What is the point of life? This is, perhaps, one of the more pondered questions throughout the history of thought. It’s a distinctively easier question to address than say, “what is the meaning of life?” but it also has its fair share of pitfalls and complexity. It is an extremely important question to ask, since it directs a large portion of our daily activity. While asking the meaning of life is meant to solve the problem of why we are here, asking what the point of life is more a question of “what” than “why.” We try to learn the meaning of life so that we have a motivation to get out of bed every morning. We try to learn the purpose of life so that we have the necessity to get out of bed every morning. Discovering the purpose of life is one of the questions that this website is devoted to answering. Particularly in an age where purpose is increasingly devoid.
Those of us living in the modern, Western world, and even to some degree in less-wealthy civilizations, experience heavy social abstraction. We do not have any immediate needs at most times, and when we do, we have developed systems that enable us to deal with them promptly, and with little effort. We must collect food, so we have supermarkets. We must answer nature’s calling, so we have bathrooms. All of these things remove us from the primacy and immediate need of the problem, at least as much as we are capable of. However, the side effect is that by living in a highly abstracted state, the point of life may not be immediately obvious. When you have to hunt or gather food every time you are hungry, and you happen to be hungry fairly frequently, the point of your life is to find more food. Remove the abstraction, and the point of life becomes simple: survival. Yet this is a very difficult thing to identify when many spend their entire lives living in a higher plane of abstraction than has ever been observed. This introduces new problems that we must grapple with. Abstraction is always accompanied by complexity. The further one gets from the source of a problem, the more difficult it becomes even to just identify that problem, let alone its solution.
Perhaps the highly abstracted lives we live shields us from the true pull of life, allowing us to stray into areas that are directly counterproductive towards survival, much the same way that the further electrons sit from the nucleus of an atom, the more they are shielded by the electrons in an inner valence, and are often lost. To confront issues, many feel the need to remove that shielding, and travel to areas or seek encounters that remind them of their primacy, a search of proto-humanistic emotion, a reminder of the purpose of life. Millions of people seek experiences that fall onto the survival spectrum, either by retreats, or camping, or military service, or any number of other dangerous experiences. And oftentimes, these experiences are described as life-changing events. This cannot be by coincidence alone. If all of society exists in a highly abstracted state or structure, then the problems that they experience become more complex. It may not be immediately obvious when the problems are created.
If a human experiences a situation that threatens their survival, in a way that isn’t immediately obvious, they may never experience the emotions that have been selected for via the process of evolution, telling them that this situation is a threat. The fight or flight response to danger or threats is an extremely intense emotion because those who experience it in the most intense manner are those who survived whatever the threat they were facing was. Those who encountered rotten food but didn’t feel disgusted by it would have eaten it, and been made sick or killed by it. We are conditioned to recognize threats in an obvious manner, and react immediately to them, because in a primal world, most threats are immediate. However, when threats become more complex and less obvious, and emotional response may not be triggered, and the severity of the situation may not be realized. This is made even more complicated by the fact that not many will experience truly life-threatening situations, especially not on a frequent basis, making them even more difficult to identify.
How does all of this relate to the purpose of life? Well, in a primal society, if the purpose of life is survival, identifying progress toward it is easy, the emotional reaction is strong, and therefore it is an extremely motivating thing to work towards. In a complex, abstracted society, identifying these situations is much more difficult, and there is not necessarily a motivating emotional response to them. For instance, if someone has a job that they hate, they may work poorly at it, because it is not immediately obvious how that job could be a crucial piece of their well-being and ability to live in society.