Thursday, June 9, 2011


At the question was "What is the Meaning of Life?" As usual, all the responses focused on human concerns. Here's my reply:

The problem with humans is that they are so... human. They can't get over themselves. Everything revolves around them. Even God is obsessed with them, or so the humans believe, despite not the tiniest shred of evidence.

Well, the best thing about humans is that they are human, and capable of wondrous things: abstract thought, language, culture, art, music, literature, science, architecture, technology. Despite seven billion of them running around loose on a smallish planet, they manage to get along... more or less, yet another testimony to the Universe's general preference for order.

But why can't they just try, once in awhile, to be more like animals, or plants, or fungi, or dust? It shouldn't be so hard. Aren't these are our little cousins? Maybe they know something we have forgotten. Our DNA line has been around for four billion years. We've only been human-like for a couple of million years... a pittance in the grand scheme of things. And our atoms have been around for longer than that! They date back to the star before our star, and the great supernova explosion that provided the building blocks for our solar system.

What is the meaning of life? Is that the question? Or is it the more myopic and narcissistic question, what is the meaning of human life? And would there be any real difference? Maybe the fundamental question is what is the meaning of existence? Why should we leave inanimate objects out of the conversation?

When we break out of our anthropocentric delusions, the answer seems pretty easy. The meaning of ALL things is existence itself. Because they exist, they have meaning. The whole has meaning, doesn't it? Therefore, the component parts must have meaning. Unity is comprised of diversity. Every mote of dust has just as much meaning, in the cosmic scheme of things, as anything else that exists. In terms of meaning, all things are equal. It's an egalitarian Universe. Only the whole has more meaning than the component parts.

And we are part of the whole. Therefore we are meaningful. Equally meaningful. A Nepalese peasant's life is as innately meaningful as that of the President of the United States. And a frog's life is as innately meaningful as the peasant's or president's.

Living things have a little more control than inanimate objects over the meaning of their existence, that's all. They have more options. So it's a quantitative thing, not a qualitative thing. And most living things have no problem handling their options. They go at it. They are champions at staying in the moment, and trying to live up to their potential. They try to be the best bacteria or orchids or ants or chimpanzees they can be. Existence equals meaning. Not just any existence.Their existence. God, the Great Spirit, the Universal Force, Evolution, Nature - whatever you want to call it - gives them this one chance at existence -- and, by God, they make the most of it.

Oh, but not us humans. We're so smart we've figured out a better way of existing. We can time travel! Our minds race into the past, future, further future, closer future, further past, closer past. Oops, what's going on here in the present?

And we've created culture that supports and inspires us, but also distracts and disparages us... setting us up as pawns and dupes in a largely exploitative economy, where we are seduced to spend vast portions of our existence doing absolutely meaningless things. But that's OK because if we squander or completely screw up this existence, we've got it worked out (in our minds) that there's an afterlife to be enjoyed. No wonder cows look at us like we are crazy. From an existence-maximizing point of view, we are lunatics.

The meaning of human life is to be fully human: to live, learn, laugh, love and lament. Strive toward your potential of human spirit and virtue. If you don't reach your destination, that's not the point. The journey is the point. It's the dash between the dates that will be on your tombstone.

Meanwhile, everything else in the Universe is existing as well. The volcano is going to be the best volcano it can be. The tsunami is going to be the best it can be. The rattlesnake and lion and great white shark and virus are going to be the best they can be. Mother Earth's tectonic plates are going to let go at times. Get yourself cross-ways with any of these energies just existing, and you may not continue to exist yourself.

Humans, with all their intelligence, should know better. By now we should be experts at synthesizing our intellectual awareness with the rest of the Universe and perceiving it not as something to fear, but something to respect, even find beautiful and spiritual.

But a case could be made, as Mark Twain suggested, that humans are the "lowest" animal. Full of hubris, sometimes sheer evil, we are a doozy of a species. With all of our creativity, and all of our toys, we are the only species that gets bored. Bored with existence. Ho-hum. What a dust mote would give to be alive (if it were conscious) and be able to wiggle around.

Why can't we be more like our dogs? They know the meaning of life. It's ingrained into their every cell. How about dolphins? Are those guys the happiest creatures that ever lived? Or maybe it's parrots.

It's ingrained in our cells, too, if we could shake out of our stupor and realize: all we really have to do today is breathe. The meaning of existence is to be your best self. For a human that should mean taking all of this intelligence and awareness and bonding with everything else that is also existing in this spacetime. Bonding with the Universe. Now that is meaningful.

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