What does it mean to be alive?
What is life’s purpose, if any?
Material stuff that wants, that strives,
To turn its one self into many
What does it mean to have an urge?
What does it mean to struggle?
Must we ensure that our gametes merge,
Or is it ok just to snuggle?
What does it mean to have purpose or plan?
Who choreographs for the dancer?
These questions have plagued generations of man…
Most of all, cos we don’t like the answer.
This was just a bit of musing in response to a piece (Does Life Have A Purpose?) by Marcelo Gleiser at NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos & Culture blog. In particular, my verse is inspired by this bit:
The essential difference between the living and the non-living is the urge for preservation. Life is a form of material organization that strives to perpetuate itself.
For those who don’t click through, my comment from there:
In my opinion, the vocabulary of the article is a bit misleading, albeit clearly not intentionally so. In the same sense that “design” in nature leads creationists to infer a “designer” (when in actuality, the process of natural selection suffices), terms like “want”, “urge”, and “strive” perpetuate the notion of a functionally dualistic “self” that drives the process of life. When the larger view (across time and environment) is taken, natural selection discards those individuals whose actions were less conducive to survival and reproduction in their particular environments; those whose behavior matches what we now call “purposeful”–wanting, striving, urge-driven–were the ones more likely to live long enough to reproduce.
“Purpose” is imposed on us from outside. Our mentalistic vocabulary claims this purpose as our own–even when we expand “us” from just humans to all living things. The struggle for life is not always a “struggle” in any meaningful sense, but the phrase we have chosen to describe it.