Science, travel and the meaning of life

I am writing this (wrote this) in a little cafe amongst the labyrinthine souks and stalls of Istanbul’s rowdy-crowdy bazaar. The merchants are singing their merchant patter and the alleys are crawling with the buzz of humanity: bartering, begging, laughing, shrieking, stalling and lying. It is all good natured on the surface but underneath I can’t help but feel the tension. The store holders are tense because they want to seal the deal with the customer. A customer on whom they have spent much time. Time spent stroking the customer’s sensibilities, gently bewitching him or her, using subtle subconscious mechanisms of guile and guilt, to lure them in, to trap them in a cage of emotions such as regret and pity from which the only way out is by making a purchase! Ah, the dark arts! The merchant is a sort of modern day wizard of psychology. He, I no doubt, has a greater practical understanding of humanity than the most highly esteemed university Professor of psychology.

I sit here and watch. I sit here and watch the game of life. I am becalmed on a sea of tranquility. I have no wants right now. I have no needs right now. I am desireless. I am in that gorgeous sublime state of total contentment and happiness. And it is in such a relaxed state that my mind explodes like a rocket from the present to the farthest reaches of space and time…

 

Who would have thought, that 370 million years ago, when our fishy ancestors first crawled out of the swampy water onto land, that I – yes ‘I’ – would be sitting here, right now, at this moment, in a world so astonishingly different to that fishy beginning!

Here we go now. I am about to take off. Are you wearing your seat-belt? Please do.

 

To fully understand life,

you must understand where you came from.

You see – where you came from, and how you came to be, are intimately connected to the big questions of meaning and purpose. Look it’s very simple (it is!). To understand why you are here, you must first find out how you came to be.

What am I?

A biological organism.

Where did I come from?

My mother?

Well yes, but where did I ultimately come from?

Well, the prevailing idea is that life began on earth about 3.8 billion years ago. That is such an astonishingly long time ago that it doesn’t even bare contemplating. Your mind cannot possibly grasp the sheer scales of time involved. My all too brief existence is a mere squeak in a thunder storm. So life emerged 3.8 billion years ago. What was the first life like? It was very simple. Much simpler than the bacteria we find today. Bacteria, when you look inside of them, are very complex. They are like a miniature city with some parts specialised as ‘power stations’, other parts form the ‘internal transport system’, there is the ‘port’ whose job it is to bring supplies in from the outside. There is the ‘sewage system’ to get rid of waste material and there is the ‘central library’ and the ‘planning office’ where all the instructions and plans for building a new bacterium are kept.

The whole system works as a whole. It works automatically, following the instructions. None of it ‘knows’ what it is doing. None of it is conscious or aware. There is no one central planner or leader or dictator or boss that runs the whole show. It is a collaborative affair. But none of it knows or even cares what the other is doing. It is pure automation on a grand scale. It is a miracle of minituarised unconscious brilliance! It is one gigantic humongous city that looks and behaves as if it has an ultimate meaning and purpose. But that is a false impression. It does have a short-term narrow purpose in the sense of maintaining its structure and shape and function. I.e. staying alive. But staying alive can never be an ultimate purpose or raison d’être for being.

So what is my purpose? What is yours?

To stay alive?

What’s the point of that! Would it not have been better to not have been born at all so that there would be no reason to have to stay alive at all?!

The question to ask is this:

 

What was the purpose of the first living thing on earth that eventually evolved into all other things including ourselves?


If you can understand the purpose of the great ancestor that gave rise to us, then you will understand your purpose and the purpose of all life. So what was the purpose of that first simple ancestor of all life?

Answer: none! It had no purpose. It was such a simple molecule that it arose by chance from simple chemistry. There was no miracle to its coming into existence. Just chemistry. But it had a special property which is why it was our earliest ancestor: It could replicate and make copies of itself. i.e hereditary. Once you have a replicating molecule that can make copies of itself then Darwinian Natural Selection takes over, and then billions of years later…voila! What do you get? You get you and me and…these merchants! These customers! These people I see around me, in this bee-hive of activity buzzing away doing stuff – what is their purpose and why do they do what they do? What is their aim? What is their goal?

Well in their minds their aims and goals are legion. To buy presents, to work and feed their family, to look good for a lover, to be the envy and talk of town, to impress, to climb the ladder of a career etc etc…da dee da dee daaa..

But in the end does any of it even matter? Your life will end, your friends and family will die, your career will end when you retire – and a generation or two after you have died, you will be forgotten. And a hundred years after your death it will be as if you had never even lived! Look at the graves in a grave yard, read the inscriptions – these are people that once lived, that once loved, that once had a life, had aspirations and hopes and dreams – just like you and me, and now it is all forgotten. They took their lives with them. And now they are only thought of by a random stranger reading there inscriptions.

Nothing lasts. We will not live forever. We are extremely fortunate to have this moment in the sun. This all too brief moment. We mustn’t waste it worrying and jostling and planning for an uncertain future and a life that eventually ends. Carpe diem!

Seize the day.

Seize the moments.

And er…take a walk in the summer sun!

Go on. Just do it.

 

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