• Question: What is the meaning of life?

    Asked by trafiz to Dalya, Derek, Sarah, Tim, Tom on 19 Jun 2011. This question was also asked by rivkah, emmagrace, tdkiller.
    • Photo: Derek McKay-Bukowski

      Derek McKay-Bukowski answered on 16 Jun 2011:

      Two answers immediately spring to mind.

      — 42 —
      (Reference: HHGTTG)

      In the series of books, The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy, the answer was discovered to be the number 42. Of course the problem was that although that was the ultimate answer, no-one had correctly formulated the ultimate question to go with it.

      — Das Leben ist so sinnlos! —
      (Reference: Xan, BG1)

      In the computer game series, Baldur’s Gate, the character Xan was renowned for his gloomy outlook on life. I played the game in German (not English), but I recall so vividly this character stating Das Leben ist so sinnlos (which translates as Life is so meaningless).

      Although these are both being a bit silly, I think the answer from Xan is pretty right. There is no “meaning” to life. Life is a process. We can explain why it happened (the chemical creation of primordial life) and we can explain why it continues (evolution), but there is no “deeper purpose”, other than the sustenance of a pseudo-perpetual chemical reaction. Some people can’t handle that. They will invent reasons (such as religion) as a way of giving purpose and meaning to the world. It certainly takes a lot of courage to deal with the idea of pointlessness. And although science can help explain and enlighten us as to the mechanism of the universe, it doesn’t offer any counselling when the news is grim. What this means though, it is that we have to derive our own purpose and ensure that we life contentedly, both for ourselves and those around us.

    • Photo: Dalya Soond

      Dalya Soond answered on 16 Jun 2011:

      Everyone must discover the meaning to his or her own life on their own.

    • Photo: Tim Millar

      Tim Millar answered on 16 Jun 2011:

      It’s a philosophical question

      Why are we here? What is our purpose? What does it mean to be alive.

      All these stem fro our ability for higher cognitive ability. You can bet that not many other organisms on earth reflect on such things. So the fact that we question our own existence and look for meaning in life is almost the very basis of being human. The reason we explore, why we are fascinated by the world around us is more than to just survive. Many other organisms survive well enough without the need to know why, but there seems to be an inherent longing for knowledge and to cement our place in the Universe. Some of us search for our place in society, in our families, favourite football team or school group because we want to belong, we want to mean something to someone else, to be loved and give love. Humans have always lived together in groups where we can empathise and work for the common good. Without a reason to do so, some might find difficult to understand why we exist at all.

      We then run into the brain mind problem. When does brain chemistry change from a series of reactions to become the essence of the human condition? How can something simple and wide spread in many species control something so complex and to a such a higher degree in humans. Emotions after all are chemical changes in the brain, so is there really much different between us and our fellow earthlings?

      Does there have to be meaning to life?

      As scientists, some of our work might make life better for others and is an altruistic act. Personally, I didn’t intentionally come into science to make the world a better place, I do science because I like it and want to know more and any benefit that comes from it is an added bonus. That might sound a bit selfish, and almost cold (maybe it’s a scientist thing?) I don’t mean it that way. For some, their reason for existence is to help others and life without meaning for them is incomprehensible. Otherwise why should we bother about famine or climate change or working to pay the bills? Its because we are human and strive for meaning and acceptance and I think we are better off for it.

      And to paraphrase a more important philosipher “I’m pink therefore I’m Spam”

    • Photo: Sarah Thomas

      Sarah Thomas answered on 17 Jun 2011:

      I agree with Dalya. I think you have to find your own meaning in life and set yourself goals. My friend Jill and I call this our ‘cheese’ and joke about looking for our cheese and what we’ll do when we find it! When she completed her PhD and managed to get a brilliant job for a chemical company here in the UK called P&G, I asked her if she had found her cheese, and she said “yup, i’ll have to find new cheese now!”. And I think she’s right, once you’ve acheived what you’ve been working for, you have to set yourself a new goal, you can’t just get lazy and stop working hard.

      Right now the meaning of my life is trying to get my research to work, to do something that will hopefully one day be useful for society and help save people’s lives. I get happiness from having a nice place to live, and having nice people I can spend my free time with.

    • Photo: Tom Crick

      Tom Crick answered on 19 Jun 2011: