Written by Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith, 2011
There IS an answer to the question of ‘what is the meaning of life’, BUT until we could explain our seemingly-imperfect, ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted HUMAN CONDITION we couldn’t afford to acknowledge what that meaning is. The truth is, any meaningful thoughts on life, such as questions like ‘what is life all about’, ended in unbearable confrontation with the issue of our seemingly extremely flawed state or condition.
Since life is subject to the laws of physics, and the integrative, cooperation-dependent law of Negative Entropy implies that we should live cooperatively, selflessly and lovingly, WHY THEN ARE WE HUMANS COMPETITIVE, SELFISH AND AGGRESSIVE? Yes, we needed to first explain our DIVISIVE condition because only then could we face this truth that the answer to ‘what is the meaning of life’ is to be INTEGRATIVE!
And, MOST WONDERFULLY, biology is now able to provide that long dreamed-of, reconciling, redeeming and thus psychologically rehabilitating explanation of our seemingly-highly-imperfect, divisively-behaved condition, thus allowing us to safely admit that the answer to ‘what is the meaning of life’ is that it is to behave in an integrative cooperative, selfless and loving way. (It should be mentioned that this explanation of our species’ deeply psychologically troubled condition is not the psychosis-avoiding, trivialising, dishonest account of it that the biologist E.O. Wilson has put forward in his theory of Eusociality, but the psychosis-addressing-and-solving, real explanation of it.)
Before presenting the all-important, human-race-transforming, real explanation of the human condition, the following scientific explanation of the integrative meaning of life makes it very clear why we couldn’t admit this truth while we were unable to explain our less-than-ideal condition.
The world’s greatest physicists, Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein, have said, respectively, that ‘The overwhelming impression is of order…[in] the universe’ (‘The Time of His Life’, Gregory Benford, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Apr. 2002), and that ‘behind everything is an order’ (Einstein Revealed, pbs, 1997). Yes, this ‘order’ is apparent everywhere. Over the eons a chaotic universe organised itself into stars, planets and galaxies. Here on Earth, atoms became ordered or integrated to form molecules → which in turn integrated to form compounds → virus-like organisms → single-celled organisms → multicellular organisms → and then societies of multicellular organisms. Overall, what is happening on Earth is that matter is becoming ordered into larger wholes. So the theme or meaning or purpose of life is the ordering or integration or complexification of matter, a process that is driven by the physical law of Negative Entropy. ‘Holism’, which the dictionary defines as ‘the tendency in nature to form wholes’ (Concise Oxford Dictionary, 5th edn, 1964), and ‘teleology’, which is defined as ‘the belief that purpose and design are a part of nature’ (Macquarie Dictionary, 3rd edn, 1998), are both terms that recognise this ‘tendency’ towards integration.
however, the great problem with this truth of the integrative meaning of life is that for a larger whole to form and hold together the parts of that whole must consider the welfare of the whole above their own welfare–put simply, selfishness is divisive or disintegrative while selflessness is integrative. So consider-others-above-yourself, altruistic, unconditional selflessness is the underlying theme of existence and the answer to the question of ‘what is the meaning of life’. It’s the glue that holds the world together and what we really mean by the term ‘love’. Indeed, if we consider religious terminology, the old Christian word for love was ‘caritas’, which means charity or giving or selflessness; see Col. 3:14, 1 Cor. 13:1–13, 10:24, and John 15:13. Of these biblical references, Colossians 3:14 perfectly summarises the integrative significance of love: ‘And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.’ In John 15:13 we also see that Christ emphasised the unconditionally selfless significance of the word ‘love’ when he said, ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.’ but acknowledging and accepting this truth–that the answer to the question of ‘what is life all about’ is that it is to be integrative cooperative, selfless and loving–left humans feeling unbearably condemned as bad, evil or unworthy for our divisive competitive, selfish and aggressive, seemingly-unloving behaviour. Indeed, we have been so divisive, so ruthlessly competitive, selfish and brutal that human life has become all but unbearable and we have nearly destroyed our own planet! only when we could truthfully explain the good reason why we humans have not been ideally behaved, explain our in-humanity, our ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted condition–which fortunately we now can–would it be psychologically safe to confront, admit and accept that the answer to ‘what is the meaning of life’ is to be integrative, selfless and loving; that the purpose driven life is to be integrative.
Furthermore, the concept of ‘’ is actually our personification of this truth of the integrative meaning or purpose of life, and if we include more of what Hawking and Einstein said we can see that they both agree. Hawking: ‘The overwhelming impression is of order. The more we discover about the universe, the more we find that it is governed by rational laws. If one liked, one could say that this order was the work of God. Einstein thought so…We could call order by the name of God’ (‘The Time of His Life’, Gregory Benford, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Apr. 2002); and, ‘I would use the term God as the embodiment of the laws of physics’ (Master of the Universe, bbc, 1989). Einstein: ‘over time, I have come to realise that behind everything is an order that we glimpse only indirectly [because it’s unbearably confronting/condemning!]. This is religiousness. In this sense, I am a religious man’ (Einstein Revealed, pbs, 1997). As it says in the Bible, ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8,16).‘God’ is the integrative, unconditionally selfless theme of existence. Again, the problem was that until we could truthfully explain our species’ so-called ‘fallen’ or corrupted condition we needed the concept of ‘God’ to remain safely abstract and undefined–we couldn’t afford to demystify ‘God’, admit the truth that the answer to ‘what is the meaning of life’ is to be integrative, selfless and loving. It is little wonder then that we humans have been, as we say, ‘God-fearing’–in fact, God-revering to the point of being God-worshipping–not God-confronting! The fact is, any truly meaningful thoughts on life required confronting ‘God’, confronting the historically unconfrontable truth of the integration of matter!
When the scientist-philosopher Teilhard de Chardin wrote, ‘I can see a direction and a line of progress for life, a line and a direction which are in fact so well marked that I am convinced their reality will be universally admitted by the science of tomorrow’ (The Phenomenon of Man, 1938, p.142), he was recognising firstly how obvious is the answer to the question of ‘what is life all about’–namely that it is about developing the order or integration of matter; and, secondly, that this truth of the integrative ‘direction’ or theme or meaning or purpose of life wouldn’t be able to be ‘admitted’ until the human-condition-resolved ‘science of tomorrow’ emerged, which relievingly it now has. ‘Yesterday’s’ scientists avoided the overarching, truthful whole view of the integrative meaning of existence and the issue of our ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted, ‘fallen’ state or condition it raised and instead adopted a reduced view that only focused down on to the details about the mechanisms of the workings of our world–they have been what’s called ‘reductionist’ and ‘mechanistic’, not ‘teleological’ and ‘holistic’–and the contrivance they developed to avoid the truth of Integrative Meaning was to assert that there is no direction or meaning to existence and that change is random. Furthermore, to avoid religion’s acknowledgement of Integrative Meaning (albeit an indirect and abstract acknowledgement in the form of the concept of ‘God’) ‘yesterday’s’ scientists claimed that religion and science were two totally unrelated realms–to the point that E.O. Wilson has said, ‘I take a very strong stance against the mingling of religion and science’ (National Geographic Magazine, May 2006). Of course, as the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Charles H. Townes truthfully admitted, ‘they [religion and science] both represent man’s efforts to understand his universe and must ultimately be dealing with the same substance. As we understand more in each realm, the two must grow together…converge they must’ (‘The Convergence of Science and Religion’, Zygon, Vol.1 No.3, 1966).
So it is only now that our species’ divisive condition has been explained that de Chardin’s integrative-‘direction’-or-theme-or-purpose-or-meaning-acknowledging ‘science of tomorrow’ can emerge, thus allowing us to answer the question ‘what is the meaning of life’. And it is also only now that the integrative ideals and our lack of compliance with them can be reconciled and religion and science ‘converge’. Furthermore, finding understanding of our less-than-ideally-behaved, troubled condition is the crucial insight we needed to psychologically rehabilitate the human race. The famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung was forever saying that ‘wholeness for humans depends on the ability to own their own shadow’ because he recognised that only finding understanding of our dark side could end our underlying insecurity about our fundamental goodness and worth as humans and, in so doing, make us ‘whole’ and restore our humanity, the cooperative, harmonious integrated state. Yes, it is only now that we can at last explain, understand and thus heal that divisive competitive, selfish and aggressive, seemingly-‘unGodly’ condition–and in the process enable us to safely entertain deeper thoughts on life, in particular thoughts such as what is life all about, what is the meaning of life. (Again, it has to be stressed that this explanation of our deeply psychologically troubled condition is not the psychosis-avoiding, trivialising, dishonest account of it that E.O. Wilson put forward in his theory of Eusociality, but the psychosis-addressing-and-solving, truthful, real explanation of it.)
So, what is the wonderful, dreamed-of, exonerating, psychologically ameliorating, real biological explanation of the human condition that at last makes it safe to admit that the answer to the question of ‘what is life all about’ is that it is to be integrative, selfless and loving?
Certainly, we have invented excuses to justify our species’ seemingly-imperfect competitive, selfish and aggressive behaviour–for our inconsistency with the integrative meaning of life. The main excuse has been that we have savage animal instincts that make us fight and compete for food, shelter, territory and a mate. Of course, this ‘explanation’, which has been put forward in the biological theories of Social Darwinism, Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, Multilevel Selection and E.O. Wilson’s Eusociality and basically argues that ‘genes are competitive and selfish and that’s why we are’, can’t be the real explanation for our competitive, selfish and aggressive behaviour. Firstly, it overlooks the fact that our human behaviour involves our unique fully conscious thinking mind. Descriptions like , arrogant, deluded, artificial, hateful, mean, immoral, alienated, etc, all imply a -derived, psychological dimension to our behaviour. The real issue–the psychological problem in our thinking minds that we have suffered from–is the issue of our species’ ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted, less-than-ideal, even ‘fallen’ or corrupted condition. We humans suffer from a consciousness-derived, psychological human condition, not an instinct-controlled animal condition–our condition is unique to us fully conscious humans. (A brief description of the theories of Social Darwinism, Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, Multilevel Selection and Eusociality that blame our divisive behaviour on savage instincts rather than on a consciousness-derived psychosis is presented in the in The Book of Real Answers to Everything!, that this article also appears in, with the complete account provided in of the freely-available, online book Freedom Book 1.)
The second reason the savage-instincts-in-us excuse can’t possibly be the real explanation for our divisive, selfish and aggressive behaviour is that it overlooks the fact that we humans have altruistic, cooperative, loving moral instincts–what we recognise as our ‘’–and these moral instincts in us that are aligned to the integrative, selfless, loving meaning of life are not derived from reciprocity, from situations where you only do something for others in return for a benefit from them, as Evolutionary Psychologists would have us believe. And nor are they derived from warring with other groups of humans as advocates of the theory of Eusociality would have us believe. No, we have an unconditionally selfless, fully altruistic, truly loving, universally-considerate-of-others-not-competitive-with-other-groups, genuinely moral conscience. Our original was the opposite of being competitive, selfish and aggressive: it was fully cooperative, selfless and loving. Our species’ original instinctive alignment was to the integrative, truly loving, ‘Godly’ meaning of life; as William Wordsworth wrote in his great poem, Intimations of Immortality, ‘trailing clouds of glory do we come, from God, who is our home’. (How we humans acquired unconditionally selfless moral instincts when it would seem that an unconditionally selfless, fully altruistic trait is going to self-eliminate and thus not ever be able to become established in a species is briefly explained in the above-mentioned , and more fully explained in –however, the point being made here is that the savage-instincts-in-us excuse is completely inconsistent with the fact that we have genuine and entirely moral instincts, not savage instincts. Charles Darwin recognised the difference in our moral nature when he said that ‘the moral sense affords the best and highest distinction between man and the lower animals’ (The Descent of Man, 1871, p.495).)