Okay, time to write something good for once.
“What is the meaning of life?” This is my favorite question for reasons that shouldn’t need explaining. It’s adventurous albeit consistently futile, something that has never gone unconsidered by any mature adult, expert scientist, proven philosopher or stoned teenager. Yet, there is certain consensus that we have not made much progress in revealing a purifying answer.
Beautiful. It reads like Carl Sagan and Maya Angelou’s throes as they reach simultaneous orgasm: existential, poetic, somewhat arousing. This could be it; this is going to give me the break I deserve. I better start googling writing agents.
But is the question itself the correct one? Science fiction lovers will remember Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, in which the meaning of life is answered and the question itself is what’s unknown [the “answer”, for those wondering, was “42.“] In that spirit, I’ve found it productive to rephrase the question for myself, and this is the rephrasing I have settled on, so far. Instead I ask:
“What is the purpose of life?”
SHORYUKEN! Landed a deep concept with the power of a Shotokan master, or at least an Asian teenager hopped up on Pocky. This is getting so good, I can’t wait to see what everyone’s going to say in the comments.
That single variation of a word has revealed an improved understanding of the question itself for me, because I believe knowing the purpose of life offers greater potential than simply understanding its meaning.
Ideally, purpose speaks of what must occur to fulfill self, whereas meaning might only tell me that “I am because I am loved” which doesn’t give me much to work with, physically. At best, there is the promise of a soft and fuzzy feeling of understanding which seems pleasant, but impractical without application or instruction to that end. [Digression: Is anyone else terrified to accept the possibility that the “true” answer may just be that, a simple gift of unfaltering understanding, and that this truth is obscured by the muck we drudge trying to find something deeper?]
Notably, the meaning of life still stands hierarchically above its purpose and I recognize that cannot be forgotten; the question of life’s meaning remains. However, what is it that we hope to gain from understanding life’s meaning? Something substantial, correct? Something ultimately leading to a greater happiness and balance?
I venture, then, that the better question is rather that of life’s purpose. Here, I define purpose as necessary action to obtain a sense of fulfillment and joy, and life as anything, everything; not just organic life, but that threading energy that weaves all our tragically temporal forms, alive or not, from atoms and cells to stars and galaxies.
All right, rein it in. Don’t fill this thing with definitions then muddy them with abstractions. Seriously, though, this is all great. You’re like… the king of philosophy. King Philosopher? Or is it King Philosophist? Whatevs, the Redditors are going to upvote the shit out of this, fo’ SHO.
When this goes viral, I should probably start another website just for my philosophy pieces. Other smart, productive people will appreciate that.
Oh, I should probably pin this once I’m done, too. Chicks are totally into this deep bullshit, probably misconstruing intelligence for some degree of competency in bed. Joke’s on them!
Whoops, off track.
So, what is life’s purpose then? Yet another enterprising if not futile question, but I think I have an answer, albeit a simple, perhaps unsatisfying one.
Unsatisfying to people incapable of appreciating the heat and force of this impending KNOWSPLOSION.
I believe life’s purpose is to produce: to build, to organize, to break apart and then reassemble into something ideal. We produce buildings, art, tools, electronics, societies, nations, religion, myths and more, and the universe is a more organized, textured place for it. The individual is happier when they are making, something, anything; less happy when they cannot. We’ve not mastered the art of production, of course, and much of our work is disastrous. Unfortunately, our skill is young and our handiwork still quite sloppy, but we’re evolving.
When a life-form reaches its end or an object is disassembled into pieces that gravitate into other wholes or are placed into them, it then becomes material for another production. The “circle of life”, as they say. A seed grows into a tree that yields fruit that fall and decompose into food for fauna and seeds for another tree; a child becomes a teen that loves a particular instrument and so plays it until they produce beautiful music for all to enjoy; a star burns for countless generations before it collects enough of just the right materials to sustain life, and that life, occasionally, is quite thankful for it.
The consequences of failing our purpose are easily observed, though it often seems that it’s only possible to fail them when deliberate force is pressed against nature. This force may be exerted internally or externally, as by will of the mind or will of the fist, respectively. A tree that does not flower cannot reproduce; the teen that cannot play their music fills with angst and ire; and the star that does not produce soils for life does not grow beyond its status as a star. Otherwise, nature drives the way, the progress of life or “the Tao” as it is believed in the East.
But what physically drives this natural tendency toward productivity, what mechanism of the universe decides and guides?
Good question. Goddamn, I’m hungry and this shit is taking forever. I want that sandwich now, fuck finishing this first. It’s already so good that I could probably just stop here and have my sammy now, make this a two-parter. But it needs a little more, another meaty bite before I wrap it. Something to blow up the Twittersphere, something Regis will faintly remember to ask about during the interview, something covered in turkey with mustard and crispy tomatoes. Ugh.
I am no scientist. In fact, I may be an idiot. But I believe it is gravity that drives nature’s rhythms, literally and metaphorically, physically, mentally, socially; and I believe this system is symbolic of our purpose. A message in a method, if you will.
Perhaps gravity is more than a force of nature. Maybe it’s a simple blueprint for something greater. As much as one atom is drawn to another, aren’t we drawn to each other? to similar interests? to collaborative endeavors? to build cities in the desert? to fish the habitats of the Pacific? Similarly, do we not repel opposites as in magnetism, the little brother of attractive force? Bikers and nerds keep separate orbits, as do Republicans and Democrats, lions and antelope, Chiefs and Cowboys fans, competing cola products and countless other examples. Countless because the universe is infinite and this system is followed throughout, like the rhythm of life’s song.
Can these servers handle the impending traffic flood? Yeesh, I hadn’t even thought of that. When the major networks catch wind of this wisdom, their viewership will crush my bandwidth limits for sure. “Oh, Success, cruel mistress. Why is it I, to be so beloved?”
Our thoughts, activities and life itself are tuned to this rhythm of the universe, kept in sync the best it can by gravity. But gravity is not a perfect force, no more against our spaceships and pole-vaults than love is against asynchronous hearts. It can be resisted, beaten, altered even. This is our free will, our tool for greater potentials. Regardless, a truth remains the same, and that truth means growth for those that maintain the rhythm (its critical components at least) and atrophy for those that deny it.
What is truly more important to us, then? The meaning of life or its purpose; our purpose?
They are both important, but certainly not equal in definition and I argue not in quality either. To ask the purpose of life speaks of a desire to do something with it, to act in it, to do more than just be. But knowing the meaning of life no more fulfills my day than knowing light refraction through water colors the sky, even though such beauty is undeniable.
Thank goodness that’s over. Sandwich is my purpose now.