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?
Chapter One: Why It Is Important To Understand The Meaning Of Life
What is life about?
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 life came to exist on this world, and about how human life in specific came to be here, we come to entirely different conclusions about why we are here.
For example, many people believe that an invisible superbeing that lives in the sky created everything. If this is the way humans got here, we know the meaning of life: we are supposed to be meeting the needs of the superbeing. Others believe that life came to exist as a result of random processes. Some burst of energy, say a spark that hit a soup of the right mixture of elements, started life. Since no intent was involved, there is no meaning to life. It is totally meaningless. Some people claim that neither of these simplistic explanations for the meaning of life make sense. They say that certain aspects of the operation of the activity we call ‘life’ have earmarks that make it impossibly unlikely that life came to exist by random chance. There had to have been some intentionally planning that led to the coding in DNA, for one example: there are three incredibly complicated codes, one of which (called the ‘genetic code’) has certain characteristics that tell us it could not possibly come from chance. Yet the simplistic idea of an invisible superbeing making all this through magic doesn’t seem to provide a reasonable explanation either. There has to be something else behind the existence of life here on Earth.
Over the last few decades, we have developed incredible scientific tools that allow us to understand things that people in the past could only guess about. We have scientific tools we can use to date fossils and other artifacts, helping us determine exactly when life came to exist on this world and what form it took when it arrived. We have tools to help us understand the electro-mechanical activities that take place in our brains when we think and in our hearts when they beat. We can sequence DNA and decipher the codes written in these incredibly complex molecules. We can figure out what must happen for the codes written in a long line of the rungs of the ladders of DNA to get turned into incredibly complex three dimensional proteins that perform the tasks needed for the activities of ‘life’ to exist.
The people who thought about the issue of ‘the meaning of life’ in the past did not have these tools. They did not exist. If we take full advantage of these tools, we can understand things they could not hope to understand.
Perhaps, if we can use these tools to figure out how life came to exist on this planet and how the processes of life operate, we use this information to figure out what it all means. For example, we will see that there are three entirely separate coding mechanisms used in DNA, a very simple one overlaid by a very complex one that is overlaid by a coding system of truly incredible complexity. The codes are not random: there is information encoded in the DNA. Perhaps this information provides some clue about the reason we are here and the possible destinies we may have. Perhaps there are other clues that people in the past could not possibly see because they didn’t have the technology to see them. Perhaps, if we could look at this information objectively and logically, we could find answers to questions that could not be answered otherwise.
Why Do We Care?
Why do we care about the meaning of life?
Why can’t we just accept that it is all due to the whims of an invisible superbeing that lives in the sky, works through mysterious ways, and is beyond us? We have a lot of things to do.
Our countries need to be defended, for example. This is an immense undertaking, one that requires more wealth than any other single activity of the human race at this time. We have to have children and train them to take over the tasks that we perform now, so that everything will keep happening as it has always happened. We have to worry about politics and make sure that the people of the opposite political party than the one we support don’t get into power. We have to worry about the price of gas, the cost of rent, the trouble of figuring out how to prevent illegal aliens from taking advantage of the services our tax dollars pay for.
We have full schedules. We have all been provided with reasonable-sounding explanations for the reason the world works as it does. There is a superbeing that loves us (one explanation) or a lightning bolt hit some primordial soup of organic materials and brought it to life (a second explanation). Either way, the people who came before us figured it all out and have devoted as much time to the topic as it deserves. Why should we bother to think about this?
There is a very important reason. In fact, if we look at the issue from a practical perspective, this may well be the most important issue the human race has ever considered.
What the common explanations for the meaning of life are not correct?
What if there are certain key realities of our existence—including those that are clearly pushing us down a path that lead to our extinction—that we could change if we tried to change them, but don’t even consider trying to change because we don’t want to think about these things? What if we have a destiny that is unrelated to anything that happens to us after we are dead? What if our destiny involves how we live while our bodies breathe and provide support for the electrical activity that takes place in our minds? What if the standard explanations for the meaning of life are just meant to placate us and trick us into accepting horrible problems and realities by making us think that they are supposed to exist and therefore we are being immoral to even think about changing them?
Why does the meaning of life matter?
If we don’t know the answer, we must guess.
Any guesses in this area are going to lead to beliefs that are going to affect our ideas about how we structure he basic realities of our existence. If we believe that we are here because a superbeing created the world, then created us, then divided the world into nations and set them fighting in wars, or because we think some superbeing wants us to dominate the land (‘hold dominion over it and everything that moveth upon it,’ as the religious text of the Old Testament claims), we will structure our societies to make them more likely to have the stresses that lead to wars and build new and better weapons.
What if this guess is wrong? What if we refuse to take steps to change the organizational structures of our world that lead naturally to war because we believe that life is about the things a superbeing wants us to do, and these things include war?
Perhaps you, personally, may believe that nothing you know or nothing you do can possibly matter, because you are nothing but a tiny cog in a giant wheel. Why bother with anything? Why not get some drugs and sit back and watch it all fall apart, using the drugs as needed to help you enjoy the final years?
But consider this:
What if you are wrong? What if every life, including your life, maters?
IF we happened to have been put here for a reason, and it is something other than adoring and worshiping invisible beings (or ‘being’ for people raised in monotheistic cultures) or serving the quasi-religious entities we call ‘nations’ by fighting in constant wars, then our lives our thoughts and our ways of thinking really do matter. If everyone passively accepts that there is no reason to think about this issue, and no one even tries to come to any understanding, we clearly will never understand. We will remain in the path that we are now on. We all know where this path leads.
But a few more people may just be enough to change the course of human events. In fact, at a certain point, the next person is the one that maters. What if that individual is you? How do you know this is not true? If it is true, then it really does make a difference. In the end, the path the human race takes through time depends on the state of minds of the people who live on this planet. If we focus only on practical issues like making guns and bombs for the current wars, building stronger defenses to keep people on the other side of the imaginary lines called ‘borders,’ and raising and training the next generation to take over these same tasks when we are too old to do them anymore, we may ignore the big picture and not even look at why we are doing all these insane things.