Friday, March 27, 2009

Purpose in Existence (Part II)

If we were created for a purpose by a sentient being, would that purpose make our lives more fulfilling? I suppose that would depend on the being and the purpose for which we were created.

When I was younger, I had a vague belief that God, the omnipotent, benevolent, disembodied being that existed everywhere but resided in some other dimension, had a Big Plan. God created humans and everything else as part of the Big Plan, and we all had a part to play. To fulfill our parts, all we had to do was to have faith that we were in the right place at the right time, and to go about our lives morally in ways that made us happy. And when we died, we'd be able to talk with other higher beings about what the Plan was and what we had done for it. In retrospect, even though these beliefs now seem absurd, the idea of working for someone infinitely wiser than I, to accomplish some infinitely great goal, would still make me feel better about my life. (It would make more sense if God was infinitely wise and good, but not omnipotent. Omnipotence is inherently contradictory, and an omnipotent being wouldn't need my help to accomplish any Plan, no matter how Big.)

Suppose I wasn't created by a higher being, but I was brought to life with a purpose. Suppose my parents chose to have me because they wanted someone to take care of them when they were older. Um, yeah. Sorry, I'm not interested in the hospitality/health care industry, so personally taking care of them is not a purpose that I'd be happy about. In fact, being brought to life to fulfill any specific goal of my parents - or any fellow human - that would seem rather presumptuous of them. For a person to think they could dictate someone else's life's purpose would require such arrogance that I would only expect it among fascists and egotists. I certainly wouldn't take satisfaction from knowing that someone else had a purpose for me.

I've addressed the extremes of the spectrum, but how about something in the middle. Suppose humanity had been created by a highly moral and intelligent race in order to accomplish... something. For me, it would seem utterly arrogant for a species to create another sentient species just to help it complete a task. I doubt the members of the created species would take much fulfillment from their designated task, and what happens once that task is completed? Furthermore, where to the creator species get their purpose? If they have no given purpose, then, ultimately, fulfilling the purpose they have us would also lack meaning in the larger context.

That's what it's all about - context. As far as we can tell, there was no sentient cause for the Big Bang. The universe is not here for a purpose. I'm here because of the universe, but there's no purpose behind my existence. What can my Earthly goals mean in the larger context of the purposeless universe? Can they matter? In the context of the universe, does anything matter? Next post: subjective purpose - whatever that is.


Kyle P. said...

You didn't answer something I'd asked you before (in person) that had to do with this problem, I think: For you, what would a good purpose even be? What are some ways that we can weigh how good one "purpose" is versus another? It seems to me that if automatically you discount every possible purpose someone else would have for bringing you into existence is "presumptuous" of them automatically, no matter what the purpose.

Strangely, even though it sounds like the above is a criticism, I'm not sure it is. It's more just to make you think.

This post made me also think of this analogy, which isn't really related to the post, but is interesting (in my opinion): If there really was a "god" who loved us (by the standard definition of love), wouldn't the plan that "god" has in place for us be at the very least more clearly spelled out? I suppose this is the problem of divine hiddenness. But consider the analogy: You have several blind children to care for. You tell them the end goal for the day is to get food so they don't starve to death. You give them one hint: If they do not thank you for the food they find when they find it, it will instead poison them, killing them painfully. Then you kick them out of the house without so much as a cane or even pointing them in the right direction.

Who on earth would consider that to be a loving attitude toward those children? Sure, they can help each other - if one finds food and wants the others to live, she can share it. And there IS a plan in place. . .and it's a pretty good one for them. But what the crap, yo?

Kyle P. said...

Oops, made a mistake. In the first paragraph, it should say at the end, ", then I think you're not thinking about the problem logically, at least."

Jackie said...

Kyle P. said:

If automatically you discount every possible purpose someone else would have for bringing you into existence is "presumptuous" of them automatically, no matter what the purpose, then I think you're not thinking about the problem logically, at least.

I dissagree. I think it is presumptuous to try to dictate another person's life's goal. This is a judgment call, so it is partially non-logical. I place a high value on the right to Self Determination. I think it is a violation of that right to try to lay out someone else's purpose. A purpose like "making a postive contribution to humanity" isn't much of a violation because it's so vague, but if you say, "I brought you into this world to be a plumber, so that's what you're going to be!" - that's cruel.

Regarding the blind children, I kind of see what you're getting at, but I don't see it as a very close analogy to anything in particular. I agree with the main point: it would be cruel to lay out a task for someone that is so difficult that they can't reasonably be expected to accomplish it. More closely related to my Big Plan example: telling someone you want them to do you a favor, it would realy make you happy, but you won't tell them what the favor is, just give periodic "getting warmer," or "getting cooler" hints. In fact, in the Big Plan example, you're not even told the first part, you just have to figure out - through intuition, coincidence or chance - that you're supposed to do something for something that you have no real reason to believe in.

Dawn said...

Have you ever talked to Tammy about this? I know that she's been on a mission to figure out her purpose and just what she's supposed to do here.
As for my own thoughts on this, I believe that everything happens for a reason. I'm a healer (care-taker/ nurturer). It's not something that I necessarily chose; it's just what I do, naturally. Probably the reason that many of my massage clients say that mine was the best that they've recieved. I believe in "higher power"- and that there may be more than one. I use Reiki in my massage work, and its principal of Universal energy. I don't agree with organized worship, but I don't condemn it, either. I believe in TOLERANCE.
So, what is our real purpose? I watch a lot of CHARMED and read DOUGLAS ADDAMS. I like the way they work things. If I could just learn to "shimmer", I might eventually get to work on time. I try to have a towel handy at all times- life can get pretty messy, and towels are good for cleaning up the juice or coffee or whatever gets spilled, and sometimes I just need to hide from the sun or whatever other BEAST is out there. Look at life; the world around you. Take what works for you and leave the rest.

Jackie said...

Hi Dawn.

As I stated, if I believed in a God in the sense that I believed while growing up, then yeah, a given higher purpose would be rewarding. I can also agree with you that towels are useful, and that being able to do magic would be nice. I haven't talked to Tammy about this. She's got a lot of assumptions, and I don't think she's going to want to look at them critically.