Why do I exist?

Katherine asked:

For my senior thesis we are asked to answer a variety of questions, I chose “what is the purpose of human existence?” My thesis is basically: from a secular standpoint there is no true purpose of human existence however, in order for one to feel that their life has purpose the must do the best they can with what they have under the condition that it affects others in a positive way. I know that there is a lot there that I have to define but I need people to destroy my thesis so that I’m ready when the time comes… what’s the problems with my statement? Any suggestions on how to make it stronger?

Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

Peter and Jurgen have both given very reasonable replies to this question, but I am going to have a go anyway. ‘Why am I here?’ is a question I ask every day, and sometimes more than once. I don’t distinguish between ’cause and effect’ and ‘purpose’, because ultimately if some entity other than myself purposed that I should exist, that would be the cause of my existing rather than not.

And every time I ask that question, the same alternative presents itself: Either there is something, an entity or explanation or principle X that accounts for my being here. Or not.

One plausible account of X would be the Big Bang hypothesized by cosmology. I am here because the Big Bang banged in precisely the manner necessary and sufficient for the coming together. of the particular sperm and egg that made the embryo that eventually became me. Each of us is here for a similar reason.

On the cosmological view, I am not here for the ‘purpose’ of any entity other than my own self. The secular view, which is widely held. Fine. You probably haven’t heard the quip by W.H. Auden (who got it off an old music hall joke) ‘We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for, I don’t know.’ (Maybe this is all my personal video game, and you are just sprites or monsters. If I do well, show altruism, etc., I will ascend to the next level. And if not, etc. etc.)

Then there’s the religious view, which is also held by many millions of human beings, so I don’t need to tell you about that. This is all just one big Family Story with a loving parent, who cares for our welfare, and even sends earthquakes and Hitler to improve our moral well-being, so that we can prove how courageous we are in the face of adversity. You’d have to laugh?

Personally, if we’re going in for this I prefer the theory of my friend J, an accountant, who believes that we were made by aliens. Who made the aliens? I always ask. Well, maybe that’s not such a stupid theory. You have to think of every possible angle. Maybe we are the ‘aliens’ who after inventing time travel went back to create the human race.

Each theory has its answer to the ‘purpose’ of human existence. According to the alien theory, you and I are just someone’s chemistry experiment.

Or, as I said earlier, not. Nothing could have made me, none of the above and not something else either because that would only suffice to make an entity like me, someone with exactly my physical and psychological attributes — who was not I. Nothing that is not I can explain why I am here. I am uncreated. (Maybe I am God, I just haven’t woken up to that fact, yet. Not impossible.)

(Visitors to this page will be getting weary of my going on about this. But, you see, the Question gets into everything.)

It’s good to be positive and affect other people in a positive way, because that is — OK, not a guaranteed — a reliable route to happiness, which has worked for many people. And what’s wrong with that? It has worked for me, because I compartmentalize. I ask the question, I ask lots of questions, but I never allow myself to forget that I am a human being and have human needs.

Just be honest. Talk about what you believe, what you hope for, for yourself and the human race, the questions that trouble you. The point isn’t to come up with some clever new answer that no-one has ever thought before but just to dig a little bit deeper than you have normally been accustomed to do. And then you’ll be fine.

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