“No, I don’t think that there is any ultimate meaning to the universe.” We were driving back from a weekend camping trip. It was dark and I was tired, but there was still enough energy in me to hold a conversation about the deeper questions in life. “But, uh, doesn’t that make you feel…empty?” I replied. We had been talking about whether or not there was a purpose to life. Is there any reason why we’re all here, or is it just some big cosmic accident? “I don’t feel empty. I’m…I’m OK with that. There doesn’t have to be an overall purpose to the universe for me to have meaning to my life” my friend said. Did he really believe that? He just couldn’t see the absurdity. And my heart broke for him. I looked at the clock. We had a long way to go.
The conversation I had with my friend is not a unique one. At some point in our lives, all of us have asked ourselves “Why am I here?” Sometimes it’s because we had too much fun the night before and need to find a way back home. But really what we’re asking is “What’s my purpose in life?”. We ask ourselves this when we get stuck in a routine, finding ourselves operating like machines put on autopilot. And then we stop for a minute, and have time to reflect on why we’re doing what we do. But we’re not really sure. At least, not as sure as we used to be when we were younger. And as we get older we wonder what are lives will amount to as we move slowly towards our inevitable and inescapable fate, leaving this life behind.
So does life have any real meaning? Is there a purpose behind the creation of the universe? If not, can we have real purpose in a meaningless universe? These aren’t just some esoteric questions for philosophers to debate over or for “profound” stoners to talk about over some Funyuns. These are questions that no other species asks or even has the capacity to ask. Humans alone are discontent with just simply living; we want life to have a point, a purpose. We want a reason why we should continue to live, because in the back of our minds is the gnawing fact that we, and ultimately everything, will eventually die. The answer to this question is essential to understanding our very nature, and the key to knowing how to truly live. Because if we know what our purpose is, we can finally live the life we were always meant to.
In the next post, I want to look at a common contemporary answer to the question of the meaning of life, and its implications for how we should live our lives.
In the meantime, check out Dr. Joel Hughes’ thoughts on the subject.