Life is a living entity’s opportunity to exist.
Evidence suggests that our human existence is confined to lucid,
waking moments, beginning when we are about one or two years old,
and ending when our brain ceases a minimum level of functioning.
No evidence suggests that life begins before conception or continues after
OK, “we’re entities—we exist.” But, beyond existence you
might ask, “What does life offer me?”
Well, my Numinating reader, life’s opportunities come in two major themes:
You can consume other things, and you can propagate yourself. Everything you
or any other entity does is in a direct or indirect effort to consume or
reproduce. As humans, we have evolved some pretty fancy variations on these
themes, but we really haven’t evolved any activities completely unrelated to
them either. Name any activity, and I’ll bet you can find one or both of
these themes in it, if you try.
Consumption is more than eating. It can be a process of building,
destruction, or even play. Exercise for its own sake is nothing more than the
final stages of finishing a meal. Reproduction, as we all know, isn’t only
about sex. It could be as widely removed from that as, for example, the
propagation of our ideas in the forms of speech, art, and literature.
In the process of consuming other things and propagating itself, each entity
finds itself in more or less conflict with every other entity that it
contacts. The negative effects of conflict can be overcome with the positive
effects of cooperation. Most interaction combines both conflict and
cooperation (such as coerced, and even forced, cooperation). Each entity has
evolved a set of potential abilities. Through learning, abilities are
developed into skills. The exercise of a skill allows an entity to interact
with its environment and bring about whatever it can.
The evidence also suggests that life is governed by the necessities of
physical laws operating in a background of random chance. At the outset of
life, no two entities have precisely the same abilities and opportunities.
Therefore, no two entities are “equal” any more than they are identical.
Entities may, however, be treated equally by physical laws. They may also
strive, with more or less success, for equal treatment in cooperation with
other entities. The only rules are those adopted by the entities themselves.
The only “rights” are those afforded by cooperating entities. Your rights may
An event is something that occurs at a given moment in time. An outcome is
the result of a sequence of related events—events which affect, or are
affected by, each other. There is seldom any meaning or purpose in the
relationship of the events that produce an outcome. The process of evolution
produces outcomes that may have meaning within their local evolutionary
context, but they are not guided by purpose. Some outcomes are brought about
with intention. These may be guided by purpose; they are the result of the
skill of a living entity.
Each living entity has a set of sensors and a set of effectors. An entity
synthesizes information from the interaction of its sensors with its
environment. It produces change by acting on its environment with its
effectors. An entity’s success involves its ability to use the information it
is able to synthesize, and its skills to carry out courses of action. If its
skills are sufficient to allow it to reproduce, the potential for those skills
is propagated. Obviously, each of us is a living entity. Each of us has
developed a set of skills. The outcomes we help bring about are a product of
our skills, chance, and the cooperation of others.
Skills and the information used in their performance may be compared to
computers and their software. It is not stretching the concept of “skill” too
much to compare it to a program running in a computer. The effective use of a
program to input data and bring about a result is very much like a skill in
many respects. The behavior of inanimate objects may be predicted and
described by the laws of physics, but the behavior of objects animated by
skills (or software) cannot be described or predicted simply, by the same laws
(or even the same kinds of laws), except on the most trivial levels. Physical
laws are not disobeyed in any way, they are simply incomplete for a
description or an effective prediction of the overall behavior of an animate
Skills and information are not incorporeal, they must be instantiated in some
combination of matter and energy. Matter and energy cannot be created or
destroyed, although each may be converted into the other. New arrangements of
matter and energy can come about in only two ways: By chance (following
physical laws), or in a copying process. A copying process may, of course,
introduce change. Change may occur either by chance or by intention. When
intention is involved, the skill of design will have been a part of the
copying process. When chance alone is responsible for change, the copying
process is part of the standard evolutionary paradigm. Apart from new
arrangements of matter and energy, the only things truly created are new
skills (programs), and new expressions (information).
Every concept we have is in the context of our conflict and cooperation with
our environment. The most important entities in the environment of any given
entity are often other entities of its own kind. These are the entities whose
cooperation is the most likely to have evolved and be the most effective.
Yes, birds of a feather flock together for a reason.
Let’s jump up the evolutionary ladder to the entities we call human beings.
Let’s focus this Numination on ourselves. Each of us tends to wonder from
time to time, “Why am I here.” “Does my life have any meaning or purpose?”
“What should I try to do with my life?” “Why does that person have so much
authority over me?” “Why is that person so wealthy?” “Why don’t I deserve
more?” “Why did that person have to die?” “What will happen to me when I
die?” People seek comfort with these issues. Family, religion, schools, the
government, and many other institutions try to contribute to that comfort. We
cooperate in the hope of gaining that comfort. Much of our discomfort arises
from conflicts involving these questions. It’s all about our skill in
handling conflict and cooperation.
Meaning and purpose are evolved. They are invented a bit at a time. They are
copied and adapted. Your life has only the meaning and purpose that you copy
or invent. You are not here for a reason, you are here by chance. You should
take life one step at a time. Each passing year of your life has its special
opportunities, as hinted at by something George Herbert once said: “He that
is not handsome at twenty, nor strong at thirty, nor rich at forty, nor wise
at fifty, will never be handsome, strong, rich, or wise.” This, of course, is
only one man’s opinion about a very small number of the things that matter,
but it illustrates the theme.
Answers to the remaining questions are very complex. When an outcome is
governed by a mixture of chance and necessity, with only an occasional pinch
of intention or purpose, a complete explanation can be too complex for human
understanding, and an incomplete answer may be too simplistic to do you any
good. Looking for an easy answer to a complex question is like looking under
a street lamp for a key dropped elsewhere in the dark. And it’s even more
futile to search for a key unless you need what it unlocks, and know where to
find the lock. First, increase, elaborate, and refine your needs. Then,
learn about locks. Having done this, the keys will begin to appear of their
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