Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Where does Purpose come from?

What is the purpose of my life?

A good place to start with these questions would be to ask what is meant by purpose, and furthermore to clarify what the frame of reference is of the life. I find the question to be slightly strange when applied to a living organism. If we take the same question and apply it to a tree, a few possible answers can arise. Firstly, from an evolutionary perspective the purpose of the tree is to reproduce its genetic material. If the tree was planted by a person, we could perhaps say that the purpose of the tree is to grow and provide shelter or shade. This brings us to another relevant question, can purpose be derived independent of minds?

Do reproducing biological entities have a purpose imbued on them by simply being? Or are they deterministically following the laws of nature? I tend to find explanations of the latter kind more convincing. If purpose is defined as the 'reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists' then I cannot see how it can be applied to life or the universe as I currently understand it. If each part of the components of the definition is broken apart this becomes apparent.

What is the reason for which a tree reproduces (reproduction being the only ultimately relevant action of an organism)? A tree reproduces because its genetic material is expressed phenotypically in such a way that the tree reproduces. This then becomes circular, and it can be extrapolated backwards all the way to the origin of life. The other two components of the definition do not seem to apply, as no purpose is imbued on a given tree from its parent (the only applicable instance of 'creation' in the life cycle of a tree), which is only mindlessly following its biologically determined 'imperative' to reproduce. The final component of the definition can perhaps be applied in the instance mentioned earlier, if it was planted by a mind for a desired purpose. However this purpose is also spurious in my mind, as it could only accurately applied to the reason why the tree is in that location, or pruned in such a way, and not applied to the life of the tree itself. Even if the tree is only being kept alive by conscious effort from a mind, I do not see how purpose can be assigned to anything other than the reason for the tree's continued existence as a living organism, still not to its life as a whole.

Most of this can be applied to any other living thing on this planet, including us. Is the purpose of a human whatever its parent(s) decide for it? I doubt I would find many people to agree with that. Is it the purpose of humanity to simply reproduce, as an evolutionary imperative, like every other species out there? Again, I doubt many would agree with that. What then gives us purpose? To me, the answer is clear, nothing. Outside of our own desires there is nothing to really build a strong case for some kind of objective purpose to anything, not that a subjective preference-driven purpose is solid, far from it, but it seems to be all we really have.

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