The meaning of life


If I believe that everything in the world consists of matter how can there be a meaning to anything? If all there is in the world are particles moving around randomly, if the universe is just a lump of meaningless matter how can such a view be justified? This is my answer to that question.

Levels of organisation

Take a look at a picture in a newspaper. It consists of simple dots. One can not see the picture by observing the dots one at a time, to do so you must step back and look at the whole picture. Or take the words in this document. They are built on letters, but from analyzing the letters alone, one at a time, you can't get any understanding of what I'm trying to say. My thoughts only appear when you consider a higher level of organisation - the letters build words, the words build sentences, and the sentences build an insight in my philosophy. The important thing here is that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. The dots build a picture, the letters build thoughts and give rise to a higher level of organisation.

Where to find the meaning of life

Because the mind lies on a higher level than does atoms the meaning of life can't be explained by looking at atoms. Atoms are in fact totally meaningless, so that makes the universe a useless lump of atoms if one studies atoms. But our minds are more than just atoms moving around randomly, an atom can't ask questions about the meaning of life, because it is dead. The mind, on the other hand, can do that so the meaning of life should be sought by studying people not atoms. I read a good analogy once (on the matter of moral) in a file called The Human Basis of Laws and Ethics, the headline "The source of morality", by Frederick Edwords.

There is also a tendency for some to seek the meaning of life in the mechanisms of evolution or the market. This is an even higher level of organisation than the mind, but just like I don't care if I lose one or a few skin cells or sweat drops (in fact a human body loses more than 10 000 particles every minute by just standing still) so is the market completely unconcerned about the wellfare of an individual. The meaning of human life must not be found at the higher levels of organisation, but on the human level.

So what is the meaning of life?

I'm sorry, but I can't answer that for anybody. To find the meaning of your life everybody must look for themselves. This is what I have found.

First I thought that there is no meaning of life, and there isn't, not in life itself as a phenomenon. But then I realised that there is a meaning to every creature's life. The meaning of somebodys life, I said, is to spread it's genes in the population (Don't worry folks, I didn't live by this rule.), but now I have realized that I looked for the meaning of life in the wrong places. Procreating is fun, and part of the meaning of life, but we have reached a part of the development where procreating only leads to overpopulation. Overpopulation leads to wars and may be good for the genetic evolution of mankind, but is bad in the long run.

I totally agree with Julian Huxley in the preface of his book Essays of a Humanist (1964), that with the birth of civilization evolution has changed from being quantitive to becoming qualitive:

"Among the points which seem to me important are the following. First the fact that, though biological evolution operates by a purely quantitive mechanism, in the shape of natural selection, it results in the qualitative improvement of actual organisms. In the present period of psychosocial evolution, however, quantitative increase is leading to a decrease of quality in people and in many aspects of their lives. This makes it necessary to change our sights, and to aim at psychological satisfaction and fulfilment rather than quantitative acquisitiveness in regard to material goods or technological utilitarianism, to strive for right direction of advance rather than any fixed goal or ideal static state."

My present view is that the meaning is to enjoy your life to the fullest without stepping on people's toes. One should not look for peaks of pleasure but try too get the most longlasting pleasure. For example, there is very intensive pleasure in drugs (Don't worry, I don't know this from personal experience), but becoming a drug addict will lead to discomforts which exceeds the pleasure of being turned on. For the same reason real love is much greater than a one night stand.

Because there are many people in the universe, whith different needs, there is no absolute meaning of life. The meaning is different for different people, but we share many common needs so there should be a common meaning. Enlightened self interest is a good way to achieve maximum happiness to a maximal amount of people. If you live to make everybody else happy there will be more happieness, but if nobody looks at his best self interest nobody will be able to get that happiness.

I have not read anything by J. S. Mill, but I figure my view is quite similar to Utilitariansm and "The pursuit of happiness". That is one of the reasons why I call myself a Humanist.

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Last update: October 5, 1996

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