Monday, 14 February 2011

The Meaning of Life

I'm slightly worried that my posts may have become trivial of late, and could even be accused of 'dumbing down' so I thought I'd tackle the big one.

As an atheist I don't think there's any 'higher purpose' to life beyond the instincts of reproduction and survival, so in that sense I suppose there is no 'meaning of life', but what is more interesting is the value we place on the life we have.

On the one hand, the number of humans who have ever existed and will ever exist is so vast as to be, to the human mind, infinite, or near infinite. This renders our own actions and existences infinitely meaningless in a relative sense. And even if our actions were somehow meaningful to the human species as a whole, in terms of the universe the human species is infinitely meaningless in terms of the size of the universe and the impact we can have on it. The universe wouldn't notice if we nuked the entire planet, or all perished from human-caused climate change any more than it cried for the extinction of the dinosaurs or and of the other 99% of species that have gone extinct. The planets will keep turning regardless, and even if they didn't would it matter? The universe existed for 14bn years before humans, and will exist for billions of years after humans. Its complete indifference to human activity, and the fact that all human endeavour will ultimately count for nothing, is good reason to argue that life is meaningless and pointless.

However, you could also take the opposite view. Each person has a finite amount of time which sooner or later will come to an end. If life were a resource available on the market, it is so finite that its value would be extremely high, so while time itself may be worthless, time alive is extremely valuable, if only for its own sake.

As it's Valentine's Day, I'll also look at the idea of love and 'soul mates'. There is no evidence for the existence of soul mates, and I would say that the fact that 50% of marriages end in divorce is good evidence against them. If everyone is pre-designated to one other person, is it then an interference with some higher plan to have children with the wrong person? Obviously, if there was some sort of divine plan it would be impossible to interfere with if it was created by an omniscient being, who presumably knew what was going to happen and would have incorporated it into her/his/its plan. I wonder if those who believe in soul mates would condemn those born to couples who eventually separate as against God or fate. Regardless, if a couple has divorced, it implies that they chose the wrong person to get married to. As a child of separated parents, this creates the peculiar situation where if my parents had realised that they would not get along for the rest of their lives, they may not have got married, and I wouldn't have been born. Not believing in fate and soul mates is very comforting in this situation, as it doesn't suggest I, and many others, go against a diving plan. As is the logic that if I hadn't been born it wouldn't have mattered at all and I would never have known. In all probability many of the people who marry the wrong person would have married someone else, so those born to separated parents deprived someone else of existence. But that person can never know or care. This is comforting because if it was the other way round I would be in their situation, it wouldn't matter to me either. Pitying the unborn is pointless.

You may find some of these conclusions depressing, but comfort can be found in reason. Be grateful for the time you have, but don't beat yourself up if you don't make the most of it. No-one's going to care.

P.S. Scared of death? There may be hope yet...

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