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S2E1: What is the Purpose of Existence?

Last updated on 2023-01-30

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Espiritualidad y Ciencia
Espiritualidad y Ciencia
S2E1: What is the Purpose of Existence?
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The question of the purpose of existence has been pondered by philosophers, religious figures, and spiritual seekers for centuries. It is believed that this question arose with more consistency as our hunter-gatherer ancestors transitioned to settled farming communities. Prior to this, the focus on survival consumed most of our ancestors attention, and they did not have the luxury to ponder about the greater purpose of their existence.

However, with the advent of farming, it allowed them the time and security to reflect on their place in the world, contemplating their birth, growth, reproduction, and eventual death. It’s speculative to say that our ancestors pondered about existence before the farming era, however, it is certain that farming era was a turning point for them to have time and peace of mind to question the meaning of their existence.

Religion has historically been ready to give its answer to this existential question because the purpose of existence is linked to the purpose of the existence of religion itself. Religion is the tool to fulfill the ultimate purpose of life which, according to most religions, is to fulfill God’s will and prepare us for a fulfilling afterlife.

Then comes science, it manages to decipher many of the mysteries of nature, but in all its journey it fails to find neither gods nor purposes. So, believing scientists like Isaac Newton or Johannes Kepler take refuge in the chinks of mystery where science has failed to penetrate and hope to find God and his secret plan for us.

Albert Einstein for example said in February 1950: “A human being is a part of the whole, which we call the Universe, a limited part in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. The effort to free oneself from that illusion is the very foundation of true religion. Not of nurturing it but of trying to overcome it, is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.”

The meaning of existence is a topic that goes beyond the realm of science and delves into the realm of spirituality, religion, philosophy, and humanism. While science has the capability to explore many questions, it may not provide all the answers when it comes to understanding the purpose of our existence. However, recent theories have emerged that attempt to connect the dots between astronomical observations and subatomic physics experiments, offering new insights and perspectives on this complex issue. I’ll dive deeper into this topic in later sections of this blog post.

Why we look for purpose

In understanding the concept of purpose in life, it’s important to first define what we mean by “purpose.” According to the Royal Academy, purpose refers to an objective or goal that is intended to be achieved. Its origin can be traced back to the Latin words “propositum,” meaning “forward positioned.” This idea of positioning something forward in time is closely linked to the way our human mind operates.

Humans, along with some other animals such as chimpanzees and crows, possess the ability to plan for the future, meaning we can sacrifice short-term pleasure for the attainment of long-term goals. This is achieved through the combination of cognitive abilities such as observation, memory, and the ability to calculate probabilities, as well as the capacity to suppress our instincts. Research has shown that these processes mainly occur in the brain stem and the limbic system of the brain.

The ability to plan also requires us to identify the purpose of others’ actions and to create purpose for our own actions. This enables us to achieve our plans and fulfill our purpose.

Humans are unique among animals in that we possess the ability to reflect on our own consciousness. The development of our cerebral cortex and frontal lobe enables us to observe our own existence, which comes with its own set of challenges. One such challenge is our awareness of our own mortality, which creates a paradox: we can accomplish great things, create civilizations and technologies, and even imagine virtual worlds, but all of it ultimately collides with the reality that we will one day cease to exist.

This awareness of our own death can lead to a desire for belief in an afterlife, but this is a topic for another discussion. We are left with the question of why we exist, knowing that our time in this physical world is limited. Why are we conscious beings with a finite lifespan? Is there a purpose to our existence or are we simply organic matter that has become aware? Even the question of what life is or what it means to exist is not easy to answer. Why do we exist? Is it possible to see life as a simple journey of stardust or is it nothingness? All these questions are not easy to answer.

So, our awareness of our own consciousness and mortality raises many deep questions and provide some sense of uncertainty about the nature and purpose of our existence, it’s a question that people throughout history have struggled with, and continue to struggle with today.

Searching in religion

The questions about the purpose and meaning of existence can be overwhelming for many people. It’s natural to feel a sense of uncertainty and angst when grappling with these deep and complex questions. Some people find solace in faith, believing that everything that happens in their life is part of a divine plan and that in the end, they will be rewarded with an afterlife of pleasure and joy. For these people, the idea of faith provides a sense of purpose and meaning without the need to question or seek answers further.
However, believing in a certain faith can also have its drawbacks. For example, faith can become a means of closing the mind to other perspectives and realities. This can lead to a sense of certainty that one’s beliefs are the only correct ones and that others must be false.

This is one of the reasons why so many religions can wage wars and killing in the name of their god: believing that what gives purpose to my life is real implies that everything that is incompatible with that belief must be false. Therefore, the religions of others must be false. Well, some say “There are a thousand ways to call God, but it’s the same god,” but that doesn’t work in all cases. For Christianity, death is the passage to heaven, purgatory, or hell while, for Hinduism, it is the time to migrate to another body in a new reincarnation. It is either one or the other, but not both at the same time!

The scientific perspective

Religion often seeks to provide answers about the purpose of life, as taught in its sacred texts, typically emphasizing the importance of living a pious life, helping others, and following religious rules and customs in order to be favored by God and attain a better afterlife. Religion, in this way, concentrates on the purpose of life for individuals. On the other hand, science tends to focus on the purpose of life as a natural phenomenon.

Science is able to easily explain the purpose of things like genes, cells, and sex through the lens of natural evolution. The primary purpose of these and many other biological phenomena is survival. Nature experiment with various configurations over millions of years, and through the process of natural selection, it refines both the living beings and the process itself. However, it raises the question of the purpose of the existence of life itself. Other natural phenomena such as the formation of planets, stars and galaxies do not seem to have any specific purpose, but rather they are result of the laws of physics applied on the set of particles formed after the big bang.

But life, even more so when it is extremely rare in the Universe, at least as far as we know for now, seems to us much more than a simple consequence of the laws of physics. Why does life originate? As is tradition, it is here that even some scientists put the red carpet to God and proclaim that there must be a higher intelligence interested in creating living and conscious beings to experience their creation. This is what is known as the “God of the gaps” because we are running it as we gain scientific understanding, to explain things we do not yet understand.

Well, we may be on the verge of running God off the fence again, if a mathematical model created by the American physicist Jeremy England called “Dissipation Driven Adaptation” is confirmed. What this model posits is that when a group of atoms is influenced by an external source of energy, such as the sun for example, and surrounded by a warm environment such as the ocean or atmosphere, it will often begin to gradually restructure to disperse more and more energy.

This is related to the second law of thermodynamics also known as Entropy, which determines that energy tends to disperse or expand as time passes. Entropy is the measure of this tendency. This is a physical law of the universe and is the reason it is required to inject energy to heat a cup of coffee, but once hot, the atoms of the coffee will spontaneously interact with the air atoms of the room in which it is located and dissipate the energy received until both the air and the coffee are at the same temperature.

La Entropía | Blog de Jose Antonio Martin

Dr. England’s theory suggests that living things have an innate ability to capture energy from their environment and dissipate it as heat more efficiently than inert matter composed of the same elements. This idea proposes that the purpose of life is to contribute to the entropy of the universe by capturing as much energy as possible and dissipating it as efficiently as possible. If this theory is experimentally proven, it would mean that Darwin’s theory of evolution is a special case of the second law of thermodynamics.

For example, if we compare a plant to a rock, we can see that while a rock takes longer to dissipate heat than to heat up and requires a lot of energy, a plant is much more efficient at absorbing energy, converting ultraviolet rays into infrared radiation in a much shorter amount of time. Humans also follow this trend, we are even more efficient at capturing energy and using it. In fact, humanity’s energy consumption has greatly increased in the last two hundred years and is not likely to decrease soon.

While science has been able to provide insights into the purpose of life as a natural phenomenon, it can’t provide answers about the specific purpose of our individual lives. The laws of physics may have set the stage for the emergence of life on Earth and natural selection has shaped life forms to become more efficient at capturing and dissipating energy. But whether this means that our individual lives are ultimately meaningless or not is open to interpretation.

In the process of creating ever more efficient forms of life, nature has also created other mechanisms, such as sex and the survival instinct, to ensure the continuation of the species and at some point, certain primates were gifted with the ability to recognize their own death, which could have been a mistake. But, it also made them the most efficient beings in consuming and dissipating energy in the history of this planet. This is the reason why human being’s ability to capture and use energy has increased and will likely to keep increasing in the future.

The Purpose of your life

And so, we find ourselves in this moment, dependent on a complex network of technology, powered by various forms of energy, discussing the purpose of our lives. But what is the purpose of human existence beyond simply consuming and dissipating energy?

This is where things get truly complicated as we enter the realm of philosophy and the various ideas that have been proposed throughout history. Throughout the ages, philosophers have offered a diverse array of perspectives on the meaning of life. For Plato, the purpose of life was to attain the highest level of knowledge, Aristotle believed in the importance of virtuosity, the Cynics advocated for the pursuit of wealth, power, good health, and fame. On the other hand, the Hedonists believed that the ultimate goal was to obtain as much physical pleasure as possible, while the Stoics sought freedom from suffering through self-control and apathy.

Human civilizations and cultures have explored the subject in various ways and adapting or creating their own doctrines. It is difficult to list all the different perspectives that have existed, but it is worth mentioning two extreme views of human purpose: on one hand, nihilism, which argues that there is no God and no objective truth or morality, and therefore life has no intrinsic meaning or purpose; on the other hand, some religious sects like Mormons and some esoteric groups, that posit that the purpose of life is to undergo an inner transformation or evolution to become gods.

Science and spirituality

So, where does spirituality fit in when it comes to finding the purpose of life? As I previously mentioned in episode 8, spirituality is not about finding answers, it’s about the search for purpose itself. It is a journey, not a destination. Spirituality is about self-discovery, freeing ourselves from suffering, and understanding ourselves better. It’s not about finding the ultimate purpose, but rather, it’s about creating the prerequisite for identifying our own individual purpose.

Spirituality guides us to look within ourselves to find answers. If we feel an emptiness that we cannot fill, or if we cannot accept the purpose imposed on us by society, religion or family, spirituality offers us a path of initiation. A path that helps us discover who we truly are, free ourselves from what we are not, and reach the highest expression of our being.

As the Muisca ancestors used to say, this path leads us to find our Tchetzakua, which means “the place in the cosmos that corresponds to you.” This place is as unique as our fingerprints or iris, it arises from a combination of genetics, education, environment, and luck. It’s an unique combination of factors that will never be repeated in the entire history of the universe, it is a proof that the cosmos has arranged everything for you to find and fulfill your potential.

Spirituality may not provide us with a definite answer to the question of the purpose of life, but it guides us on the journey of self-discovery. It empowers us to free ourselves from the burden of societal and societal expectations, to look within ourselves and find our own path

And finally, your gifts are those things that come naturally to you, things that you don’t have to work as hard to do, things that come easy and that give you joy and satisfaction. They are the things that you can do effortlessly, even if you don’t have much experience or practice in them. It could be a natural ability for storytelling, public speaking, motivating others, or even healing. These gifts are unique to you and they are often the things that set you apart from others.

By analyzing your interests, skills, talents, and gifts, you can start to see patterns and common themes. These themes can give you clues as to what your purpose may be. For example, if you have a passion for helping others, strong communication skills and a natural ability to empathize, your purpose may lie in a career or role that allows you to make a positive impact on people’s lives.

It’s important to note that finding your purpose is an ongoing process and it may take some time to fully understand it. Sometimes, the path to fulfilling our purpose may take detours and may be hindered by limiting beliefs or external circumstances. But by understanding yourself and what brings you joy and fulfillment, you can make choices that align with your purpose and bring you closer to living a fulfilling life.

Your purpose connects your gifts with your talents, your skills and your interests and gives peace to your Being. But it’s important to remember that purpose is not just about achieving something big, it’s also about the small, everyday things that give your life meaning. The work of the old woman tending the flowers every day and the work of the CERN scientists discovering subatomic particles are equally important in the grand scheme of things.

When we realize that we live in a tiny blue dot floating in space in an infinitesimal instant of time, it puts things in perspective and helps us understand that everything is connected, and that every action we take, no matter how small, has an impact. It’s also important to remember that finding one’s purpose is an ongoing journey, it’s not a one-time event. It’s a process that requires self-reflection, experimentation, and growth.

Lastly, your purpose is not just about you, it’s about how you can contribute to the world, how you can make a positive impact, how you can be of service. We are all here for a reason and it’s important to find our own unique path, that may lead you to find your meaning and fulfillment in life.


[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/07/13/are-people-and-apes-the-only-ones-that-can-plan-ahead-quoth-the-raven-nevermore/

[2] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-new-physics-theory-of-life/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meaning_of_life#Western_philosophical_perspectives

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihilism

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