The Meaning of Life for Bugs
One of the questions I used to ask anyone whom I respected was: what is the meaning of life?
I got some interesting and memorable responses from this activity. John Mayer said comfort (which I suppose is arguable). Matt Nathanson said travel (he even wrote it on the dead guitar tuner he gave to me at that show).
Not all of these interactions have gone as well. For instance, I asked physicist Michio Kaku this when I met him at a book signing a number of years ago. It resulted in him getting mad that I would even ask such a question, which then resulted in me being embarrassed and awkwardly knocking over the entire cardboard display behind me. Howie Day also got mad at me and told me just to be happy.
And honestly, there are no stupid questions, but this one is kind of a stupid question.
But not in an obvious way. Sadhguru, an Indian yogi and mystic, once said that it’s fascinating that we want a meaning in our lives. Wouldn’t it be a relief, he says, to not have any meaning in your life? To let the life happen and play it out exactly as it would, without searching for a meaning?
Sometimes I think that since we’ll never actually get an answer for this, any answer we have for the meaning of life in any given moment is the right one.
Still, we have this yearning to figure it out as if it will help us in some way. Is life too mysterious that we need to tie up the loose ends? And is that why everyone was angry at the end of the TV series LOST?
Consider this: an insect doesn’t search for the meaning of life. They do the things they were meant to do by letting their biology dictate their choices: mating, pollinating, eating, and whatever else they’re programmed to do. One could argue that we’re humans, and therefore there’s a certain level of sophistication that we should aspire to in order to keep society alive.
They’re probably right. Without a pre-frontal cortex, without the mechanic with which to think through our choices and question the deeper meaning of existence, we’d all be sex crazy pleasure seeking animals, and at the same time perhaps nurturing and protective parents.
Still, we can separate from our thoughts if we want to. We don’t have to identify thoughts as ours, but rather as a process of our body’s internal mechanisms. We can look at that pre-frontal cortex not as a magic power, but as part of the animal that we are.
When we do this, it becomes clear that there is no meaning to life, at least not one that anyone can tell us. The meaning of the life, then, is about as important as the final note in an opera. It’s not the part you really remember or tell your friends about. It’s a punchline that isn’t even funny, in a narrative that isn’t even conclusive.
What a beautiful, beautiful mess.