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The Meaning Of Life

In a previous post the meaning of life, we’d examined a logical argument for why the meaning of life is existence. However, as I wrote the article how to solve your problems by changing your frame or perspective, it struck me that the desire to exist is actually the basis of all meaning in our lives!

Here’s a smattering of arguments that came to mind, seeming to apply to any way you look at it!

Existence From A Scientific Perspective

Evolution wise, we are the people who have endured the test of the survival of the fittest. We persevered as a people because of our stronger desire to exist than everyone who didn’t make it. You are here today because one of your ancestors, when faced with a decision to kill that deer for its meat or not, chose to do so!

In fact, all of our emotions, our very being, scream the command “Survive!” Our instincts tell us to not jump over a bridge and to not put our hand into a fire. Our emotions tell us to seek out other people and work together. Our logic tells us to stay alive and gather the resources necessary for survival. Logically, emotionally, and instinctively, every human being is born with a strong desire to exist! The ones who didn’t have that desire have already perished and lost their existence!

Existence And The Value Of Other People

Because we all have such a strong desire to exist, this brings an inherent value to all people. If that person is here today, then there must be something in him that has allowed him (and his ancestors) to surpass the challenges of the past million years or so. Just think about that for a second. No matter how much we dislike this person, his makeup has allowed him to survive to stand before us today! If nothing else, we’ve got to respect that!

Just like us, his ancestors have endured the challenges of millions of years and have earned a right to exist. Isn’t there maybe just a little bit he knows about existence that we don’t?

Thinking this way places a lot of value on every person, independent of what they have done in the past. After all, they exist right now, so they must’ve done something right!

Existence From A Historical Perspective

Existence has always been a driving motivation if we just take a look at history. People fought wars over the resources they need. People argued for years in conferences so that we can sign peace treaties and live together in harmony. People worked everyday to create a legacy so that they will not be forgotten.

And why wouldn’t that be so? After all, history is written by those who exist.

If existence is our main goal, then those things that add to our existence are good and those things that take away from our existence are bad. Nothing better illustrates this than the phrase history is written by the victors.

Let’s take the Holocaust for example. The Nazis killed people in concentration camps and destroyed the Jewish people by the millions. What a horrific event, right? Pretty much any person you ask would say that is just plain wrong (me included).

Yet, part of that same group of people are descendants of the original American settlers. Their ancestors killed the Native American people, raped their women, and stole their land. In many ways, isn’t that pretty similar to the Holocaust? Yet, do we have history lessons on what horrible people Americans are for this? Are people put on trial today because their ancestors committed atrocious crimes? Nope… at least I don’t recall a whole lot of negative intonations while learning about this period of America history. Nor have I seen a whole lot of emotionally resonant films about Native Americans being slaughtered!

So what is the difference? Why has the Native American incident been seemingly forgotten while the Holocaust is remembered over and over again? Well, in both cases, the American people were on the winning side! Of course the Jewish people who survived would complain about the people who took away their existence by the millions. Yet, since the Native Americans were mostly wiped out, there are not a whole lot of them seeking retribution. As a result, the incident is more or less forgotten – shrugged off as more or less a “Whoops, yeah that was bad, not much we can do about it now!”

If the Germans had won, do you think they would be having history lessons on how bad the Holocaust was? Why would that be any different than the way Americans have treated the general demise of the Native Americans?

If you lose, you are a treacherous villain. If you win, you are a valiant hero. That seems to be what history has to say about the value of existence!

What Is Existence?

So what exactly is existence? While the answer may seem obvious at first glance, it’s not so black and white when we think about it for a while. If we are alive, then we exist. However, if we exist, we don’t necessarily have to be alive! Therefore, while staying alive contributes to our existence, it is not the sole purpose of our life.

You see, we aren’t just three dimensional beings. A large part of our existence lies in the fourth dimension of time! When we help another person realize their potential, our existence is increased. When we create a building for others to live in, our existence is increased. When we create children, our existence is increased. In general, when we create value, we have increased the total existence of the universe! This value lies in both the past and the future. Once you’ve created that value, you have irrevocably changed the course of history – and no one can take that away from you!

This view of existence allows us to think on grander terms and explains why human beings will sacrifice for each other – because we continue to exist long after we are dead!

Existence From A Religious Perspective

This concept of our existence being more than just our life is very well illustrated in religion. In Christianity, God has built us with a purpose and will reward us with eternal life if we live by his values. For some, this eternal life in heaven is the main attraction. If the Bible told people that there is no heaven and no eternal bliss, then it’d probably be a lot less popular! People like to know that death is not the end of their existence.

For another group of people though, it is this purpose they derive from religion that define their existence. For example, some women become nuns in order to serve God. They may even believe that they will die without having an after life, but they do so willingly because the purpose of serving God is for them, the ultimate form of existence!

So how do people find out what existence is to them?

Existence In How To Win Friends And Influence People

Interestingly enough, this had been answered in the book How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie. In it, he’d mentioned that every single person has a desire to be important! When I first read it, it didn’t seem to make that much sense to me. Why would people want that?

Well, as mentioned from the scientific perspective, we humans have a natural tendency to exist and one of these tendencies is our emotions. The desire to exist, in emotional form, is the feeling of being important! Because when we are important, we are needed. When we are needed, it means that there is something unique we bring that others desire. Only we can bring this particular thing into existence! When something is so unique that only you can offer it, that thing in many ways is you. We have been born with a truly great emotional tool to judge what contributes to existence and what doesn’t!

Is it any surprise then that the desire for a feeling of importance is on the top of everyone’s list?

From all of these arguments, it seems pretty clear: Without the desire to exist, we might as well just be a rock!

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Comments

3 Responses to “Why The Desire To Exist Is the Basis Of All Meaning”

  1. Di on February 26th, 2008 4:39 pm

    From a reductionist standpoint, I would have to say that ultimately, the purpose of human existence IS to survive. The examples that you mentioned: helping others, building homes, serving God, appear to be acts of a “higher dimension”, of some inexplicable motivation beyond the struggle to survive, but the way I see it those are just acts of survival themselves.
    Christians, for example, who live their lives with God in mind, are more likely to follow societal and cultural codes, including the Ten Commandments, and are less likely to commit crimes or other acts that threaten the survival of the community. So from an natural selection standpoint, being a servant of God does not make a person any more holy or selfless than someone who isn’t, it just means that he/she is a byproduct of evolutionary forces, which caused humans to develop a gene for religious belief somewhere along the way.
    Helping others and building homes for others also can be seen as a communal effort to survive and exist, as opposed to an individual effort. It may seem that a communal effort to survive would sometimes impede individual efforts (for example, sharing one’s food to others instead of keeping it all to yourself), but the fact is that as intelligent and adaptable as the human race is, we humans cannot survive on our own. We can not survive in the long run as a race if we only care for ourselves and not others as well. Everything on this earth is interdependent and linked, which is why institutions such as religion, charity, and the value of serving others, are a huge part of what it means to be human.

  2. Warren on March 4th, 2008 3:44 am

    Hey Di,

    I would say that I completely agree with everthing you’ve said there :-)

    Thanks for dropping by with your insights!

    Thanks!
    Warren

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