What is the Purpose of Life

What will humans ultimately be like?

Can you imagine humanity after millions of years have passed? Although most people reject the thought of another million years, given a little cooperation and good will from humanity, and from nature, it could happen. And in millions of years we will surely evolve to appear God-like, at least from our current perspectives. Perhaps we will even discover, or uncover, the purpose in our evolution, and lives.

Are we solely responsible for our destiny?

If neither we nor nature introduce radical mutations, we may continue to evolve gracefully. Physically we have not changed much since "homo sapiens" first evolved, but intellectually and socially we are also approaching levels that would appear God-like to ancient man. Even the wisest men from early history could not have imagined our current everyday capabilities, such as international travel and worldwide communications. Our million-year old ancestors now appear to us to have been sub-human. Yet humanity may have on the order of a billion years left before we need to leave the earth!

We may continue to evolve without interference from God, from intelligent life outside earth, or from ourselves. Neither God nor intelligent life from outside appears to be interfering in human life. (One might argue that God established the laws and circumstances for evolution within the universe and on earth, or that extraterrestrial sources have influenced our evolution, but even these arguments still leave us struggling, and possibly advancing toward some purpose). Intelligent life still has not been detected elsewhere in the universe, and even if technologically advanced societies exist on many planets within our galaxy, two-way communication still may not be feasible due to the enormous physical distances and time scales involved. If we on earth do not destroy ourselves in wars or ecological disasters, with good will and luck we may also choose not to radically alter ourselves genetically or to replace ourselves with more intelligent machines.

Thus we may choose to remain human, and perhaps even become aware of a teleological purpose for our further evolution. Such purposes seem almost implicitly but universally recognized, for example mitigating human problems that lead to wars, famines, or epidemics. We have made progress in understanding ourselves, and in becoming aware of the world's cultures and concerns as a whole. Historical periods of enlightenment however mostly proved to be myth or folklore. We are still laboring under widespread misunderstandings, as shown by continuing paradigm shifts in science, religion, and the arts. On an individual level, we are as muddled and chaotic as our inner emotions and thoughts, and as our outer expressions of them in politics and business. We have a long way to move beyond our racial, social, and sexual prejudices, and further to move beyond our competition in business and our national and international rivalries, and much further to move beyond greed, lust, envy, anger and hatreds.

We have "come a long way" within a few thousand years.

We have made progress from slavery, child labor, and so forth. Major steps in education, social services, and other spheres have been made particularly in the last century. Our communications have transcended distance, time, and costs via computer and communications networks; resulting perhaps in one world. Many nations are transcending earlier racial and sexual stereotypes that seemingly characterized earlier societies. We are increasingly free from famines and pestilence/plague. Even the notion of sovereign nations may fade as businesses become global, and as international laws become recognized and enforced.

So, given arguable progress and the possibility of avoiding annihilation, what can humans do in a million years? Surely, if humanity is not radically altered, the ordinary human of a million years hence will appear to us as Godlike as we, with our technologies, would appear to our ancestors from antiquity. Yet humans in the future may continue to think and feel much as we do now, despite how Godlike their future development might appear to us now.

Other civilizations in the universe?

The universe evolved from its "big bang" to hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. Each star has some chance of having planets that can sustain life. Trillions of life-supporting planets may have evolved, but their intelligent, technological lifetimes may be relatively short. (See for example the special issue on "Life in the Universe" of Scientific American magazine, October 1994, in which the average technological society's lifetime of 100 years was assumed at one point.) Even thousands of trillions of earths may not give rise to civilizations that survive for thousands of years if their lifetimes are governed by exponential or Gaussian distributions.

Many scientists think that the development of intelligent civilizations in the universe may be analogous to that of species on earth. Humans take real risks, for example of nuclear holocaust, and it may be the nature of life to take risks. Perhaps the universe's objective is just to have some civilizations reach maturity from among the trillions launched. If so, it is intruiguing that there is a real chance that we might be a civilization that survives, even if the odds are billions to one. Further, based on our experience to date, in retrospect what to do to survive will seem as simple and obvious to the surviving God-like civilizations as what we have done thus far appears to us now.


Your guess may as good as a scientist's guess, given the lack of any other known civilizations, and even as good as an authority in some religion, given the diversity of authorities and religions. So what do you say? What is our purpose? Do we have a chance to evolve to God-likeness? We have plenty of time before our sun makes earth uninhabitable, and even more before the universe collapses into the "big crunch", or expands forever. Or are we sure to destroy ourselve in the next few centuries?

My guess is that we are indeed one of billions of intelligent societies in the universe, and that although each has a chance to continue "growing up" through evolution, toward God-likeness, it is only an infinitesimal chance, given how easily life can be destroyed, or destroy itself. Nevertheless, some society may grow up. Given the miracle of our current lives, the further miracle of becoming such a grown-up society is still a real if infinitesimally small possibility for us. All we need to do is avoid harming ourselves, and let nature and our own good will takes its course, to discover our ultimate purpose.

Some paradoxical thoughts insist that all beings must be saved in the process. If this proves to be the logical conclusion of any evolving society, then whatever society approaches God-likeness will insist on saving all other beings. In this cultural climax, nothing is possible unless everything is possible, and no-one will be saved unless we all are saved. That can only be if we all are included, and we can only be included if it does not happen in millions of years, but instead is something that is always present; i.e., we are one. Which is somewhat akin to the thought that everything is enlightenment. There are no individual beings, instead there is only us, now, with our inherent purpose.

A more tangible expectation is that there are indeed many millions of "grown-up" earth-like planets with as many alien species as planets, but that in growing up they each realize the common purpose of benefitting all life in the universe. Doing so may be a bit tricky, but with millions of years of technological progress, it may well be possible. Tibetan prayer wheels come to mind as primitive devices with that purpose. One might therefore assume that millions of societies are continuously generating a field of benevolence, or beneficence; propagating the field within the universe. Such fields seem to permeate nature and life on our earth, and account for its occasional extraordinary beauty.

Personal Postscript, 201507220800

May all beings be well happy and peaceful. Gor those of us who are afflicted and suffering, may we find Meaning, Purpose, Values, and even Happiness through living with or through affliction and suffering. Purpose is to See, Meaning is to Be, Values are Practice. Happiness happens. That is, Seeing what all this comes to, what my life and Practice leads to, is sufficient reason to continue this Pactice unto death. Seeing is knowing, cognizant awareness in vast emptiness. Meaning precedes Purpose but Being transcends even Meaning; Being in Practice changes, increasingly without delusions. For Virtue, I trust the Patriarchs Zen Practice. And there is happiness and joy, along with everything else in life.

Do personal Meaning, Purpose, Values, and Happiness extend to vivify the universe? Kobun once said, after long reflection on a student's perennial question as to why we sit, "We sit to make life meaningful ... " Perhaps our lives, when they become less self-centered, are permeated by the boundless Meaning of Being in immediacy, one's immediate universe. Zen Koans help make this clear.

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