic Religions,’ which include Islam, Christianity, and Judiasm. All of these religions are claimed to exist because of land grants to Abraham, the grandson of Noah, and Abraham’s descendents. We see all kinds of misery and suffering due to the activities called ‘war’ that at first glance appear to be nothing more than attempts by greedy people to move the invisible lines that separate ‘nations’ in directions that benefit them. But the orthodox say that all this happens because the superbeing in the sky wills it. It is his creation and our purpose is to worship him and the things he created. I was told that, long ago, the super one decided on a destiny for each square inch of the world’s surface. Rather than let us know this destiny directly, he ‘manifested’ it or made it obvious using intricate signs. His most common sign involved getting people on different sides of the imaginary lines to get into a war with each other and then directing the war so that the side he wanted to have the land would win. (This principle is called ‘manifest destiny.’ It is a very common rationalization for genocide.) Since the superbeing wants war (it could not exist otherwise), ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do and die. We are required to accept it, contribute to it, and participate in it if asked: to refuse would be to heap dishonor on the one who created it.
Why are we destroying the world we live on?
No mystery there either: the superbeing wants us to struggle in the wars and fight to the best of our ability. We can fight better if we have more and better weapons and this means we want the maximum in resources. We can have more and better weapons if we don’t worry about finding ways to harvest resources from the earth without harming the earth. It is all the will of the superbeing that we do this.
The world is divided into classes, an upper class that reaps the great majority of the rewards that the operation of these destructive societies bring, and a host of lower classes that serve the upper class in various capacities. What is the meaning of this? Again, no mystery: it is at it is because a superbeing in the sky wants it to be that way. The huge majority of the world’s people are servants to the minority in the upper class. That is the way the super one made it, so we must accept it and rejoice in it.
To consider that there might be some other purpose is not only morally wrong, it brings extremely practical dangers. If people started thinking about other possible meanings of life, they might look at the explanations that rationalized the most atrocious acts in the human repertoire and see that they actually look pretty silly by comparison. They may stop believing they had a moral obligation to participate in the machinery needed for the societies we were born into to function. If they stopped doing these things, the system would not function anymore.
It is wrong to think there might be some other reason for life for two reasons.
First, it is clearly offensive to whoever or whatever made the world as it is. If this ‘whoever or whatever’ is a being with super powers, we can be punished for this. Even if you don’t personally believe in the superbeing, it is wrong to put any risk of all of bringing down the wrath of God on the rest of the human race.
Second, it destroys the very fabric of the type of society we were born into. This type of society continues to function as it does because the great majority of the people in it hold beliefs that allow it to function. Those who don’t believe have no right to simply stop participating in war and doing the other things needed for these types of societies to function just because they don’t personally believe. They have no right to impose the kinds of misery on the people that will come if these activities stop. (About 1/5th of all people employed on earth work in a business related to war or extracting resources and processing them into weapons. Where would these people work if war ended? People who don’t believe that God created war and wants it to happen have no right to end the organized mass murder activities that bring real material benefits to billions of people.)
This makes this seemingly critical question the ultimate taboo. We all learn that there are certain issues it is not appropriate to raise. At the very top of the list, above everything else, is the key question: why are we here? This question is so dangerous that many people have been put to death for even thinking about it. Everyone knows—or at least should know—that this is a question we don’t allow our minds to ask.
Slightly more than 2,400 years ago, Socrates found this out about the taboo the hard way.
He claimed that some of the things that existed on earth appeared to exist because certain people in the past made certain decisions, not because a superbeing or superbeing wants them to exist. For example, the societies that divided the world into teams called ‘nations’ and used the activity called ‘war’ as to advance the interests of one team at the expense of the others and the human race as a whole appeared to be entirely human creations. Humans made these societies and humans can change them.
If these societies have problems—if they work in ways that lead to misery, hardship, suffering, violence, death, and destruction—this was because humans had made certain key decisions in the past. They had organized the realities of existence in a way that led to these problems. He told us we should not fear this train of thought, we should embrace it: If humans built these systems, humans could understand them. We could figure out how and why they work as they do, how to make them work different, and then make the necessary changes. (Obviously, if beings with powers that supercede our powers created these societies, we would not be able to change them.) We should be happy: If we accept that we are in charge of our destiny, we can stop wasting our time doing things that harm us, and start moving toward a better destiny. (You can find Socrates arguments in his original words in ‘The Republic,’ with full text available at this link.)
This kind of talk angered the people of Athens.
They believed that everything existed because the gods wanted it to exist. They wouldn’t have ever supported the war and it would never have even happened if they had believed otherwise. Millions of their loved ones were killed, crippled, or driven insane by the realities of the war. If Socrates is right, all of these people sacrificed for nothing: in fact, for less than nothing, because by participating in the war, they actually made the world a worse place. They had been told basically since birth that the gods created the idea of nations. The gods then built the nations that existed at that time, granting each part of the planet to certain groups of people.
The gods loved the people of their particular nation more than others. They are a ‘good’ nation. The other nations, their ‘enemies,’ are ‘evil nations.’ They are fighting for their gods and for the forces of good against the opponents of the gods (many of which worship other gods, some believing there is only a single god). Their purpose on earth was to show proper respect for the gods and the things the gods had created. By claiming this may not be true, Socrates was denying the gods.
Perhaps it was not the work of the gods at all, but the work of a few greedy people who were able to master the skills needed to trick the people into believing things that were not true, in order to make the people sacrifice their entire lives to do things that brought great benefits to the upper class at the expense of the rest of the people. Perhaps they had wasted their entire existence simply because they had not thought things through and had simply accepted that life meant what the people who called themselves ‘authorities’ told them it meant. At his trial, Socrates said this to them point blank: (Link to source, the Apology by Plato and Socrates.)
The people had devoted their lives to serving the people in charge because they thought this was the right thing to do. They thought they had an obligation to do this, because it was the will of the ones that created this world and created them and created everything. They didn’t want to even have to think that they may have devoted their lives to a ignoble cause. Socrates was telling this to anyone who would listen, including young people who were coming of age and starting to think that the older generation may not be as smart as they claimed. The adults certainly didn’t want their teenage children to listen to such talk: they would then come back and tell their parents that their parents were stupid; they had been tricked into believing things that were not true and then wasted their lives serving others because of these false beliefs. They couldn’t let anyone get away with saying anything that might induce their children to turn on them like that. They had to shut Socrates up. They filed complaints with the authorities.
The result was well documented. First, the authorities brought Socrates in for a talk. They told him he had to stop saying such things or they would take action. They were tolerant, but there were limits to their tolerance. To claim that humans created the societies they lived in was an insult to the gods. The gods may react to this insult by punishing the entire nation, perhaps by plagues or famines, or perhaps by causing their armies to be defeated by the Spartans or Persians in war. Many, many people may suffer or die if one or more of the gods reacted this way to this insult. Socrates would be responsible for all this misery, together with the lower standard of living the people would have if they list their land to their enemies. The authorities would not let this happen. If Socrates didn’t shut up, he would be arrested and charged with the crimes of heresy and corrupting youth. Together, these crimes could be punished by death. If he shut up now, there would be no action. If he continued to tell people that life was about something other than the authorities taught, he would be put to death.
At his trial, Socrates told the people why he could not accept the authorities ultimatum. (His words were recorded in the book ‘The Apology,’ available from this link.) Societies that divided the people from other people with imaginary lines could not meet the needs of the human race. (The term he used was ‘could not have δικαιοσύνη, a word that doesn’t translate very well into English would be rendered as either ‘righteousness’ or ‘justice.’) If we to live together in a descent way, we have to find some other way to organize our existence. Socrates had to keep telling people this, even if the authorities punished such words with death. He would accept death rather than stop trying to make the world better. After he finished speaking, the jury held a vote. Socrates was clearly guilty of all charges, so he was put to death.
The Beheading of Sir Thomas More
In 1507, a man went to a publisher’s office in Antwerp and talked to the publisher about a book idea. The man’s name was Raphael Hythloday. Raphael had been with Americus Vespucci on 3 of his 4 voyages. The fourth voyage had been a disaster for Vespucci: he had lost 4 of his 6 ships and didn’t have enough space to haul the supplies for all of the survivors back to Europe. He had to leave a large part of his crew behind.
Raphael had been one of those left behind.
Raphael was born of a wealthy Portuguese family. He was rich and did not have to work. He had been interested in Socrates, and the ideas that Socrates had discussed, his entire life. He had actually been so interested in this field that he wanted to read Socrates words in their original Greek. (Often, translations don’t render the ideas of authors correctly. Unfortunately, most of Socrates words have been misconstrued and misrepresented in various ways, including through mistranslations.) He lived most of his life studying to distant lands, some as far away as Africa and China, to study the different ways that different human societies worked. He was in Portugal, a few hundred miles from Palos, the home of Columbus, when he heard the news of the newly-discovered lands to the west. Most poele who heard the news cared only about the gold, a metal used for money in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and wanted to go there to get gold. Raphael thought that, if these people really did live differently than peole in Eurpoe, Asia, and Africa, with no ‘nations’ separated by imaginary lines, this may be proof that Socrates was right all along. If other people lived differently, this seems to be evidence that the societies that had all of the serious problems really were the work of human beings, not beings with super powers who lived in the sky.
Raphael immediately went to Palos to see if he could arrange a ride to the new lands. He was rich and used to being able to buy anything he wanted. Columbus was restricted by a law that Isabella passed that prohibited any who were not from her home state of Castille from going with Columbus. He couldn’t get to the western lands that way. But he met Americus Vespucci, a bank examiner and close personal friends with Lorenzo D’Medici, then the richest and most powerful man in Europe. Together, they planned ways to get around the Papal Monopoly that had been granted to Columbus. (Vespucci was the only one to ever get an exemption from the monopoly. D’Medici was the banker to the Pope. If the Pope needed money, he had to have D’Medici on his side. D’Medici asked and the Pope agreed.) Americus Vespucci went from being a bank examiner to an explorer and namesake of two of the largest continents on earth.
If you want details of these events, including the personal letters, journals, and official records of the above events, go to Forensic History, available from this link.
On the first two voyages he got a lot of exposure to the people of the continents that would one day be named after Americus, but couldn’t really study the societies in great detail. When he had a chance to be left behind, he jumped at it. (The records show that Americus didn’t want Raphael to stay behind and Raphael had to threaten force to get Americus to agree.) Raphael was very good at learning languages. He learned the local language quickly. The locals told him of vast and very advanced cities where the people lived in well-organized and orderly societies. He arranged to travel to the west and ended up in an area inhabited by people who called themselves ‘Inca.’ He decided to live with them. He lived on an island that is just barely off the cost of the current nation of Chile for 5 years. The local people—the Inca—called this island ‘Utopus,’ after the leader who had unified the Incan empire 300 years earlier.
While living among the Inca, Raphael became convinced that Socrates was right. The Inca lived entirely different than Europeans lived. Many of the problems that the people in Europe, Africa, and Asia had simply did not exist in the Incan cities. He loved the way the society on Utopus operated and he thought that if people in Europe could learn about it, they could incorporate some aspects of the Utopian societies into their own societies, and make them better. He made his way back to Europe and eventually found Giles.
Giles decided the book idea would work better if he could get a well-known author to collaborate with the unknown Raphael Hythloday. He had someone in mind: Sir Thomas More, a best selling author and highly respected theologian, scholar, and politician. More agreed to work in the book.
This decision would cost More his life.
Together, they wrote the book that is now called ‘Utopia.’ (The original title was ‘Discourses with Raphael Hythloday on the best state of a society.’) The book claimed that Socrates had been right all along, and the existence of the societies in the western lands were proof. It is possible for humans to organize their existence different ways. This tells us that the division of the land into ‘nations’ and the constant wars over the locations of the imaginary lines that separate them were not due to the will of a being with higher powers than humans. They were due to mistakes that humans had made a long time ago when they created this system.
The book they wrote was a threat to social order. The authors both knew that the government used religion as a tool to keep the people sacrificing, killing, and risking their lives to benefit the elite few at the top of the societal pyramid. They knew that the book would expose this reality to the people and the authors may end up the same way Socrates ended up. They decided not to even release the book in England, More’s home country, or in Portugal, Hythloday’s home country. They would not even allow it to be published in English or Portuguese, only in Latin, and only in the remote villages of the part of the world now called Switzerland, where people were known for their tolerance.
Their precautions didn’t work.
More was a politician. Politicians have opponents who are trying to destroy them. More was a hard man to destroy. He had an impeccable reputation for honesty. He had been the youngest member of the Privy Council (personal advisors to the king) in the history of England. He had been the youngest Sheriff of London in the city’s history. He was a very popular author known for his in depth analysis of religious, political, and social issues. How could his political opponents remove him?
The book he wrote could be construed as a violation of a law called the ‘Act of Supremacy.’ This law required all British Citizens to accept that God himself had personally organized British society. If God personally created the British society, it had to be the best society humans had or could ever had. More’s book claimed that the Incan societies had advantage that European societies did not have. This means that either he believed that God didn’t love the British people enough to give them his best work, or that he wasn’t actually personally involved in the creation of British society. Either way, he was in violation of the law.
Several centuries ago, the British crown had been forced to accept a set of ultimatums that relinquished certain power to the courts. More was personal friends with the king of England. If the king had control over the courts, he would never let his friend be prosecuted. But the king didn’t control the courts. More’s political opponents made a case and brought More to trial. He was convicted and sentenced to the most severe penalty possible: death by the slowest, most painful torture possible. The king intervened, but the most he could do is reduce the penalty to death by beheading.
More had violated the ultimate taboo. Certain topics are not to be discussed. We are not even to think about them. What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? No one was supposed to ask this question. Because of his interaction with Hythloday, More was drawn to it. He asked it and was punished for it.
One More Example
On December 8, 1980, Mark David Chapman assassinated the poet, philosopher, songwriter John Lennon. Chapman did not kill Lennon to punish him for anything that he had done, but to protect the world from his ideas. At his trial, Chapman said that Lennon had asked people to think about things that people are not supposed to think about. He asked us to ‘imagine there’s no countries’ to fight over, for example. If we allow our minds to think about such things, we may wind up deciding that we don’t want countries and then get rid of them. If this happens, all of the sacrifices of the people who have sacrificed for their nations will be meaningless. The great bulk of human history will be meaningless.
Chapman believed in God. God had created countries and given greatness to the countries that were great. Our job is to make sure the tradition continues. Lennon was willing to think about things we are not supposed to think about. Perhaps, in this enlightened times, if he had been willing to keep his thoughts to himself, we may have allowed him to live. But he didn’t keep his thoughts to himself. He talked to people, including children. They listened to him. He and people like him were starting to have an impact on the way people thought.
Lennon has violated the ultimate taboo. He had dared to allow his mind to ask questions that we are not supposed to ask. Lennon had to die. Chapman thought the cause so great that he was willing to sacrifice himself to prevent people’s minds from gong in the wrong places. Chapman was a believer in ‘the establishment.’ Lennon’s thoughts threatened the establishment and the establishment had to be protected.
And that is basically what this taboo boils down to: protecting the establishment. This is the same establishment that devotes roughly a fifth of all of the labor and resources the earth produces each year to militaries and the industries that are needed to keep the military operating. The military business is the business of mass murder and destruction. This is what people seem to believe that life is about. It is what they seem to think that existence is about.
However, it may not be the reason we exist.
As we gain more and more knowledge about science and technology, we gain better and better tools to answer important questions of any kind. Might some of this technology help us understand this important issue? When people decided that it was all the work of invisible superbeing or superbeings, they really didn’t have tools they could use to examine this mysterious concept we call ‘life’ to see if they could make sense of it. They didn’t have any tools to tell them or any way to realize that the earth was anything other than a stationary center of existence around which all other things in the universe revolved and upon which all other things depended. They didn’t know there were such things as ‘cells’ or ‘mitochondria’ or ‘bacteria’ or ‘DNA.’ They didn’t know what electricity was or that our bodies sent electrical signals to make muscles move, the heart beat, or the brain to get a picture of reality when light from reality hits our eyes.
Might it not be time to revisit these old beliefs?
Perhaps science will help us understand that the old beliefs are wrong. If they are wrong, there must be some other explanation for life on earth. What might it be?
Perhaps the things that Socrates imagined, the things that Sir Thomas More imagined, and the things that John Lennon imagined, are not so far fetched at all.
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Is this really so terrible?
Books in this series
This book is a part of a series of four books about the important realities of human existence. They are:
1. Forensic History: uses new scientific tools and information sources to reconstruct the series of events that put the human race on the path it is now on. It explains how the realities of human existence came to be as they are. It focuses on the events led to the existence of the power structures that dominate the world today, including the entities called 'nations,' organized religions, and the massive and extremely powerful entities we call 'corporations.' These entities did not appear by magic. They came to exist as a result of decisions people made in the past. If we want to understand the realities of human existence, we have to understand who made these decisions, why they were made, and how the decisions made in the past have led to the realities that we see around us.
2. Possible Societies goes over the capabilities of the human race and the limitations we have for organizing the realities of our existence. It is an attempt to categorize all possible methods of organizing human existence—or all possible societies—in a methodological and organized way. Once we understand the different options we have for organizing societies, we can go over them to determine which of the options are able to meet our needs without constant problems such as war and unnecessary environmental destruction.
3. Reforming Societies: We were born onto a world that was organized in a very dangerous way. It was cut up with imaginary lines into the entities we call 'nations.' Each nation had formed a government which claimed that everything within that nation belonged to the people who were born inside the imaginary lines. Any society built on this foundation necessarily has very serious problems, which include powerful forces these entities surrounded by imaginary lines to engage in activities that are the most horrific destructive within the capability of any physical beings with the power to think on a rational level. The pressure to perform these horrible acts is so powerful that the industries devoted to war and the support of war, combined, make up the largest industries on Earth: More wealth, manpower, effort, skills, talents, capital, and resources are devoted to organized mass murder and destruction than any other activity on the planet. People have gone as far as building weapons that will destroy the planet if used and actually deployed these weapons, making them ready for instant use if certain circumstances arise. Given enough time, these circumstances are certain to arise.
What if we—the current members of the human race—decide we don't like these particular realities of existence? What if we decide we want some other destiny for our race (than extinction)? It is possible to organize the realities of our world in different ways. (Even children should realize this: humans need food, water, air, sleep, and protection from the elements; the imaginary lines that cut the world into 'nations' don't give us any of these things.)
But is it possible to actually build them?
If we know other methods of organizing the realities of human existence are possible, we can work out the exact structural differences between the realities of these other societies and the current realities of human existence.
We can figure out practical steps to take to change the form of ('reform') other societies. It explains the exact practical steps that ordinary people like you and I can take to put the human race on a path to one of these societies, if we should decide we want to do this.
4. The Meaning of Life explains why this matters. The societies we were born into must raise children to think a certain way so they will be willing to sacrifice for and participate in the wars that are an inherent part of societies built on the division of the world into 'nations.' To make them willing to participate, they must raise children to believe that there is a higher purpose behind the wars and behind the existence of the nations: They must make children believe that they were born to and exist to protect their nations, to respect the claimed founding principles, to honor the nation and, through ceremonies that all children are taught in schools, to even worship the nation, in the same way they are taught to worship the higher power that they were told created the nation. To make them do the horrible things that people must do to have wars, they must make children believe that this is the meaning of life and the reason they were born.
New scientific evidence is allowing us to put together messages that are encoded in our DNA and evident from the structures that are necessary for the process we call 'life' to exist in ways that can show us that there are scientifically acceptable and mathematically likely explanations for the existence of life on Earth that totally conflict with the premises taught to keep people willing to fight, kill, maim, cripple, destroy, risk and accept death for the benefits of the entities called 'nations.' If we accept science, logic, and reason, we can put together a picture of the meaning of existence that can help us see that the claimed reasons for existence that have been taught in schools and accepted for thousands of years are basically propaganda, created for the express purpose of allowing rationalization of horrific acts. If they could put together some rational picture of the reason we are here, people would not be willing to do the things that they spend their lives doing today.
What if we find there is a real meaning to our existence and it has nothing whatever to do with worshiping invisible superbeings or protecting nations? The entire rationalization for dividing the world into 'nations' and making war basically disappears. We must accept that the realities of existence on Earth are as they are because people made certain decisions. These people are no longer alive. We are here. We can make our own decisions. We can decide where we want to go from here and begin going there.