The Meaning of Life

first post!!!!!1


This blog has a pretty imposing title. I'd like use this space to develop my overall thesis, the essential meme that I'm intent on propagating... I'd like to figure out what that is, and I think that an ongoing, open conversation with my friends and the Greater Internets is as good a way as any find out. What I do know is that it's important to find out what my thesis is.

You see, I know what the meaning of life is, but I warn you, it's a disappointing revelation.


The meaning of life is to spread your meme.

See what I mean? Disappointing. I mean, sure, if we were bacteria we'd have a pretty clear purpose: divide. That pretty much gets the job done. And by perusing the tree of life we can see that, sure enough, pretty much the defining characteristic of life is that it wants to live, grow, and spread. That is the simple meaning of life for every other species we know of.

But as thinking primates, we have a much, much, much vaster set of potential memes than our simple genes. For instance, consider causes that people will die for. Family, Honor, Country, Truth, Faith, and Freedom all come to mind. If you are willing to die for a cause, it is because that cause is a more essential part of your meme, your thesis, your core self, than your very DNA. Having been trained in evolutionary science, this was an interesting revelation for me.

...The reason that I think this formulation of the Meaning of Life is disappointing, is that it doesn't address any of the thorny issues that led us to ask the question in the first place. God? Freedom? Happiness? Love? Truth? Beauty? Not addressed. This formulation of the Meaning of Life requires that the answers to these kinds of questions be found elsewhere, in the memes themselves, and in their intersection with the individuals and collectives that shepherd the memes. It says: "It is your unique responsibility to discover and spread your meme. A person's life is the sum total of their impact on the rest of the universe." This is what we do, and have been doing, since we learned to talk.


What is my thesis? And how can I write my thesis on the world? That's the point.

Now having said all that, I intend to leave it alone and blog more or less like a normal person.

Cheers :-)


  1. I think I disagree, because it's unclear what 'meaning' really means!

    People speak cavalierly about the 'meaning of life' being to spread DNA, and you say essentially the same thing for bacteria. I think just because that's something that you might do (or something that was a positive selection characteristic for other organisms in your species in the past), that doesn't mean it should be the meaning of your life.

    There's a serious is-ought problem here.

  2. Well, I think that's part of what I'm trying to get at; the meaning of life for a bacterium, in the sense of its goal, is to grow and divide (and maybe, also, to help others of its kind do the same in the long run).

    But sentient life, on the other hand, has a much broader set of possibilities, and thus a much richer sense of meaning. The meaning of life, for humans, is definitely not just to reproduce. I specifically can't tell you what the precise meaning of your life is, nor of mine.

    As to the is-ought: Yes... I agree that the word 'ought' is meaningless without some moral framework. I further assert that defining a moral framework that gives you 'ought' also lets you derive the meaning of life.

    So yes, it's fair to say that I am skipping from 'is' to 'ought.' I am attempting to choose a (very loose!) moral framework. The moral framework I choose is the one that I think is suggested by the nature of self-replicating life, and the nature of memes in culture: "represent yourself."

    I choose this framework because it's the only common point of reference for everything we recognize as life (so it seems like a good place to look for life's meaning). Additionally, in this construction, all life has the same goal, and I think that's an important symmetry.

    I'm leaving religion out of this discussion on purpose, so I'm unable to derive a higher "should" than propagation of core values. The thing is, I think that's enough to give us back a rich a mysterious question. For instance, I believe that being a social species is an important identity for humans, and is something that we ought to preserve and propagate (derived from the above moral framework).

    As to the meaning of "meaning," I agree. I was using it as a synonym for "goal," and I wasn't particularly speaking to any original intent or revealed purpose on the part of a creator. So maybe I answered an easier question by doing so.

    In conclusion, you've given me a lot to think about, and I'll probably respond some more.