A perennial question is: What is the purpose of life? This is not a hard question to answer. The answer is: Life is it’s own purpose. From a universe that consists of otherwise non-purposing entities, came a purposing entity. Its purpose (to restate): to be that which can actively maintain its state of being. Life metabolizes and reproduces itself. It’s a revolutionary ambition – to defeat entropy. Other things break down, but life retains it’s organizational state. And, thus, life endures. But how did it all start? In a race through time between things that don’t ordinarily endure, the one that endures best is the winner, and so on and so on; this circumstance must inevitably lead to life. Note that I posit that things will vary in the capacity to endure. Variation amongst members of a “population” is a necessary ingredient in, first, the evolution of life from non-life, and, second, the evolution of life, thereafter. The only state in which variation amongst things doesn’t exist is a state that we can hardly imagine. It is a state of complete universe-wide homogeneity – there are no individual “things”. This null state would lack, even, time – and would, therefore, lack the opportunity for endurance to manifest itself. But, instead, we see a universe full of things that come and go. Therefore, it must be the case that life will appear, again and again. The only remaining question, then, is how long, in a given venue, it will take.
What, then, do we make of life? Based both on our only experience of life to date – Earth-borne life, and theoretically, it is clear that life is an invasive entity. Once established, life has clung tenaciously to Earth, withstanding colossal meteoric collisions and god knows what else. And life (as a whole) on Earth will definitely outlast us humans. Whatever impact our species will have on the planet, it will most likely not compare to the events that produced the great extinctions of the past. Our greatest probable impact will be to eliminate ourselves (unless we don’t. More on this below). So, let me ask again, what do we make of life? Do we like it, or not? Part of our genetic make-up is to ask such questions, after all. Organisms must, at all times, evaluate the conditions under which they exist. Should I stay or go? Am I happy being alive? What is it worth?
Life is invasive, and always evolving. May life also be inherently destructive? It seems implicit in our understanding of evolution, that more efficient creatures (such as ourselves) will, ultimately, be produced – brainy creatures capable of more fully utilizing available environments, capable of radically increasing their numbers, and capable of tinkering with the natural systems that support them. If that’s the case, and if such creatures eventually (by virtue of the above capabilities) put themselves out of business, so what? So, there’s one planet that got more or less trashed. But what if that brainy creature (such as ourselves) escaped the planet? What if it escaped the planet – leaving it a smoking ruin – and then went on to do the same to planet after planet? A bystander would have to conclude that that is one destructive creature.
In my youth, such questions were the stuff of science fiction. No more. Since first opening my eyes to the tumult around me, I’ve observed 60 years of human assault on the planet. We now see (in no particular order) that: the human population has more than doubled; practically everywhere is over-crowded; great masses of people are hungry; the atmosphere and oceans are fouled beyond recovery; we are responsible for global warming and rising sea levels; island nations are putting evacuation plans in place; we have left no room for other creatures, who are going extinct, one after another, day by day; the last wild peoples are being killed by miners and loggers; we are over-cutting the tropical forests … What have we, the acme of evolution, not done, in the way of fouling our nest? And this is not to mention they way we go around killing each other.
Is life an invasive, destructive phenomenon? It may well prove to be the case. Time and events will tell. My descendants will get to see how it turns out. To them I say: Don’t curse me, for the mess I left you. I did the best I could – or did I?
I’ve got a life sentence
– to live, as best I can, until I die
The Innocent Universe
It’s been not even 300 years
since we began to foul our collective nest
and now there’s not much hope
that the damage could be undone
even if we tried
What do I say to my grandkids about this?
that I didn’t try hard enough to head it off’
as though I could have
It’s in us
as in all living things
in truth, to leave more offspring than the other guy
(even if you don’t think about it that way)
Why, after all, do you fuck?
It’s fun to fuck, you say
and that says it all
We, like everything else alive, are fuck machines
having little volition in the matter
It’s this strange living for its own sake
It’s the manifestation of purpose
in an otherwise apparently purposeless universe
While it looks increasingly likely that we will put ourselves
the acme of local evolution
out of business
there will be no putting LIFE out of business
it’s an almighty colonizing force
We are, indeed, prisoners of our genes
and the time and place of our efflorescence
We do, indeed, strut upon our Macbethian stage
Our’s, a tale told by an idiot
full of sound and fury
And what of life elsewhere?
It seems so irresistible
if not inevitable
given the right conditions
Must it not have appeared many more times
going for greatness wherever it is found?
I must suppose so
that the disease we call life will ever infect
the innocent universe