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Fred56

Does life have purpose?

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To get the ball rolling, I'll post stuff from another forum where a bunch of other dudes has tried to figure this out.

 

I got into a stoush with someone who appears to be stuck on the idea that we can't say it's even meaningful, and is no use in any definition (even though he then seems to be quite happy to use purposeful behaviour as a distinctive, and observable phenomenon).

 

I can't figure out why he can't see what the problem is with the approach he is using, so maybe some bright spark can shed a bit of light:

"How do we define" life, or how do we notice what it is, or what we are? How much of a problem is there with life trying to define itself (us, or any other organism)?

 

What about the possibility of being 'observed' --by something that isn't alive, as far as we can define, or 'notice'?

 

How does the world 'see' life, in other words (or maybe that's a bit too obtuse or obscure for some).

 

Anyways, if you start with the assumption that you already know the answer --it's something you were born with, or some kind of innate knowledge (like knowing how to move around, or see or hear things)-- then it shifts to: What is this innate knowledge? Selecting live and dead things and sorting them, must involve some decision-making; what decisions get made, and why or how?

 

I don't personally think it's helpful to try to exclude things that are obvious characteristics; what's the point of doing that?

e.g. "moves around" (except for the life that doesn't, but this kind of 'non-motile' life isn't static, it's an active thing), or "has purpose", or "uses energy", etc..

 

Free will is something we perceive ourselves (and other forms of life) as having because it is an advantage to be able to choose (between chasing your lunch or waiting somewhere for it to come to you, for example). Or alternatively, life is compelled to do this (there is no choice), but this is because life needs to learn about things...

 

There is a sense, or an apprehension we have of "something" that does the thinking. Except of course, we can view thinking as a response, rather than a 'self-initiated' process by some "independent" being. This last (which is pretty much the classical view) then begs the question: where is this independent self? What is behind it (is there a higher "self of selves", and etc.)?

I personally think that this sense we have (of being independent of our thinking) is due to our advanced brain, which has so much circuitry that we have the capacity, unlike most other animals, to diverge from immediate concerns, and think (a lot) about things that aren't to do with finding food, or shelter, or getting a fire going, or any of the ongoing tasks that life requires. Once we started to just think, for the sake of it, we diverged from the usual

 

environmentally-directed thought patterns, and learned to philosophise. This explains our belief in our 'free' ability to think and act because of it, rather than just responding (but it's probably an illusion).

 

A robot cannot learn (they only respond in a preprogrammed way) and evolve due to the accumulation of 'learning' (DNA modifications or mutations -group knowledge). How many robots can reproduce or grow?

 

1. Things contain or store energy. All things made of matter can be converted to some kind of energy.

2. Life stores energy. It has to use energy to do this.

3. Life uses energy to find more energy, things can store energy (have or contain some), but only life (is obliged) goes around looking for more of it. All by itself.

4. Life tracks its environment by using energy to maintain a map of external and internal information

5. Life grows (extends itself) by converting energy into more ´life´.

6. Life reproduces, this requires energy.

7. Life shares information with others. This sharing is not an energy-free process.

 

What criteria are used to distinguish that something has "metabolism, reproduction, stimulation and growth"? How can we differentiate between something that "uses" energy, say some star, from something that grows, or metabolises. The key difference is the way life (is obliged) to use energy (for all the above reasons).

 

Also I don't think you can compare a nematode's, or a blue-green algae's internal "map of self" (whatever biochemical or neural representation it may have), with anything that doesn't have or maintain such a thing, or doesn't use it to exploit (to measure) the environment. Are you saying inanimate objects do this too (like the sun, say)?

 

It is a bit trite, I suppose, to just say "Life uses (and stores) energy", when actually it is more the way it does this, and how it depends on both its internal store and the energy (food) it finds, to store more of it, in an ongoing

 

(teleological) process. I think that's succinct enough, because all the rest follows, more or less, from this "requirement". Telic processes are what ensues from Life having a unique "relationship" with its food (the environment).

 

Arguably, the distinction is that inanimate things don't have this teleological feature. Life appears to have a purpose, which is different from, say a fire. A fire can be said to have a purpose in that it "wants" to burn all the fuel it can, but there is no directed or purposeful (or intelligent) feature present after all, just our observation of its character or behaviour, which we tend to ascribe to some intelligence because that's what we do: humans are incurable anthropomorphics.[/me]

Originally Posted by DaveC426913

Living things in some way get information from the world around them

I would say that the "some way" involves energy, its "storage and usage" specifically.[/me]
Originally Posted by DaveC426913

I do not believe that life has purpose or meaning except that assigned to it arbitrarily by thinking creatures

 

How do thinking creatures manage this? If the use of the energy store they all carry around, or the apparent purpose that thinking creatures 'observe' in other lifeforms (and other members of their own lifeform), is of no help, or is actually irrelevant?

 

I believe that both energy 'storage' and the teleology, are necessary features that 'thinking creatures' project onto them, to distinguish between living things, and non-living things. The projection doesn't create these things, they are intrinsic to all life, not created by an observer.

 

You can select things that are 'dead' because they do not exhibit either of these features (behaviours). A rock does not move around under its own power, or consume other things and then grow, or exhibit any sort of purposeful behaviour. We can distinguish between a rock and a bunch of insects, because of these behaviour distinctions. This is how you, me, and all living things see the world (to whatever extent they 'see', or measure it), surely?

 

A drop of pond water is teeming with lifeforms that we need a microscope to see; is something like that (or the bacteria living all over most organisms) not life, or not 'exhibiting' behaviour because we can't see it without some instrument?

 

What else can observers do except observe --process the 'information' that is projected at them?[/me]

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Life has a few "purposes." One of life's goals is a local reduction of entropy (reduce it's own entropy). Another of life's goals is to produce offspring (create more lifeforms).

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Life also seeks to enjoy itself, or enable situations whereby the enjoyment can be sustained.

 

some say Hedonism, I think of it more like Pleasure seeking / Pain avoidance.

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Dont see the connection between asking the purpose of life, and defining it. Once a thing, animate or inanimate, comes into existence, it creates its own definition by its own nature. Its existence requires no purpose. It's just cause and effect.

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Life doesn't have a purpose. You could argue that the purpose is to create more life, but I'd say that's part of the definition and so you end up with a circular argument.

 

On a side note, a fair amount of that large quoted post is incorrect, most notably

 

A robot cannot learn (they only respond in a preprogrammed way)

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_learning

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I think the more interesting question is what is the purpose of human life. Obviously, we are something different then your average life form, i.e. we have free will and concious thought. We aren't simply trying to survive, but are trying to answer questions such as this. Every action we take has some purpose or goal, and therefore doesn't our life have some purpose or goal? Usually when you do something, the motivation is that you are doing either yourself some good or someone else. You learn to make yourself knowledgable, and excersise to stay in good health, and so on. To me it seems the purpose of life is to better yourself and those around you. Maybe this is just following evolution. When you look at humanity as a whole, you can tell we are still evolving. Not so much physically, but mentally. The amount of knowledge mankind has gathered over thousands of years is pretty ridiculus, and its not going to stop anytime soon. I once had a discussion with my professor about the "goal" of evolution, and we decided that at least on a planetary scale, the goal of evolution is to create a species that is capable of leaving its own planet. This is the concept of species preservation. Someday Earth will come to an end, and although its billions of years from now, sometime it will happen. And in if that time we are still stuck here, well its the end for us. So therefore, we have to gain the knowledge necessary to do this, otherwise we are simply a doomed race.

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Life also seeks to enjoy itself, or enable situations whereby the enjoyment can be sustained.

 

some say Hedonism, I think of it more like Pleasure seeking / Pain avoidance.

 

We'll generally yeah. I mean, it depends from where we look it from. If we seek the purpose of life from a scientific point of view, then life's purpose is to reproduce, so life can go on!

But from a human point of view, yeah, PLEASURE is our holly grail!

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I think the more interesting question is what is the purpose of human life. Obviously, we are something different then your average life form, i.e. we have free will and concious thought. We aren't simply trying to survive, but are trying to answer questions such as this.

 

No organism is "simply trying to survive." An individual organism's need to survive only persists as a method towards achieving an organism's true "need:" to produce offspring that can in turn reproduce themselves. Humans are no different. Though we may possess characteristics that are different from other animals, these characteristics, like the desire to survive, only came about because they increased our ability to achieve reproductive success. In the big picture of things, we are not that special.

 

We'll generally yeah. I mean, it depends from where we look it from. If we seek the purpose of life from a scientific point of view, then life's purpose is to reproduce, so life can go on!

But from a human point of view, yeah, PLEASURE is our holly grail!

 

Our pleasure is also ultimately rooted in the characteristics that helps us achieve greater reproductive success. Pleasure is just a proximate purpose, not the ultimate one.

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Its existence requires no purpose. It's just cause and effect.
Life doesn't have a purpose.
I'm positive that life doesn't have a purpose' date=' unless you give it one.[/quote']

 

It's a judgement, by an observer, then? So nothing can be said to be alive unless it's observed (by us, say)?

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Nothing can be said to be alive until you have adequately defined life. Then, to make matters exponentially simpler, define purpose as well.

 

 

Life has no inherent purpose, only arbitrarily assigned value. It just is. The rest is simply what passes through your own personal filters.

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This looks like one of those endlessly debatable topics that would be more at home in a Philosophy forum.

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I agree with iNow, life in general doesn't really have any inherent purpose, just arbitrarily assigned values.

 

One wonders why there has to be some purpose to it....

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Nothing can be said to be alive until you have adequately defined life. Then' date=' to make matters exponentially simpler, define purpose as well.

Life has no inherent purpose, only arbitrarily assigned value.[/quote']

 

So your own existence is arbitrary, and has no definable purpose.

Or there is no point in asking if an individual, or a group of living things can even be said to have any purpose. So everything that is alive is just the same as everything that isn't, and there isn't any point in discriminating between a live and a dead thing. Or we can't tell anyway, because there is no such thing as purpose. Or am I summing this discussion (and any viewpoints) all wrong here?

One wonders why there has to be some purpose to it....

But why does one? There isn't any need to define purpose, and it isn't useful to define, according to the dude I'm dealing to in the OP... We just 'are', whatever that means, and it's pointless to analyse.

Also, this leads to the same question I pose at the end of it.

How do thinking creatures manage [to arbitrarily assign value]? If the use of the 'energy store' they all carry around, or the apparent purpose that thinking creatures (we) 'observe' in other lifeforms (and other members of their own lifeform), is of no help, or is actually irrelevant?

In other words, how do you explain that we do discriminate between animate (living) things, and inanimate (not living) things, since we are unable to do this, without doing a bit of arbitrary assignment first? Or alternatively, why do we bother discriminating if there is no point in so doing? I.e. there is no such thing as purpose, therefore there can be no purpose in discriminating things that appear to have purpose, because they really don't have any (we just imagine, or project 'purposeful behaviour' onto things, for some reason we don't understand, or need to).

 

If some think there is a big circular argument here with no possible resolution, I'll start again with this:

 

Does life exhibit purposeful behaviour, and is this behaviour the same thing as 'having purpose'?

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It all depends on how you define life and how you define purpose (like iNow said).

 

So your own existence is arbitrary, and has no definable purpose.

 

That would be unlikely. As conscious beings, we can choose a purpose for ourselves.

 

In other words, how do you explain that we do discriminate between animate (living) things, and inanimate (not living) things, since we are unable to do this, without doing a bit of arbitrary assignment first?

 

We have a tendency to categorize things. Also, it is much easier to recognize a pattern (this is life) than it is to define a pattern (life is such and such). However, the labels we attach are arbitrarily defined, and unless we can agree on what each label means, it is very hard to communicate.

 

If some think there is a big circular argument here with no possible resolution, I'll start again with this:

 

If you are looking for a specific answer, things will keep going in circles.

 

Does life exhibit purposeful behaviour, and is this behaviour the same thing as 'having purpose'?

 

I answered this already. The purpose of life, in as much as it has one, is to replicate itself. To sustainably replicate itself, it must also locally reduce its entropy, and to do that, it must be an open system that acquires energy and materials.

 

A design purpose could be assigned to life by comparing it to the product of an evolutionary algorithm whose fitness function is the overall number of surviving offspring. In that way, a purpose can be assigned to it despite the fact that it was neither purposefully designed nor is in general conscious.

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If you are looking for a specific answer, things will keep going in circles.

The question is: why do some people insist that life has no (definable) purpose? Purpose is an obvious feature of living things, why is it useless (in any definition)?

The purpose of life, in as much as it has one, is to replicate itself.

So this is the only purposeful behaviour we can 'notice' in any living thing (anything else it might do is irrelevant -if it isn't directly related to this ultimate purpose)? So nothing in this list has anything to do with any other purpose:

1. Things contain or store energy. All things made of matter can be converted to some kind of energy.

2. Life stores energy. It has to use energy to do this.

3. Life uses energy to find more energy, things can store energy (have or contain some), but only life (is obliged) goes around looking for more of it. All by itself.

4. Life tracks its environment by using energy to maintain a map of external and internal information

5. Life grows (extends itself) by converting energy into more ´life´.

6. Life reproduces, this requires energy.

7. Life shares information with others. This sharing is not an energy-free process.

 

Also, if this is the only purpose that can be defined, or whatever the rule is, then why am I doing this (why are you doing it)? What purpose could there be to discussing this topic or anything else on any forum, or getting educated about things that have little direct relevance to reproducing?

 

Why don't we just reproduce constantly and focus completely on this (the only meaningful) activity?

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The question is: why do some people insist that life has no (definable) purpose? Purpose is an obvious feature of living things, why is it useless (in any definition)?

 

Well, let's think about the definitions of "purpose."

 

One definition is "an anticipated outcome that is intended or that guides your planned actions." Life has no anticipated outcome. This definition implies a plan, a design. Unless you are a theist, this is just not the case.

 

Another definition would be "function: what something is used for." What is life's primary function? To create more life.

 

Also, if this is the only purpose that can be defined, or whatever the rule is, then why am I doing this (why are you doing it)? What purpose could there be to discussing this topic or anything else on any forum, or getting educated about things that have little direct relevance to reproducing? Why don't we just reproduce constantly and focus completely on this (the only meaningful) activity?

 

It may seem like this discussion, and indeed many other aspects of human behavior, are unrelated to reproduction. But that is not true. The very reason why we have the ability to have this debate, the reason why we evolved intelligence and language, why we involved to be inquisitive and curious and inventive, is because these characteristics increased the reproductive success of our ancestors. Our genes motivate us to persist in activities like these because this is how we develop technology and ideas that give us a competitive edge, this is how we keep our brains sharp enough to successfully navigate the complex social group within which we will eventually find our mate and raise our offspring, etc etc. Most animals, and I think most humans, are not conscious of these genetic influences, so our personal motivation for why we do the things we do will usually seem different and separate from reproduction and natural selection - but ultimately, they are not.

 

So even now, we are still following the only purpose that can reasonably be assigned to life.

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Life is simply a process in which naturally animated fundamental elements or entities interact with their environment...learn to 'wear the mud'.

 

In 500 to 1000 years when particle physicists discover the animaton (secular version of a soul) they will finally realize that it isn't EITHER intelligent design OR evolution, it is BOTH.

 

Today, they can't even find (with any certainty) a fundamental particle with the property of mass. Imagine how difficult it will be to discover a fundamental particle which does NOT have the property of mass....

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I still like the idea that we`re just here to Party and be excellent to each other :)

 

 

oh well.

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Fred - You seem like a man with a predefined maxim who is searching for support to validate it. You have begun with the premise that life has purpose, and others have disagreed (or illustrated the subjective and arbitrary nature of such a premise).

 

So, considering the above, let's start here.

 

What do YOU think the "purpose of life" is?

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In 500 to 1000 years when particle physicists discover the animaton (secular version of a soul) they will finally realize that it isn't EITHER intelligent design OR evolution, it is BOTH.

 

Evolution assumes (and has evidence for) randomness. Intelligent design assumes design (obviously). They're not compatible.

 

Today, they can't even find (with any certainty) a fundamental particle with the property of mass. Imagine how difficult it will be to discover a fundamental particle which does NOT have the property of mass....

 

Now, I may just be coming out from a stupid argument about mass, but I think I'm on firmer ground here when I say that you're wrong, although the trouble is I don't really know how to begin.

 

I'll just short circuit the whole thing by saying that this sentence doesn't even make sense to people who know nothing about physics, because the first half implies that of all the fundamental particles we've found none have mass - which means that the second half has already happened.

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What do YOU think the "purpose of life" is?

To live. To remain alive, and to be able to eventually reproduce.

Life however, appears to be able to do more than simply survive.

Can anyone explain 'play'? We observe this apparently purposeful behaviour in many other animals, maybe it's something common to all life (I wouldn't like to say, and I imagine nor would any of you without referring to a learning paradigm, or perhaps 'habituation'). Are there any activities that life apparently performs that are not related to the ultimate purpose (reproduction)? Answer, yes, I think there certainly are.

As I pointed out to the other objector to my claim that life (all of it) does have purpose, what is, or how do you alllow for 'survival instinct', if there is NO purpose? viz:

Your definition does not seem to allow for the (observed) behaviour of life to 'preserve' itself. Without purpose, no organism would bother to expend energy looking for food, or move away from danger. We would simply stay inside a burning building, or remain 'unmoved' by an oncoming flood, or violent storm, or an attacking wild animal (a lion say); since we can't make a 'judgement', there is no point in having or even defining purposeful behaviour, because its an illusion; no lifeforms have this property, they simply sit around waiting for whatever might come along, but can't decide what to do if something does...

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Evolution assumes (and has evidence for) randomness. Intelligent design assumes design (obviously). They're not compatible.

 

What if the God used an evolutionary algorithm? :rolleyes:

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So, ultimately the only conclusion about life and purpose we can make here is that reproduction is the only (the ultimate) purpose or goal of all lifeforms, and all other purposeful behaviour (trophism, metabolism, extension, motility), are all towards this. Evolution's purpose is to produce lifeforms that are more efficient at 'gene-mixing' or measurement of the 'gene-space', and ultimately will produce a lifeform with 'ultimate reproductive ability'?

 

Except that we, and other animals, also appear to be able to behave (expend energy) doing things that cannot possibly be related to reproductive success, and the eventual juxtaposition of haploid germ cells and formation of a zygote (or 'simple' budding for most single-cell or 'single-capsule' lifeforms).

 

We're unable to explain, say, why fully-grown horses gallop around a field, leaping, prancing and kicking (as do many other animals), and expend energy doing nothing more purposeful than 'letting off steam' (expending energy to expend it), apparently. We call this "play" (and there are gaming theories related to this sort of activity), but I doubt that anyone can successfully assign a reproductive behaviour label to this (or do the converse).

 

Why do we philosophise, or think about anything other than immediate concerns? Is it really all devoted to an ultimate reproductive goal and survival? Where does the search for, say the godhead, or godhood, fit in?

 

P.S. If there's any perception that I have suddenly turned this thread into a religious discussion after all, first have a think about Sir Isaac, or Siddhartha (who abandoned his young wife and child to find something 'else'), rather than what you might think the word 'godhood' means.

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Fred - You seem like a man with a predefined maxim who is searching for support to validate it. You have begun with the premise that life has purpose, and others have disagreed (or illustrated the subjective and arbitrary nature of such a premise).

 

So, considering the above, let's start here.

 

What do YOU think the "purpose of life" is?

 

Oh life DOES have a purpose. Everything that exists has a purpose.

 

Purpose is simply intent (comes from the French word for intent) and it is the intent of everything in the universe to impose its properties on the elements in its environment. And the process of action and reaction changes the state of being of each element until it is in harmony with its surroundings.

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