Life’s Tough Questions: What is the Meaning of Life?

People observing Mount St. Helen (Photo by Pete Wright)

This is the second in my series, “Answering Life’s Tough Questions.”
Explore other questions:

Is life worth living?
What is the meaning of life?
What is my purpose?
Does love exist?
Is there a god?
Why do terrible things happen?
Is there an afterlife?


What is the meaning of life?

To answer this question, one must look into the inception of life at it’s earliest and most fundamental form.

We conjure through the study of science that Earth for billions of years was nothing more than a floating residue — a lifeless epic. It is estimated that four billion years ago, the hydrosphere began forming and with that earth took upon water for the first time, setting into motion what would be the beginning of life.

“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.”
 — The Book of Genesis

This cultivating force of water and sunlight mixed perfectly to create the earliest multi-celled aquatic organisms. These tiny creatures were tethered togethered by single-cell organisms that learned to self-replicate and upon replicating they mutated into lifeforms that could detect sunlight, causing them to store energy in a process called photosythensis.

One can imagine those merry, little, sun-sensing molecules floating cheery circles around their lesser-evolved, unenergized counterparts. As time progressed these molecules further mutated, and an evolution began — a replication toward perfection was set into motion.

“The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together. Information distilled over 4 billion years of biological evolution. Incidentally, all the organisms on the Earth are made essentially of that stuff. An eyedropper full of that liquid could be used to make a caterpillar or a petunia if only we knew how to put the components together.”
 — Carl Sagan

Telling the story about the beginning of life is necessary to understanding the meaning of life. If we see how basic lifeforms behave, we can begin to know the meaning of life.

These microscopic creatures did one thing: replicate. Replicate with improvements for billions of years until that ability to capture the sun evolved into an eyeball, and thier soft gooey outer-layers became skin — their minds expanded into those of the early human forms of Denisovans and Neanderthals, cognitive beings lacking strong social skills and the ability to create sophisticated, special things — but eventually, these early humans also evolved.

About 150,000 years ago, the first Homo Sapiens, our ancestors, replicated themselves into existence and settled in East Africa. It took our Sapien ancestors about 70,000 years of replicating to begin doing things such as leaving Africa, driving Neanderthals into near-extinction, developing languages, inventing boats, oil lamps, creating art and migrating across the face of the earth. Sapiens are a four-billion year evolutionary innovation (older if you account for the age of the universe.) We are self-aware multicellular structures capable of replicating to perfection beyond the organic level, possessing an ability and willingness to advance our intent upon surrounding enviornments. Borrowing from nature’s evolutionary quality to replicate toward perfection, humans replicate ideas, theories, and technology with innovation in mind.


To replicate toward perfection: that’s the meaning of life.

Within the above statement, there lies an even more difficult question: how is perfection defined? Has the Cosmos predefined perfection? Or are we, as Carl Sagan put it “the embodiment of the Cosmos grown to self-awareness,” supposed to define perfection? And if we are the embodiment of the Cosmos then we should be allowed to define it through similar means as natural selection, meaning that our task should be to conduct a survival of the fittest for our ideas; becoming scientific with our myths, theories, and creations — separating the wheat from the chaff.

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
 — Jesus Christ

It is simple to dismiss the Holy Bible when thinking critically, but one must remember the source of this bibliography is the human struggle — Judaism and Christianity are amongst the most human-centric myths and stories to exist. Don’t shudder at the words of Christ, instead look closely at what he says here, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.”

The central character of the world’s largest religion is essentially saying, “you define the rules, what you make law on earth, becomes infinite law.” This important statement gives us the keys to the Cosmos, making us the gatekeepers of perfection.

Replicating toward perfection happens without us even trying. It’s instilled in our framework. As a society, we call these replications “inventions” and “innovations” — replicating a conversation into the invention of the telephone, Skype, SMS; replicating the experience of traveling by horse into the car, a train, and now Hyperloop. In our personal lives, we desire to replicate the best parts of our youth for our children, giving them the experiences we enjoyed the most when we were young; we replicate and improve upon past relationships, applying things we learned to have worked to our future social encounters; we replicate our best work and methods, adopting “best practices” in the workplace. There is an application to replicate toward perfection in everything we do, we simply have to practice reflection and self-awareness to tap into the parts of our lives that need improvement.

Being mindful of our actions and behaviors is essential to practicing the meaning of life, because at one point in our future history all human components will tether together, much like the single-cell organisms that bound together billions of years ago to create the early forms of aqua bacteria; similarly humanity will bind together toward perfection to create something everlasting and important — it’s in our nature to behave this way, there is no other way because this is the meaning of life — although, what we are able to control is the definition of what perfection ultimately looks like — and that, dear reader, is the scariest thing about all this, because perfection can land anywhere between or amongst total destruction and eternal life.

We on Earth have just awakened to the great oceans of space and time from which we have emerged. We are the legacy of 15 billion years of cosmic evolution. We have a choice: We can enhance life and come to know the universe that made us, or we can squander our 15 billion-year heritage in meaningless self-destruction. What happens in the first second of the next cosmic year depends on what we do, here and now, with our intelligence and our knowledge of the cosmos.
 — Carl Sagan
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