Why Are We Here?

Human life must be some kind of mistake. The truth of this will be sufficiently obvious if we only remember that man is a compound of needs and necessities hard to satisfy; and that even when they are satisfied, all he obtains is a state of painlessness, where nothing remains to him but abandonment to boredom. This is direct proof that existence has no real value in itself; for what is boredom but the feeling of the emptiness of life? If life — the craving for which is the very essence of our being — were possessed of any positive intrinsic value, there would be no such thing as boredom at all: mere existence would satisfy us in itself, and we should want for nothing.

~ Arthur Schopenhauer


I am often asked, “why are we here?” Occasionally I am asked, “why am I here?” I will attempt to respond to both questions in this short essay. Not surprisingly, my responses align with the paragraph above from Schopenhauer.

With respect to the first question, the obvious response is, “who is we?” I will assume, in this case, that the “we” in question is Homo sapiens. In that case, the response is easy, if one has sufficient understanding of evolutionary biology.

I went to graduate school in Lubbock, Texas. In the process of completing my graduate degrees, I spent a lot of time conducting field work. On dozens of occasions, I defecated in the savannas. On most of these occasions, considering my location, I attracted dung beetles. The dung beetles would fly toward me as I squatted, their size and wingspan making them drone like B-52s. I would bat them away, as well as I was able, and they would crash awkwardly into my head and torso. After I finished the task, I would watch the beetles as they formed my manure into balls a tad smaller than ping-pong balls and then rolled them away. These tiny creatures thus solved a significant problem for human beings. As with carrion beetles, dung beetles saved humans from a lot of life-threatening diseases.

By now it’s probably obvious that the answer to the question, “why are we here?” is rooted in evolutionary biology. We are here to give dung beetles something to do. Dung beetles are here to protect us, thereby extending our lives. Without us, dung beetles will be SOL.

George Carlin promulgated a different idea, one rooted in “nurture” rather than “nature.” As indicated in the video embedded below, Carlin believed our collective purpose had nearly run its course more than a decade ago.

As a civilization, I believe there is another response to the question of our purpose. We are here, as a global society of clever beings, to model ridiculous behavior. In so doing, we provide a galactic warning to other civilizations in the multiverse.

The far-more-difficult question is, “why am I here?” I suspect there are approximately 7.6 billion answers to this question.

For Jeff Bezos, the answer is, “go to the moon.”

For Elon Musk, the answer is, “go to Mars.”

For some more-extreme technophiles, the answer is, “go even further.”

I wish nothing but good luck to Bezos, Musk, and like-minded technopians. Well, I wish them good riddance, too.

Some individuals are here to give. In pursuing a life of service, I’d put myself and few others in that group.

Some people are here to take. We all know examples of the ones to whom Daniel Quinn referred as “takers.” I was reminded anew last week when I was robbed of all my cash, nearly all the money in my possession after selling the mud hut. The thief was undoubtedly a friend and co-worker, as has often been the case in the numerous acts of betrayal pointed my way. Among the worst of the many betrayals I’ve experienced was the betrayal of abandonment.

For most of us, I would suggest that the individual rationale for our temporary existence is, “live small, breathe the sweet air, and go slow.” Or, as Marcus Aurelius pointed out: “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” I’d go a few steps further in pointing out that the answer has to do with acknowledging our limits, as individuals. I’ve expanded on that advice, repeatedly. I will repeat myself, based on my earlier writing:

I am asked nearly every day for advice about living. I recommend living fully. I recommend living with intention. I recommend living urgently, with death in mind. I recommend the pursuit of excellence. I recommend the pursuit of love. It’s small wonder I am often derided, mocked, rejected, and isolated by my contemporaries in the scientific community.

In light of the short time remaining in your life, and my own, I recommend all of the above, louder than before. More fully than you can imagine. To the limits of this restrictive culture, and beyond.

For you. For me. For us. For here. For now.

Live large. Be you, and bolder than you’ve ever been. Live like you’re dying. Because you are.

No guilt. We were all born into captivity. No blame. No shame. At the edge of extinction, only love remains.

I know this is a lot to ask. Expressing the best of humanity is quite a task. At this point, though, what have we got to lose?