The purpose of life

I have written for other forums brief essays on the future of humanity in the light of what we know about human evolution (including evolutionary psychology) and the human situation in the 21st century. A list of all the essays is at the foot of the page.

I participated in a discussion on this Yahoo! group on 25 April 2009 [1] :
 >
 > > Jay says: No Dex. We were born with what destroyed/is
 > > destroying the world. Inclusive fitness (peacock tails) writ
 > > large equals dieoff.
 > > You still don't understand the selfish gene metaphor.
 >
 > I do understand it, but all that is just the biological ROM,
 > human being quite quickly boot into a higher level OS
 > (culture, religion, and values) which makes possible things
 > like law, science, and engineering. You yourself operate at
 > this higher level most of the time--as do many of us!
 >
 ======================
 >
 > Jay says: No we don't.  Everything we do or say is biological.  
 > We don't exist without biology. 
 
Evolutionary Spirituality seems to me to be a conceit and nothing more. It certainly makes me feel good (and resonates with my own outlier take on deep ecology [2]), but I fear it is wholly a construct of our minds and has no more relevance to understanding our place in the biosphere than astrology or other New Age wishful/magical thinking.
 
"The purpose of life" of all species is to perpetuate life: to fight for limited energy in order to survive to reproduce in a way that strives to ensure the maximum survival of one’s genes into the next generation (no further – that’s wholly their problem). In this fight to reproduce it is the role of all species to be both consumers and the consumed. Life is a circular process and every participant is part of the biological system. To illustrate: we inhale and exhale bacteria at every breath, our digestive systems are consuming other species 24/7 (with the assistance of millions of bacteria we host and depend upon), we exchange bodily fluids with others, our waste is welcome food to other species; we have no effective boundaries that separate us from other species – we are all ingredients and actors in a great dynamic life soup.
 
Recognizing this, if we want a moral imperative, we should simply be good animals and contribute to the health of this soup (rather than acting to degrade or incapacitate it or retard its processes) so it can achieve its purpose - faster, faster!
 
We might be dissatisfied with such an uninspiring or prosaic purpose and, in our anthropocentrism, see it as “hopeless”, “meaningless”, “degrading”, “demeaning” or “inadequate”. And so our questing human minds are inevitably driven to reject this biological reality and invent other grander, more elevating purposes to fill the spiritual chasm we feel. But these purposes are just constructs created by the Homo sapiens mind which has evolved to have capacities that happen to be surplus to some requirements in our present environment (these may include love, compassion, the ability to reflect, spirituality etc.).
 
That is not to say we should abandon Evolutionary Spirituality or whatever worldview works to give meaning to our existence. Our minds seem to crave deeper meaning for our own individual lives, so there is nothing at all wrong or un-Darwinian with our filling this need with the most satisfying meaning we can invent, particularly if it is a meaning we can share. But the thoughtful among us, those who have wisdom, will never assume this human invention is more than that: an invention by the mind of one species in an attempt to plug an existential gap felt by the members of that species. The real purpose of life goes on relentlessly in the biosphere until, in a few billion years, it ends in a solar flash.
 
Keith

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Notes

1. Since posting the original to the discussion list, I have edited the text for what I have subsequently seen as greater clarity. Back to text

2. My own 'deep ecology' position is informed by the critique of Richard Sylvan and a non-mystical understanding of Gaia - better understood through Stephan Harding's Animate Earth than through the original writing of James Lovelock. Back to text

List of the essays on the future of humanity:

Essay 1: Human = reindeer
Essay 2: Hope
Essay 3: I=PAT: Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology
Essay 4: Evolutionary psychology and climate change
Essay 5: Conservation - the passing of the word and the idea
Essay 6: The 2008 economic crisis and evolutionary psychology
Essay 7: The purpose of life and evolutionary psychology (this page)

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Page added 25 April 2009    Page updated 26 April 2009