Sunday, 9 January 2011

The meaningfulness of life

I’ve just finished reading this arc from the lovely and excellent Dresden Codak webcomic and it got me thinking.  The short version is that in the far future, the remnants of humanity live in a virtual paradise created for them by an AI that they no longer understand.  A group of these humans rebel because they are no longer relevant and their lives have no meaning, and war is inevitable.

Thinking of this, and all the other SF that has riffed off the same sort of idea, I find myself wondering how I would react if my life was completely irrelevant.  The thing is that I’m already an atheist and broadly believe that life has no meaning except that which we give it.  So to me, I don’t feel that there’s anything special about my being alive or that my life has any “higher purpose” (not that I want it to stop any time soon, mind you), so I’m half way there already.  If we create a new, artificial life form that is better than us, then I think I’ll be happy (so long as it doesn’t turn on us in a Terminator-esque rampage to destroy humanity) and not be dissatisfied with my life.  If our greatest achievement is in passing on the torch of intelligence then that’s wonderful!  I’ll retire to my virtual paradise a happy man, knowing that we have created something greater than ourselves.


Joanna says:

This is an interesting post. It just made me re-define the quest for “meaning” in life into two seperate parts. There’s the quest for meaning which comes from some belief in a higher power or an ultimate destination, and then there’s the meaning or satisfaction which stems from the journey itself. Where you’ve dealt with your response to the former, my feeling from what you’ve said is that the characters in the webcomic were responding more to the latter.

That is, the AI and the perfect life didn’t provide or remove any sense of a higher being or an ultimate destination in life, rather they removed the struggle from existence and therefore the sense of meaningful accomplishment which comes from simply striving each day to be slightly better than you were previously.

You also mention “retiring” to your paradise, which has connotations of a well-earned rest after a life well-lived. Is that different from living your entire life without ever having the need to work for something or achieve any goal? I think retiring to paradise might work out well; however mankind simply existing in paradise would be hugely unsatisfying. It’s one of the reasons I don’t really consider Heaven as a workable idea — the very fact that it is perfect means that it would be boring.

PS Your copyright notice on this page ends in 2009… 🙂

Raj says:

So you’re saying that life without some sort of struggle is meaningless and dull? As a pretty lazy person, I’d be at the front of the queue to be a subject for the experiment to test it ;).

Perhaps that’s somewhat flippant, but I’d still like to give it a try 🙂

PS Your copyright notice on this page ends in 2009

Thanks, fixed.

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