I just replied to a post on this topic elsewhere on the blogosphere, so I thought that I would make a post of my own expressing my thoughts on the topic.
The meaning of life. Our purpose in the universe. These and other similar phrases have preoccupied human thought for thousands of years. Countless works of literature, art, philosophy, and cinema have tackled the issue. Everyone at some point in their life says, “What’s it all about?” or “Why am I here?” Well, folks, perhaps there is no answer to those questions. And perhaps that’s just fine.
If everyone on earth disappeared tomorrow, completely wiped off the face of the planet, would meaning and purpose still exist? Without people, would cars still have a “purpose?” Would that framed picture of your grandparents still have “meaning?” No, they wouldn’t. They’d simply become objects–nothing more and nothing less. It’s human beings that imbue objects with meaning and purpose.
And asking “what is the meaning of life?” is the ultimate projection of this very human attribute upon the universe. To be frank, asking such a question is incredibly egotistical and anthropocentric. What is the purpose of an asteroid? What is the meaning of rain? People don’t ask those question because, logically, they don’t make much sense. Asteroids and rain are simply objects that exist in a system. But when we turn the questions upon ourselves, it suddenly becomes acceptable. Why?
Well, just like other religious or spiritual concepts, the meaning of life or our place in the universe are psychologically comforting phrases. People are comforted by the thought of an afterlife because they’re afraid of or don’t understand death. People are comforted by the thought of a bearded creator in flowing robes on a cloud somewhere controlling everything because they can’t understand or deal with the crap that happens in the world, so it all becomes “part of a master plan” and voila, everything is right with the world and we can all sleep at night. Well, the same concept applies to “the meaning of life.” Without a meaning or purpose, people panic, thinking that they lose individuality, accomplishment, motivation, and uniqueness. But mostly they’re afraid that if life has no grand meaning or purpose, that the universe will simply become a cold, sterile machine that we exist in.
My question is, why do people make that leap? Why is it that the only way that the universe can exist as a place of wonder and beauty is if humans have some grand purpose? That’s very narrow, self-serving and introverted thinking. I’m probably the least spiritual or religious person on the planet. I don’t believe I have an immortal soul, I don’t think there’s an afterlife, there’s no Creator, and there’s no master plan for everything in the universe. This in no way impacts my quality of life. Candy bars are still delicious. It doesn’t affect the way I hear and appreciate music. It doesn’t change the beauty I see in a sunrise or images from the Hubble telescope. Jokes are still funny. Love is still wonderful. I exist, randomly, in the universe. And that, to me, is even more amazing than a master plan. Out of all the trillions and trillions of possibilities in this universe, over immense scales of time, I exist. I happen to be self-aware, unlike the desk I’m sitting at. Again, another random, but incredibly rare occurrence, which I cherish even more so in light of the math that conspires against it.
I don’t have a purpose in this universe. My life doesn’t have any grand meaning. I’m no more meaningful or purposeful than that asteroid or droplet of rain. And that’s just fine with me. Enjoyment and fulfillment in life is not dependent upon having a purpose or meaning. As soon as we humans stop projecting our inner insecurities upon the universe, we can actually comprehend the fragility and rarity of existence.