Re: The Quest for the Purpose of Life

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Mon Jan 28 2002 - 04:29:43 MST

Phil Osborn wrote:

> This is so-oo depressing. Like, how many times do we have to keep re-inventing the wheel?
> Ayn Rand covered this topic rather well, I thought, and I would have assumed that as astute a group as extropians would surely have absorbed at least the basics of Rand's thought with their mother's milk.
> Briefly, the question "what is the purpose of life," contains an error of category. Things only HAVE purposes TO living entities. Purpose to WHOM and FOR WHAT???? Purpose only has meaning with regard to a living entity. To ask then - what is the purpose of LIFE? - is meaningless. LIFE creates and identifies purposes. (This does not mean, however, that all purposes are equally valid. Life itself - and each living entity - has a specific identity.)
> Outside of life, what could it possibly mean for something to have a purpose? (Mind you, I'm not restricting "life" to a simple-minded CHO/DNA model. Any entity which has a certain set of system properties potentially qualifies, including virtual models - eg., uploads. As Rand put it, life is a process of self-generated and self-sustaining action. But that's not an exhaustive definition, and without further explication of the term "action," as opposed to simple motion, as well as the concept of a "process," there are still vast potential epistemological pitfalls.)
> It is the lack of precision in terms such as "life," "process," "action," "value," "purpose," "moral," "ethical," and a host of similar or related concepts (and include "concept," or course) which enables these endless meandering, largely purposeless opinionfests. Rand by no means completed the job of clarification of these issues, but I suggest that those who are seriously interested in discovering useful knowledge take a look at what she did accomplish. It can really help clear out some of the fog.

This is, imho, one of her major blunders. She claimed that an
immortal robot would have no need for ethics and no standard of
values. This speaks rather badly for our future SI, or even for
ourselves. Values are a matter of choice of what one most cares
about acheiving, not simply and only what one most needs to
continue living when death is an alternative and the ultimate
disvalue. Effectively immortal beings can thus also have values
as can software and robotic sentiences. Values are not, in a
word, and ought implied totally from the given of existence and
existence as a living biological being. That is just one of
many roots of "value".

Questioning how we come to value, what we value, why and how it
may be acheived is certainly not "purposeless" in the least. It
is one of the highest types of questions we can consider.

- samantha

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