Supposing you come to know everything there is to know about life; you understand the purpose of your existence, the conditions under which your surroundings have been brought about; you understand the theories of knowledge that have confounded philosophers for centuries as well as the mysteries of science that no human mind has now the capacity to explore; you understand every fibre of your being and understand even what ‘truth’ and ‘doubt’ really means, insofar that you are not constantly warped into a maze of compulsive intellection. Supposing you come to know all this, the great truth which has eluded humanity for so long, what happens then? There will be nothing left to seek. Everything becomes meaningless, and still you cannot cease to exist.
It is a habit of the human nature, in its unrestrained inquisitiveness, to discover, or at least attempt in doing so, the purpose of every natural object and its interactions with the world. Why are the leaves of plants green? Because they contain chlorophyll, which converts sunlight into sustenance. Why do birds have hollow bones? So that they may glide swiftly and lightly across the pale blue of the sky. Why is there so extensive a variety of prey and predator? So that ecosystem may be kept in harmony, and the cycle of life in motion.
This inquisitiveness, together with the discoveries we make through scientific exploration, has led us to assume that whatever we find confounding, purposeless, must have behind its mysterious veil some sort of telos – an end for which it exists. And if a person contends that some objects of nature exists without an end, I shall lower the definition of “an end” to something as simple as having an effect on another object of nature.
Which leads us to the question of existence: why do we exist? For what purpose? Our conditioned mind tells us that indeed there must be one – it is only hid from our limited perception. Everything that exists in nature, everything about which we have gained knowledge and dissected with our intellect, has a purpose. So surely, our existence, being a part of nature, must too have a purpose. Centuries of philosophers have brooded over this question, harangued to the point of exhaustion, but still could produce no truly satisfying answer. All they could do was to suggest medicinal, comfortable ways to live.
But what if our existence was actually not part of the entire scheme of nature; insomuch that it would be erroneous to think it as having a purpose. How could we apply the characteristics of objects existing within nature to what is the source of nature, something that perhaps stands outside these ocular realms? Perhaps the purpose, the end, the telos, of our existence is merely to live; to observe life, to enjoy its pleasures, suffer its afflictions, explore, discover, create, and experience.
When our professor first told us that we could, for our final paper, answer either all the vapid questions so common to exam scripts or try our pen at a single “what is the meaning of life”, I felt immediately as if my choice had been made. After all, how hard could it possibly be to write about the philosophies guiding your own life? And can we not deny a certain desire within us to share those philosophies with others, to permit them a glance of the web of our world and all its warps and wefts?
But as I began to think more about life as it is, attempting like the mere mortal I am to grasp an immortal answer, I realized that the mess of ideas, which I had believed if properly organized and made sense of would quell my curiosity, was no more than a mess of ideas. We often confuse ourselves with profound ideas, hoping that if we were to bring clarity to the confusion, we shall find the eternal truth drifting just beyond the shores of our current acumen. Therein lies the peculiar problem – our tendency toward the profound. We think of the ultimate meaning of life as something all-encompassing, timeless, perfect, and so we reason: surely, there has to be more to it than what we think it actually is. And we proceed thence to think even harder, and in an effort to reach that drifting truth, we fill the shorelines with soil of profundity, ignorant of the fact that the truth will be pushed only farther. We shall never be able to reach it.
I have thus contended myself in the thinking that there is no quintessential meaning to life, or if there actually were, it will continue to elude me until I have mustered all there is to know in this universe; a task virtually impossible given the ordinary span of life. There is, however, no reason to despair this lack of ultimate meaning; for why ever should we have to satisfy our existence when we need only satisfy our self?