The meaning and purpose of life

The meaning and purpose of existence is currently unknown, and in all likelihood, will never be known. Where humanity began, and where it goes after one dies...these are questions that we cannot answer. We can only suppose.

But this is no reason to give up, many philosophers and writers have concluded. Teilhard de Chardin described this defeatism as “invariably unhealthy and impotent.” Indeed, action is inherent in Man’s existence, as any sort of inaction from early Man would have led to Man’s demise. So while the meaning and purpose of life is unknown, the passion for life has continued.

In the next few paragraphs, I plan to consider this quandary, and discuss what gives life meaning.

Chardin believes that humans do not have a fear of dying, but an “ambition to live” that drives humanity forward. But I think there is little evidence to back up his theory, and indeed, it could very well be backwards. The ambition to live comes from a fear of death, and a hope to grow as far from death as possible.

Why, Chardin, is there an ambition to live? To gain knowledge? Well, the ultimate gaining of knowledge would be in death, in discovering what occurs beyond existence. But Man does not often kill himself for the sake of knowledge, and that is due to the grand fear of death. It is this fear of death that drives Man’s action, and in turn, his hunt for knowledge.

You see, knowledge takes Man farther and farther from death. From the earliest of advances (sharp stick = kill animal) to a modern invention (defibrillator), Man works to deter the Grim Reaper. It is the fear of the unknown, the next life, that sends man into a hunt for knowledge.

And the necessity of that hunt is agreed upon by many of our writers this semester, who believe in discovering and embracing something greater.

It begins with Socrates, whose very life was a search for fundamental truth. He believed in reason and logic, and using such methods to discover for one’s self the truth.

Buddha believed in searching, and he felt the best way was through the experience. He believed in becoming so knowledgeable and comfortable with the world, that one could embrace an ultimate consciousness, or Nirvana. This is not unlike Chardin’s ideas on development of consciousness in the world. The two both believe in a certain organic nature of the world, and that all is interconnected. They believe in a connectivity of man and nature, an intensely close relationship that must be realized.

Chardin suggests this unity, or “Spirit of the world” is very real, and so appears the reason for the hunt for knowledge. Man could never work alone in discovering such knowledge, no, every bit of knowledge has been a cooperative effort of every organism and circumstance. Our knowledge has been built off of other people and other things, without which none of our knowledge would be possible. Therefore, there is something organic to our hunt for knowledge, something that everything is moving towards.

It appears that the movement is towards finding an answer to those unanswerable questions: why are we here, what happens when we die? This would provide the meaning and purpose of life we have been so looking for.

Indeed, our collective knowledge has taken us to the Moon, deep beneath the Earth’s mantle, and into the virtual world of the Internet. And steps have been taken to discover Man’s ancient past in regards to the Big Bang theory and Darwin’s ideas on evolution.

Whether answers to these questions will ever be found is entirely up for debate. Some, like Sartre, prefer to enjoy the unique existence of this world, and in no way expect an answer. Sartre’s No Exit even pokes fun at the idea of life and death, and the vicious circle and unknowing of it all. Along with other existentialists, Sartre believed that searching for a truth would be pointless, and the best thing to do was to wait for death. Everything, even his little room with Garcin, Inez and Estelle, is theoretical.

Even the Christian church has disavowed a certain extension of learning. Right of the bat, Man was shunned for eating an apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil! Since, the Church has not been for technological advances in the fields of studying evolution and stem-cell and cloning research. (For certain discoveries may be affecting the credibility of religions).

But Chardin seems to have the most fitting advice in terms of the meaning and purpose of life: to simply embrace life. Humans may know not how or why they exist, but the fact of the matter is that they do. An embrace of life, both by gaining knowledge and becoming closer with the world around, provides comfort. And in a world where so much is unknown, comfort, artificial or not, is nice.

So yes.

We’re all going to die. Deal with it.

Dealing with it is the purpose of life.