The Meaning Of Life
I was raised in a different time.
The laws that allowed teachers to be put in jail for letting children science had been repealed. But most school boards, including those that ran the schools I attended, still didn’t teach these things. There were things that they didn’t want children to know. Embarrassing things that would lead to questions the teachers couldn’t answer. The scientific ‘theories’ would cause us to question things that the school systems wanted us to accept.
Why are we here?
What is the meaning of life?
We weren’t told this, at least not in so many words.
But the message came though pretty clearly:
Each school day started with a pledge of allegiance. We all had to stand in a position of great respect, almost as though we were engaging in a religious ceremony, with hands over our hearts, as if to keep our hearts from jumping out of our chests due to the joy we felt as we recited the wonderful words. We pledged allegiance to the flag, of course, as the icon of all things wonderful. We then pledged allegiance to the nation which the flag represented, and to the god (who was named ‘God’) who was its guardian and controller. We also pledged allegiance to the very idea behind the nation, almost as if the writers of the pledge were looking for numerous things to have children pledge their allegiance to and had run out of ideas, at least didn’t have any ideas that implied the territoriality, team spirit, and patriotism they wanted to instill.
Then class started.
The greatest skill I have acquired in my life, the most valuable and useful, is the ability to decipher the squiggly lines called ‘letters’ and combinations of letters called ‘words and sentences.’ But as soon as I had this skill, the people who ran the classes started to channel it. They wanted me to use it for something very specific. We were assigned huge amounts of reading, so much that, I presume, many children never really read anything that was not on the list of required books, perhaps because they were tired of reading after having completed the assignments. A lot of the books were what I was told were ‘history books.’
Now, when I read books written for gullible children, I can see that they are definitely not real history books: they don’t present objective and informative information about our past so that children may figure out how our world came to work as it does so that they could work with others, all around the world, to try to make it better. They were story books that followed a certain theme: there were good guys and bad guys. The bad guys were horrible monsters trying to destroy everything worth living for. The good guys fought for things that were unquestionably good, like the things our country stands for. This is why we pledged our allegiance to the flag: it represented the epitome of good and would be what we would be asked to kill for later. This is why we sang to the glory of the country, to the great powers that lived in the heavens and guided it with a light from above.
We studied a field called ‘social studies.’
What did we learn in ‘social studies?’
Did we learn about social interactions and how to get along with others? Did we learn what behaviors were socially appropriate in different social settings? Did we learn about how to negotiate with others, how to get our way without having to resort to aggression or violence, how to mend a friendship ruined by an emotional outburst, and how to accept, reject, or offer gifts without offense?
If these things were taught, I don’t remember them.
I remember being taught about the institutions called ‘governments’ which were in charge of the structures called ‘countries.’ There were hundreds of them and I didn’t learn about all of them. I only learned about the most wonderful government the world had ever seen, a perfect system created by perfect men with guidance from a perfect being and more generosity and altruism than any other collection of humans had ever had.
These ‘founders’ loved us, where ‘us’ means the people who would be born inside the borders they marked out. to give us a good life, they removed the people who lived on these lands before they came (heathens who would not worship the things they worshiped) and brought in slaves to clear so they could collect the wealth this land produced. They did all this for us. They wanted us to control our own destiny but with strict limits, to protect us from our own stupidity: they knew better than we did what was good for us. We learned that we have been given, as a free gift, freedom, liberty, and total justice for all. In return, we had to play a part in the system, follow its rules, work, pay taxes, and support any wars our governments declared, without questions. If asked to fight, we must fight. If asked to kill, we must kill. If asked to die, we must consider ourselves honored: our lives are nothing compared to the needs of the country.
Why are we here?
What is the meaning of life?
We aren’t told this directly. But the message implied in all of the teachings is pretty clear. We were born into a team in a savage competition for resources.
We are here for our team.
We are supposed to love it with all our hearts and fight, kill, and die for it, without ever asking if these things are right or wrong. We are here to pay the taxes that will build the aircraft carriers, the ICBMS, the nuclear submarines, the doomsday weapons that our governments will have available, if defeat is inevitable, to destroy it all so that the other teams don’t get it.
Is this the meaning of life?
Is this why we were placed here, on this tiny blue speck of dust circling an insignificant star in one of the hundreds of billions of galaxies: to form into teams to fight other teams over things that are, in the end, totally meaningless?
This is not a logical explanation for ‘why we are here.’
It isn’t even a human explanation.
It is something we would expect from the highly territorial apes who act the same way, including those that are our evolutionary ancestors. It is not something a reasonable, logical, scientific person would claim was the reason for human existence.
What would be?
The Meaning of Life takes the same general approach that Forensic History takes to understand this issue.
Before we can start to think about what ‘life’ may be about, we need to have some idea what this term represents.
What is ‘life?’
Until very recently, the only explanations were supernatural. A god or spirit (perhaps one whose name happened to be ‘God’) had powers to do things that couldn’t otherwise be done. This god or spirit did magic and live came to be. Everything that happened after that is magic.
Now, we can study the details of life. We can study the different ways different kinds of DNA work. We can study the different coded messages that are hidden inside of the DNA molecule (there are three codes that are overlaid one on the other), and translate the coded messages into configurations of atoms needed for life to take place, and then put them into position to replace any that wear out or arrange them to create new living ‘babies’ patterned on the DNA codes in their parents. We can study the way the food we eat gets transformed first into essential nutrients, then into ATP (adenosine triphosphate, the only power source for all life on earth), then into electricity, which then runs everything in the bodies of all living things.
We can study the way that the strange set of events that lead to ‘sexual reproduction’ take place; if we do, we will see some pretty clear indications that this is not some random process but operates in ways that seem clearly to be goal orientated. (To have evolution, there must be genetic diversity: every single newborn of every species is a brand new genetic system. These different beings then compete for resources, with the most capable winning. The result of this process—which can easily be studied by looking at historical data—is so stunning that it seems impossible for any objective person to claim it all happened by accident.)
More than 60 years ago, a team of researchers discovered three separate codes that are embedded in all DNA. The exact same three codes, all of which are incredibly complex, run all life on earth, from the lowest to the highest. One of these researchers, Francis Crick, studied the code and determined how likely it is for such codes to arise from chance due to random events.
He determined that this was so incredibly unlikely that it would be unreasonable or anyone who claims to be a scientist to accept that we came to exist either as a result of random chance or as a result of magic (having been created by a being not subject to the laws of science). In the time that has passed, mountains of evidence have accumulated to support Crick’s premise. (You can find it in the book ‘Life Itself,’ in the resources section of the PossibleSocieties.com website.)
I am not saying here that Crick is right and I can prove it. I am only saying that this is a question we need to think about, openly, logically, and objectively. Then, we have to do the same things scientists always do: we need to gather evidence, come up with theories, and test the theories.
What is the meaning of life?
I will show that we can push aside the standard explanations pretty easily. After we reject them, we are forced to allow ourselves to think life may not be about what we were raised to think it is about. There might be more, a lot more.
Why does this matter?
We are now on a path that leads to extinction. Traditionalists say this is the best path: the religious texts predict it (no one would believe a religion that didn’t recognize the way we will end up if we don’t change). But they say it is for the best. I have heard this many times: life on earth is a test of our souls. We must endure misery and hardship and never lose faith that it is all for the best. If we can keep the faith through it all, we pass the test and get to live in paradise for eternity. (Not as living beings; living beings can never have paradise, but our spirits or souls can have it.)
This is an incredibly cruel test.
How could a benevolent spirit that loved us conduct it?
The answer is that it is just a temporary measure. It will all end, one day soon. When the end comes, all future souls will be granted entrance to paradise without having to take the test. This event will be called something like ‘the rapture.’ We will all exist, from then on, in endless, orgasmic rapture.
If this is the meaning of life, there is no point trying to get ourselves off of the path to extinction. In fact, people who believe this want to push us along this path even faster.
What if it is all an accident? What if a bunch of atoms were in the right configuration to form an amino acid, 5 billion years ago, and lighting struck it, brought it to life, and this life evolved, as a result of random chance, into us? If this is what happened, what difference does it make if we go extinct. It is all meaningless.
But what if life is about something else? What if it is about anything else. We don’t have to know what this ‘anything’ is to know that if it is not random chance, our existence is not meaningless and our extinction will not be meaningless either. If we are here for any reason at all, we have an obligation to do everything we can to prevent extinction at least until we can figure out this reason.
The Meaning of Life is a key part of the Possible Societies series. It provides an answer to the question: Why bother to figure these things out? It takes some mental effort to come to understand the different possible ways societies work. It takes some mental effort to figure out how we can get onto a path that will take us, eventually, to a sound society.
The Meaning of Life is designed to help you see why it is worth the effort.