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

THE MEANING OF THE UNIVERSE IS THE MEANING OF LIFE

microcosm-macrocosm

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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THE ULTIMATE REASON

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There is an anecdote, told by Peter Sloterdijk in Neither Sun nor Death, that a rabbi taught that the Creation was attempted twenty-seven times before finally getting it right on the twenty-eighth experiment.

Let us imagine twenty-seven Big Bangs, creating twenty-seven kinds of universes that were all incapable of spawning a life form possessing self-awareness and intellectual perception of the universe that enveloped it. Without such a life form these universes themselves did not really exist and the rabbi would have to trust the Creator’s word that he had actually made these things that were never perceived by anything except Itself. Only the twenty-eighth Creation, this one that we perceive, has been successful, because the primary definition of a successful existence depends quite simply on the existence being perceived.

We are not the end-result of Creation, but the end result may have to come through us, or through us and through other Sapiens species with a similar capacity for sensing, learning, understanding and teaching what is known. The reason behind Creation has to be in its self-discovery – discovered by what Itself has created. This is not a question of intuition of God or of a faith and belief in the dogma of religion, but of a complete and unambiguous understanding of the Universe in which we are.

THE IMPORTANCE OF METAPHYSICS

Multiverse

We’ve had a century in which philosophy and its life-long partner, metaphysics, have been divorced. The result has been an abandoning of the big questions and the age of nihilism that had to be a necessary consequence of such a rupture. In fact we could define nihilism as a condition in which the big questions are not allowed to be asked. What we gain from this separation is a certain liberation from theological speculations and so many of the absurd dogmas and superstitions that religions propagate, but- what we lose is a serious vision of existence and our direction forward. In short, we lose our meaningfulness in the deep sense. “Vanity of vanities” was the great nihilistic statement.

Nevertheless, metaphysical thinking hasn’t ceased, in fact it’s healthier than ever in what are the most unlikely places: in the halls of science. It is the scientists – the quantum physicists and cosmologists – who are now speculating on the origin of things and all the multiplicity that has grown from that origin like never before. An example of this can be seen in this TED talk by Brian Greene:

 

or this other by Martin Rees:

It is this scientific community now who are obsessed with the big questions: what are we?; where have we come from?; where are we going? Ideas of fine tuning in the universe, or multiverse, leave fertile ground for religious thought, but the new ideas are usually coming forward from atheists who see no real, scientific reason for wavering from their godless universe conceptions. A multiverse idea implies that if there have been endless amounts of universes, eventually one of them will have to work. In an infinity, our existence is a mathematically certainty.

But this reduction, or expansion, of our necessary reality created by the mathematical necessities of infinity doesn’t have to diminish the meaningfulness of our existence. Even if purpose is accidentally formed, when we find it we must not only acknowledge it, but embrace it and rejoice in it.

Real purpose may lie in something as simple as: Being is in our perception of it. Philosophy has always hovered around this point: a point that became quickly confused and obfuscated by the idea of God.

For philosophy to be able to think metaphysically again God had to be removed from the equation. Metaphysics had to be separated from God not annihilated along with God’s elimination.

However, it seems that metaphysics is a stronger element than 20th century philosophy credited it to be and new metaphysical and teleological theories are being born in quantum and cosmological discoveries. This metaphysical renaissance of meaning into the fabric of science must bring about a return to the idea of philosophy in its purest form… the pre-Socratic purity of the big questions.