What’s your meaning and purpose?

March 13, 2018 • 9:15 am

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.


373 thoughts on “What’s your meaning and purpose?

  1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. Ah, yet more “greedy reductionism”
          on display.


          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.

          1. 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.

          2. 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?)

        1. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. “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.

          2. “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?

          3. 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?

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

  2. 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.”

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. 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.

          2. 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”).

          3. 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.

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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?!

    1. … 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.

  6. 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.

    1. ‘the universe is utterly indifferent to our existence.’

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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”.

  9. 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. 🙂

    1. 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.)

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. I meant cynic not skeptic above

            i want to comment later I’m very distracted now

            Not to mention tiny screens and autocorrect

          2. 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… 😉

          3. 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.

          4. 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.

          5. 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.

          6. “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!

          7. “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.

          8. 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.

          9. … 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?…

        2. 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.

          1. 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”.

  10. 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.

    1. +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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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

        1. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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

  18. 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.

  19. 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.”

  20. 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.

  21. 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).

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

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

    1. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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

    1. 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.

        1. 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!’. 😉

  28. 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

  29. 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.

  30. 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

  31. 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…

  32. 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.

  33. “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.”

        1. 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.

        2. 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.

    1. 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!


  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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).

  38. 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.

  39. 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!

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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

  43. 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.”

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

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

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. 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?

  49. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.’

  50. 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.

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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

  55. 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”

    1. 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.

  56. 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.

    1. 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.

  57. 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.

  58. 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.

  59. 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.

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

  61. 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.

  62. 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….

          1. No – chalk up another for Daniel Dennett

            See elsewhere in this post for the answer

  63. “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.”

  64. 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.”

  65. 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.

  66. 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.

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

        But what’s it mean?

  67. 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.

  68. *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? ” >

  69. 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.

  70. 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.

  71. “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.

  72. 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.

  73. 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.

  74. 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.

  75. 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

  76. 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

  77. 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.

    1. 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.

  78. 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.

  79. 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.

  80. 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.

  81. 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.

    1. 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.

  82. 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.

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