Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Purpose of Life

The purpose of life is not fundamentally different than the purpose of any other naturally occurring chemical bonds. A chlorine atom has seven valence electrons and a sodium atom has one valence electron. Both elements have ten lower-energy-level electrons for a total of 17 and 11 electrons respectively. When the two atoms meet, they join in holy matrimony in accordance with the "octet rule": atoms tend to establish completely full outer energy levels containing eight electrons. The chlorine atom gains an electron from the sodium atom and becomes negatively charged Cl- and the sodium atom loses an electron becoming positively charged Na+. The two atoms form an ionic bond and the result is sodium chloride, or "salt". Why do these atoms bond together? Because the ionic bond offers a more efficient and stable existence for BOTH atoms. If these atoms are to be destroyed, then the ionic bond must be broken first. The ionic bond is thus a form of existence that is more prone to survive. This simple compound, in turn, seeks to form a more complex form by combining with other elements and compounds such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen to create molecules. Simple molecules combine to form even more complex organic systems such as the macromolecules carbohydrate, protein, lipid and nucleic acid. The more complex the system the greater the chances of survival for that system and thus for all the individual constituents that make up the system. Therefore, life forms as a result of the individual hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and phosphorus atoms seeking to combine with other atoms to enhance their collective chances of survival.

We are chemical machines: machines do not "choose" to perform the work assigned to them and neither do we. We are assigned certain tasks in our lifetime that we need to accomplish. These tasks mostly involve improving our state of existence by responding to environmental stimuli and evolving favorably. Once done we pass similar tasks on to our offspring and we perish. We die because the chemical processes required to sustain life are so intense and demanding that it is impossible for a single organism to undergo them forever. The organism therefore develops a complex code (DNA) that instructs the new embryo how to replicate the parent life form and thus maintain its existence. And so the purpose of life is not to serve God, to accumulate wealth or to have sex. There is only one true purpose in life and that is survival, adaptation and reproduction: what we call SAP (survive, adapt, perpetuate).

So you ask, if life is the perfect form of existence, why haven't all oxygen, carbon and hydrogen atoms combined to create life forms? Well, you might as well ask, if humans are the optimal form of life, then why don't all life forms develop into humans? Let's ask an even more obvious question: If A college education results in a a higher standard of living, then why don't all humans go through college? They don't go through college because of financial, emotional or intellectual constraints. They all "want" to go through college but they are not all able to. Ultimately, the more "fit" humans will go through college and thus increase their survival chances and the less fit will not go through college, not because they resent college but because they have failed!!! And one failure leads to the next: now that they don't have a college education, they don't have a stable, well-paying job and so they are more prone to crime and this domino effect goes on and on. There will be many more failures than successes. Similarly, not all organisms are fit enough to develop into humans although if they could they would all love and do anything to live the life of a human. All carbon and oxygen in the universe would love to combine in life-forming chemical processes but only very few are able to. This is just how the nature of everything in the universe is: There are always many more lower forms of matter than there are higher forms of matter. This is so not only because the lower forms did not "make it" but their existence is also vital in order for the higher forms to exist. In humans, for example, we are unable to survive by feeding off the sun directly like autotrophs; we are heterotrophs and feed off plants and animals. We thus require a multitude of lower forms of life in order for us to survive. Likewise, it can be said that our solar system "requires" many dead stars in order for it to exist as a life-bearing star and this rule applies to all forms of existence: The higher, complex form of existence requires a huge base of primitive, simple forms of matter in order for it to exist.

Most animals are perceived as non-intelligent. They certainly do not have the capability of asking questions about the origin and purpose of the universe like we are doing here. However, we do know that whatever the animal does, it does for its own survival and it is not capable of choosing what to do or cease to perform the daily routines required for survival. And therefore we must conclude that humans are not fundamentally different. We are forced to do whatever is necessary for us survive; there is no free will and whatever we think or discuss -no matter how abstract we might think it is- we do so for the sole purpose of survival. When I am discussing the purpose of life in this article here, I am driven to do so by a natural instinct of curiosity, for the purpose of survival. I am also extremely interested in the study of biology, chemistry, physics, human history and the biography of Albert Einstein, but I am not interested in the details of the life of a specific dinosaur who lived 75 million years ago. Why? Because the biography of Einstein is important for human survival but the biography of the dinosaur who lived 75 million years ago is much less so.

The rule is simple and straightforward: We will only and we are able only, to perceive with our senses and think with our minds perceptions and thoughts that contribute to our survival. Concepts that are not related sufficiently to our survival are "blocked" from our mind and we will never be able to comprehend them, no matter how hard we try. This is why we cannot detect the full spectrum of light with our eyes and we are unable to understand what the universe was like before the Big Bang or what it will be like after the Big Crunch. In fact, we don't even know whether the universe will continue expanding forever or it will come to a halt and start contracting. These concepts are so far away from us in time and distance that they are beyond the limits of our minds.