Formulating Modern Purpose
Part 2: The Most Relevant Unknown
We manufacture our own purposes to suit our own psychologies. While day-to-day purpose is relatively easy to create and provides some satisfaction, it isn’t sustainable; psychologically, it’s too easy to see past. Purpose that sustains ‘beyond-the-horizon’ is much more challenging to conceive.
Three premises to consider:
1. No matter how large-scale, projects with expected results fail to satisfy purpose ‘beyond-the-horizon’.
Even our largest, most ethically important projects (global warming, equality of opportunity… etc) don’t satisfy what we’re looking for from a ‘beyond-the-horizon’ purpose; the best imaginable result from their completion leaves us in a very familiar situation. We’d still be asking, “What next? Now that everyone has an abundance of opportunity, what do we do with it?”
2. The zoology of possible projects with unexpected, likely irrelevant results is vast.
When we’ve exhausted the familiar, we explore the unfamiliar. Exploration has the potential to reveal entirely novel phenomena — the mysterious is what we confront next. With limited time and resources, a distinction between relevant and irrelevant mystery is crucial. We inhabit a gigantic universe capable of a potentially infinite set of unknown arrangements. Although a project to chart the uncharted — to characterize the uncharacterized — is by definition exploration, that isn’t the kind of exploration we associate with deep mystery. The caliber of surprises those efforts could uncover are unlikely to revolutionize our philosophical perspectives. Their results are most likely irrelevant to the question of purpose in the face of grander mysteries.
3. Truly ‘beyond-the-horizon’ purpose lies in exploration of the relevant unknown.
It is fields of study that investigate the most fundamental aspects of existence wherein mysterious, unexpected findings are the most potentially relevant to the question of purpose. While physicists have the potential to uncover new structures in our base reality — information that could fundamentally influence the framework around how we think about purpose — neurobiologists have the potential to expand the boundaries of the minds of the explorers themselves.
The Most Relevant Unknown
The very existence of entities as complex and self-emergent as multicellular organisms hints that the limits of composition within the sandbox of our universe are nowhere near being reached; there’s little reason to presume the limits of intelligence have been reached, either. As far as we know, increasing levels of intelligence are directly related to the emergence of novel perceptual phenomena.
- Dogs possess self-awareness.
- Chimpanzees may possess theory of mind.
- Humans exercise abstract cross-species empathy.
The ascension of mental complexity doesn’t just amplify existing qualities — it unlocks incomprehensible, as-yet unknowable ones. The combined sense of love felt by every ant that has ever existed doesn’t approach the expanse of emotions achieved by any one human bond. Canines completely lack the faculty to understand abstract cross-species empathy. A degree of ascension above human wouldn’t just result in a greater aptitude for math, abstraction, or verbal acuity; nor just an inflation of emotion, empathy, and awareness; it could manifest brand new phenomenological categories well beyond our current sentience. Compared to an ‘ascended’ mind, the most lucid human experience would be the subjective equivalent of a debilitating, foggy, chaotic veil over the entirety of perception. It’d be foolish to believe there might not then exist significant, novel conceptions that could revolutionize the question of purpose itself. I can’t conceive of a more relevantly mysterious, awe-inspiring concept than that.
This is definitely a bit of a cop-out answer to the original question — a proposal to procrastinate that doesn’t even guarantee an answer. I don’t think that makes it an illegitimate way to think, though. We aim to evolve into wiser forms, necessarily building a better world on our way there. The possibility of ascension is a bootstrap on human psychology that successfully satisfies a yearning for purpose ‘beyond-the-horizon’.
Then It Gets Personal
Are you left happy enough knowing ascension is in the future of your decedents, or is it something you want to experience yourself? While it may be desirable to us personally, it’s not likely achievable within our lifetimes. If the formidable magnitude of the possibility of ascension generates yearning worthy of our efforts, achieving greater human longevity in order to reach it should equally so.
For each of us there’s a calculation to do. It’s a struggle between our estimation of the real-life possibility of extending human longevity and our willingness to sacrifice years of good life we definitely have to help make it happen. What if the ‘answer’ to the question of purpose is simply something like, “You find it here and there in the little moments with friends and family. Why didn’t you just do more of that?” Even if there’s good reason to doubt that’s what we’d then conclude, to have sacrificed purpose in one’s elaborate search for it would be the greatest existential irony ever.
The good news is that we kind of have to choose an endeavor anyway — something to work toward in the balance of our life’s career. Human longevity research directly benefits entire fields of medicine, has the potential to produce immense time opportunity for everyone, and is a stepping stone to the possibility of ascension. If we’re ever feeling a little indecisive — or know anyone in our lives who is — we might as well have more talented people working on that.
It’s a fairly simple concept that, in essence, is my life’s current thesis. I want it to be yours. I hope it will become everyone’s. I’m a little disappointed it isn’t already.