The Meaning of Life
What’s the meaning of life? In 1991, the editors of Life Magazine published the answers that 300 “wise women and men” gave to this very question in The Meaning of Life: Reflections in Words and Pictures on Why We Are Here.
Their responses, as you might expect, are far-ranging and diverse. Author John Updike (raised a Lutheran, by the way ☺), suggested that “Ancient religion and modern science agree: we are here to give praise. Or, to slightly tip the expression, to pay attention.” Noted scientist Stephen Jay Gould, disavowing divine inspiration, argued instead that, “We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves – from our own wisdom and ethical sense.”
Perhaps my favorite answer came from noted author Annie Dillard:
We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.
According to the second law of thermodynamics, things fall apart. Structures disintegrate. Buckminster Fuller hinted at a reason we are here: By creating things, by thinking up new combinations, we counteract this flow of entropy. We make new structures, new wholeness, so the universe comes out even. A shepherd on a hilltop who looks at a mess of stars and thinks, ‘There’s a hunter, a plow, a fish,’ is making mental connections that have as much real force in the universe as the very fires in those stars themselves.
Sort of puts a spin on how you want to spend your weekend, doesn’t it? ☺
Thanks to Maria Popova of BrainPickings for identifying these quotations and book.