Re: The Quest for the Purpose of Life

From: Phil Osborn (
Date: Wed Jan 30 2002 - 21:31:00 MST

Samantha Atkins wrote:

>So, what does this say, if correct, about ourselves once we get to the point where little less than something that wiped out several light years of our best structures and backups could kill us? Are we then condemned to have only utterly arbitrary and "bizarre and meaningless" values? Do we have to keep the
possibility of final death ever close to stay sane?

INTERESTING Question - and one on which I've spent many an hour in contemplation.

Here's a starting point:

In 1967, as a freshman at U.GA. in Physics, I was introduced to calculus. At the time, however, my real interest was in philosophy, and especially arguments about the meaning and purpose of life, what constituted "happiness," and how, in general, it was achieved.

Very briefly, the conclusion I reached, which has so far stood the test of time, is this:

Consider the sets of goals, real, potential, alternate strategies, etc., which you have formulated or adopted implicitly, as set against the respective realities. I labeled these the "real analogs," versus the "goal analogs."

The distance between the real and the goal analogs may be very close and a matter of trivial effort to bring to convergence, or they may be infinitly removed - as in the case of inherently impossible goals, such as those requiring contradictions.

In general, we experience satisfaction of various kinds when we are convinced the real and goal analogs are converging, and dissatisfaction on the contrary belief.

Jumping ahead a few dozen steps in the logic, however, I concluded that simply achieving an endless series of non-conflicting goals (goals that did not defeat each other or preclude my actually getting there, such as a goal that required that I die first)* would not yield continual or endless happiness. Instead, one would be oscillating between satisfaction and dissatisfaction, and as this reality analog became more and more apparent, boredom, ennui, etc., would set in.

There had to be something more. Calculus gave me an insight. Suppose we looked at the convergence in terms of derivatives. The first derivative of convergence - the velocity - might be constantly or mostly positive over time, but if it averaged to a finite limit, then we would hit that boredom phase.

One candy bar is great. The second is good. The fifteenth or one-thousanth incremental candy bar is barely noticed.

But what if ALL the derivatives are positive? I.e., not just velocity, but acceleration, acceleration of acceleration1, ... to acceleration of acceleration(n), where n is infinite. The degree of positiveness doesn't matter. An infinitesimal will do.

The question then becomes, if we assume that the above is fundamentally correct, under what circumstances would we be able to make all the derivatives positive? If this is impossible, then why try living forever?

*This particular line of analysis yields the same outcome that Rand reached - that values can be correct or incorrect, and should be based on the nature of the entity doing the valueing.

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