What’s your meaning and purpose?

Here’s survey I’m taking to see whether a theory I have, which is mine, bears any resemblance to reality. Here are two questions I’d like readers to answer in the comments. Here we go:

If a friend asked you these questions, how would you answer them?

1.) What do you consider the purpose of your life?

2.) What do you see as the meaning of your life?

Now I know there are a lot of nonbelieving readers, so I don’t expect that many of the answers will involve “God.” I am not implying that either meaning or purpose must be conferred by some kind of deity—or even by forces of beings outside yourself. Further, you may consider the questions ambiguous or meaningless, in which case say so.

I got curious about this since yesterday Andrew Sullivan asserted that the last few centuries of human progress, showing big improvements in worldwide well being and material welfare, rob life of meaning, purpose, and spiritual sustenance. To claim that is to claim that people’s lives actually have those attributes. (You can also expatiate about what brings you “spiritual sustenance.”)

I’m trying to find out whether, in this audience, people really feel that there’s meaning and purpose in their lives, and, if they have some “spiritual sustenance,” where it comes from.

Sullivan also implied that atheists have no source of these attributes, so asking an audience comprising mainly the godless might be instructive.  Please humor me and answer the questions.

Thanks!

373 Comments

  1. Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    I’d reject both questions as ill-posed. There is no “purpose” or “meaning” of our lives.

    There is, of course, plenty of meaning and purposes *within* those lives.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      We could just say “cake” – I bet some will say “cats”!

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      Except for that which we make for ourselves. There is also the purpose/meaning that is imposed on us by others.

      • rom
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        I am not sure I agree with this.

        My body/brain has been assembled/disassembled molecule by molecule over decades. The brain has been shaped by all sorts of inputs visual, sounds, tastes, smells etc and the resulting interactions. And I am not a blank slate either in that evolutionary genetics plays a role too.

        So whatever purpose or meaning I might ascribe to bits and pieces in this universe has come from outside of me.

        • Vaal
          Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

          Ah, yet more “greedy reductionism”
          on display.

          Rom,

          Why do you choose to make yourself – the functions of your specific brain – invisible in the production of purpose?

          You ascribe the production of purpose to all those things external to yourself – things like physics and evolutionary genetics which are not non-sentient processes that cannot have purpose, and you ignore the only item on the chain that DOES produces purposes: your brain.

          That is a very strange and seemingly pointless way to make purpose of external to yourself.

          • rom
            Posted March 13, 2018 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

            The brain produces “purpose”? Perhaps?

            Only certain arrangement of atoms can create purpose?

            What is the purpose of your post Vaal? I presume you think you had one, and perhaps you can confabulate a purpose now for me?

            Do you deny determinism, aka greedy reductionism?

            I can’t help thinking our higher level models should not be in opposition to our lower level deterministic models.

            • Vaal
              Posted March 14, 2018 at 2:48 am | Permalink

              Of course the brain produces purpose.
              The brain is how you produce your thoughts.
              Inless you think you have a soul? (Which would only produce more problems).

              Why do you seem to question that certain arrangements of atoms produce purpose? Do you question that certain arrangement of atoms can produce a cherry pie, or that creatures made of atoms can’t produce things – e.g beavers can’t produce beaver dams?

              Purpose arises from entities like ourselves who have desires, intentions and who can take actions to fulfill those desires. I have a desire to become more fit, I deliberate that walking to work instead of driving is more likely to help fulfill that desire, so I choose that action over other possible actions. That is what makes for a “purposeful action.” If I trip on the way to work I did not have a “purpose” for tripping because The action wasn’t the result of the deliberations I just described, and this wasn’t my intention. That’s why we have the concept of actions that happen “on purpose” vs those “not on purpose.”

              But…you know all that. So why do you suddenly seem to ask questions that suggest you don’t?

              The purpose of my post (of several, as we may fulfill more than one desire by an action) is to try to convince you that you seem to be making a conceptual error that I think is significant.

              And yes I deny greedy reductionism as a strategy for understanding reality. I think it’s a very problematic impulse that leads to conceptual incoherence.

              I agree with your last sentence, and would point out that greedy reductionism is more likely to reduce coherence than aid it. As we can see in your own post, your appeal to lower level models of atoms to imply the non-existence of our higher level model of purposeful action leads to unnecessary incoherence. (How else would you explain in any practical manner the “purpose” anyone has for an action, and how would you explain the differences between intended and unintended actions wilhout the normal concepts we use?)

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        Meaning and purpose are not the same thing.

        That said, I’m with Coel and Mark.

        cr

      • Posted March 14, 2018 at 6:14 am | Permalink

        To recognize & get nearness of the Almighty Creator of this universe & be a source of solace, comfort, peace & happiness for others .

        • Posted March 14, 2018 at 7:59 am | Permalink

          Do you have any good and convincing evidence that this God exists? If so, please give it to us (just reiterating in the Bible doesn’t count) and please also tell us why your God is the right one rather than, say, the Gods of the Hindus or the many gods of other religions. I often ask believers for the strong evidence for why they are so sure there is a God.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      My response is pretty much the same as Coel’s. There is meaning and purpose within my life, but my life itself has no meaning or purpose.

      The things in my life that give it meaning are mostly people, plus the things I enjoy doing. The things that are important to me are friends, friendship and love, wanting to find true love, family, (my cats when I get them!)and again, the things I enjoy doing which, of course, includes writing.

      I’d like to, in some tiny way, make the world a better place than it was when I joined it. I hope I manage to do something that will see me remembered because I’m not going to turn up in any genealogy but my siblings descendants might stick my branch on their family tree if I do something worthwhile.

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

      Ditto Coel, though I’m especially sceptical of the meaning of my life question; I don’t understand what it means and how to evaluate the meaning of my life, or even if that’s possible.

      • Posted March 13, 2018 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

        I would rephrase the questions to:

        1.) What do you consider the primary purpose in your life?

        2.) What do you see as a meaning of your life?

        1 is easy. To give particularly my elder adopted daughter, whose first 6 months were like those of Baby P, the best chance to lead a healthy, loving, secure and long life.

        2 makes me the author the meaning of my life, rather than another person, who could interpret my biography in any way they wish. I still do not know, at 57, the answer, but it would be something to do with knowing how little I know and how much I desire to know, experience, and see more of the wisdom of others.

  2. Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    My life has no purpose, my life has no meaning, but I do not care!

  3. rgsherr
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    There is no meaning in life.
    There is no purpose in life.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      I asked a dolphin this question & he said my life has no porpoise other that to have a whale of a time!

      • darrelle
        Posted March 14, 2018 at 8:27 am | Permalink

        This might be the best answer in this thread. Depending on perspective of course.

    • BJ
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      That was going to be my answer, but I knew several people would have posted it already.

      I would add that meaning and purpose do exist, but only insofar as one’s desires create them. One could say that the desires of others also create meaning and purpose, but that really comes down to whether you desire to make people around you feel good, bad, or simply don’t give a shit; this again leads us back to meaning and purpose only going as far as one’s own desires.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      How do you know?

      How would anyone know?

      • rgsherr
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        Because we know we live in a deterministic universe where purposes and meaning don’t exist. We’re part of that universe. What we think of as purpose and meaning are just illusions.

        • Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          I don’t see why that follows at all; you’re taking a way too theological interpretation of “meaning” and “purpose”.

          I’m about to get in a car. The “purpose” is to drive to a shop to buy something to eat. That remains true even if the universe is deterministic.

          • rgsherr
            Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

            “I don’t see why that follows at all; you’re taking a way too theological interpretation of “meaning” and “purpose”.”

            Enjoyed that comment. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever been accused of being “too theological”.

            “I’m about to get in a car. The “purpose” is to drive to a shop to buy something to eat. That remains true even if the universe is deterministic.”

            Actually it doesn’t. In a deterministic universe your getting in the car and driving to a shop is completely determined. The purpose you think is there is just an illusion though not one you can easily get rid of.

            • Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

              “In a deterministic universe your getting in the car and driving to a shop is completely determined.”

              Why do you consider that to be incompatible with it also being the case that: “The “purpose” is to drive to a shop to buy something to eat.”?

              Which necessary component of “purpose” is negated by determinism?

            • Tim Harris
              Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

              I wonder if rgsherr is in the happy position of having got rid of all his illusions – satori! He says it is not easy to get rid of ‘illusions’ of purpose and meaning, so if he has managed this grand feat, perhaps he could tell us just how difficult it is and how we (benighted souls all) might go about doing it. The word ‘illusion’ has no significance unless it is set against the assumption that there is a true way of seeing and understanding things. What is this true way? What is it to see and understand something truly? Does science, which was invented by illusion-ridden human beings, have a purpose? If it does, is that, too, an illusion? Are scientists deluded when they suppose that scientific theories have a purpose, that of explaining phenomena, and meaning, without which they could explain nothing?

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      And we’re all going to die!

      • BobTerrace
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        I will be resurrected as a pebble in someone’s shoe.

    • slandermonkey
      Posted March 15, 2018 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      Purpose: make more people. That’s what my DNA is for.

      Meaning: No intrinsic meaning. The meaning in your life comes from your own particular brain and experiences. What you make of it, so to speak.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted March 15, 2018 at 8:49 am | Permalink

        One other thing to add

        I think the fact of living things being gene machines does not preclude those gene machines inventing purposes for their lives, though, it sounds depressingly like it does.

        … I’m trying to stop commenting on this thread, but it’s difficult.

  4. Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I also think that Einstein had a good answer:

    “I was impressed by the earnestness of your struggle to find a purpose for the life of the individual and of mankind as a whole. In my opinion there can be no reasonable answer if the question is put this way.

    “If we speak of the purpose and goal of an action we mean simply the question: which kind of desire should we fulfill by the action or its consequences or which undesired consequences should be prevented? We can, of course, also speak in a clear way of the goal of an action from the standpoint of a community to which the individual belongs. In such cases the goal of the action has also to do at least indirectly with fulfillment of desires of the individuals which constitute a society.

    “If you ask for the purpose or goal of society as a whole or of an individual taken as a whole the question loses its meaning. This is, of course, even more so if you ask the purpose or meaning of nature in general. For in those cases it seems quite arbitrary if not unreasonable to assume somebody whose desires are connected with the happenings.”

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      Brilliant!

    • W.T. Effingham
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      Great post!! Einstein is one of the best examples of brilliance in purpose and meaning. Two thousand years from now, ceiling cats be willing, humans will still be acknowledging his accomplishments.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      That is wonderful.

    • Posted March 14, 2018 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      I think Einstein made a mistake there (wouldn’t be the only one). It doesn’t follow that a life as a whole has no purpose. A life can be considered as one very long complicated action.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted March 14, 2018 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

        Keeping alive? Trying to keep alive?

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 14, 2018 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

          Yep. It’s all basically just a Bee Gees’ song…

    • ullrich fischer
      Posted March 14, 2018 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

      Rahmen!

  5. Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    I believe in God and Jesus. My purpose in my life is protect nature. That gives me meaning of my life. In Genesis God gives to human command to serve life by agriculture and environment protect.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      …oh dear…

    • phoffman56
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      And the approximately 290,000 of 300,000 years of human existence prior to the existence of human agriculture? Was the purpose back then merely to survive long enough that the invention later came into existence? Those individuals would be kinda stuck back then for a correct answer, I suppose.

      • Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        Jared Diamond have write a good book about human history. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guns,_Germs,_and_Steel

      • Steve
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

        His response makes some sense if one believes the universe and earth are less than 10000 years old.
        If you believe they are billions of years old (they are) then the supposition is absurd.

        • Posted March 19, 2018 at 9:15 am | Permalink

          I´m teistist evolutionist. I believe that God has made our universe in 13,7 billion years and the Earth in 4,6 billion years and human beings from ape by evolution.

    • GBJames
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      My sympathies, Ollipursi.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’

      ~~ Genesis chapter 1 (NRSV).

      That somewhat contradicts your assertion. Life is here to serve us according to Genesis.

      • Posted March 19, 2018 at 8:30 am | Permalink

        In Genesis 2. is said: The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Our Earth was Garden of Eden before fall. We had and still we have some rights and some oblications as human beings.

        • Posted March 19, 2018 at 8:40 am | Permalink

          You are on the horns of a dilemma:

          Either you admit that Genesis said that man was to look after only the Garden of Eden – from which he was later unjustly expelled, thus releasing him from that task…

          … or, you admit that the Bible contains self contradictory material and is a confused mess.

          Take your time.

          • Posted March 19, 2018 at 9:09 am | Permalink

            In Gwnesis are 2 or 3 tradition together. Older one gives us our responsibilies and new one our rights us human beings to nature. Both are important.

            • Posted March 19, 2018 at 9:29 am | Permalink

              Which takes precedence when they are in opposition? What is your methodology for picking one over the other (assuming it is not just “I like this one better”).

          • GBJames
            Posted March 19, 2018 at 9:11 am | Permalink

            Seeking consistency in biblical fiction?

            Fool’s errand.

            • Posted March 19, 2018 at 9:27 am | Permalink

              I do not seek consistency in Biblical fiction, I seek admission from Christians that there is inconsistency. In some cases, that might also be considered a fool’s errand.

              • GBJames
                Posted March 19, 2018 at 9:58 am | Permalink

                I hadn’t meant to direct my comment at you, Jeremy. But, as you point out, maybe that, too, is a fool’s errand!

          • Posted March 19, 2018 at 9:34 am | Permalink

            😄

    • Posted March 16, 2018 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Good purpose and meaning IMHO, regardless of whether one believes or not.

      • GBJames
        Posted March 16, 2018 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

        Sometimes people do good things for the most ridiculous of reasons.

  6. Martin X
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    I don’t see any distinction between meaning and purpose.

    There are things I do that feel meaningful, but that I can’t argue matter in an objective way.

    • slandermonkey
      Posted March 15, 2018 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      Purpose: what you should do.
      Meaning: why you are.

  7. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Ooo boy

    One view :

    1. Purpose: it depends

    2. Meaning : it depends

    …. then anothe view :

    1 and 2 : the purpose and meaning is to find purpose and meaning.

    … yet another view :

    As such, and being humans, we are _guaranteed_ (sp.?) to find purpose and meaning

    … yet another view :

    1 and 2 again : depends on when this purpose and meaning is supposed to be found

    Last one since my point is clear I think :

    How will we know purpose or meaning when we see it? If we will “just know”, how do we know there is only one of each?

    Fun questions! It’s what life is all about!… UH-OH, I DID IT AGAIN!…WHATCHOO GONNA DOO?!

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      … after reviewing the questions, I think it matters if a friend is asking me personally, compared to … say, how I answered.

      Also I think it can change at any moment and is subject to revision

      But technically I might be disinclined to put truly personal remarks here up in public. So, there’s a limitation on this question with respect to where it’s asked.

  8. Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    The purpose of my life is to propogate the species.

    I have no clue what information the second question seeks

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      Purpose of life is to live.
      Meaning of life, will have to get back to you on that one…

      • Angel
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

        Ditto!

  9. Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    My life has no meaning. The question doesn´t make sense.
    My life has no purpose. I do have a purpose which is to achieve my goals.
    As easy as that.

  10. Chris G
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    There is no predefined purpose nor meaning to my life, nor to any human lives past present or future – the universe is utterly indifferent to our existence.

    I don’t feel any urgency nor need to find purpose or meaning, and consider seeking religious answers to be a foolish waste of time – in that context the questions are meaningless.

    However, here I am bobbling along: what to do?
    Well, enjoy life as much as my circumstances and luck will allow, without hurting others in the process. Especially to take pleasure in the small things, don’t let the big uns get me down.

    • Robert Bray
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      ‘the universe is utterly indifferent to our existence.’

      Not unless the universe is aware of our existence, which it most probably ain’t.

  11. Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I consider the purpose of my life is to serve my wife and family.

    The meaning I find in my life is found in the emotional response to their laughing smiles. So dopamine.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Methinks that tash has a purpose of its own! 😉

  12. Ken Pidcock
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    There is no purpose or meaning provided. I remember, as a kid, finding this troubling once I realized that I didn’t actually have knowledge of supernatural forces. I came to realize that this is not as depressing as I’d thought. We can build meaning and purpose day by day.

    • W.T. Effingham
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      The concepts of meaning and purpose may get convoluted if one takes the term “supernatural” too seriously. I personally find it uplifting to think of natural sciences ways of eliminating the “super”.

      • W.T. Effingham
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Natural science’s apostrophes keep slipping out of my greedy fingers…sad.

  13. Paul S
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    My purpose is to try to make the world a better place before I die, even if only in my little corner.
    Was gives me meaning is when I’ve helped someone. Humor to make them smile, empathy when they’re sad.
    The world is a wonderful place, see it before you go. 🙂

    • Posted March 14, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      This, basically. +1. (I don’t see why it took until comments #11 and #13 to get people who put their own purposes out there instead of looking for whether they can see one being imposed from outside.)

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted March 14, 2018 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        I must disagree

        Though it sounds nice, and I wish everyone could do those things, and I do agree the world is better with individuals who promote and pursue those goals, the skeptic/pessimist in me can’t ignore the self-serving nature of such niceties.

        My vote for purpose is to shepherd genes into the next generation, mostly because it’s a fact you can point at.

        • GBJames
          Posted March 14, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

          Well, it’s a fact (for many of us), but I don’t see how you turn it into a purpose. There is also the fact (for many of us) of NOT procreating. Do folk who don’t have kids have no purpose? Or are they failures last to their purpose? I just don’t see how that all makes much sense.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted March 14, 2018 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

            I meant cynic not skeptic above

            i want to comment later I’m very distracted now

            Not to mention tiny screens and autocorrect

          • Diane G.
            Posted March 14, 2018 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

            I think the idea is that when you look at the question scientifically, the only answer to the purpose question–for all organisms–is continuing the germ line.

            Which is how I usually answer the question, too, but it’s really semantically different from what those who usually ask such questions are talking about. IMO, it’s just a scientific way of saying that the question is baseless/incoherent in any but the biological sense. Because we’re not that special of an organism… 😉

            • GBJames
              Posted March 14, 2018 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

              That’s true, IMO, but only when you take the gene’s-eye view. A legitimate purpose, but not one that correlates well to human beings.

              Maybe I’ll go along with a version that reads: “to keep on keeping on”.

              In any case, for me, the whole “purpose question” is inherently vapid.

              • Diane G.
                Posted March 14, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

                I like your version. 🙂

                This post is probably a good place to trot out this old cartoon again, too.

              • Merilee
                Posted March 14, 2018 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

                +mucho

              • Posted March 14, 2018 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

                +1!

              • Diane G.
                Posted March 14, 2018 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

                (Click to enlarge, anyone who hasn’t seen it before.)

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted March 15, 2018 at 8:25 am | Permalink

                For the cartoon that Diane G. posted (because there’s no reply that low)

                I know this is obvious, but the guy’s problem is he’s not turned around looking at what happened.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted March 14, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

            It seems I am forced to (my own problems) reply here hastily, while noting that I’d prefer to write at length on the topic on my own, in the meantime.

            … oh great, it’s annoying to copy/paste quotes. So I’ll have to do it in one go:

            The purpose – gene machines – is the fact, as are the gene machines. We point at it, and state the fact. I’m not conjuring anything here that I’m aware of.

            That’s all – if an individual wants to, decides do, does not decide to, etc. to have children – I suspect this is one of those things that SOUNDS like it is directly relevant, but is something like a fallacy (I need more thought here). Consider, if someone decides (with the free will they don’t have, no less) not to have children. Fine – it doesn’t change their purpose as a gene machine. …. but it doesn’t make them “losers” – I don’t see how it does. I WANT to say the gene machines’ next generation is irrelevant to their purpose, but I’d have to think some more on my own. Perhaps that’s a different angle…

            … you say it doesn’t make much sense, but I think (with respect!) you are looking for sense where there is none.

            Another thought: not having children – or having children – I don’t see how that cancels out or negates or otherwise affects someone finding meaning or other purpose(s) in the way we are talking about here.

            … last thought: the original questions assume there is only one meaning or purpose.

            … lemmee stop there for now – to hear a counter to that or something.

          • GBJames
            Posted March 14, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

            “you say it doesn’t make much sense, but I think (with respect!) you are looking for sense where there is none.”

            Say what? I’m not looking for “sense”. Other folks are making assertions about “life’s purpose” and I assume that they think they are making sensible statements. I’m pointing out when I disagree with these assertions. If they don’t intend to make sense, I don’t know what to say!

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted March 15, 2018 at 8:29 am | Permalink

              “Do folk who don’t have kids have no purpose? Or are they failures last to their purpose? I just don’t see how that all makes much sense.”

              That ^^^ is what I was addressing.

              … another thing I’d add is :

              the factual purpose of any living thing being to serve the genes inside it does not mean (ah, here’s some meaning) humans should be depressed, should produce as many children as possible, or are “failures” if they do not. They ARE failures in the gene game. But so what?

              I personally find it liberating to take this view.

              Still stuck on the “meaning” question.

              • GBJames
                Posted March 15, 2018 at 8:49 am | Permalink

                I’m a great fan of the “gene’s-eye view” of things. Except that I don’t see this as leading to a conclusion of “purpose”. It makes as little sense to say my “purpose” is to procreate as to say that the “purpose” of water is to evaporate under specific conditions.

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted March 15, 2018 at 8:56 am | Permalink

                … ah, what is the definition of “purpose” – its funny, I spew forth comments without even nailing the definitions down…

                But I think that’s a pretty straightforward factual purpose – gene machine.

                There’s also a viewpoint factor that is at play I think – from a certain viewpoint, the purpose can be different, or even cancelled out?

                Then as you suggest, the purpose of water … hmmm…. If we can answer “purpose” for humans, we should be able to do it here, right?… but I can’t… well, “what is water for”… lots of things…. “what does water do” – that’s easier.

                “What do humans do” – ugh, let’s not go there.

                Did I mention I’m trying to quit this comment thread?…

              • GBJames
                Posted March 15, 2018 at 9:17 am | Permalink

                It is clear that your purpose is to keep commenting. 😉

        • Posted March 14, 2018 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

          The person I was +1 ing might not agree, or maybe they would, but I don’t see anything wrong with self serving actions in general. Living a good life is one way of making the world better. In my view all good ultimately bottoms out in good lives being lived.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted March 15, 2018 at 8:23 am | Permalink

            I’m starting to drown from this topic in general. As if one can get to the bottom of it ever.

            One quote comes to mind, worth putting here:

            “The more I study religions the more I am convinced that man never worshipped anything but himself.”

            The Book of The Thousand Nights And A Night (1885) Terminal Essay: Social Conditions, fn. 13.
            (Source-of-source: https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Richard_Francis_Burton)

            … the reason I put it here:

            I think it is true, that religion shows the human nature to be self-serving (if you will).

            However, just because one ditches religion, does not mean they get out of the danger of “worshipping anything but himself”.

  14. Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    related, saw this yesterday https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-03-tackles-neuroscience-free.html

  15. Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Both the questions and answers are irrelevant. If you ask a child, whose hand is firmly embedded in a cookie jar, “What are you doing?” You can see his/her little mind whirring, coming up with an answer … that has nothing to do with the truth.

    These questions elicit the same kinds of responses. They would only be meaningful if an outside observer could watch the activities of a person and then conclude from those activities what their purpose was, thus creating a comparison of was said with what was done. This is a common gag trope in sci-fi novels and movies. An alien observes humans doing humanly things and then draws completely logical, but wrong, conclusions from those behaviors (ha, ha, ha).

    No matter what people say, it is just yada, yada, yada. Even the religious who claim to be doing God’s will, are just making it up to make themselves look good.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      +1
      Extremists with a medieval mindset, as they still exist in some number in the United States, might believe in some form of God’s Plan in which they play some role. But nobody else, believers included, have an actual answer. As you say, some might make up some reasons as they go, but it’s just yada-yada.

  16. Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    also, no meaning, no purpose, happy with that too

  17. George
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    1. To get my kicks in before the whole s**thouse goes up in flames.
    2. None

    I think Jim Morrison gets credit for #1.

  18. BobTerrace
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I do not feel that life has any particular meaning.

    As far as purpose, that is a self defined and self satisfying objective.
    For me, it is interacting with family and friends for the benefit of each of them and myself. My purpose also includes a work life that was satisfying and meaningful. That has been accomplished prior to retirement. My purpose is also to extend well being to most humans as my ability allows.

  19. GregZ
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Life has no preordained purpose or meaning. It’s up to each individual to give his life whatever purpose and meaning he desires. For me, it’s do productive work, enjoy family and loved ones, eat good food, and go kayaking and fishing and enjoy nature.

  20. Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I am a little mystified about the difference between ‘purpose’ and ‘meaning’.
    I suppose purpose has to do with what are ones’ intentions in this life. Everyone would be able to provide a long list.
    Meaning would be about how we see our lives as having an impact. Again, we all will have strong opinions about that as well.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

      I’d say theists don’t know what the difference is supposed to be, either, although they wouldn’t admit it.

  21. Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Right now, the answer to both is to raise my son to be a useful, thinking human being.

    Of curse, I have my personal goals which I created for myself.
    1) Be involved in changing education in the US and World into a system that encourages students and allows them to become productive, intelligent members of society.
    2) To write my #@&$ novel

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Ah – what is ‘useful’ then, & to whom is ‘useful useful?!

      • Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        Whatever he chooses it to be.

        To be someone who is not damaging our society and our planet.

        • Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:02 am | Permalink

          Fine. But ‘useful’ here then suggests that the purpose is the ‘betterment’ of society – which we have to define – AND the earth. Now we have to define all those things. Society’s good may well conflict with the earth’s good.

          I understand your broad point, but it is far more complicated if you want to get into giving meaning to existence.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Sounds like someone’s been in Sodor a bit too long

  22. Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    1. Pizza.

    2. Pizza.

    Seriously, does he think that someone who has to slave 16 hours a day just to get a bare sustenance diet has a whole lot more meaning in their life than we do?

    Real answers:

    1. The purpose of life is to follow evolution. Only that’s backwards.

    2. The meaning of life is whatever I am thinking about at the moment.

  23. Colin
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    As the universe does not suspect my existence, there is no inherent meaning or purpose to my (or anyone else’s) life. Any purpose and/or meaning is what I/we do or give it. The religious get their “feelings” of meaning & purpose from their inherent sense of community, and then imagine that their feelings are due to some imaginary being in the sky. Sad. If you want to have a sense of happiness, you need three things: Someone to love; something to do, and something to look forward to. Notice what happens when you remove one or more of those.

    “The dignity of man lies in his ability to face reality in all its meaninglessness.” Martin Esslin

    “The mind gives meaning to anything, but the meaning it gives is meaningless.” J. Krishnamurti

    “The only way to lead a meaningful life is to free yourself from the fear of death.”
    Samurai Bushido

    “Well I don’t think we are for anything. We’re just products of evolution. You can say ‘Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose.’ But I am anticipating having a good lunch.” James Watson

  24. Liz
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    1. The answer of the first question has two parts for me. One is pursuing what I am passionate about: philosophy, religion, science, the differences, what is correct, why people are religious etc. I am also very passionate about “deprogramming” people who are very religious. The more like a cult, the more fascinating for me. It’s partly that I am helping people but I also just love getting inside someone’s head who has been brainwashed. I do that on the side. That’s not a job or career even though I did try via two degrees to make that happen.

    The second is to learn personal things about myself like growth, understanding of myself in general, learning what love is, love for myself, patience, life lessons (so far), etc. All of the experiences that help a person grow, people that inspire, pushing to where you never thought you could go, exploring new things, learning how art is beautiful for the first time, tasting new foods, traveling to different places. Just relaxing, enjoying etc.

    2. I didn’t understand this question unless it is asking in what people or activities do you find meaning. Not sure.

  25. GBJames
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I find the “meaning and purpose” issue mostly meaningless and without purpose.

    Still, if forced to respond, as I am by the forces of this universe, I will say:

    “To appreciate, as best I can, the facts of this universe. And maybe go to a great performance of a Mozart opera or Verdi’s Requiem.”

  26. Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I see no meaning nor purpose in life, as something absolute or dictated by anything.
    If one has to have meaning or purpose in his own life, It will be whatever he decides.
    I am speaking for me, of course.

  27. Serendipitydawg
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    No intrinsic purpose or meaning here, as far as I know. Nevertheless, I survive as comfortably as possible and provide a home to two stray cats (both of whom combine meaning and purpose in small, furry bodies).

  28. ejfinneranjr
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Both meaning and purpose are self generated.
    If your life lacks either it is because you have not provided it.

  29. Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I have always found meaning and purpose in my life when I am able to help others in some way. Of course, this presupposes that my own needs are met sufficiently to enable me to help others. But the help of which I am writing doesn’t have to be large. It may be just being courteous or kind, or it may be substantial and material, depending on circumstances. I realize also that helping one person may create a problem for another, where helping one person means that another can’t have what he or she wants. This may occur when one person is taking undo advantage of another and I do something to prevent the advantage taken. Life can be complicated, with many difficult decisions, but if I feel that I have helped someone who needs and wants help, I feel that gives my life both purpose and meaning.

  30. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    To butcher a quote from Robert M. Persig:

    The only meaning and purpose you can find in your life is the meaning and purpose you bring to it.

    Since individuals find all sorts of different meanings and purposes, and none, then it is only a parsimonious expectation that there is no Grand Meaning and no Grand Purpose.

  31. Secularjew
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    While I do not believe that any life has any inherent meaning or purpose, I feel that my responsibilities and even my very existence is of tremendous value to my family, and in recognizing that, I see a purpose for myself. Consequently, I feel like I have a something to offer to the world (people), whether artistically, professionally, etc., which does give me purpose in the existentialist sense.

    As for meaning, which I suppose you are defining as “value,” the answer might seem paradoxical, but it isn’t. The value of my life is life. That is, I wish to live, as opposed to not, and have the experience of living.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      If I were answering a theist I would make no assumptions about what is meant by “meaning” or “purpose”.

      It is incumbent upon them to define their own terms. When forced to do so it quickly becomes clear that their Grand Transcendent Meaning is actually just Stuff That Really, Really Pleases Me.

  32. Michael
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    The purpose of life is provided by the selfish gene.

    The purpose of my life seems to be to seek truth, eat well, and find ways to enjoy myself and the people around me.

    There is, of course, no meaning to any of it.

  33. alexandra Moffat
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    1.) What do you consider the purpose of your life? Not sure. learning, aiming to be honest , truthful, kind, generous. Protesting cruelty….idiocies.

    2.) What do you see as the meaning of your life? Feynman’s words are good enough for me:
    “…I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here… I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is so far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me.”
    Richard Feynman shortly before his death, Feb 15, 1988

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      I’ve always loved those words from Feynman.

      If there’s a purpose to my life (other than being a walking billboard that says that my parents were fertile and didn’t use proper birth control), then it’s something I’ve created to help me through the night. I keep going in order to support life and alleviate suffering around me (that of my family and friends, myself, and some of the critters I encounter). Just trying to make the best of it, while nurturing Enlightenment values, and not being a total reprobate.

      I create a sort of meaning by finding pleasure and satisfaction in simple pleasures, like stopping to smell the roses, having a good pee, or enjoying a nice cup of tea. But it’s all of my creation and my environment. It would be nice to see my children turn out alright, have things to look forward to, and want to improve their little corner of the world, even though my generation messed it up a lot.

      • Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

        I am intrigued by the idea of a good pee. I’ve never had a pee that I thought was remarkable. What am I doing wrong?

        • Posted March 14, 2018 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

          Well, it doesn’t have to be a pee. But have you ever peed and said aloud, “Aaah….”? If you have, then that’s a good pee. Just like when you make love, and it’s good, and you might say, “OMg!’. 😉

  34. glen1davidson
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    1.) What do you consider the purpose of your life?

    2.) What do you see as the meaning of your life?

    To find purpose and meaning in life.

    I don’t know, what’s the purpose and meaning in the life of a crow? Eat, be amused if you can, find someone to love. I guess we get “beyond” to annoying questions about purpoese and meaning of life, but what’s the purpose and meaning of asking that?

    Glen Davidson

  35. Mhal2005
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I think you have missed the crux of what Sullivan said. The maximization of liberal ideology (i.e., freedom from) is synonymous with progress. Progress is reducing the hardships and constraints that are inherent in living in nature and reducing the oppression that comes along with living in culture and tradition. Meaning via identity is undermined in two ways: 1) When the struggle against nature is reduced meaning is reduced. The hero myth is not actualized. 2)When we are liberated from cultural, tribal, and traditional oppression and identities, we are left with an identity which is fare less meaningful and connected to others–we are left with an abstraction called “the individual.”

    This is the contradiction within liberalism. It liberates us from nature and oppressive tradition, but it enslaves us with nihilism.

    The empirical questions should be, “Does liberalism increase nihilism and death anxiety?”

    Here are two somewhat related articles: “When death thoughts lead to death fears: Mortality salience increases death anxiety for individuals who lack meaning in life”

    “To Feel Meaningful Is To Feel Immortal”

    1.) What do you consider the purpose of your life?

    The purpose of my life is to raise, guide, and protect my daughter for as long as I am alive. This is not a cosmic purpose. It is a mundane familial purpose built on relationship and connection.

    2.) What do you see as the meaning of your life?

    The above gives me meaning.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      Recognizing that we have individual desires rather than a universal “purpose” is not nihilism.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      Alex Rosenberg advocates “positive nihilism” (if I remember the term correctly).

      /@

  36. Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I only very rarely consider such questions. They seem poorly posed. There is no meaning or purpose outside of ourselves.

    I’m too busy living to worry about these questions.

    The meaning of my life? Ill-posed. My life doesn’t mean anything in particular, aside from the bare physical facts of my existence.

    Meaning? I think this just another way of saying what you value in your life.

    The purpose(s) of my life?:
    – Enjoy my short time in the sun
    – Be kind to others, be helpful and useful, love those close to me
    – Create things (e.g. useful objects, art, music, children)
    – Do my best
    – Enjoy the universe for what it can give: Wonder, beauty, pleasure, good food and drink, friends, family, art, music, books, the feeling of accomplishment that good work, physical challenges, writing, making artwork, making music, etc. can provide, etc.
    – Continue to learn and improve myself

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      Lovely post jblilie

      • johnw
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        +1

  37. Ron
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Purpose of my life is to contribute to humanity in some positive way, be it propagation or otherwise… move us forward if possible.

    Meaning is found in actions performed in just the basic act of living, not always tied to that purpose stated above…

  38. Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    My purpose is the pursuit of happiness, part of which is trying to understand the nature of things.

    My meaning is that I and other humans are a tiny caring part of a vast uncaring universe.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      Run! [the pursuit of happiness]

  39. John Black
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    “Gloating over the misfortunes of others. Irony. Sex (though it has diminishing returns). And that’s pretty much it.. then it’s a clear run to the grave.”

    • John Black
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Bleh.. sorry, wrong link. Try again:

      • Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        Do not apologise! Brilliant illusion! 🙂

        • alexandra Moffat
          Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

          Thank you. It has been snowing for days, we all here in NH have some form of cabin fever
          but Christopher H always cheers me up except for missing him. HE would be a second coming that I would welcome.

        • John Black
          Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          It is a brilliant illusion indeed (and one that this blog has featured before!) but I hadn’t intended to post it as the meaning of life. Though perhaps it serves just as well as any other meaning one might think of.

      • Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        It would be hard to argue with Hitch when he was so eloquent & well read.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      Dammit, I *knew* (before the reveal) what it had to be (hollow head), but the model was so well made and lit that I just couldn’t see it!

      cr

  40. Ben Shelby
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I will answer both questions with the same answer: there simply is no purpose or meaning to my life or any other persons life, despite what they may think or say. There is no purpose or meaning to life as a whole. Human life, in particular, is, in my mind, a highly overrated phenomenon. Every other planet in our solar system and all those that have been discovered outside of our solar system get along just fine without so much as a single microorganism (that we know of thus far). We could end ourselves in total nuclear war tomorrow or the next asteroid could slam into Earth, destroy all life, boil the oceans, and rip the crust off the face of the planet, and the universe wouldn’t even notice.

    Even if there were both a purpose and meaning to life, we live in a deterministic universe anyway. What would it even mean to have a purpose or meaning when it has already been determined for us anyway? No matter how “good” or “bad,” our entire existence is already set in place. We can dread it, we can run from it, but destiny still arrives.

  41. Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    The “purpose” of my life, like the purpose of all other lives of every living thing, is simply to move it forward. Life is a force that counters entropy. The “meaning” of my life, on the other hand, is what, who and how I have loved and how I have passed that love on to others, and in particular, to and through my daughters.

  42. kieran
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    My life has no meaning but for the good it can do for other people.

    My life has no purpose but what purpose I chose to have.

    • kieran
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Also cake

  43. jars634760860
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    1. While I haven´t chosen it to be my purpose in life, I just have realized the thing I always seek for in life is knowledge. The understanding of thing that are unknown to me. I just couldn´t imagine living a life without this goal.

    2. I think you can live a good life without “meaning”, but I would said that I have chosen to given it meaning by trying to help others (I have decided not to have biological children to accomplish this).

  44. WABradnan MD MS MA
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    The purpose of my life is to help those close to me (family and friends) to achieve their purpose and meaning in life.

    The meaning of my life is to stand for reason and justice in a universe that seems to revere neither.

  45. phoffman56
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    It’s pretty easy to attempt humour or sarcasm here, such as:
    Purpose: To ardently seek the meaning of life.
    Meaning: Giving my life a not so silly purpose.

    Continuing along the not-so-funny Godelesque ‘paradoxical’ line:
    Purpose is to furiously seek an ironclad mathematical/logical proof of life’s purposelessness.

    Personally, and slightly but not a lot more seriously, I’m a pretty old fart who has had the fortune to get a fairly high level of training in mathematical research. I’d like to think a few publications of mine might ultimately be some kind of contribution to the human species. But no delusions there, there’s only a couple of things way back that I’m still somewhat proud about, and I’m under no delusions that it’s going to happen again.

    I’ve rekindled a strong interest in very theoretical physics. Feeling confident on the math side helps my learning there. So besides the attempts to be helpful to the human species in a few ways, of course more directed to close people, I’m intensely interested in what fundamental physicists and astrophysicists discover. I would probably regret most at death (I hate this mealy-mouthed ‘passing away’!), within a couple of decades for sure, that I’d miss out on what we humans find out after that.

    At least I hope I’m not so seriously mentally compromised by senility that I couldn’t even figure out what I’m trying to write here!

  46. ursula goodenough
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    While I join others in eschewing the concept of upper-case Purpose, I would say that a hallmark of the non-life –> life transition was the advent of lower-case purpose. The organism/self is purposive — tries/endeavors to stay alive — an attribute absent from non-life, and evolution has yielded countless traits that are in the service of that purpose.

  47. Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Too hard! Ask some easier ones.

  48. Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    How can one have a purpose if one doesn’t also possess free will?

  49. Cathy
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    The purpose in life is to reproduce and it is up to us to try to make our lives meaningful.

  50. Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    My purpose (which is mine): To get into a research career so I could learn stuff and (cheesiness incoming) contribute to the collective knowledge of humanity. Also speed up the arrival of the heat death of the universe.

    My meaning (which is also mine): To enjoy myself. That includes learning, hanging out with friends, and wasting time on YouTube.

  51. Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I think I would answer both questions identically. The response is: To live a good life. Obviously that simple statement is a bit subjective and my definition of it tends to evolve over time. But at the moment it would entail the following:
    to have a meaningful productive career, to do more good than harm (hopefully much more good)
    To live within my means
    To remove excess, to refrain from impulsive indulgences
    To continuously develop curiosity
    To continuously develop compassion

  52. Joseph McClain
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    If “the unexamined life isn’t worth living,” then I say the overexamined life is just plain tedious. I don’t think my life has a “meaning,” beyond being a temporary little tile (helping to spawn other temporary tiles) in the vast mosaic of humankind. I do think it has a “purpose,” but it’s a purpose assembled from various biological, environmental and cultural prompts and demands. So my “purpose,” is related to making sure a sufficient supply of the Universal Dosh gets routed to me and mine and to work to ensure that me and mine are content with only a comfortable surplus of the U.D. Except for fishing stuff, in which case I quote Tom McGuane: “He who dies with the most fly rods wins.”

  53. Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    There is no inherent purpose or meaning to my life, but there are many things that give my life purpose and meaning: the pursuit of knowledge, understanding reality, interacting with others (human and nonhuman), music, literature, et al.

    Meaning and purpose are subjective ideas, but I would argue that part of what gives an individual’s life meaning/purpose is finding out what gives them meaning/purpose. The concepts are reflexive.

  54. Merilee
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Sub

  55. Christopher
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    1. I’ve already reproduced and raised the child to adulthood, so that fulfills my purpose in life; the biological imperative has been met.

    2. I see no outside meaning to my life, I’m too influenced by Camus to believe or feel it has any meaning. But what is meaningful to me, what gets me through the long days as I await the long shadow of death is time with family, reading good books, drinking fine ales, enjoying all the biological, botanical, geological, and astronomical beauty that surrounds me and just being.

    Other than that I just try not to be an a$$hole.

    • Christopher
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      I should add to question 1 that my only remaining purpose, again, a biological imperative, is to resist entropy by maintaining homeostasis.

    • M. T. MacPhee
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Wel, this saves a lot of typing. Ditto for me.

      • Christopher
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        I expect there are more than a few of us on here, or of similar ilk.

  56. Steve
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Maybe these are pointless and cicular questions since none of us chose to be here in the first place. We are the results of a natural biological process.

    Assuming there is purpose, perhaps it is to propagate other life. At it’s most basic it is simply to survive as long as possible.
    Any specific individual’s purpose beyond that can be one or many of a multitude of things if they so choose.

    The meaning of life is trickier, but only in so far as we attach some grand purpose to it in the first place! However, once life is present, it has two options; 1) survive, as best it can, including making “copies” of itself or, 2) die.

  57. Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    1. My life’s purpose is whatever I choose and this varies over time and changed profoundly after I had children.

    2. I don’t even understand this question.

  58. Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    To be localised, vocalised, and highly circumscribed opposition to the second law of thermodynamics. I’ll try to stay alive and add to the amount of information–via some science and a commitment to truth telling–hopefully. The eventual heat death of the universe is going to redner all of that ultimately pointless, but I like heroic last stands.

  59. heyQ
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Words and deeds propagate. It is meaningful to increase goodness, kindness, love in the world by spreading them as best we can through word and deed, i.e. in one’s own family, and from generation to generation, and the same within the human family.

    I wouldn’t speaking of fixing the world in a Jewish “tikkun olam” sense since out efforts at fixing things are often misguided, and we break more than we do repair. I believe the key is to begin with oneself and then this process continues outward in concentric circles, from the individual to – humanity. That’s the purpose.

    Do I understand the meaning of it all, the big Why? No, I don’t. If I knew there’d be no mystery. I guess we need this admixture of tangible purpose and reality – and the puzzle, the mystery that keeps as going, curious, aware and alive, always wondering, sometimes depressed, sometimes in awe. Even if we shed all of religion, the mystery remains, and isn’t it full of meaning even if we cannot nail it?

    • heyQ
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      *speak

  60. claudia baker
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    I think Shakespeare answered these questions best:

    Out, out, brief candle!
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more. It is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
    Signifying nothing.

    • claudia baker
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      There is, however, Baskin-Robbins chocolate mint ice cream, literature, wonderment about the cosmos and kitty cats to help us along as we strut and fret.

      • darrelle
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        Häagen-Dazs mint chip is better!

        • claudia baker
          Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

          I’ll give it a try!

          • darrelle
            Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

            Just teasing. But it is good!

    • Robert Bray
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Two ‘yet’s:’

      By the time in the play of the ‘Tomorrow’ speech, Macbeth knows he needs to die and knows it is Macduff who needs to kill him in single combat, in order that he, Macbeth, get even a fraction of his just deserts; and he, Macduff, an even smaller fraction of justice for himself and what’s left of his family.

      Faulkner does indeed have part of his tale ‘told by an idiot,’ but in the end it does signify something: Dilsey gets the last words. She keeps on making meaning for herself and for African-America out of the wretched materials of the Compson family. And the author of the novel himself told the Nobel Prize academy that humankind will not only ‘endure’ but ‘prevail.’

  61. Ken Phelps
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Forgive me Lord, but I just had to think of Steve Martin’s “special purpose”.

    The Jerk

  62. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    The purpose in life for any human is to contribute in their own way and to benefit from all that is available.

    The meaning is simply to experience the trip and learn as much as possible.

  63. Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I don’t believe there is any ultimate purpose or meaning in what I do. There are things I enjoy doing and things I’d rather avoid, and those are more than enough to keep me going. There are actions I ought to perform or not in light of those things, but there is nothing fundamentally meaningful about them. The Cosmos doesn’t care about me, but then I don’t care that it doesn’t care either.

    I think “spiritual sustenance” is gibberish.

  64. Ekim Namiz
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    It’s all an illusion anyway…but, my purpose is to have fun. How I accomplish that ranges from activities to make the world a better place ( ie – we create systems supporting health interoperability) to hanging out with my grandchildren to going to a Grateful Dead concert (or Dead & Company now) with family & friends. The meaning of my life …hmm. I think it is meaningless or as meaningful as any other temporary configuration of vibrating atoms in the cosmos.

  65. Bill Bass
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    One is not born with purpose or meaning. If one wishes those things, they must develop them for themselves. Some people listen for others to tell them what their purpose and meaning are. These are weak, unthinking followers.

  66. Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    The universe is a cruel uncaring void. The key to being happy is not the search for meaning. It’s just to keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense, and eventually you’ll be dead.

    – Mr. Peanutbutter

  67. drakodoc
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Life has no absolute meaning or purpose, unless you are Conan the Barbarian:

    “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you in defeat, and to hear the lamentation of their women”

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      He stole that quote from Genghis Khan, supposedly… not looked up the original!

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      This reminds me of Pratchett, where some barbarian chiefs said such things in front of famous Coen the Barbarian, and he topped all by saying that what mattered was soft toilet paper and a good dentist.

  68. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    It’s the answer to Camus’s question of ‘why not kill yourself right now?’ – ie. because of music, the beauty of the stars above in rural areas, the joy of making other people laugh, the warmth of a comfortable bed, videogames, chatting about nothing to people who you connect with; a whole load of things that make existence preferable to nonexistence.

    People like Sullivan expect some kind of grand answer, something deeper and less trivial than, say, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream or swimming in the sea – but I’m not sure they’re being completely honest with themselves. I suspect they find ‘meaning'(a meaningless term) in the same wonderful, occasionally banal things everyone else does.

    ‘Meaning’ is, to me, the aggregate of a thousand everyday pleasures. That might sound trivial…but it’s the absolute, direct opposite. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have those things to look forward to.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      I think you’re right. I think theists base their conclusion that life has transcendent meaning and purpose on their experiences of the same enjoyable yet banal (in a certain sense) things that we atheists say make life worth living. Perhaps they feel they have to give these experiences transcendent importance in order to effectively communicate how they feel about these experiences.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      Goren-Coyne ice cream? interesting.

      /@

      • Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

        Given the culinary acumen of the two, I’d certainly be game to try some.

  69. Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    What, materialism robs life of meaning? So poverty and starvation *gives* life meaning? I don’t think so.

    It’s only when people have their necessities reasonably satisfied that they have the leisure (and strength, and energy) to think about things like religion, philosophy, politics, art and purpose. If that leisure to think about such things means that it takes some time to decide what your “meaning” is, well, you can expect to have that time.

    • Posted March 14, 2018 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      Materialism in the metaphysics sense.

      I for one am anti-materialist in the “cupidic” sense because I am a materialist in the metaphysical sense.

  70. Sharon
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I don’t believe there is any inherent meaning or purpose to life. If progress has “robbed” anyone of anything, it has robbed us of false notions that there is anything external to ourselves imposing meaning or demanding purpose. Which is a good thing. I think folks ought to choose to create their own meaning and purpose. I feel my self-defined purpose is to create something meaningful (to myself) out of my existence. To be happy and help those I care about to be happy. To love as many people as much as I can. To learn as much as I can about things that interest me, and to help others to learn. This gives my life meaning because it means something to me and makes me feel good. I am just a big fancy monkey, just like everyone else, so why pretend I am special to the universe? I don’t care about imaginary meaning or rules or fake purposes imposed by others to control me or my mind.

  71. Robert Bray
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I’m going to respond before reading the other ones. So a little indulgence, please.

    In the Darwinian sense, I’ve served my purpose, having secured the continuation of my genes + a set of another’s for at least one generation. To the extent that this was a biological/evolutionary imperative, I’ve fulfilled it.

    As for meaning, I believe it to be entirely self- and species-created. Socially, the striving for well-being for the greatest number. Personally, the same for my family and friends. These make meaning–a set of cultural values to live in and by.

    The individual/social making of meaning is, or so it appears to me, consilient with biology and evolution. So the hope for a full and fulfilled life is reasonable.

    Yet there is always the siren song of transcendence. The song is beautiful; its lyrics impossible to realize. I do think that music and its effects/affects are the closest that humankind comes to the eidolon of transcendence.

  72. Gerry Warren
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    My life has no purpose beyond survival and reproduction. Neither does it have any actual meaning. It needs neither.

  73. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I dunno, “meaning” and “purpose” are beyond my paygrade — to the extent I’ve any purchase upon them at all, they’re something to be chiseled outta the coalface a day at a time.

    Spiritual sustenance, I draw from family and old friends (especially the small buncha buddies I’ve been hanging with since junior high), and from R&B and jazz, and especially from literature, and from the cinema.

  74. The Rose
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Q: What is your purpose?
    A: To seek the Holy Grail
    Q: What is the meaning of life?
    A: What? I don’t know that….

    • Merilee
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      42

      • Jacques Hausser
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        Read 73 answers before reaching this obvious one… 😉

      • The Rose
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        Who are you, who are so wise in the ways of science?

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        No
        42 is the oldest rule in the book.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted March 13, 2018 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

          Surely you’re thinking of Rule 34.

          https://xkcd.com/305/

          cr

          • Posted March 13, 2018 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

            Men, though … 

            /@

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted March 13, 2018 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

            No – chalk up another for Daniel Dennett

            See elsewhere in this post for the answer

  75. darrelle
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    “1.) What do you consider the purpose of your life?”

    I consider my purpose to be to live a good life and that the source of this purpose is merely me. And what actually constitutes living a good life is also largely defined by merely me and is subject to change. Generally it includes things like not being an undue burden on loved ones or society, genuinely try to make positive contributions, enjoy life as best I can, try to help others do so when they seem to need some help, raise my children up on my shoulders so that they have the best chance possible of being better than me in every way and so that they are a benefit to society rather than a burden.

    “2.) What do you see as the meaning of your life?”

    I believe I understand this question at least as well as the average believer, and yet I really think it is a “wrong” question. At best it simply requires a god to supply the meaning. To me it is more a cry of existential angst or a yearning for a better life. It seems to deny the possibility of competent agency and the fairly evident reality that there is no answer to the question except what we provide for ourselves and each other.

    In response to both of these closely related questions I’ve always liked the Sarah Connor quote, “There’s no fate but what we make.”

  76. John Laughlin
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I don’t know that I have only one “purpose.” But one is to learn all that I can about the universe we find ourselves in as made known to us us through the hard sciences. Another of my purposes was commended many years ago by the unknown author of the biblical book, Qoheleth (unfortunately called “Ecclesiastes” in most English translations): Life is vain or absurd (to use Camus’s word) so what should one do: “I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life (that God gives them under the sun). Take away the “god” part and it works just as well for non-believers.

    As for as meaning, I give my own life meaning through interactions with family, friends, nature, etc. and the awareness that I am going to die. And ultimately accepting the fact that I have lived a few decades on this planet will have no meaning at all. To quote Qoheleth again: “But whoever is joined with the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. The living know they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun”. Perhaps there is “meaning” in recognizing and accepting the meaninglessness of it all. To quote Camus in The Stranger: “I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.”

  77. Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Meaning and purpose are just life. Everything I do is the purpose and meaning. I find meaning everywhere. If I had to quantify a main purpose it would be: to learn as much as I can about the universe I live in before my time is up.

  78. Sebastian
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    I think you could say the purpose of life for me is finding/creating meaning in it.
    The path to finding/creating it (which I hope is already part of the meaning) is by acquiring wisdom through experiences and learning. By getting to know myself and the nature of our consciousness. By finding and cultivating the circumstances that make me satisfied, fulfilled, and in tune with my environment and fellow humans on a deep (one might say spiritual) level.

  79. Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I should have quoted Virgil –
    “Mors aurem vellens, ‘Vivite,’ ait, ‘venio.”

  80. Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    I am the machine my DNA uses to reproduce.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      Yes!

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      … but what’s it mean?

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

      A gene hive, as Brian W. Aldiss noted.

      /@

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 14, 2018 at 3:45 am | Permalink

      +2

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted March 14, 2018 at 6:49 am | Permalink

        That’s good for me for the one, single purpose for everyone in the world ever.

        But what’s it mean?

  81. YoungAl
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Hmm – some very high-minded responses above. Let’s see if we can drag things down a bit. My purpose in life has not been constant, but currently consists of earning as much money as possible so as to support my wife and four kids and plan for retirement in the next three to four years. This goal has led to me currently working in Tajikistan (any other WEIT regulars here?) some 4,000 miles away from said family, working 60 hours per week and residing in what is little more than a glorified cell. I am typing this comment from it now, which in itself seems oddly meaningless.

    HOWEVER, if things go according to plan, I will be able to spend a great deal of time once retired with the wife (and regular visits from the kids, we hope) by the swimming pool of our house in France, mucking about with old British motorbikes and getting to grips with some seriously good food and wine. It is while developing a much deeper intimacy with the local French wine (Cahors) that I anticipate the ultimate meaning of life to be revealed.

  82. Robert
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    “Further, you may consider the questions ambiguous or meaningless, in which case say so.” So.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 14, 2018 at 3:46 am | Permalink

      “So,” also.

  83. Luis Gutierrez
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    *1.) What do you consider the purpose of your life?*

    *To be a good person and help others to be good persons.*

    *2.) What do you see as the meaning of your life?*

    *Same answer… purpose is what gives meaning…*

    Luis T. Gutiérrez *Meditations on Man and Woman, Humanity and Nature* sacramentum.magnum@gmail.com

    On Tue, Mar 13, 2018 at 10:16 AM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “Here’s survey I’m taking to see whether a > theory I have, which is mine, bears any resemblance to reality. Here are > two questions I’d like readers to answer in the comments. Here we go: If a > friend asked you these questions, how would you answer them? ” >

  84. Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    The meaning of life is to form relationships and help others.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Wouldn’t that be a purpose?

      If it is true, that is.

  85. shelleywatsonburch
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I consider my purpose to do the best I can to be happy, to treat others with respect and kindness, to leave people alone to do their thing, to cause no harm.

    I don’t believe my life has a larger meaning, and I am in awe that I am even here to see, smell, listen and learn.

  86. nay
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Q1: None. Q2: None.
    Joseph Campbell (whatever you may think of him) once said that the purpose of life is to experience. Kahlil Gibran wrote that one’s children are the answer to Life’s longing for itself. The Selfish Gene’s purpose is to reproduce itself in as many iterations as possible. My view is that I am the product of a chance meeting of sperm and egg; that I must set my own goals (purpose) and define my own successes (meaning). At an early age, I set my goal as to leave behind as small a footprint as possible while reading as many books as possible. Some may find that bland, bleak, unambitious and sad; but, by my own definition, my life (so far) has been a success. To my knowledge, I have not harmed any other person; I have helped a few. I have held a succession of jobs, saved regularly and never gone on the dole between jobs (now retired). I have traveled, read, seen movies/plays, listened to music, done laundry/housework/gardening, cooked, sewed and had a few boyfriends without finding The One and without saddling myself or the World with The Wrong One. I think I’ve done pretty well; many have done much worse.

  87. Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    “Purpose” and “meaning” are human constructs — just ways of thinking. They have no other existence. But someone can create a purpose or meaning for their life and then live that out, as though it were real. This is probably a major key to happiness, especially for those of us who are non-religious.

  88. Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I like the quote from Babylon 5: “We are the embodiment of the universe trying to understand itself.”

    I think the purpose of my life is to try to be happy and experience as much as I can in this life.

    I find meaning in my life in trying to understand as much as I can.

  89. heyQ
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Purpose/meaning

    Reading the other comments, it strikes me that most commenters are probably soaked in some kind of purpose in their daily lives through their intimate relationships, work/study/teaching etc. that they cannot see the purpose any more than the tree the forest.

    The meaning points to the Why of that purpose, and ultimately, religious or atheist, either way, we’re all mystified by this question. We don’t know. We cannot know. Not knowing but being forever curious and full of questions is meaningful in itself though it’s mind-boggling and easier to simply state that anything that we cannot wrap our minds around doesn’t exist.

  90. Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    No purpose, no meaning, but I will say that those who say they have no regrets have lived an unexamined life.

  91. Ryan
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes I feel like everything is pointless and insufferable. Other times I feel like it is pointless and absurd, and euphoria overwhelms as I witness all the people who care too much, which I find hilarious.

    If there was a god, then life would be just as pointless. Why should I follow the demands of that dictator? If living and dying is pointless, wouldn’t living forever (in afterlife) be just as pointless?

    Cat videos are pointless, that doesn’t mean I’m not happy watching them.

  92. John J. Fitzgerald
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Living in the modern world, I think we need to defend the ideals of the Enlightenment. Encourage science. Challenge dogma. Critique superstition. Study history, Defend democracy. Protect the environment. Work at building a more humane world. A healthy egoism that enjoys the good things in life is essential. One essential task for all of us in the USA is to impeach Donald Trump and remove him from public office. He is a nihilist and a clear and present danger.

    John J. Fitzgerald

  93. Pliny the in Between
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Since I was a kid my chosen purpose in life was to alleviate some suffering, Leave the world a slightly better place than I found it, and be at least half the father mine was.

    My career choices have supported the former, our children (being better than me in every way) support the second, and only time and the memories of my children will determine the latter.

    As for meaning? Other than the fact that I personally enjoy every moment of it immensely – on the cosmic scale – Meh

  94. Steve Gerrard
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    First, Sullivan fails to notice that in America, anyway, the majority of the opioid addicts do have religion, which is part of their problem, not the solution.

    Second, there had better not be some mysterious purpose or meaning to life which is not clear and obvious to everyone. That would mean we live in a horrible universe full of tricks and gotchas. That would be a terrible thing in my opinion, and I sure hope it is not the case.

    Third, assuming their is no secret answer, you get to create your own meaning and purpose, which is not hard to do, and works out well for many people. Often it is shared, and we create our own meaning and purpose together, as family, community, nations, or even as humanity itself.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      I read these days about a young religious meth addict who got a message from Jesus that, to save the world, she had to take out her eyes. And she did… grrrr… and they could not be stitched back.

  95. littleboybrew
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    To me, purpose implies motive. My parents were Catholic, so the only motive for my conception was their desire to act in accordance with the teachings of their faith while acting on the forces of nature that they experienced. To that end I see my purpose is to be a good son, father, spouse, sibling, etc., to help those around me manage their lives in a way that maximizes their satisfaction.

    As to meaning, I get it from those moments that seem to epitomize my place in our collective ongoing existence. Those moments where everything seems to fit together perfectly.

    For example, many years ago I attended a concert on the banks of the Mississippi River in Memphis. As an older man of African descent sang a baritone version of ‘Old Man River’, the sun was slowing setting in the West. In that moment I seemed to lose my sense of self, and it felt meaningful as I became aware of being one small part of a very large whole.

    Hope that helps.

  96. Hempenstein
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    It’s sad to see people flailing around searching for meaning and purpose as their primary objective. Same as those who embark on a quest to find a true religion, whatever that is.

    As for my own objectives, I guess they could be summarized as trying to leave the place in better shape than I found it.

  97. Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Whatever purpose and meaning my life has is unclear to me.

  98. Patrick
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I’ll comment before reading other replies:

    1) Life, including my own, has no inherent purpose. Given my determinism, I’m also not sure what the standard “atheist” response –
    that we have to choose our own purpose in life – really means. The purpose of my life can only be whatever objectives currently inspire in me the strongest and most sustained feelings of desire. (This excludes fleeting desires.) This purpose changes over time, and probably is not the same type of purpose that Sullivan is talking about.

    2) This question makes even less sense to me. I take meaning to mean “value or significance”. By that definition my life has meaning to myself and to others that know me. A thing can only have value or significance if there is a sentient being that can evaluate it. In a closed universe devoid of consciousness, every event would have exactly zero value. Therefore the meaning of my life is not inherent, but depends entirely on how I and other conscious animals are affected by it.

    What it ultimately means depends entirely on the point of view it is viewed from, and is not a useful question. To myself, my life’s meaning is in the continuation, improvement, and expanding variety of conscious experience. To others my life’s meaning is constrained to how I can affect the continuation, improvement, or variety of their conscious experience.

    In summary:
    1) My life has no inherent purpose. Bad question. This does not mean I don’t have goals I believe to be important.
    2)My life has no inherent meaning; it has a different meaning to every sentient being that is aware of it. Bad question. This does no mean I don’t see meaning, value, and significance to continued consciousness.

  99. luana
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Recently I organized a “atheists find meaning in life” for my college. It is amazing how students confuse “god” with meaning – their questions had to do with “spirituality” and how to find it without god. Yes, I’m atheist, but my life is full of meaning – I am an evolutionary biologist and feel deeply connected with all life around me – I care deeply. I try to do my best in helping students and others – to leave the world a better place. Yes, I know we are the blind products of natural selection – we are the ones who reproduced successfully in our long evolutionary trajectory. But I am also rational and can give my life purpose and meaning even if natural selection blindly puts me here. I am ever happy (should I say grateful?) to exist.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Very well put. I’m surprised and disappointed with how many commenters have replied with something along the lines of “there is no purpose/meaning of life” or “the purpose of life is to reproduce”. Regardless of the fact that we are the products of natural selection, we are conscious beings and can search for a deeper meaning and purpose to our lives.

  100. Frank Bath
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    The only purpose of my life I can see is to be of assistance to others, and to limit the harm I do to the natural world.
    As for the meaning of my life I can see none, and I don’t feel any less or any loss for that. The question is pretty much redundant.

  101. Mark R.
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think there is any purpose to life, though this knowledge doesn’t make me bitter or despondent or depressed. I keep my time filled with family, pets, hobbies, eating good food, helping others when I can, and lately opposing the GOP. I try not to pollute by being conscious of my carbon footprint and I try not to harm other living things (except for the occasional hornet nest in the garage).

    As to meaning…I always go back to a Kafka quote; “the meaning of life is that it ends.”

    • Mark R.
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Cool! I’ve never had the 100th comment.

      • glen1davidson
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        And why change now?

        Glen Davidson

        • Mark R.
          Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

          Yeah…what happed? Maybe Frank started writing his before I did, but I posted before he did.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted March 13, 2018 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

            The purpose of WordPress is to screw with your brain trying to work out why your comment ended up where it did.

            The meaning is, Shit Happens.

            😉

            cr

          • Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

            Sometimes Jerry will approve comments from new commenters much later than the comments were actually written, but they appear in the slot they would have gone in had they appeared immediately.

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 14, 2018 at 3:50 am | Permalink

          LOL!

  102. alangrohe
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    The purpose of every human life is to maintain and further the technologies, systems, and institutions that will bring about the advent of wet AI. Once constructed, we will merge our consciousnesses with it in the glorious Transhumanist Singularity Event, and distribute ourselves through the blockchain into every computer, existing only as probabilistic electrons. Only then will we truly defeat determinism.

    This, too, shall be objectively meaningless.

    • alangrohe
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      I also enjoy sunsets and rainbows, tbh.

  103. Stephen
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    To say we have any more purpose above any other animal is pretty arrogant. Get a grip, it’s all basically meaningless.

    • Dragon
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      In Andrew Sullivan’s view; is the gazelle’s purpose to reproduce more gazelles or to be food for the cheetah?
      If Sullivan were to say ‘to glorify god’ as the wonderful animal it is, the next question is how does the guinea worm glorify god?

  104. Vaal
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Excuse me while I ask my wife….

  105. mamerica1
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    The short answer to both questions is: my children.

    The longer answer is: I’m at work, so I unfortunately don’t have the time to put my full thoughts into words.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      I accept the short answer. Those of us whose job is putting their full thoughts into words will have to write something longer.

  106. John Black
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Meaning/purpose of life:

    We are wet robots, following our evolutionarily-induced program to pursue states of happiness and attempt to avoid suffering. For my part, I immerse myself in things that make me happy: spending time with my kids, my friends, going rockclimbing, working on puzzles that intrigue me. I realize that it’s all pointless, but most of the time when sufficiently immersed, I forget that fact and just enjoy the moment.

  107. Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    When I was young, my purpose was to live fast and die young.

    I failed.

    Now it’s all down to Hendricks and Fever Tree (with cucumber, of course).

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      If you succeed at the first and fail at the second it is win-win.

      • Posted March 13, 2018 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

        I also wanted to leave a good-looking corpse, but that ship has sailed now.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      Nice.

      Have you tried The Botanist?

      Tonight, I’ve gone with Reyka vodka, Schweppes & some crushed blueberries.

      /@

  108. Jeannie Hess
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    No purpose. No meaning.

  109. Jon Gallant
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I find some purpose, and even some meaning, through matters described at:
    http://www.ralphmag.org/ER/miller.html

  110. Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Are our answers graded on the curve?

    • BobTerrace
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Hypothetically hyperbolic.

  111. Dragon
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    My purpose is to serve as a tool of a ill-defined but nonetheless vengeful and capricious being for which I have no rational evidence. This being gets to play with me however it wants. Everything I do is for its glory, though not the biological actions which often make it mad. I am to follow its contradictory and sometimes maleficent rules in the vain hope that it will reward me by not torturing me eternally for making the wrong choices between contradictory orders/interpretations by televangelists. I understand that I am completely incapable of meeting these rules perfectly, so my only recourse is to really believe and hope this vengeful and capricious being grants me a pardon called ‘grace’.
    My meaning is merely as glorification to this mysterious entity.

    Nah. The above makes no sense whatsoever. Sorry, Andrew Sullivan, that purpose and meaning is vapid.

    My purpose is what I define. Not some external entity. My purposes change over time. Usually it involves being kind and honest to fellow humans.
    The meaning of my life is also my own and those around me. I raised good kids and their view of my meaning is all I need. I gain satisfaction in the lives of my family, the open vistas of nature, the quest for knowledge, the cuddling by pets, completing work products, etc.

  112. Simon Hayward
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    I guess my purpose, at the most basic level, is to pass my genes on to the next generation.

    Beyond that, any purpose is self-imposed, as is meaning

  113. Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    As soon as you have it, it’s gone.

  114. Paul Dymnicki
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    1.) To reproduce.

    2.) The achievement of animate matter over inanimate matter.

  115. Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    My meaning is that I am a rational being, a human.
    My purpose is to do the best I can for my loved ones, for myself, for people in general and for the world in general. I immediately disclaim that what I can is not very much. But I think every little thing matters.

  116. Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Theists are equivocating when they talk about purpose and/or meaning.

    There is such a thing as a sense of fulfillment, a pursuit of happiness, etc. This will obviously be different for every individual, although there will be significant areas of overlap (good food, comfortable shelter, etc). There is no universal formula for fulfillment, even though the desire for fulfillment may be universal.

    Theists point to our desire for fulfillment when pressed for an explanation of what they mean by “purpose” or “meaning”. But they want “purpose” and “meaning” to mean something more than the desire for fulfillment that we actually have. I don’t think they can actually articulate what they mean, specifically, by those words.

  117. Mike Diamond
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    From a cosmological perspective, a geological perspective, and even a long historical perspective, our lives are meaningless. So we create meaning at a smaller scale as measured by our lifespans and the destinies of our immediate descendants. As an individual, I gain meaning by learning as much as I can about the world, by caring for those nearest and dearest to me, by volunteering for worthy causes, and donating to worthy charities. My hobbies and athletic activities provide satisfying diversions. I see meaning in minimizing the pain of others and expanding the opportunities for others to discover and maximize their potential.

  118. chris
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Didn’t Douglas Adams say the answer to question #1 is 42?

    • Merilee
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Most def!

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        But 42 is merely the number of the rule “all persons more than a mile high to leave the court”

        • Merilee
          Posted March 13, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

          Huh?

          • Posted March 13, 2018 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

            Alice!

            🐇⏱

            /@

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted March 13, 2018 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

              It’s the oldest rule in the book!

  119. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    The “purpose” of my life is threefold:
    1) to enter into as thoroughly symbiotic and non-parasitic relationship as possible into everything I encounter.
    2) To find as many ways possible to transmute sorrow into something positive for both myself and others.
    3) To expose false and misleading promises of happiness and goodness.

    I’m less sure of “meaning”. My sense of meaning changes over time. I have a clearer sense of day to day meaning than ultimate meaning.
    I am kind of attracted to the notion of “God” in the writings of John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, and others of their ilk, but loathe the God-beliefs of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (and white evangelical Christians generally).
    But overall the established joys of our earthly existence are more important than possible celestial ones.

  120. Jeff Morgan
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    There is no reason for my existence. I had no control in my inception, nor do I have it in my death.

    The above covers both questions.

    Nevertheless I do exist so I try to the decent thing by people I know and the world in general (albeit my influence is very limited). I guess most people do this because it is the Golden Rule.

    But I hate the word “spiritual”. Whenever I hear it I reach for my gun*. This word is a giant cop-out for people who want to imply that there is anything other than stark reality.

    * I don’t really as I don’t have a gun but you get the picture.

  121. Posted March 13, 2018 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    None and None.

  122. Roo
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m some version of hybrid Buddhist mashup, so I’m not an atheist in the traditional sense. In a broad philosophical sense, I think the meaning of my life (and I would consider purpose the tangible outcome of meaning, i.e., the process of trying to realize it,) relates to this, although I am happily vague about what the ultimate goal of this philosophy is. To transcend all suffering for one’s self, or end suffering or all sentient beings, or become immersed in a bright white light, or for absolutely nothing to change, or… something? Buddhism doesn’t go into great detail on that point, it’s more path than destination.

    In a practical, real world sense, this translates mostly to the idea that the meaning of my life is to help others. When it’s an early morning and I really don’t want to get up and think “Why don’t I just say to heck with it and go become a beach bum somewhere?”, I mostly remember that I am staggeringly, staggeringly over-privileged when compared to over 90% of the world (not a millionaire over here, I just mean in terms of the income gap between wealthy Western countries and everyone else,) and that whatever money I can pump into global charities – even if it’s just a couple hundred a month – really probably does make the difference between life and death, or at the very least a significant jump in well-being, to other denizens of the world out there. And then I think “So what, I’m just going to let those people die when I’m actually in a position to help them?”. And then I go to work.

  123. heyQ
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    When people lose their purpose they usually know what it was.

  124. Posted March 13, 2018 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    If a friend asked you these questions, how would you answer them?

    1.) What do you consider the purpose of your life?

    2.) What do you see as the meaning of your life?

    If one is a determinist can one answer these questions?

    If I would adopt a compatabilist viewpoint then I suppose I would answer:

    1.) To lead a ethical and honest life as best as possible.
    2.) To impart these principles on those closest to me so that they to can lead such a life as well.

  125. Debbie Coplan
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    No purpose or meaning over here. Just trying to enjoy the little time I have left.

  126. mirandaga
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    My world view is based on what you might call a “gift economy.” The essential characteristic of a gift is that it must keep moving: it has to be shared. Hence I see my purpose as developing my God-given (I’m a pantheist) gifts to the fullest and passing on the results to others. I do this primarily through my writing—poetry, screenplays, novels—but also in my role as teacher and parent.

    Gifts imply and are the source of both obligations and rights. Because I have gifts I have obligations; seen from the outside those obligations translate into rights—i.e., your respect for my obligations constitute my rights. If I were the only person on the planet I would have no rights, but I would still have obligations. Americans, of course, are preoccupied with rights rather than obligations, but obligations come first—and before obligations, gifts.

    Because of all this, my primary stance toward the universe and my source of “spiritual sustenance” is gratitude. Both gifts and gratitude imply a Giver, which is consistent with, thought not the reason for, my being a pantheist.

    • GBJames
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      I’m having trouble figuring out how “pantheist” and “God-given” work together as concepts. It sounds like your “gifts” are just things moving around between everything and everything. And since the gift is also part of everything, I’m not sure there’s a point to all of that “gifting”.

      • mirandaga
        Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        The central energy of the universe is creative. That creative spirit is, from a pantheistic viewpoint, “God,” and all creatures share in it. At the most basic level that creative energy is the survival instinct, life being the most basic of gifts and the drive to pass that gift on (propagate the species) being the most basic of obligations. So you’re right, those gifts are just “part of everything.” But there are other gifts at the individual level that are not universal but that also carry the obligation to share. Those were the ones I was speaking of.

        • GBJames
          Posted March 13, 2018 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

          I have a hard time attributing anything useful to most of those concepts. All one. Shrug.

          Gifts are useful tokens of social obligation. I don’t see much value in stretching the concept to incorporate viral gene transfers.

          • mirandaga
            Posted March 14, 2018 at 12:38 am | Permalink

            You say that you “have trouble figuring out” and that “you have a hard time” understanding, so I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you’re genuinely trying.

            The concept of “gift economy” I’m talking about isn’t all that different from the Native American tradition, in which a gift represents a relationship, a give-and-take that acknowledges participation in and dependence upon nature (“all one”). When we establish such a relationship with nature, we respond to it as fellow beings, not as strangers or owners or even stewards. We realize that to destroy nature’s renewable wealth is to destroy themselves as surely as anything can. A gift-exchange economy includes a built-in check against such destruction. I would call that “useful,” and more than mere “tokens.”

            • GBJames
              Posted March 14, 2018 at 7:02 am | Permalink

              You take a real thing, the exchange of items between people, and mushify it by generalizing to the universe. To mind that is woo, pure and simple. Gift exchange demonstrably exists among humans (and among some other animals). Pantheism contributes nothing to that observation.

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted March 14, 2018 at 7:05 am | Permalink

                FWIW

                The “gift culture” thing

                I first encountered this notion from some writings by Eric S. Raymond – in the context of open source software – maybe free software…

              • mirandaga
                Posted March 14, 2018 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

                “. . .that is woo, pure and simple.”

                No doubt. But then, I have no problem with woo.

              • Posted March 14, 2018 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

                Perhaps you should. But as long as it doesn’t restrict the freedoms of others, whatever gets you through the day.

                /@

  127. Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    I feel strongly that there are purposes to my life. At least I should appreciate its wonder. I want to see what the world is like and how it works. I want to make the world better, in the small ways I can.

    Because of my skill set (and lack of social skills) my purposes get expressed (at this point in my life) in writing books, chapters, and articles that help people identify difficult plants precisely. And collecting lots of plant specimens and sharing them with herbaria. Also, I try to help out relatives and be sympathetic to people who are stressed. I teach. I try to share my love of nature with others. And I vote.

    I’ve always had purpose, though sometimes the purposes have been difficult to articulate. And the immediate expression of that purpose has varied; I stuffed birds and mammals for a museum for years. The concept of not having purpose(s) is a little difficult for me to understand.

  128. Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I just told my student worker I was in danger of getting sucked into an internet conversation about whether life has purpose. “I have always had purpose,” I said. “Heck, Yeah!” he responded (referring to his own life).

  129. Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m going with the Finnish poet Lauri Viita who said that the meaning of life is to let the children play in peace.

    • Posted March 13, 2018 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

      Now that is a beautiful thing.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 14, 2018 at 3:56 am | Permalink

        Indeed!

    • Posted March 14, 2018 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      Well I think it’s fine, building jumbo planes.
      Or taking a ride on a cosmic train.
      Switch on summer from a slot machine.
      Yes, get what you want to if you want,
      Cause you can get anything.

      I know we’ve come a long way,
      We’re changing day to day,
      But tell me, where do the children play?

      Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass.
      For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas.
      And you make them long, and you make them tough.
      But they just go on and on, and it seems that you can’t get off.

      Oh, I know we’ve come a long way,
      We’re changing day to day,
      But tell me, where do the children play?

      Well you’ve cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air.
      But will you keep on building higher
      ‘Til there’s no more room up there?
      Will you make us laugh, will you make us cry?
      Will you tell us when to live, will you tell us when to die?

      I know we’ve come a long way,
      We’re changing day to day,
      But tell me, where do the children play?

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 14, 2018 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        Sorry to say I had to Google that. Thanks for making me aware of this song.

      • Posted March 14, 2018 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

        It is a beautiful song. I hear the man’s calling himself Cat Stevens again.

      • Posted March 14, 2018 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for that.

  130. Leigh Jackson
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    If life feels good enough to go on, one could say there is a sufficient meaning and purpose to life to go on. If one struggles mightily to go on, it is difficult to say that there is purpose and meaning to life.

  131. karaktur
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    I once read the purpose of life was to hydrolyze carbon.

  132. Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Answers:

    1) To keep breathing?

    2)I’m still trying figure that one out, but lack of interest seems to be winning.

    rz

  133. karaktur
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Correction, it was Sean Carrol who said that the purpose of life was to hydrogenate carbon dioxide.

    • Liz
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      Yes. I love this also. It’s actually from Michael Russell originally. 24:55 in here: Sean Carroll – 2014 National Convention (FFRF).

  134. Bill Shipley
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    My life does have purpose – one that I have chosen. This is to (1) love and nurture my family and friends; (2) contribute to our store of scientific knowledge (I am a scientist), and (3) helping to promote the well-being of my fellow humans.
    My life doesn’t have a meaning.

  135. Mark
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    The purpose/meaning of my life is null.

    I try not to waste too much time thinking about such things. We’re all just going to end-up dead, so what does it matter?

  136. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Q1: What do you consider the purpose of your life?

    A1: I have chose as goals things I find fun or else enjoyable. My goals tend to vary over the years.

    Q2: What do you see as the meaning of your life?

    A2: That is close to a meaningless question – I wondered what the meaning of “meaning” was in English. Indeed, I found only one near sensible definition of “meaning” in relation to life: “the … significance of something” [ http://www.dictionary.com/browse/meaning ].

    The significance [meaning] of an individual is that it is a member of a population.

  137. Posted March 13, 2018 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    The purpose Q:
    I have no choice, it is to be a human being.
    The meaning Q:
    It is provided by other humans, cultures, the natural world, from the micro to the macro… the solar system, stars and beyond. How i fill this finite allotted time is limited by my personal and external environment and how i see myself and what choices i make within it.
    Somehow, being self aware i fit into all this and not to sound grandiose, i get great joy from learning how it all operates and how it has become knowledge we can all share, to my fallible human brain, it is as water is to a thirst.

  138. Tom Besson
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Being a Joseph Campbell fan, I look at the denotation of reality to be “the possibilities of human experience and fulfillment in a given society at a given time”, so my life’s purpose is to be the best human being, in terms of the possibilities of human experiences and fulfillment, that I can be. I’d say that I get meaning from life by serving others in the pursuit of being the best human being that I can be.

  139. phar84
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Meaning and purpose is whatever you conveniently ascribe to your station in life at any given moment. You win the lottery and suddenly meaning and purpose changes.

  140. Leon Carson
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    The meaning of life is that you have make your own.
    I choose to be happy, curious, creative, kind and rational.

  141. Eduardo
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    1) Life has no intrinsic purpose, nor one given by any entity or moral authority. Like everyone, I’m subject to the biological pulls to carry on a particular set of behaviors (stay alive, sex, protect my kin) to fulfill a replication “purpose”, but other than that I believe we have only one choice: to create our own “purposes”, big and small. It’s up to each one, aided by society, to construct his or her own life with the purposes or reasons one sees best.
    2) There is no meaning. Again, one must give life his or her own meaning.

  142. Conelrad
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    I’m just glad I can metabolize ethanol.

  143. Posted March 13, 2018 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I’m leery of the terms meaning and purpose because they can imply some supernatural agency that gives meaning and purpose. I prefer the term “goal.” We give ourselves the goals we have in life. There can be nothing intrinsically good or evil about those goals, because there can be nothing intrinsically good or evil about anything. They represent our whims, if you will. They make life more interesting, though, or at least they do in my case.

  144. phoffman56
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Having got zero in searching ‘python’ here, I assume no one has mentioned that there is a Monty Python movie which can tell you the options–“Every sperm is sacred” etc.

  145. Andrea Kenner
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    I don’t feel that my life has a “purpose.” I’m only here by random chance (as is everyone else). I don’t think I was put on earth to accomplish anything in particular, let alone anything great or noble. I am totally OK with that.

    There are things that give my life a sense of meaning, though: reading a good book, solving a New York Times crossword puzzle, laughing with friends, hearing my cats purr, listening to music, walking outdoors in the spring and seeing the beautiful flowers. (I’m in the D.C. area, and the cherry blossoms here are just as spectacular as everyone says.)

  146. Wayne Y Hoskisson
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes I used to think about purpose and meaning but not so much now. I have grown older and find such thoughts purposeless and meaningless. My self image has been readjusting itself without my permission.

  147. Posted March 13, 2018 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    My hunch is that one term is inductive, the other deductive.

    Meaning, inductive reasoning (bottom-up), how some idea or content of conciousness is tethered to something “out there” by reference, consequence and causality: Smoke means fire, which means my house burns, which means I might go on vacation alone next time, which means I get to decide where I want to go. Smoke on the horizon means having a good vacation. Or “this song means something to me”, some chain of associations that stir up feelings, and memories.

    Purpose, a functionality determined through deductive (top-down) reasoning, which makes sense only when something is designed (by a person), but of course can be meant metaphorically (treating something as if it was a contraption, i.e. wings to fly, legs to run fast). “The purpose of rain is to provide the water for the trees to grow, fortunately there is none”. “The purpose of this plan was to go on vacation alone, and having a good time.”

    Lives can have both purpose and meaning, depending on observer. But as soon it is abstracted it tends to become meaningless very quickly. One abstraction is etching away all the particulars of one’s own existence. That becomes nonsensical quickly. But it works when one thing is really far more important than anything else — but that’s also more a poetical way of saying that: when someone believes they serve a deity, or are “there for their grand-children”, they say they really have little else going on at the moment.

    Another way is to generalize from individual to humankind. When treating nature as a contraption, metaphorically, then the purpose, also metaphorically, is to move the genes into the future. But nobody actually believes this is their purpose.

    I thus agree with Steve Ruis @15: whatever peopld say, it’s some highly subjective, metaphorical, made-up story; a sentiment; some yada-yada.

  148. chris
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    My purpose is -and I quote (although I’m not sure who)
    “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting “Holy Shit, what a ride!”

  149. another fred
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    My purpose has been to understand the world to the fullest extent I am able.

    “Meaning” is several things. I get meaning from understanding (satisfying my goal, above). I get joy from relations with family friends and “noble” strangers. My greatest urge has been to pass along what I think is real (true understanding) to my loved ones, but I have a very hard time doing that as I see the world so differently from most of them (and apparently most of you).

  150. Posted March 13, 2018 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Just for fun:

    … the human race will disappear. Other races will appear and disappear in turn. The sky will become icy and void, pierced by the feeble light of half-dead stars. Which will also disappear. Everything will disappear. And what human beings do is just as free of sense as the free motion of elementary particles.

    — H. P. Lovecraft

    Are the two questions distinct. Doesn’t meaning come from fulfilling or striving to fulfil your purpose?

    The Bomb’s purpose was to explode. (Being a construct, the Bomb had had an externally bestowed purpose.) It could have a meaningful existence only if it exploded. “Let there be light!”

    For me: to cherish those I love; to understand the world a little better each day, and pass on that understanding (which, in a narrow compass, is what I do for a living); to create what I can and take pleasure in others’ creations (art, music); to alleviate want where I can.

    Regarding spiritual sustenance, it comes serendipitously from any of the above:

    So what shall I make of the voice that spoke to me recently as I was scuttling around getting ready for yet another spell on a chat-show sofa?

    More accurately, it was a memory of a voice in my head, and it told me that everything was OK and things were happening as they should. For a moment, the world had felt at peace. Where did it come from?

    Me, actually — the part of all of us that, in my case, caused me to stand in awe the first time I heard Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium, and the elation I felt on a walk one day last February, when the light of the setting sun turned a ploughed field into shocking pink; I believe it’s what Abraham felt on the mountain and Einstein did when it turned out that E=mc².

    It’s that moment, that brief epiphany when the universe opens up and shows us something, and in that instant we get just a sense of an order greater than Heaven and, as yet at least, beyond the grasp of Stephen Hawking. It doesn’t require worship, but, I think, rewards intelligence, observation and enquiring minds.

    I don’t think I’ve found God, but I may have seen where gods come from.

    — Terry Pratchett, interview, Daily Mail (2008)

    • Andrea Kenner
      Posted March 14, 2018 at 5:42 am | Permalink

      Lovely quote! And RIP Stephen Hawking!

  151. Posted March 13, 2018 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    My answer to both is the same: It’s to do my part, within my motivational limits, to make the world a better place, where by “better” I mean increasing net happiness / reducing net suffering.

    I don’t think there are objective or externally-granted sources of meaning or purpose in life, but this has little apparent impact on the purpose and meaning I find in my own life. Even so, I’m a former Christian, and I can relate to and still feel the pull of the intense amount of meaning and value you can get out of feeling that your life, and all of humanity, share some grand cosmic purpose.

  152. chris moffatt
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Not to be flippant – it takes a surprisingly long time to get to here if you were brought up in any religion:

    The purpose? To be.

    The meaning? what would you like to make it mean?

  153. Dionigi
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    42

    • Posted March 14, 2018 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Someone had to do it! 🙂

  154. nicky
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    THE purpose of our lives is a question that is not really a question of opinion anymore. It has been answered: our purpose is to be our genes’ vehicle, as Richard Dawkins pointed out. One may have/make some private purposes, but they are not the purpose of one’s life.
    When it comes to ‘meaning’, that leaves more room. Frank answer, I do not know, but a lot of the things I do and enjoy might qualify -along the lines of the Hitch above-, but I hesitate to call it ‘meaning’.
    As long as we haven’t ‘grasped’ time it is difficult to grasp ‘meaning’.

  155. Shaokang
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    The answer to both questions is “whatever I choose to make of it. ” I didn’t ask to be born. Like every other species on Earth, ours evolved to survive and reproduce. Everything other goal or purpose after that (including meaning to life) we merely construct for ourselves. I hope I die having made the world a better place for conscious beings, but if I fail, at least I tried. These questions really show a weird gap in how religious and non-religious people perceive reality and existence to begin with.

    • Roo
      Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s a gap that’s largely bridged by the logical outcomes of determinism, however, which turns it more into “coming at the same idea from different angles”. Religion posits an externally decided meaning to human life. Determinism concludes that whatever meaning we assign to life was largely inevitable – which isn’t so different from ‘externally imposed’ in a big picture sort of way. Both seem to speak to the larger intuition that we simply find ourselves existing in time-space with purposes and internal meanings and so on that we didn’t self-author.

      • Posted March 13, 2018 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

        Only if you’re an incompatiblist. Compatibilitsts recognize the brain (self) as an author (playing an integral part in directing inputs to outputs).

        • Roo
          Posted March 14, 2018 at 12:37 am | Permalink

          There may be a feedback loop involving one’s sense of self, but this sense of self was not self-authored in the first place, and not free of deterministic causation, so I don’t think this changes my point. The only brand of libertarian free will that proposes something radically different than determinism is a religious construct.

  156. FB
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Purpose of my life? That’s a question for my parents, but they’re dead.
    My life has the same meaning than every other living organism that ever existed. And the same meaning than every atom that ever existed.

  157. Raymond
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    All obeisances are given to the feline members of our family. My purpose in life is to fulfill their wishes. If Newton rubs against my leg & then lays on his back I know it is time to rub his tummy. If Oliver pokes me with his paw when I’m walking by, I know he wants his chin scratched.etc., etc. They, in turn, give meaning to my life by giving me love & affection. Also, I try to do my share of household chores & try not to annoy my wife too much with what I think are witty & or humorous remarks.

  158. kelskye
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    1.) What do you consider the purpose of your life?
    There is none, my life simply is until it is no more.

    2.) What do you see as the meaning of your life?
    Meaning is bestowed on us by our circumstances, so the meaning of my life is as an agent acting in wider culture around me.

  159. Diane G.
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    Damifino.

    Meanwhile, I’m finding hedonism quite copacetic.

    • Posted March 14, 2018 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      I spent a few seconds wondering if “Damifino” was some Italian liqueur I’d never heard of.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted March 14, 2018 at 7:55 am | Permalink

        Desafinado damifino?

        I have no idea what damifino is..

        • Posted March 14, 2018 at 8:18 am | Permalink

          Damn if I know what damifino is.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted March 14, 2018 at 8:39 am | Permalink

            [sound of springs and gears flying loose ]

            • Diane G.
              Posted March 14, 2018 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

              😀

          • Diane G.
            Posted March 14, 2018 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

            Thanks, jp. Guess the internet slang one picks up depends on what sites one frequents.

            😉

            (In my case, not many anymore so I’m always way behind the curve. Just as in RL.)

  160. Tom A
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    I would say there is no meaning & no purpose, anymore than a blade of grass sprouting or a glacier flowing down the mountain. We just are. Without freewill you can’t have either.

    Nihilism & determinism are my base stance. Above that I like to pretend I am here to enjoy myself & give pleasure to others, but that really is an illusion

  161. Posted March 14, 2018 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    Claiming that the godless have no source of meaning is something I see a lot from theists and it really is one of the most insidious, weasel like and dishonest assertions they can make. In addition, it implies that they can only operate with purpose if there is some external guide telling them what to do, which relegates humanity to being no more than meat puppets, which is the opposite of the specialness they claim their god imbued on humanity.

    For the questions:
    1) I consider the purpose of my life is to be enjoy it while I can and to be a positive pleasure to those who I interact with.

    2) I’m unclear what constitutes meaning in the context of this question. That said, I don’t think my life, or anyone’s, has meaning.

  162. Dani
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    I would say life has no purpose and no meaning. But as the question is about MY life, then I would say I can choose my purpose. My purpose is to enjoy myself the most I can while I’m alive, that meaning keeping my levels of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and some other things high and balanced. Still no meaning.

  163. Maritta Hakola
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    I don’t have any children so I don’t feel that my purpise is to pass on my dna to the next generation. Neither do I have great material wealth or a legacy or any significance in any other way. I have accepteted the fact that I was created to see God’s great works of creation, to look after his crwation and to give all glory and thanks to God for all things. The meaninf of my life is to discover my Lord God through my Lord Jesus Christ and to learn to love God and man using the gift of love, the Holy Spirit.

    • Posted March 14, 2018 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      Do you have any good and convincing evidence that this God exists? If so, please give it to us (just reiterating in the Bible doesn’t count) and please also tell us why your God is the right one rather than, say, the Gods of the Hindus or Allah or the many gods of other religions.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 14, 2018 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      “I don’t have any children so I don’t feel that my purpise [sic] is to pass on my dna to the next generation.”

      People who don’t have children always don’t have children until they have children.

      Nonetheless I think that doesn’t matter for the questions.

      If it is true that organisms’ purpose is for the genes inside to survive, how would that change things?

    • Robert Bray
      Posted March 14, 2018 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      ‘I have accepteted the fact that I was created to see God’s great works of creation, to look after his crwation and to give all glory and thanks to God for all things.’

      Yes, if something is a FACT, reason obligates us to ‘accept’ it. But what you state is not a fact but an assertion that requires empirical validation in order to become one–starting with whether ‘God’ exists.

    • Posted March 14, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      So, you’ve made up your own purpose and meaning, just like the many of the commenters here.

      🤪

      /@

  164. Gamall
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    I’d answer that I find the questions utterly uninteresting.

  165. Charlie Jones
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    I don’t like the ideas of purpose or meaning when it comes to my life. This probably reflect my inability to digest philosophy. Instead, I can say what I find satisfying about life.

    Purpose: I don’t think that the idea of having a purpose is particularly meaningful whether you are religious or not. If you are religious, having the purpose of being a tool for a cruel and capricious god seems a terrible fate. As a non-religious person, I find it strange to say, “My purpose is to make the world a better place and to minimize my role in degrading the planet.” Those are my goals, but the word “purpose” implies to me that I was made with these goals in mind. I suppose I was raised with these goals vaguely in mind in that my mother particularly stressed being considerate of others, but I think her goal, now that she happened to have a kid, was to raise someone who would be a good person. However, I was not conceived to make the world a better place.

    Meaning: The idea of a life having meaning has a similar problem for me. A book or play has meaning because it was created with intent to communicate something. A beetle or cat just “is”. Why should I be any different? It does not make sense for my life to have some greater meaning that can somehow be discerned if only I could escape the clutter of my existence.

    Instead, my focus is on satisfaction. How can I fill my time to make my life feel satisfying. It is very important to avoid causing harm to others both now and in the future. I like making my immediate surroundings physically nicer. I like doing what I can to make the lives of other people more enriching and satisfying. Maybe this is what other people mean when they say “purpose” and “meaning”, but to me these terms imply some sort of grand plan that simply is not there. I am driven merely by how my brain was born and shaped over time, plus my immediate environmental surroundings. Yup, no free will!

  166. Greg Z.
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    A man said to the universe:
    “Sir, I exist!”
    “However,” replied the universe,
    “The fact has not created in me
    A sense of obligation.”

    ~Stephen Crane

  167. Mike
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    I don’t think my life has a purpose, that implies we are on the Earth for a reason, and the only reason i can see is for the propogation of Genes, once your reproductive life is done, your Cells start to die,you have served your “purpose”, As for meaning? see above.

  168. Barcs
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    My first thought when confronted with these questions is no. No meaning or purpose. I’m disinclined to share why here because thinking about it actually makes me a bit depressed, but I can try harder to be more positive so let me try again…

    When I think of meaning in life I think of what means something to me. Mostly that entails my dearest friends, and family. And so, assuming my life has any meaning at all then it is a meaning imparted to me from them. That’s a nice thought really.

    As for purpose, I’m reminded of a quote by Brian Cox (which very conveniently is the very first result when Googling ‘Brian Cox quotes’). It is this: “We are the cosmos made conscious and life is the means by which the universe understands itself.” So I’m a uniquely positioned observer of the universe, and I can judge it. I give it C-, shows potential, but needs to put its head down and work hard if it wants to be considered worthwhile overall.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 14, 2018 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      I like that quote

      But

      It walks the fine line dividing it from woo

  169. Alan
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Franz Kafka: “The meaning of life is that it ends”

    My purpose in life is to eat mass quantities of cheesecake.

  170. Posted March 14, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Meaning: to riff on a joke Bunge tells with a serious point … my life is neither meaningful nor meaningless because life is not a construct, and only constructs have meanings. (Cf. volume 1 and 2 of his _Treatise on Basic Philosophy_.)

    Purpose: I have several, one of which is to simply be.

  171. smegma
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Purpose: whatever comes up at any given time. Meaning: see answer to purpose.

  172. Ben
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Gosh — a sea of comments…

    Purpose: If there is an intrinsic purpose to life, it’s to survive and reproduce. That’s about it and I’ve done that. Big deal.

    Meaning: No intrinsic meaning. Find your own. Gives me a huge sense of freedom, knowing that I don’t have to conform to some “built-in”
    meaning.

  173. Bob
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I believe the purpose of my life is to have fun. I don’t believe my life has any meaning.

    These are sufficient to me. My life is full of love and purpose (fun). What fun is has all been!

  174. Dale Harrington
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I am a piece of the universe become self-aware and my life has the meaning I create for myself. My purpose, as I have decided, is to leave the world a little bit better than it would be without me. I choose to do this by trying to be kind and responsible to other people and the environment. I do this because it makes me happy. Probably it’s because I am a member of a profoundly social species and being helpful and kind has genetic and cultural roots.

  175. JH
    Posted March 14, 2018 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    “The purpose of life is enjoying the passage of time”
    (any fool can do it, there ain’t nothin’ to it)

    James Taylor

  176. Posted March 15, 2018 at 4:00 am | Permalink

    If a friend asked you these questions, how would you answer them?

    1.) What do you consider the purpose of your life?

    I have no Purpose, only purposes that vary from day to day, month to month. I suppose that I fit the existentialist attitude, without the “sense of disorientation, confusion, or dread in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world” as described by Robert Solomon. (Existentialism, 1972).

    Coming to this state has been gradual, aided by having lived in Asia among Chinese since 1978. Like most Chinese in Asia, though I am not Chinese, I see no divine purpose in life.

    2.) What do you see as the meaning of your life?

    I don’t find any Meaning to life, but meanings, mostly family, an interest in the physical world, including Earth science and biology, an interest in the social world, including economics, political science, religion and history, an interest in technology, IT, and workshop projects, an interest in philosophy.

    I am closer to 90 than to 80 and would like to live another 50 years or so, just to see how things progress or not. The world is very interesting, more interesting than fiction.

    But I realize that although I am in good health, the end is approaching. Formerly, I was afraid of death, but now that I have been an atheist for over 50 years, I see death as merely going to sleep and not waking up.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 15, 2018 at 6:26 am | Permalink

      Oh, *without* that stuff in quotations – phew!

  177. Posted March 15, 2018 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    The purpose of my life is to improve my self and my small place in the world, through learning all that I can, feeling what I may and must, and doing what I can to improve the lives of others by helping them to realize, in the most profound sense, their hearts’ and souls’ desires, as they also help me.

    Whatever meaning exists in my life arises from my relationships with other people and creatures, from my pleasure in the world despite its onerous challenges, and the payoffs of the struggle.

  178. measententia
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 3:01 am | Permalink

    sub

  179. Nicholas Arand
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    1.) What do you consider the purpose of your life?

    I honestly believe life has no purpose at all, but it doesn’t mean I live a without purpose. I basically want to be a happy man among happy people. Just because it makes me feel good. I try to do that in a sustainable way, meaning tomorrow I want people to be happier than today, that includes myself and more specifically my family.

    2.) What do you see as the meaning of your life?

    Again, life has no meaning. We just like things to mean something so we can pretend to understand it.

  180. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    I think some of the basics are missing from the responses – mine included.

    1. After we write out an answer – which is more of an assertion than anything, how do we show that it is true? E.g. I’m 100% behind purpose of life = Carry genes into the future, because it is a fact anyone can verify. There might be other purposes, I don’t know – that’s a corollary – saying ‘I don’t know” is a very important admission.

    2. How would other people verify the assertion? If there are no wisdom teeth in someone’s jaw (PCC(E) used this example a while ago, I think its great), we can verify that by asking how old they are, if they saw a dentist, etc. I think it _is_ reasonable to ask if there is a meaning to your/my life – and I think, as I think others suggest, the best answer I can come up with is “I don’t know”.

    …. I’m fired up from Pinker’s talk yesterday, and David Deutsch’s “The Beginning of Infinity”, including this comment-bait post, and am not a pro philosopher, so I apologize!

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 16, 2018 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Edit:

      “Reasonable” maybe better as “natural”. So it is natural to wonder about purpose and meaning in life. I think Steven Pinker put this exact idea in one of his first three slides yesterday, so I don’t think anyone should be scolded for wondering about it.

  181. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 21, 2018 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Spurred by discussions of definitions elsewhere on WEIT :

    I haven’t thought this out carefully, but I think “meaning” could also be understood to mean “consequence” –

    So if we come up with a purpose for life, we can then ask what the consequence of that purpose is.

    Thus, purpose and meaning would each have to fit together, instead of being isolated in vacuo….

    But I’m just chatting at the water cooler here, not composing an essay….

  182. Alexa
    Posted March 26, 2018 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I think other commenters are perhaps misunderstanding your question – although I do agree with them that life (whether that be my own, or any other) has no inherent purpose or meaning. So, I’m going to answer the question that I think you were actually asking.

    I am an agnostic atheist; I don’t have a spiritual bone in my body. My purpose is the same as what gives my life meaning: learning and understanding as much as I possibly can about the topics that interest me personally. I live to learn. That’s it.


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