Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Deeper Purpose Beyond Survival

"The need to extend the self in time and space - the need to create in order to live, to breath, and to be - precedes, indeed, of necessity exceeds, the need for self-reproduction as a personal survival function." -Edith Cobb

In other words, there is more to life than merely surviving and reproducing. But also at the same time, at the heart of each life is the drive to make some kind of lasting impact on the world, some creative contribution that outlives your individual existence. Survival is important, but it's not just about physical survival and the spreading of your genes, it's also about self-realization and the spreading of ideas.

Obviously most people, scientists included, acknowledge the deeper need we all have for love and happiness, to feel valued and respected, and to experience a state of joy and contentedness with our lives. It is these other things beyond survival that really make life worth living. But generally when viewed from a scientific perspective, these subjective needs are considered secondary to, serving more of an auxiliary function to, the greater purpose of living long enough to pass on your genes; that pretty much, according to such thinking, the purpose of life is simply to pass on your genes and to survive as long as you can, and everything else is poetry.

Well, I've always hated that. Why? Because for as long as I can remember I've never wanted to have children. I knew this as a child, and I know this now, that being a parent is the last thing in the world I would ever want to be. And the idea that passing on our genes is the primary evolutionary motivation behind all human interactions, is just something that I find to be completely unrelatable. Not that I am opposed to surviving for as long as possible, and obviously without reproduction the human race wouldn't survive; somebody has to do it, but that somebody isn't going to be me.

So yeah, I'm not disputing the biological imperative, but I've always viewed survival, both individually and collectively, as a means to something greater, not an end in itself. That there is a greater meaning and purpose beyond survival, something much more subjective and personal and perhaps unquantifiable. That there is a reason for survival that goes way beyond simply the passing on of one's genes.

That the need for love and happiness, as well as the evolution of consciousness, knowledge and understanding and wisdom, and the development of compassion and empathy and improved interpersonal and cross-cultural communication, is something that obviously needs the vehicle of life, the survival of life, in order to be actualized and fulfilled. But without these other subjective imperatives that give life a deeper meaning beyond survival, and without the quest for such meaning, achieved through the cultivation of love and happiness and wisdom, reproduction and survival as an end in itself, would be no different than an endless chain of reproducing automatons, robot clones made out of flesh in the human widget factory, with no mind or will of their own, and no personal meaning or transcendence beyond the predetermined physical act of duplication. And that is just a sad sad state of affairs that I refuse to accept.

Survival is important. But it's a means to a greater end, not and end in itself. And that's the primary point of this post: to explore the possibility that there is a deeper meaning beyond survival, not just as a theoretical philosophical ideal, but something that may actually be genetically grounded in the collective consciousness of our species, a creative imperative beyond the purely physical nature of existence, and that it is the fundamental quest at the heart of each person's life to discover this meaning beyond survival and to live it to the best of their ability.

*This is post 2 of 20, part of my 20 Posts in 30 Days challenge. I discovered the opening quote while reading Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin, which you could say was the primary inspiration for this post. I've read about 100 pages of that book so far, but think I'll have to put it on the will-resume-reading-some-other-time shelf, because it's a bit overwhelming at this time, and I have a pile of other great books to read, books from the library that I cannot renew, with a higher priority. Is this post incomplete? Perhaps, but that is all I have to say for now. I hope that you found at least some of this useful, and that it was not a waste of either of our time.

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