I’ve always struggled with the concept of having a purpose in life. Learning about life in biology increased these existential questions, and having conversations with friends with different viewpoints only confused me more. I always wondered why humans feel that everything’s purpose on this earth is to serve us. This past year, I found music that helped me grow more comfortable with the possibility that we have no purpose in life. While this realization is not necessarily profound, it has put my mind at ease; I am finally able to provide myself with the proof I needed to convince myself that life very well may be purposeless.
We have a very limited definition of life. In biology, something is considered “living” if it fits the specific criteria of a simple list. Viruses have DNA and are capable of reproducing, and evolving, but because they aren’t made of cells and can’t maintain homeostasis, respond to stimuli, or grow and develop, we don’t consider them living. This upset me because no matter who I asked, none of my teachers could tell my why they exist. They just float around, occasionally infecting specific cells and reproducing, but they’re not alive? After looking into it, I found an article on BBC titled There are Over 100 Definitions for Life and All of Them are Wrong, and as it turns out, some scientists do consider viruses as living organisms. However, the fact that viruses essentially have no purpose for existing didn’t bother me as much as how much it contradicts our own purpose in life. I would often wonder why I felt so confident that no other organism had an evident purpose in life, yet I continued to insist to myself that humans must. Of course, it makes sense that either everything has purpose, or nothing does, and all the evidence so far points to the latter. However I am still stubbornly struggling with the misconception that life picks favorites; a select few organisms graced to have meaningful lives. After hearing the line “There are 7 billion, 46 million people on this planet/ and I have the audacity to think I matter/ I know it’s a lie, but I prefer it to the alternative” in the song Tiny Glowing Screens Pt. 2 by Watsky, it dawned on me that my life really could be just as meaningless as everything around me. I vividly remember the thought that crossed my mind: Oh, the reason I can never justify my own purpose in life is because I don’t have one. Which makes the most sense, seeing that I can never find a purpose for anything else. I was outside when I felt this shift in the core of my beliefs, and I find that being outside always helps me come to terms with insignificance.
Online articles aren’t always as engaging as discussions, which is why I occasionally bring up these questions that seem to always hang over me when I am with close friends. One of my favorite talks was with my catholic friend, who was able to share her view on our purpose in life. She described how her religion can offer her life meaning because she can always strive to be happy and fulfill God’s intentions for her, which is to care for others and proclaim her religion. However, I appreciate her versatility because she was also able to take a look at life from an existential perspective. She explained that it’s possible that life truly has no meaning and her religion is just something we created in order to give purpose to our own lives. After having talks like this, I feel emotionally exhausted, yet eager to know the truth. I often end up mulling over the conversation for a few days before deciding there’s no way I can ever be sure. At this point, I’ll usually bring it up with another friend who has a more cynical view of life. In our conversations, she always comes across as comfortable with the concept of having no purpose, meanwhile I stay sure of myself that we are an anomaly in life as purposeful beings. I ask her why we seem to have a higher level of consciousness than other beings, and I ask how we acquired it. I ask her that if we are made up of living cells, can we be considered a single living being, or is our consciousness coming from every cell in our body? These are not questions she can answer, in fact no one has been able to help me with this. That is, until I found Watsky. In his song Talking to Myself, he sings “There were these pure arresting moments/ when you stepped outside…/ the need to get it, get it, you will/ never get it, that’s okay.” I found this line especially comforting because I was constantly pondering everything around me, and these questions of mine only brought me more grief.
Another way I considered rationalizing my own purpose was by giving purpose to everything else, in such a way that it favored my existence. Many people agree that animals exist to feed us, which gives them a purpose they otherwise lack. Additional self-centered views of the world could include that trees exist to produce oxygen, specifically for humans, and water, which we biologically define as non-living, exists to provide us with nutrients. This kind of thinking is second nature to humans, it only makes sense I would try it out. Until proven otherwise by Nicolaus Copernicus, we were the center of the universe, following a geocentric model. Even today, we continue to give little thought to the consequences of our actions; we destroy forests, pollute our air and water, all for self-gain. By assigning purposes to my world, I was able to solidify my own purpose. However, this method did not satisfy me for long, instead it raised the concern: if everything is special, then nothing is. I could also never find a purpose for everything, which, from an objective view, is a pretty large task I set out to do at the age of 17. I always ended up with the conclusion that nothing has a purpose, which before hearing that song, did not ease my discomfort. I now realize that it makes sense that I always ended up in the same meaningless dead end; as of today, it is the truth that I will define my life with.
I find it curious that we as humans are so concerned with finding a purpose in life, meanwhile there are unicellular organisms unaware of their own existence, even as they perform the same functions we do at the microscopic level. It is almost comical, with so many of us scrambling about, trying to find something that was never there. I am occasionally able to acknowledge that none of this matters, or, to quote Watsky, “nothing matters, so it doesn’t matter if nothing matters.” This has always been my go-to way of thinking when I become overwhelmed because it has never failed to calm my never ending stream of impossible questions. I can always answer the question “does it matter?” with confidence, and I therefore ask it the most. Even so, with my newfound perspective, I can answer some of my own questions for myself. Curiously enough, I know it won’t be long until I am plagued by more onerous questions, which I will feel an insatiable desire to answer.