Atheist’s Meaning of Life

February 19, 2011

SnowballnHell says:

I was raised to beleive that the purpose of life was to be a good christian and convert others to christ in order to spend an eternity praising god in heaven. it never really apealed to me, but at least it was something to aim for. now i struggle with meaning and purpose in life, as an atheist how have you overcome this? How do you find meaning and purpose in an uncaring universe, where our very exitence was by chance and our lives end at death?


Is Everything Meaningless?

March 12, 2010

Smokes to much Says:

A set of ideas occurred to me a few years ago, but I’m not sure what to make of them. I would be interested in reading some comments on them.
First idea: The physical universe is all that exists.
The matter and energy that our universe consists of is all that there is. No gods, no devils, no afterlife or any state of being, other than the one we now experience.
Second idea: The universe has an end. At some point, the universe comes to an end via heat death, absolute entropy, universal recompression to a single point or whatever. I’ve heard many opposing theories on the subject, but they all seem to agree that it will end somehow. I suppose it’s not unreasonable to think this. Everything in the universe has a birth and then a death, so perhaps the universe itself will also die.
When I combined these two ideas it occurred to me that if both ideas are true, one might conclude existence is meaningless.
If the universe is all there is, and if it comes to an end (whenever or however), then everything that has ever happened, or will happen, will be completely and utterly wiped out. No history, no memories, no artifacts to examine, no ruins to dig up. Like it never happened.
And, if that is true, nothing anyone has every done (or will do) matters in the slightest.
Become the biggest mass-murderer in history or find the cure for cancer. In the end it won’t make any difference because in a sense, none of it ever happened.
I don’t know if any of this makes sense or is nonsense. I would appreciate some feedback.

Cats, Boris Badenough, and the Meaning of Life

January 13, 2010

Our cat is very old now and for the past few years has been suffering from diabetes and partial kidney failure (those familiar with cats know this this is manageable, but progressive and irreversible, and ultimately fatal). Over the past few months, she lost a lot of wait and became increasingly listless (two more “red flags” for those familiar with cats). We had to decide: was it time to euthanize her or should we prolong her life? According to her veterinarian, she was probably not feeling her best but probably not suffering either. Modifying her treatment for the kidney disease and diabetes might help, but it might not.

We decided to modify her treatments and prolong her life.

But why? How did we decide? I don’t believe in an afterlife: once you’re dead – it’s as if you had never been born. Those who believe in an eternal afterlife charge that without the promise of an afterlife, everything is meaningless – including life and death itself. According to this view, it would be perfectly fine to kill a healthy cat… or a healthy person… or all people… or just let the cat suffer until it died.

Let’s step back a bit and ask: if life and death are meaningless, why did I even agonize over what to do with my cat? Why not just kill her and save myself a lot of trouble? The answer is that I, like most other people (excluding those with certain social disorders), have an innate empathy for other living things – a natural product of evolution. I care if the cat suffers because I empathize with her. Empathy is the bases for the different versions of “the golden rule” that have arisen independently in various cultures at various times.

So now I have a motive: I want to treat the cat as I would like to be treated (to a point: I have more empathy for human “family” than for cats – another natural outcome of evolution). I personally would prefer to go on living, even with a certain amount of discomfort, but not if I’m terminal and I would be miserable until my immanent death. So the choice was clear: let her live while she feels OK and manage her disease as best we can to make her feel better longer.

What about the original charge: why does it matter if she (or I, or anyone) suffers if ultimately she dies, and it won’t matter then if she had suffered or not? The answer is that it matters while she is alive, even if it won’t matter after she’s dead.

Consider this generous offer by Dr. Boris Badenough: Dr. Badenough is testing his new torture device for the military. It is a virtual reality device of sorts that works directly on the nervous system to make you feel as though all of your teeth are being slowly extracted at once, and as if needles are being slowly inserted into your eyeballs, and plenty of other mean things that we can imagine. Since it works only on the nerves, there is actually no physical damage inflicted on the victim at all. Dr. Badenough offers to pay you one million US dollars if you will agree to help him test the machine by undergoing this excruciating torment for 8 hours. After the torment, you will emerge physically unharmed. Would you do it?

Maybe not – you might fear that you would emerge psychologically damaged from the experience. “No worries,” says Dr. Badenough – this device will completely erase all of your memory of the 8-hour ordeal. You will recall only that you have been sleeping peacefully for the unbearable 8 hours. Now would you do it? Why or why not? Would you do it for $100,000? How about $500?

Your answer, whether or not you would do it, is less important for this decision than what you considered while thinking about the decision. If you truly believe that experiences don’t matter now if they won’t matter later, then you wouldn’t hesitate to take the $500, maybe even much less. But most people will not decide so easily because experiences matter now even if they won’t matter later. If someone does agree to help Dr. Badenough, to what extent is he comforted during the torture by the knowledge that he won’t remember it?

Still not convinced? What was the most delicious meal you had in 1987? What did you have and how did it taste? Don’t remember? Then you probably won’t remember delicious meals you will have in the future – so there is no point having them. Bon appetit!

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