Re: Getting up in the morning (was: Re: The Quest for the Purpose of Life)

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Tue Jan 29 2002 - 00:09:02 MST

At 08:25 PM 1/28/02 -0800, Robert wrote:

>> Life is its own purpose.

>Miriam of course is correct.

Miriam and Robert are quite likely both incorrect.

(Someone has to say these things, might as well be me. It's my purpose,
after all.)

>The primary purpose of life is to survive. The secondary purpose
>is to evolve (or become extinct).

The second sentence requires a pre-Darwinian metaphysics: evolution *per
se* as teleological. If it *were* so, then punctuated equilibrium (say)
would not be an observed fact of biological history. Every species would
have its mutation checkers and repair systems turned down to the very
lowest set point compatible with individuals surviving barely long enough
to reproduce and aid offspring (if that is beneficial). Indeed, we'd
probably find copious programming designed to modify the genome as greatly
as possible in each generation. I don't think that's a good description of
current life on earth, even if some bacteria approach it.

The first sentence is dubious in both philosophical and Darwinian terms;
`life' is a hypostatization, a reification, and is not the kind of entity
that can have a purpose; but if `it' did, then the purpose would inhere in
individual constellations of genes which are the only units that survive
for any length of time. But this assertion is already dubious in turn, as
any simple mantra has to be, given the shocking re-entrant complexity of

Damien Broderick

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