Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On the Purpose of Man: The Dialogues of Jeff & Kim

Photo by: Luc Viatour / www.Lucnix.be

The Dialogues of Jeff and Kim: On the Purpose of Man
by Alraune

Our young lay-philosopher, Jeff, has just returned from his trip to the store. He enters the apartment and is immediately hit by the strong but pleasant odor of jasmine incense. Kim, an herbalist, is sitting on the living room couch, huddled over the coffee table thumbing through some plant matter. Jeff immediately heads to the kitchen and places the beer he just purchased in the refrigerator.

Kim: So are you ready to hit me with your big thoughts on what is good and what manner of society is correct?

Jeff: Well, first off I wouldn't call them big thoughts. Secondly, you know that I am not perfect and I certainly do not claim to know everything or have any of the answers. Third, all I want to do is contribute some thoughts. I don't intend to solve anything, I just want to add my thoughts to the discussion.

Kim: Yes. Yes. I know. I was just kidding, but please do tell.

Jeff: Okay, but first we have to discuss what our purpose is.

Kim: You mean as a society?

Jeff: No. Well, yes. I mean society, but right now I mean as individuals.

Kim: Our purpose in life is what we make it. I thought this is what the philosophers pretty much agreed upon some time ago?

Jeff: Yes, but I am talking about how we arrive at the objective conclusion that the meaning of life is subjective. Therein lies the true understanding of the purpose of humankind.

Kim: I see. I guess I never really thought about that.

Jeff: You're not alone, most people do not.

Kim: So what is your reasoning?

Jeff: Well, let me ask you. What do you think the meaning of life is?

Kim: To experience.

Jeff: Very good. I agree. But how do we know that?

Kim: Because that is what we do.

Jeff: Ha ha. Really funny. That is not an answer. But you are correct. So far as I can tell the reason it seems like our main or possibly sole purpose is to experience life is because it is what we are engineered to do. Whether you believe in a Creator, a higher force, or strict physicalism it does not matter. We are still "designed" to observe and report, as it were. It really doesn't matter whether you believe it was natural selection or an intelligent designer, we can still clearly observe what we are engineered to do. So we don't really need to answer any metaphysical question before answering one of the more important individual questions: What is my purpose?

Kim: How do you know we are designed for that?

Jeff: Well, we are essentially beings having a sensory experience which we observe, record, analyze, and incorporate. Every moment of every day we are observing something, experiencing something, processing something, and so on. We are basically observing or experiencing, and reporting.

Kim: Hmm. I guess I never really thought about it that way; it seems pretty sound to me. We are engineered to experience, but how does this pertain to our discussion and why does it matter?

Jeff: Because if we are engineered to experience it means that it is our primary purpose and possibly our only purpose. It also tells you that one of our "jobs," if you will, is to preserve data. We know that because there really isn't all that much sense or efficiency in experiencing things and not saving those experiences in some way for some reason. Whether you believe we are to pass those experiences on as best we can in the physical realm, the information is going back to some central computer or Creator, or even if you think it is a little of both, it still seems foolish to not save those experiences for some longer term or higher purpose.

Kim: But why not just for ourselves? I mean for our physical existence. Then again, why not for some sort of eternal consciousness or spirit?

Jeff: It could be for either or both. It really doesn't matter because when you get down to it, whether you are a physicalist, an idealist, or a spiritualist, you really only have two purposes: to experience and to live as long as possible in order to experience as much as possible.

Kim: That whole death thing certainly does place a bit of a limitation on experience.

Jeff: Unless death is just another part of the experience.

Kim: So if the purpose of each human is to live their life and experience it, then why all the disagreement?
Jeff: Actually the purpose of all life, not just humans, would be to live life and experience it, but as to your question I would say that people do not disagree over the overall purpose of life, but rather what happens after this life is over and precisely how we ought to direct our experiences, which is where the subjective nature of the purpose of humankind comes in.

Kim: So you mean that in reality people are killing one another and generally disagreeing over the purpose and meaning of death rather than life?

Jeff: Yes. That is what I think is going on when you really get down to the basic issues at hand.

Kim: Religion.

Jeff: Oh no! Don't just blame it on the religionists. Those who believe death is it and there is nothing else are just as guilty. There have been plenty of people who believe death is it and there is nothing after that who kill others and ruin lives precisely because they are convinced there is nothing after death and hence no equal judgement for all. They are just as guilty of doing ill to others based upon a mere belief as any religionist. Sometimes they are actually more dangerous because they not only believe some people can get away with doing bad things, but that doing such things actually benefits their genetic survival because they can "cheat" death by passing off what they plundered from others to their offspring. So please don't fall into the trap that it is only religion and religious people who are the perpetrators of all the evils in the world – that is the biggest lie currently being sold. In my opinion, it is those who have an actual concrete belief about what happens after death and who live their lives based upon that belief in such a way as to adversely impact others who are a huge part of society's problems.

Kim: So anyone who has an opinion on death and afterlife is evil?

Jeff: No, I didn't say that. I said that anyone who uses their opinion concerning death and afterlife as an excuse or justification for the negative treatment of others (ie. stepping on or screwing others over) is a large part of society's problems whether they be a religionist or not.

Kim: You do realize many atheists would argue that they do not have a belief on death, but they are rather stating known facts?

Jeff: Parlor tricks. A fact is nothing more than an established belief perceived to hold true in accordance with a specific interpretation. All reason begins with the first fact, the first principle, and the first condition, none of which can be proven by an objective means, but are simply taken as universal truths (ie. beliefs) necessary to conduct a rational inquiry. Any honest intellectual knows that. Don't believe people who try to convince you a fact is an absolute truth or even a half truth because that is not what a fact is. A fact is merely a degree of belief, which means what? It means it is still a belief, it is only of a different flavor than what is commonly referred to as "just a belief". We can only know what the limitations of our sensory perceptions and our minds allow us to know. Granted, we can know a lot through that means of experience, but we are still limited by it. There could still be some sort of transformation or transition which takes place upon death which we are incapable of perceiving or processing and honest people who are not religionists know this.

Kim: So you are saying we don't actually know anything, we only believe we do.

Jeff: You're damn right that's what I am saying! Although I am qualifying that statement by saying that some beliefs are more universally accepted than others.

Kim: So I only believe that if I jump off a cliff I will fall due to gravity?

Jeff: Yes. You would be believing you understand the fundamental forces of nature and that those forces are all which exists which actually impact what will happen, and that there is no other force at work. You would essentially be believing you have it all figured out and there is nothing more to figure out there other than what you think you know about gravity and what makes you fall.

Kim: I think I see what you are saying. It is more of a question of belief about the finality of knowledge than whether or not something actually is.

Jeff: Precisely. A claim of the finality of knowledge on a specific subject is nothing more than a belief. My thinking on what I mean goes a bit deeper than that, but since we are already off topic I'll let it go there for now. In any event, my point was that if someone believes they definitively know there is or is not an afterlife, and their beliefs about that impact others in an adverse way, then they are one of the largest problems society has, and it is not just the religionists. That is an incorrect assessment to blame spiritual people for the world's problems. In fact, some spiritual people are much more obsessed with life than death.

Kim: So you established that the purpose of each individual is to experience life and to try to sustain that life experience for as long as possible.

Jeff: Yes. That is what it appears we were engineered to do.

Kim: So what does it mean to experience, and is there a particular way we are to do so? Also, exactly what does prolonging our life experience entail? How far are we to go to make that happen? You've done a good job convincing me of what our purpose is (probably because I already figured it in a less complex way), but I'm really lost on the how and the why.

Jeff: Now we are starting to move into the territory of society and its nature and purpose because I see humans as social creatures. The fact is that eventhough some of us, such as myself, insist on independence and lots of alone time, we all like to experience things with others. It is perfectly natural for us to ask others, "Did you see that?", or "Do you want to do this?", or even "Hey baby. Can I buy you a drink? What do you say we go back to my place?"

Kim: Can you carry on any conversation without alluding to sex in some way?

Jeff: Nope. I figure it is one of the better experiences of life, so naturally it is always on my mind.

Kim: Why is that?

Jeff: That it's always on my mind?

Kim: No. That it is one of the better things in life?

Jeff: Well, your strict physicalists would say it is because it ensures the survival of the species, essentially stating that if it didn't feel good we wouldn't even want to do such things. I take the opposite route and say that it feels good because we do it, essentially going on the idea that we were engineered to experience and experience requires interaction.

Kim: Yes, but some things we experience do not feel good.

Jeff: But such experiences do make you feel something and feeling is part of experiencing.

Kim: Yes, but some things which we experience don't make you feel anything, like looking at a blank piece of paper.

Jeff: You are still interacting with that piece of paper though, only it is through your vision rather than your sense of touch. If you touch it you will feel something.

Kim: Okay, supposing I agree that experience is interaction and that interaction is actually our main driving force and not things which feel good, that still doesn't explain why sex feels good.

Jeff: Sometimes it does not. Do you suppose someone enjoys being raped?

Kim: Certainly not!

Jeff: Then your answer is that positive interaction feels good, negative interactionlike being punched in the facefeels bad, and some interactions are neutral.

Kim: Yes, but then you still have to define what is positive or negative. You can't weasle your way out of the question by providing new definitions for good and bad.

Jeff: The experience of a positive, negative, or neutral interaction would be purely subjective, so I cannot answer that.

Kim: You mean, you don't have an answer for me? Not even some bullshit response in an attempt to make it look like you have an answer to everything?

Jeff: No, I cannot answer that. The perception of the interaction which you experience is completely subjective.

Kim: Let me a get a pen and write this down. What time is it? Tuesday at 9:09 PM – Jeff admits he doesn't know everything.

Jeff: Ha ha ha. Just because you think that I think I know everything does not mean that I think that I think I know everything. You are projecting your perceptions of me onto me. How many times do I have to tell you I don't think I have any answers, I just like to throw my thoughts out there. I don't think any one individual has the answers and I am suspicious of anyone who claims such.

Kim: Oh, I'm just teasing you. Relax!

Jeff: Anyway... Since our primary purpose is to experience and live, then I figure our main objective in life ought to be to experience as much positive interaction as possible for as long as possible.

Kim: But why positive? Why not negative or all interaction?

Jeff: Because it is also our natural desire to experience positive interaction, which means that we are engineered to want positive interaction. Of course, we also want new interactions, but I figure that is only because we are driven to find more and more of the positive interactions and to discard or steer clear of the negative ones. The neutral ones we just sort of pick up along the way.

Kim: A serial killer who gets his kicks out of murdering others might find that to be a positive experience for them, so I see a hole in your logic.

Jeff: My answer to that would be that they are wired wrong and their brains got messed up somewhere along the way because it is not natural to want to have a positive interaction for yourself and negative interaction for whomever you targetted. It is natural to want to share a positive interaction.

Kim: But what about anger? Anger is natural and sometimes two people want to fight. In that case they both want to experience a negative interaction.

Jeff: I don't believe you thought that statement through. You make it sound like they just wanted to fight for the sake of fighting and that such an attitude is natural. I disagree. Again, I think they want to fight because they both believe they are going to get something positive out of the interaction while inflicting something negative upon the other. Their anger is not caused by a desire for a negative interaction, but a desire for a positive one, at least in their eyes. Something is haywire in their brains too, although probably only temporarily in comparison to the serial killer.

Kim: So in every case they are all driven by positive interaction, at the base level? Interesting. Then maybe you are right and the questions I raise are more moral issues than arguments against your hypothesis that our purpose is to experience positive interactions? But you said it is natural to want to share positive interactions and not to want them all to yourself. How do you justify that statement?

Jeff: I didn't say that. Be careful how you reword me. I said it is not natural to want a positive interaction for yourself by causing a negative interaction for another. You will notice that the way I put it leaves open the possibility that it is natural to want a positive interaction all to yourself. As I said, we are social creatures, but we are also individualistic and enjoy our alone time, which means it is natural to want positive experiences all to yourself, at least some of the time.

Kim: Okay, so our purpose is to try to live a long life and experience as many positive interactions as we can both by ourselves and shared with others. That doesn't sound that bad, although it still seems kind of pointless without answering the question of "why" we should be experiencing these things in the first place, especially if we only die and lose all of that information anyway. But to stay clear of the metaphysical issues, I suppose I only really have one question left: What exactly does prolonging our life experience entail?

Jeff: That is easy. Stay alive, stay healthy, stay happy, acquire your daily necessities, reproduce to prolong your genetic line, and leave a legacy (leave part of your experience behind and recorded in some manner to be shared with others).

Kim: You stated that way too simplistically. I think I'll ask again, only this time tell me what it does not entail.

Jeff: It does not entail suppressing others for personal gain or the benefit of your offspring. It does not entail grabbing power for the sake of power. It does not entail killing without necessity. It does not mean it is necessary to eliminate the perceived competition. It does not mean it is necessary to rule over others or control them.

Kim: I take it you are talking about social and moral issues again.

Jeff: Precisely. Now that we understand what the purpose of our individual life is we are equipped to discuss what the purpose of a society is. But we'll hold it right there for now because right now it is time to experience some of the more positive things in life.

Kim: I'll get you another beer.

Jeff: I'll put on some music. Sublime or Bob Marley?

Kim: Why not just put it on shuffle?

Jeff: Because I don't like Jopplin, she sounds like a dying moose.

Kim: Leave Janis alone!

Jeff: I can't help it, if it looks like a woman and sounds like a dead moose, it must be a woman who sounds like a dead moose. It's either that or a dead moose impersonating a woman. Take your pick!

Kim: I said stop it. Just think of it as your personal negative subjective experience.

Jeff: (mumbling) More like my personal subjective Hell.

Kim: What was that?

Jeff: I said the music selection looks swell!

Kim: Sure you did. Everybody uses the word "swell" nowadays.

Jeff: Maybe I was momentarily caught in a timeline split?

Kim: LOL! Just stop it.

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