What is the Meaning of Life? (Part One)

Meaning of Life

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE? Is there a bigger question than this? Some will answer that there is none; or, that only God can know the answer; or that it’s whatever you make of it. A philosopher might argue that the word-level in the question is wrong; that we need go deeper to answer the question “What is the meaning of meaning?” before we can say what the meaning of life is. A philosopher like Nietzsche would rephrase it as “What is the value of life?” because all meaning is subject to value judgements. But in order to determine this, as Heidegger knew, we need to get down to the most basic level of questioning and ask, as the pre-Socratic Greeks did, “What is the essence of life?”[i]

Of course, we are talking about Life, with a capital L, although by answering that question one should also be a huge step closer to understanding the meaning of their own individual life; defining the generic does help us understand the specific. The generic form of it makes it, in part, a question for science, and, in another part, a question for logic. Nevertheless, the resolution of the query has been severely soiled and butchered by being taken as a theological one.

“Whatever essential characteristics value has as condition of life depends on the essence of life, on what is distinctive about this essence.”[ii]

What is the distinctiveness of life from non-life? Isn’t it life’s distinctive ability to reproduce itself; its capacity for evolving into forms that are better suited for survival; in its desire for survival itself, which could be seen as a will for an abstract concept of permanence through reproduction.

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WHAT IS THE MEANING OF HUMANITY?

Yet, if the purpose of life is survival, then the evolution of the potentially life-threatening organism that humanity has become, seems like an ultimately failed process rather than a great triumph of world-will.

The reason for this resides in the fact that evolution is blind. It seems to have a purpose (survival) and a creative process capable of learning and relearning things in order to ensure the final success of that purpose (evolution), but there is no hand manipulating that process other than the achievements of the process itself.

Does this then make us a mere accidental product of a random evolution designed to survive certain inhospitable conditions arising at any given moment? If we answer in the affirmative, then we accept that there is no meaning to humanity, a nihilistic view that renders everything to the coincidental, with no footing in any certainty at all.

However, the sceptic must eventually become sceptical of his/her own scepticism. So, sceptical of scepticism we return to the question at hand: Why would life evolve into a life-threatening form like humanity? What can Life gain from humanity?

If we can find a positive answer to that question, then perhaps we can answer the query into the meaning underlying our human existences as well.

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WHAT IS THE MEANING OF HOMO SAPIENS?

A word carries a lot of semantic baggage and ‘humanity’ has a lot of negative connotations for a lot of people that are embedded within our pessimistic notions of ‘human-nature’. In order to imbue our humanity with a less prejudiced vision, we will use the scientific term for our species homo sapiens sapiens. By doing this we also clearly leap beyond the reductionisms of race, religion and nationalities and treat ourselves as members of a species, which is what we ultimately are. So, what does Life gain from our species? What does Life gain from Sapiens that it doesn’t get from other non-sapiens organisms?

Immediately we have an answer: knowledge of Itself.

Through Sapiens organisms, life knows itself. Existence becomes something more than just a thing that flows over one, or that which we float in and react to. Through a Sapiens consciousness existence is grasped as something which has come from somewhere and is moving forward into something different. Knowing gives existence a sense of permanence, and a conscious creative vision that comes from the realisation that all things can change.

Here, a circle of logic closes in on itself: knowing tells us that the essence is permanence through creative evolution. But this conclusion also immediately throws us out of its apparent circle. A circle is a non-evolving cycle – evolution, however, is always a leap beyond the apparent enclosure of the self-reproducing cycle.

Nature creates evolutionary leaps genetically, in a way that is even superior to the species’ own will to survive through carbon-copy reproduction; and also technologically, via the use of tools manipulated by organisms.

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SAPIENS: THE TECHNOLOGICAL SPECIES

Homo sapiens is the technological species par excellence. Sapiens is the knowing, technological animal.

Technology and knowing evolve in a spiral way, and we could probably map their relationship in a form that would very much resemble a DNA helix.

The spiral is a dynamic form of the circle. It winds itself, but in a way that moves forward as well as around. Because it has an elongated form it can advance and change. It can progress through self-change and adapt to changing environments.

Perhaps we could call this creative process ‘enhancement’, as Heidegger did: “Enhancement implies something like a looking ahead and through to the scope of something higher.”[iii]  

(TO BE CONTINUED)

[i] Heidegger, Martin, NIETZSCHE, vol. III + IV, Harper One, p. 16

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Ibid

Sapiens versus the Homo Economicus

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Nietzsche thought that pessimism was a slandering of the most powerful desires of life. This was no doubt true in the 19th century with its puritan, Victorian values. However, now we live in a global culture that embraces the potent life-impulses that Nietzsche loved and yet we are still a pessimistic and cynical society. Freud knew that Eros trickles into Thanatos. The will for life is tainted with the death wish. Life-impulses are not enough to give us a meaningful direction or purposiveness. There needs to be a rational, ethical anchor, an aesthetical positivism to drive our forward looking, future-feeling creative drives.

The future of the homo sapiens has to be Sapiens driven, instead of the mirror-world prison of the homo economicus.

The homo economicus is trapped in a purgatory of market exchange. That exchange system has no ambition other than to perpetuate the same old fantasy game of sacrifice for reward –

my labour for your money so I can purchase your products.

The Sapiens in us needs a stronger motive, a reason for being that is firmly locked into reality itself. Locked into the fresh metaphysical air that seeps out of our firm physical reality. Locked into the positivism that repositions humanity in the centre again.[i]

The homo sapiens has to channel its life-impulses through its sapiens reality. For us, knowledge is inseparable from life. Knowing is the highest expression of human existence. In sapiens terms the homo economicus has been a triumph of mediocrity and the insipid fantasies of that same mediocrity. The homo economicus has no feeling for human greatness and prefers to trample on it, screaming that its own insipid exchange-system reality is stronger than anything else.

In fact, the word noble sounds like a joke now. After all, it was the liberal revolution that beheaded all nobility. Even if only to replace the noble with its own creation – the star system. Good and evil have been transcended, but only to replace it with the winners and losers.

“Nobody any more is able to answer the question ‘for what?’”[ii] And Nietzsche’s lucidity continues when he predicts a culture (our culture) in which: “sensitivity to pain, restlessness, haste and hustling grow continually … and that the individual, faced with this tremendous machinery, loses courage and submits.”[iii]

But what does cowardice mean for the homo sapiens? Surely it has to be associated with a fear of thinking. Isn’t our lost courage a lost will to do what we do best? It is certainly a submission to the shackling of that sapiens faculty of knowing through discovery and its channelling into the all-consuming world of the market, our ubiquitous exchange system.

[i] See our earlier related blog entries:

https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/our-dependence-and-significance/ ; https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/uboric-will-hegels-spirit-the-godless-purposeful-universe/ ;

https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/ecology-as-ideology-and-the-uroboric-drive/ ;

https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/the-importance-of-metaphysics/

[ii] Nietzsche, WILL TO POWER, #33

[iii] Ibid

Our Dependence and Significance

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DEPENDENCE

We might or might not be free, but we are most certainly dependent.

Our existence depends on the air we breathe and on the space and the atmosphere that provides the kind of area in which breathable air can exist. We are dependent on atmosphere to protect us from harmful, cosmic radiation and to help stop us freezing in the frozen wasteland of the cosmos. We are dependent also on the fire within the core of our planet as well as the light that reaches us from the sun in order to provide conditions warm enough for human life to exist. Likewise, we are also dependent on the molecular structure of our body and especially our DNA to allow us to exist, be knowledgeable, reproduce ourselves and think we are free.

These are only a fraction of the things we depend on for our survival. If any one of them fails, our existence will stop. We are held together by forces and enclosed within other forces, and without these powers that ensure our physical construction and make the benevolent environment in which to move, we would not exist at all. But existence also depends on awareness, light, consciousness. Without a consciousness of existence, there is no real existence. Without life there can be no consciousness. If intelligent, conscious life only exists on Earth, then the planet Earth is the most significant point in the universe. We are necessary for the fulfilment of the universe.Everything we are dependent on depends on us for its Being.

SIGNIFICANCE

Cosmologists today talk of a finely tuned cosmos. Finely tuned to create life, as if life were a cosmic ambition. However, if that is so, why would it be? What can life give to the cosmos? But, of course, we have already answered that question – life, especially conscious life, enriches the universe with Being.

This idea implies a kind of anthropocentrism. In a numerical sense we are positioned in the very centre of the cosmos, between the macrocosm (1025) and the microcosm (10-25)[i]. However, this is a different kind of anthropocentrism to the traditional arrogant view of man as the most privileged of all creatures, in which the world is a thing put here by God for humankind to freely exploit. This new anthropocentrism doesn’t say that the universe was created for humanity, but rather that humanity was created for the universe. We are significant but also dependent. We are not the owners of the universe but rather the eyes and mind of it.

POSITIVISM

The idea of a humanity, significant in the universe and fundamental to the creation of Being in the universe, is a deeply positive one. It is also a profoundly humanistic one. We are not talking about races or nations, we are talking about humanity: humanity as a species, the homo sapiens. Thinking positively about the role of humanity in the universe is itself a form of self-preservation. And, in a world with a biosphere that is perilously close to becoming irreparably damaged by ruthlessly selfish human activity, positive thinking is vital in order to change that destructive, human behaviour.

Even the seemingly pessimistic idea that we are alone in the universe, has to be, in reality, a deeply positive incentive to ensure the preservation and good health of our biosphere, and of humanity within that biosphere.

VERSUS NIHILISM

Nihilism is constantly dragging humanity down into pessimistic fantasies of apocalyptic end days, prophesised with some degree of desire – as if our extinction would be doing the universe a favour.

Historically, pessimistic cultures have crumbled. The Aztecs and Incas both believed their time was up. Prophecy had ordained it. The Spanish conquest was pretty much assured even before it began.

Nihilism is a decadence, and nihilism and decadence provoke a cultural sense of being unworthy, and a lasses-faire attitude to any Armageddon.

[i] See Martin Rees, JUST SIX NUMBERS (THE DEEP FORCES THAT SHAPE THE UNIVERSE), Perseus, 2000, pp. 6 & 7.

THE MEANING OF THE UNIVERSE IS THE MEANING OF LIFE

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For a scientific understanding of life on Earth (or all life as we know it) we need only study its double helix, DNA. The DNA is an archive, a library and an operating system. Life, as such, is dependent on information that is stored, read and followed. The individual is subject to the complexity and limitations of this information. What’s more, it is this double helix which also determines our individuality as much as our similarities. We are biological computers based on a binary system of base pairs: a combination of adenine and cytosine; cytosine and guanine; guanine and thymine; thymine and cytosine, etcetera … This is our four element, binary combination language – the language of life.

But the question why does life exist is a profound one, as is the question of why does anything exist. Fundamental questions that the scientific understanding of life can only satisfy up to a point. In order to find deep answers to the deepest questions we need to go beyond fact to reasons and purpose; we have to bring science back into the fold of philosophical speculation from which science originated from sometime around the 5th century BCE.

This is not to say by any means that we should abolish or even diminish the science, but, on the contrary allow speculation to fuel a science-based philosophy concerned with meaning that will pull science back into the realm of metaphysics. A future science with pre-Socratic intentions if you like.

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Nothing can come from nothing, says reason, but science demonstrates that a particle can emerge from the void and vanish again. From nothing you came and to nothing you will return. The will to have what we lack. Nothing lacks everything, but let’s start with something. From the void there came a particle. That was enough. A thing, generated by lack of everything and motivated by a possibility of anything, aggregated into a singular complexity of that everything that needed to explode and allow such potential to become forms, perhaps even become everything in an infinite, multi-dimensional way. An everything that needs time and space in order to understand it. But within that time and space it also needs something capable of perceiving it. It needs an objective observer, something fashioned with sensors. Of course if everything exists there will not only be an abundance of these organisms, and an abundance of intelligent forms of these creatures, but also, an absolute lack of them … but that doesn’t make sense, does it? Or perhaps it does …

In order for everything and nothing to exist, time and space must exist, for it is time and space which provides the separation allowing for diversity to be possible. Everything is One thing, a mass that needs to be broken apart in order to be able to perceive the real potential of everything, but included in the One is also an Absolute Zero as well as a never truly achieved Infinity. This breaking apart of the Infinite singularity is managed through the manifestation of time and space.

But what has this got to do with the meaning of life?…

Life: a double-helix DNA executive commanding its single-strand RNA clerk. Our primary communication, which is at the same time the executive communication. Constant, but silent and secretive. The secret Genetic Code. A linear codex as of the steps of a ladder. Letters in a sentence, a punctuated sentence. Life is a language, dictated by DNA. We are built on carbon foundations building other complex language systems on silicon foundations.

The goal of evolution is to produce the perfect brain that will be able to achieve the most complex understanding of the world and the universe it is a tiny part of. The universe is a universe of information transmitted through language but mainly devoid of objects capable of understanding that language and acting accordingly. But by analysing the physical form of the universe it becomes clear that it has an aim. Time and space and DNA exist because the principal aim of the universe is to understand itself; to be able to exist in a conscious and self-conscious, self-fulfilled way. This can only take place through the agent of intelligent life.

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BETWEEN BIRTH AND DEATH

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Where is the freedom

Between birth and death

In the illumination between birth and death

Where is the freedom?

 

Open your eyes into the light

Close them and blackness fills

 

Our prisons are walls, or bars, or desert island insulations

Cells can be cages, or boxes, or bags, or homes

We are trapped in tunnels, or caves, on roads or rivers

Prisons can be of flesh

Or they can be of families

The tyrant gaoler father mother sister brother teacher boss

Ruler or friend, lover or foe

Prison is an isolation or a multitude

Retard movement in a restricting suit

With rope or chains or behind a steel locked door

Prisons impede

Impede your progress

Your ability to leave

Only mentally can you escape

 

Homo Sapiens: I think therefore I know

I know therefore I’m free

 

But the multitude is a different prison

A lobotomising gaol that dresses you

In the way it wants you to be dressed

That nourishes you

With the junk it wants you to have

 

The multitude is a prison of thinkers that do not know

Ostrich-head minds that do not want to see

Anti-sensory sapiens that refuse wisdom

 

Our boots are heavy with the mud of life

As we wade through the stress filled swamp of an imaginary illumination

There is no freedom there

 

Prisoners to the techno monsters that master us

We struggle so hard to buy our way in to the gaol

 

There is no freedom there

Unless you find the door

 

Everyone has a door to open

Hidden from them by the multitude

Under its thick curtain of economy

And the culture of money

But the exit is there if you are capable of uncovering it

 

You are Homo Sapiens: You think therefore you know

You know therefore you’re free

 

Imagine Rodin’s statuesque Thinker

Sitting on a backdoor key

That will unlock the exit and free him from the trap that

Is this ridiculous anti-human space

Between birth and death

THE END OF WORK AND THE DEATH OF MONEY

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Marx estimated that the introduction of power-looms into England reduced the labour required and subsequently labour costs by a half. Technology as it now stands has reduced labour costs in factories and warehouses to minimal levels – in many cases the only costs are those of the energy consumption of the machines and that of human maintenance of machines. It would not be science fiction to imagine that in the near future machines will be designed and programmed to maintain and reproduce themselves and that renewable energy technology will be developed providing a much cheaper, or even free, power source for machines, eliminating the human labour force in manufacturing completely.

Presently the human labour force is being shifted away from manufacturing into services and sales, design, programming, and maintenance. But with the development of robotics there may also be an immanent invasion of android workers coming. Once dexterity issues are overcome, these humanoid-machines, with more efficient information systems that have been programmed so that they work untiringly on specific tasks, could easily also begin to operate on a wide-scale in services, sales, programming and maintenance, and why not even design.

The immediate problem arising from this would be the realisation that human labour could become unnecessary. In a system like ours, in which all reward and satisfaction, even the idea of fulfilment itself, is subject to the individual’s sacrifices in the labour market, the logical evolution of technology towards the abolishing of labour must be impossible. We are faced with a paradoxical situation: we live in an advanced technological society, but the purpose of technology, which is to substitute the tedium of human labour and create a better world, is not allowed to fulfil itself because such a fulfilment would destroy the system of exchange and rewards for labour sacrifice that are the fundamental basis of our money-making system.

Here is the real essence of the System’s crisis. The relationship between production commodities and labour is one in which the latter is constantly shrinking whilst the former is rapidly growing. Eventually this relationship, which is already impossible through its inbuilt contradiction, will become absolutely unbearable. Full employment in modern capitalist society is impossible without making human labour cheaper and more efficient than machine labour. The current system of exchange – of sacrifice and reward via the concept of the production and purchase of commodities and services – is already obsolete. Unemployment is not the result of bad economics and political management, it is a necessary part of the exchange system as we have it.

The only way to remedy our economic absurdity and all the serious problems it creates is by removing one of the conflicting elements in the contradiction. Either technology has to be frozen or the exchange/reward system has to be radically rethought. Of course the most radical way of rethinking the latter would be to ask ourselves how a human society might exist without any exchange system at all, or how a complex technological society might function without money.