It is so interesting, becoming a grandparent. Parents are usually too wrapped up in daily struggles for much big-picture thinking, but, the theory goes, by grandchildren-time we’re more knowledgeable.
Thus, this fall one grandson proposed he sit down with me and “find out what’s on my mind” – besides the daily news. He’s a smart fellow, thinks on his own, and doesn’t rush to conclusions. Grandson proposed he come up for supper and an evening’s conversation about life’s Big Subjects. You may recall the teenage years.
“What is the meaning of existence?” “Why does anything exist at all?” And, especially, “Why does consciousness, self-consciousness, exist? Why did it evolve?”, and “Does all this have a purpose?”
He was not asking for my religious views. He gets plenty of this from a grandma on his mother’s side, an old fashioned believer.
He’s smart, has a good grasp of the sciences. He knows what evolution means, and is certain it is not “just a theory”, as Nana insisted. Her own beliefs, he felt, were the “theories” because they themselves have no real evidence nor even genuine – testable – explanations.
Briefly, my basic two-cents was that any “purpose” requires the existence of an overarching will, somewhere, an intelligence, a superior consciousness which somehow designs and then implements that purpose. Appealing to something like a “Supreme Intelligence” doesn’t explain anything at all about the existence of our own human intelligences. We should focus on what we can grasp, I advised.
My suggestion was that we do not talk about “purposes” at all. Does an oak have a “purpose”? A planet? A black bear? So, why should we feel we must have a “purpose”? But this definitely does not mean we have no value here on Earth. This is our origin; it’s a part of us. A more-interesting question might be: so, what’s our value here on Earth?
Our conclusion that evening was that we humans do indeed have a value and our value is in being a witness – to the very magnificence of this cosmos. Having a self-consciousness, we’re able to appreciate all this complexity. If we do have obligations by virtue of existing, isn’t it to appreciate, observe, explore — and protect! — this magnificence around us? Our obligations to ourselves are to be accurate and thorough, not flippant nor opportunistic. We are here, and, thanks to evolutionary processes, we can actually grasp and admire this incredible enterprise unfolding across our lives.
It was soon near midnight, late. He seemed satisfied. Said he’d think about all this as he left home next week to drive across to B.C. I said I’d miss him … and I already do.