I remember fondly when I was in 2nd grade, and one day at lunch it occurred to me that the meaning of life is happiness. I knew intuitively that I was correct about this, and I felt smug that my classmates weren’t mature enough to understand what I had discovered. When I got home from school that day, I remember telling my father what I had deduced, and his reaction was something along the lines of, “Yes absolutely.”
Of course, my answer to the Big Question will ring true for some more than others, mostly depending on what the question means to them.
Only around age 21 did I actually learn to unpack the content of a very overloaded question and break it down into parts that can be addressed without appeal to intuition.
Here is a very rough unpacking of the question, “What is the meaning of life?” The word ‘meaning’ in that sentence may refer to many things. I can think of the following meanings for the word ‘meaning’: ‘definition‘, ‘purpose‘, ‘value‘, ‘nature‘, and ‘reason‘.
Q: What is the definition of life?
A: Life is a state of matter with certain properties: it is self-replicating, it has persistent information, etc.
Q: What is the purpose of life?
A: Life has no purpose. One does not live life in order to achieve aims that are outside the scope of life.
Q: What is the value of life?
A: There are many valuable things in life, and from my perspective, the most valuable parts of life are happiness, exploration, and interconnectedness.
Q: What is the nature of life?
A: Some types of life, for example human life, have a subjective component that is very poorly understood in the scientific community. The experience of being alive is both very familiar and very mysterious.
Q: What is the reason for life?
A: Initially, life arose through random chemical reactions that eventually led to stable replication. Then life evolved through mutation and selection into the form we recognize today. All of this is partially, but not nearly completely, understood in the scientific community.
There are probably many other ways of interpreting the Big Question. But for my own satisfaction, after thinking about all of these different ways of unpacking the word ‘meaning’, I do not feel that there is an underlying special meaning of life left to be addressed. I do, however, expect to update my answers to these questions as I learn more.