Re: The Quest for the Purpose of Life

From: Phil Osborn (
Date: Mon Jan 28 2002 - 21:28:24 MST

>>Phil Osborn wrote:

>>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.

>Mike Lorrey reponded:

>Well, some living entities have purposes to other living entities: domesticated plants and animals, for instance. Some species of insects entire purpose is to serve other insect species, and could not survive
outside of their dens (see how ants domesticate other species).

>Similarly, there is a particular subgroup of human beings who can only find purpose in being the purposes of others: preists and their believers, politicians and their syncophants, officers and their soldiers, any sort of social structure that utilizes a patron/client relationship.

Phil responds:

Yes, but the issue was presented as "what is the purpose of LIFE?" As in, "what is the purpose of ART?," or "what is the purpose of DISCUSSION GROUPS." To say that LIFE an sich has some purpose is to predicate that it serves the purpose of something outside itself. When you make that assumption implicitly, by asking the question, almost inevitably, in the confusion that follows, you will probably find yourself coming up with Gods, demons, mystical nonsense, or something necessary to satisfy the logical equation.

Other living things may certainly serve our purposes, but purpose itself only has meaning to each living thing. The purpose of a hammer might be to "hammer" nails, but it could also be a weapon, or hold down blueprints in a wind... The hammer could have no purpose without some living thing using it to do something. Purposes are unique to and only acquire existence relative to the choices, actions, goals of living things. The same thing can serve different and conflicting purposes for different living beings.

(As for first causes, "life" is simply a very, very, successful evolutionary outcome. (Evolution occurs outside of life, as well. Life just learned how to ride that pony really well.) For human beings, each individual can be viewed as the successful outcome of 4 billion or so years of survivors. Or, perhaps we are all dreams in a simulation.... But, somewhere evolution created the life that created the simulation. Evolution is a metaphysical absolute.

To expect any such creature not to have incredibly powerful built-in programs to encourage it to carry on the tradition would be silly. The feedback loops that build our consciousness from womb on are biased toward success and survival, just as much as the intricacies of our immune or digestive systems.)

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