Why are we here (part 2)

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We are born, our parents raise us, we get a job, buy a house, our children are born, we raise them, they get jobs etc etc.

And we all die. Why are we here?

There are so many angles to look at. Just to get it out of the way, I’m not going to go near the religious side. If you look at it as an all encompassing why are we here as the human race, then the purely objective scientific side of things would probably say to propagate the species. At some point we will evolve into something else, maybe better, maybe not, assuming we don’t destroy ourselves and the planet first. If that’s the case, then doing whatever is beneficial for the human race helps that goal. That argument might say that we do individually is almost meaningless in the big picture, and it’s only in large volumes that we make a difference.

I’ve always loved this story. A boy is walking on a beach where thousands of starfish have washed up onto the sand. Every now and then he bends down, picks up a starfish, and throws it back into the water. A man watches the boy and finally asks “Why are you throwing some starfish back into the water?” The boy replies “If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” And the man says “But there are thousands of starfish. You won’t make much of a difference.” And the boy replies as he throws another starfish into the water “I’m making a difference to that one.”

And then we get to the individual side. Why am I here? Why are you here? This is not a how did we get here but more of a what is our purpose here. We can choose that purpose. Yes, you could say that there’s no purpose as an individual. Or you could say, like the starfish, that each one of us can make a difference. And it really doesn’t matter how big or how small. Some of us will have a major impact on humanity. Some of us will have a tiny impact. But the ones who make a major impact would not have been able to without all those people making a tiny impact. But that gets back to the all encompassing rather than the individual.

So why would you like to be here? Or what would you like to be here for? That you can decide for yourself. Maybe it’s your children or grandchildren. Maybe it’s to learn something or create something for its own sake because you want to. Maybe it’s volunteering. Lots of things are better than just one.

Another way to look at it is that we are given a gift. Not sure whether this is religious or philosophical. That gift is the result of millions of years of evolution and chance that one might call luck. We are the first animals, as far as we know, that are able to ask the question “Why are we here?” as something more than simply an understanding of the physical mechanism. My answer is like the starfish story, that regardless of how small, it’s to make a difference.


“We are here to abet creation and to witness to it, to notice each other’s beautiful face and complex nature so that creation need not play to an empty house.”
–Annie Dilliard.

https://mortals.be/quotes.html – the quote page from my collection of mini-essays about dealing with death (later turned into a comic book) – has a nice section about Meaning of Life which might be worth going through.

I have one conservative friend who thinks that any attempt to frame a greater goal for humanity (with the usual ‘so you should probably arrange your individual life in ways that support that greater goal) beyond helping the species keep on keeping on is trying to sell something.

Personally I find that view a bit nihilistic. I can’t get my buddy to dive into what then makes humans special and worth fighting for, beyond the fact that he’s one ’em – I mean, termites build shelters too, and from a sheer biomass standpoint the insects are beating us anyway, and I guess those Tardigrades/Water Bears will outlast us all (jokes on them – 5 billion years and the sun’ll take care of them too)

Still, I think everyone is free to carve out their purpose – that there are some ground rules of kindness and compassion that make up the “universal shoulds” but beyond that people are free to find the meaning for themselves, what works for them. (A chapter in my comic covers that a bit) And that’s true, but since I wrote that, I will say I favor purposes that involve acts of creativity; exercising humanity’s seemingly unique abilities in creating “non-trivial novelty” Novelty alone doesn’t cover it, I mean a random number generator can give you all the “never to be seen again” numbers you can stomach – but humans seem to be this corner of the universe’s only option for taking that creative generation up one level, for inventing new forms to be creative in, and thus make new categories of things that have never existed.

For me, that is a greater good worth striving for. And to that well, it means we have to also pay attention to the physical things here on earth that let people thrive: food, education, and freedom.


It’s a deep question that we ought to have a long conversation about. I believe we come here to simply experience life – the joys, the pains, the physical things we can only experience while we are in a body on this earth.


One could argue that we are the product of our biochemistry as modified by our experiences. That leads down the path that we have no free will. We think we do, but we will always choose the path based on our make up. Based on that I could argue that whether you are miserable or are having fun is preordained by your state just before the rain. And being miserable or having fun modifies that state so next time it may be different. That argument basically says that we are immensely complex computers. And the more I see that DNA is effectively code, the more I wonder whether that’s true. Either that or very complex simulations.

Regardless, it doesn’t change the fact that we are here, and when we’re not pondering our existence, we can be miserable or we can have fun. Maybe today we are miserable. But if something external makes us question that, maybe next time we’ll have fun, or at least not be so miserable.

I have seen theories that state that we create our reality. Of course the immediate question is why is everyone’s reality the same. Except that it isn’t. Everyone’s reality is different, even if only by a little bit. Everyone’s perception is different. It’s like what happens in quantum experiments. Reality doesn’t occur until you observe it. Before that, it’s just probabilities.

Bob (again)

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