Purpose of existence – conventional life

SUNDAY, 9 JANUARY 2005

“Why should there necessarily be a purpose to human life?” someone may ask.

Looking at the natural world, everything from cloud to water to air to the antennae of a cockroach, it seems that everything has a purpose. Why on earth would the entire planet be filled with purpose and reason, yet there is no purpose and reason for a human being’s existence?

For me the question is rather: WHAT?

[Thursday 05/01/12: The legs of a chimpanzee serve a clear purpose. But what is the purpose of the chimpanzee? Do each animal and each species really serve a purpose? Mosquitoes spread viruses and parasites that keep the populations of certain species in check … yet mosquitoes and the cargo they carry are regarded in the modern world as an abomination that must be eradicated.

The demand for purpose is certainly hot for contemplation and discussion. I am fully open to the possibility that we simply attach purpose and meaning to what we observe in the physical world, including our own lives. Yet it seems the whole world is pervaded by this-thing-do-this and that-thing-does-that.

My intention is not to end up with a theological argument. For me it is rather a case of an assumption that if a pattern can be found throughout the whole visible world, that human life must certainly also serve a purpose. [[25/05/15: Can a human life really be compared to something like the paws of a chimpanzee or a human eye? Is the former not too abstract to have a purpose?]]

And just to complicate things, one should perhaps also wonder whether individual chimpanzees serve a unique purpose they unknowingly pursue …]

[Wednesday 26/12/12: It is like a hierarchy: this cell serves a purpose; this collection of cells serves a purpose; this collection of several groups of cells forms a “foot”, which serves a purpose; the “foot” is attached to a “leg”, which serves a purpose … but the overall organism to which the foot and the leg and the eye and the head and the hand etcetera are attached serves no purpose? Or “purpose” is just a figment of our imagination?]

16:11

For the record, what do I mean by “conventional life”? I mean income-generating work (full-time professional career, or something else), finding a partner, starting a family, pursuing a stable life, doing things in your “free time” that make you happy (or happier in some cases).

If someone proposes to me, now, after all these years, that I should simply dedicate my life to that, I will be very sincere in asking the person, “Are you out of your mind?”

* * *

“Families have been torn apart. Whole communities have disappeared. In countries where religion, spirituality and culture lie at the heart of human existence, places of worship have been wiped out. The very things that define people’s identities and values have been swept away.”

Kofi Annan, at the Tsunami Summit (from the China Post, Friday 7 January 2005)

* * *

Says the 60-year old woman in The Shipping News:

“Thought I’d never come back here [to Newfoundland] but the older you get … there’s an ache, a pull, something you’ve got to figure out, like you’re a piece in a puzzle …”

What? You do that only when you’re 60? What do you do then between the ages of 18 and 33?

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