What is the meaning of life? To Aristotle it was to attain Happiness. To Christians it is to ‘glorify’ God (whatever that means). To the dictionary, it is the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, and to Douglas Adams and fans it is an inexplicable ‘42’. But to Vonnegut, our purpose on Earth was to fart around. And that is an idea I can get behind.
The search for purpose in life, the need to find a reason why we are here, is something distinctly human (unless Elephants or Chimps have philosophical discussions we just don’t understand). That could be because we are evolutionarily ‘superior’ to other animals and are the only ones with the brain capacity to find meaning in life, making it our obligation to do so, but I think that instead maybe we’re all stuck up our advanced, evolutionary arses thinking that we are special and that there’s a reason for us being here. Regardless, searching for meaning is what we continue to do.
We search for the meaning of life in many ways. Through Religion, Philosophy, Careers, and Family. But are any of these really our reason for being here on Earth?
Religion – uses stories and fables to help us make good moral decisions and give us answers for the unexplainable. All religions tell, through their varying symbols, the story of our origin. Humans are here as God’s creation. Creatures placed on this Earth for a reason. Even if that reason is simply to worship God (which is very petty really, creating people with the sole purpose of worshiping you) or to be good to one another so that we can be rewarded for that goodness in an afterlife, which will also be good (which sounds long winded to me). Religion is maybe the biggest proprietor of this need to find a purpose to life on Earth because it claims to have the answers. But fairytales and calming stories are not sufficient an explanation of our existence and purpose on this Earth for the strong of mind and reason. When you contemplate the sheer number of religions, gods, and conflicting moral ‘absolutes’ propounded in human history, it seems unfeasible that one of them holds the true meaning of our being here. If religion gives you meaning and purpose, that is all well and good for you and your peace of mind, but know that you are wrong. So just fart around instead.
Philosophy – the discipline of trying to answer the unanswerable. As such, there are many theories put forward for our purpose on Earth, but, as is the necessary nature of philosophy, they are all unprovable. There will be philosophical arguments to support your beliefs regardless of what they are, and they are all equally as unprovable and unsatisfactory as true answers to the ultimate question of life the universe and everything. So just relax, contemplate, and fart around.
Careers – I don’t believe that the purpose of us being on Earth could ever be to do as well as possible at a job. Mostly because the universe didn’t create jobs, we did, so they haven’t been around for all that long and can’t be our reason for being here. I respect people who are so involved in their careers that they think their purpose in life is their careers, sort of, to a degree, depending on what the jobs is, but I also feel sad for them because there is much more to life than your job and your salary. Careers are a way of proving worth to yourself and your fellows, and a way of contributing to society, but not really anything more. I cannot say that I have been put on this Earth to do really good marketing for the firm I am currently working for. That is ridiculous. That is why we are so often told and encouraged to do what we enjoy for a job, because then it isn’t a job really, it’s just having fun, farting around, and getting some money for it so you can buy food and not die.
Family – I love my family, but I don’t think that having one is the purpose of me being on Earth, because that is a self-perpetuating, endless cycle of reasoning. It doesn’t make sense that I would have a family so that they could have a family, who could then have a family, who have another family ad infinitum with no end reached. Sure, there is an evolutionary imperative in humans to extend our genetic line by propagating and having our DNA passed through future humans, but that isn’t the purpose of life. It just doesn’t make sense that we’re here on Earth to make more people that can be here on Earth to make more people. ..and now I’m just repeating myself about repetition…
Which leads me to the conclusion that; if we aren’t here to work, be devout to a god, or to perpetually continue our genetic line, maybe we are here to just fart around. And is that such a bad thing?
Life just for the sake of farting around is pointless, and meaningless, but that sounds liberating and fun. Maybe it is because I am lazy and scared to look for meaning in life and like this cop-out, have fun, there is no purpose to your existence option. But a pointless world, a world for dicking around in without a greater purpose gives us freedom to stop worrying, end the existential turmoil, and just enjoy ourselves. Full on hedonism!
Of course, we may have to abide by some societal rules from time to time, we shouldn’t affront or accost any other people, and though we have the freedom to do and look how we please, we may have to occasionally succumb to, for example, caring about our appearance, as a requisite for getting into the pants of someone we fancy (metaphorically – unless you want to actually wear their pants, then go ahead), but you can also choose not to. No requirements. No absolutes. No purpose we must fulfill.
Humanity’s time on this Earth so far amounts to as close to nothing in the grand scheme of things as to barely matter, a mere spot in the face of 14 billion year old Father Time.
Maybe we don’t like thinking about that as a collective; the idea that we are just a freak of nature, an absurd anomaly, a self-aware collection of atoms. The idea that we are here for no apparent reason can also leave you with that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. A feeling of apathy or dread. And maybe that’s why we believe in or search for a reason for us being here. As Douglas Adams once wrote ‘if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion’. Proportion is scary.
Life matters to us during our time experiencing it. It may only be a pinprick in time, but it is our pinprick.
Still, with a wider perspective, and a sense of proportion, I don’t think we should worry about trying to find a greater purpose or meaning to life. If we can accept that we are an anomaly, we can be content with our own, self-derived purpose, whatever that may be. Or, you know, we can just fart around.