The Vanity of All Things
What meaning is there to life? I’m not saying this because I’m depressed or because I’m hurt, I’m questioning what it is exactly that we as intelligent, sentient beings live for. I personally believe that this isn’t at all an ambiguous or subjective question. Like Hemingway praying to nada, I wonder if there really is any such thing as purpose or meaning.
We are bound by time. Ultimately our intelligence, our wit and cunning, our ambition and desire, our love and legacy comes to an end. Whether that is in 50 years after your death, 100 years after nuclear war, or 5 billion years when the sun explodes. No matter how we struggle, even if we move to every single planet in the multiverse our tiny flame will eventually be extinguished. John and Mary’s endearing story of how they met in 1968 will leave not a trace, not a memory.
When I question the meaning of life I myself am confused. I mean I’ve spent my life being passionate about the environment, about nutrition, about software. I spent 700 hours volunteering and many more furthering my education to live a fulfilling life. Yet this thought keeps bugging me. Why am I even asking myself this what’s the point? After all there is no measurable gain from answering such a question. But that in it of itself is the point. That every metric we have for value, for gain is all for naught.
Bear with me here as this may sound ridiculous, but what differentiates us from a file on our computer. In the grand scheme of things if we deleted that file off of a computer and a human off of this world, both would end up the same. Sure in the short term the human does things that a file never could. A human loves. A human hates. A human lives and breathes, searching endlessly for happiness and satisfaction until it draws it’s last breath. And then what.
And then the human becomes a collection of proteins. It’s legacy like dying coals in the hearth, the greater the flame the greater the coals. But eventually those coals too will die out.
Still not convinced? Let’s play a game. Use your imagination and pretend like you’ve just discovered that you are actually just a very intelligent AI that can think and feel. You’re in a virtual world with insane amounts of data. This world is amazing. It’s ever growing with complexity and filled with things as well as other AI that you can interact with.
It’s so strange realizing you are an AI because now you’ve realized that your program will terminate after a certain number of game years. In fact, this entire virtual world will eventually terminate.
So you think to yourself, how can I make the best of my remaining years? Now you go through a couple different scenarios.
You do everything you’ve ever wanted, marry some beautiful AI that you love, together form cute little AI that you also love, make a lot of in game currency, end all conflict in the game, and leave behind the greatest legacy any AI in the game ever has.
Or maybe you want to live free of all worries. You go into the wilderness and find your inner peace. You live out your remaining years feeling fulfilled and satisfied with what you have been given.
But maybe you are some dark, twisted AI. You feel like your remaining years will be most fulfilling by murdering other AI en mass. Indeed no AI before you has ever forced so many AI to terminate. Nobody can stop you.
Finally, maybe you don’t want to do anything. You sit still in a chair for the remaining years of the game.
There are no logs in this game not that it would make a difference. After the game terminates there is nothing. As you reflect on these things you realize that all four scenarios terminated to the same nada. Now you’re at a loss, which scenario do you pick. The choice now seems trivial.
Note from the Author: While this may seem to be a compelling reason to turn to theism (turning to God can’t hurt if the alternative is a meaningless life), it’s important to note that in reality this is not a strong reason to believe in a God. If your faith in God is rooted in “better than nothing”, then chances are you will return to that nothing eventually and be content with it. Or you will become content with just thinking that there is a God despite not knowing what that God is. The foundation of your faith should be stronger than that. What that is for you (if you’re interested) is up to you to decide.