Estimates say modern humans have existed for 200,000 years – a relatively short time compared to other organisms. During this period, we have greatly evolved: birthing science, technology, civilization, and now completely dominate the planet. However, with all our accomplishments, we have failed to answer what at first glance seems like a very simple question – what is the meaning of life? This question, and its answer, remains quintessential to our purpose on earth, the very reason we’re alive. The problem is the foundation of all science and philosophy, and yet the best scientists and philosophers have come up with no satisfactory answer – even though it is frankly unrealistic to expect one. Humans, as history has shown, do not agree on anything – so why would one expect any answer on a subject as complex as this to be universal?
Nevertheless, attempts have been made and some answers find wider acceptance than others. For most, religion is the answer to life’s ultimate question – we were created to worship God and follow his commandments, thereby securing eternal bliss in the process. Of course, variations exist, but that is the general idea. We already know that there is no universal answer for all humans nor should one be expected, do we then conclude that the religion with the highest number of adherents is the correct one?
Well, of course not. Upon closer inspection, one realizes that widespread acceptance alone is not enough – especially when the babies born to adherents of each religion are, usually, automatically indoctrinated. A lot of people simply accept their religions as fate – many believing they were born into the right one with few ever considering a change of faith, and even more being thankful that providence has simply eliminated the bothersome issue of choosing for themselves. Even within a particular religion there are sects that vie for dominance: in doctrine and number of adherents, everyone believing their answer to be right, and unsurprisingly enough, wanting everyone else to think so as well.
With all discussed so far, it is clear that there are only personal answers to the meaning of life. Everyone will come to their own conclusion as regards the matter, or settle for someone else’s – even if that answer reeks of dubiousness – e.g. paper-thin counsel from “motivational” speakers, “inspirational” quotes from Facebook accounts, and “assistance” from long bearded guys with a very suspicious number of rings (but that’s another story). Questioning everything only leads to more questions, never answers. One could say that since all life is geared towards the pursuit of some goal or the other, the ideal goal would be happiness as long as that happiness wouldn’t hurt anyone, but that’s just infantile idealism. What happiness is not built off the pain of others? What guarantees happiness anyway? Wealth? Beauty? Fame? Power? How many examples abound of these things being the direct opposite? And even then, isn’t it a tad naïve to believe that a single achievement would truly and completely make one fulfilled, when human desire can never be satiated?
Let us now consider reality, the supposed basis of life itself. How do we even define it? Based on our perceptions of it? If our different perceptions are all that we have as reference points, can we really trust them? Life is defined by experiences, and these experiences are marked by our ability to perceive and interact with our environment – sentience. But can any human truly take credit for these abilities, this supposed “sentience”, when he had no choice but to interact and respond? If a scientist were to find a way to apply human feelings to AI, what would be the difference other than our structural make-up? Are we just glorified bio-chemical machines? Here, Einstein (paraphrasing Arthur Schopenhauer) comes to mind: “Man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants.” Where is the proof for free will? How do we know that we are actually in control of our actions?
As regards control, sentience might seem a step too far. Countless human lives are decided by society – jobs, marriage, kids and a career-spanning mortgage being the ideal (even though this still fails to please them in the end). Our behavior being independent is a nice idea, but nothing more. Life, just like death, is not a matter of choice – no one actually chooses to live, the only choice is to continue living. All human and animal decisions are made after this fact, and that pretty much throws a wrench in any valiant quest for truth. There is absolutely no reason to believe this is not all a simulation – because even if theories about life being an alien’s high school science project don’t appeal to you, you still have to consider the fact that the deities of all major religions lay claim to omniscience and by extension, the control of all human destiny. Humans are still puppets in both cases – the only difference is appearance. Beliefs and notions, I have come to realize, are but matters of mere semantics.
In the midst of all this uncertainty, what then, you ask, would provide anything concrete? To me, the answer is as simple as it is blunt – death. If there are actually any truths to be discovered as regards life, they will only be revealed at its end. As already mentioned, a good number of humans believe there is some form of life after death, blissful at that – but still dread this inescapable end – and that only highlights the reality of the unknown, and how little we understand it. Why do we choose to focus on the possibility of eternal oblivion, when the possibility of eternal happiness also exists? Why do we ignore the fact that death could provide the answers we’ve spent all our lives searching for? Granted, it is only an assumption, but why do we revere fear so? We are beings defined by contradiction. What do we really want?
I do realize that it is not easy to leave all you know for nothing at all. I know the pain that this separation will inevitably bring. I know there is no sense to be made of it. But the human experience itself is not easy. To live is to feel, and these feelings spark desires that only die out when that life ends. Whether it is for revenge or justice, understanding or bliss, the chase goes on. To live is to pursue. To live is to fight for something. To live is to struggle, and the only thing that could end the struggle is death, which in any case is not a choice, so why rebel? Death may very well be the ultimate peace – as Socrates remarked, “the greatest of all human blessings.” So, whatever your answer may be, live! Live with empathy and dignity; live with an open mind, and when the end comes, face it! Face it, not with fear or regret or fear, but with courage and gratitude for each and every lesson learned. May we all find our strength.
Written by @datopdlink
Budding writer and artist. Put Quite Simply, he’s a Legend.
His twitter handle is @datopdlink and his blog is a collection of Random Thoughts.