Purpose of existence, three sets of comments

SATURDAY, 2 OCTOBER 2004

Purpose of existence, first comments

Every minute little thing around us serves a purpose – parts of a machine, the machine itself, organs and body parts, animals, insects, oxygen, other chemical elements, organic compounds. It would be utterly ridiculous to suggest that human beings, literally surrounded by purpose, do not serve some or other purpose themselves.

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Non-human life forms as well as inanimate things serve a purpose without having to “think” about it. Some people also end up fulfilling a purpose without ever having seriously contemplated the possibility, but many others have to consciously consider their own purpose. Why? Have we as humans changed in ways that make it a challenge to discover and fulfil our purpose?

Purpose of existence, second comments

Two weeks ago I had this thought that nothing is ridiculous, if you really think about it. Things only appear ridiculous, so my note continued, if you have views and expectations about how things, or people, are supposed to be, and the reality does not match your views or expectations. What about this whole notion that human life has a purpose, then? Does the idea of an aimless existence not appear utterly ridiculous simply because I have this view, and even the expectation that human life should serve a purpose?

I reckon it is perfectly reasonable to expect that certain things are supposed to do or be X, Y or Z. If I am anticipating the arrival of a guest and my doorbell rings, I am going to expect the person to enter my apartment in a normal fashion. If they walk in on their hands, buck-naked, with their feet kicking wildly in the air, most people won’t blame me for bursting out laughing. Why? The person’s behaviour would be ridiculous.

Now, I’m willing to admit that reactions to the naked appearance have something to do with cultural beliefs and expectations of “normal behaviour” – expectations that differ from place to place and from one historical period to the next. The walking on hands when there’s nothing wrong with your feet and legs, on the other hand, is simply not how one … and the organ goes into a higher octave, the clapping becomes rhythmic … it’s simply not how human beings are designed.

The same can be said if I come home one evening and one of the cockroaches that regularly make a nocturnal appearance in my kitchen is busy cooking dinner, with a neat little apron covering its lower body. I will laugh – or shriek in terror. It’s not what the cockroach is supposed to do. Why don’t any of the cockroaches in my kitchen do such a thing? Why does the spider not watch TV in the living room when I’m working on my computer? Why are the street cats outside not sitting on the sidewalk with a bottle of beer in one paw, and a cigarette in the other? Because it’s physically impossible. Because it’s not what their genetic code dictates they ought to do. The physiology of cats makes it possible and natural for them to keep the mice population in check. The physiology of cockroaches enable them to … do what they’re supposed to do. The physiology of bees enables them to fly around and pollinate flowers. Flowers do something else.

Do I want to imply that everything should function like a well-oiled machine? Should all forms of life know their place, play their roles, and fulfil the various purposes of their existence? I admit it is somewhat problematic. Few people, myself included, like the idea that they have to recite their rhymes every waking hour of their lives and move their arms and legs in ways that have been preordained.

It’s clearly not a black-and-white matter. Just because it isn’t simple is, however, not an excuse to not recognise what you can only ignore if you are ridiculous, namely that we are surrounded with purpose.

Purpose of existence, third comments

Almost all vultures serve the same purpose. Do human beings as a species also serve a specific purpose, or do individual members of the species serve different purposes? If the latter is the case, why is this so?

Another question: How do you argue purpose without a “creator”?

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