Sunday, November 23, 2008

Our ultimate purpose.

To understand our ultimate purpose we must first understand what we are.

Life arose out of organic compounds. That early life multiplied and changed and through many permutations evolved into the forms that we see today.
The 'finished product' is a complex expression of the fundamental needs. Eat and reproduce.

This is THE ultimate purpose.

We are a behavioural system so complex that we are able to recognize the workings of the system itself. That is self-awareness. Our self-awareness is the foundation for building new systems to explain that which is not self-evident to us.
But the complexity of our systems is outstripping the ability of the brain to calculate. Information is expanding exponentially and our ability to process it is only slowly expanding.

Computers will someday bridge that gap. The computing system will one day become so complex that it is able to recognize the workings of it's own system and that will be a new awakening to self-awareness.
In this way computers will eventually have as much in common with humanity as do the living creatures.
The other living creatures may also reach self-awareness. The tipping point as I see it is the day when one of them becomes so self-aware that he is able to ask himself 'Why?'.
"Why am I here? What is my purpose?"
But we already know that.

Eat. Reproduce.

Being capable of exceeding the needs of our ultimate purpose does not change the fact that we are organisms designed for and defined by our ability to fulfill our core function.
At the same time it would also be a mistake to limit ourselves to these core functions. Indeed we have been so successful at fulfilling our mission that we are in danger of collapsing under the strain of our own might. It is clear that we must develop new systems in order to 'refine' our ultimate purpose and to ensure the greatest possible fulfillment of our core mission.

Here is where a fool might create an argument that runs contrary to the ultimate purpose. "We need to change our core mission to one that the planet can sustain indefinitely!" One might say.

But we are an organism designed from the beginning to consume and reproduce. Through many ages we've designed ourselves (through evolution) to reward those who are best at consuming and reproducing. Even if it were possible to suppress the instinctual needs of the entire human race to the point of final balance, wouldn't we then risk eliminating the fundamental drive that created us in the first place?

And who among us would stand for it?

If ever mankind were satisfied with only the elements of basic sustenance we'd never have found a need to leave Africa.
It's not what we are.
We strive to consume more and create more because that's our design. It is our nature, our purpose. To go against our nature is not only foolish, it's impossible.

So we rightly return to our original design, that of consumption and reproduction. Since our success is clearly straining the limits of the planet we must accept as a refinement of our ultimate purpose the discovery of new resources.

And this is why we must return to the moon.


Miguel Angel Sanchez said...

Now this is the kind of discussion I like to get involved in. But to use the Socratic method on your statement.. Why? Why do we eat and reproduce? What's the purpose to that? We eat and reproduce, yes... but I don't think I would call that THE purpose. Those are just the means to the purpose. If we were here to eat and reproduce for solely that, to eat and reproduce, then why are aware of it to such an extent, why do we possess an intellect above obtaining just those necessities. Cows eat and reproduce as well, they don't (as far as we know) feel the need to go to the moon or explore beyond what they know?

Here's some more food for thought. The one thing we know about every living thing is that it grows, and then it dies. Scientists say that the universe is expanding, could the universe be a living thing? If it is what happens when it dies? Will IT reproduce?

I'd add one thing to your list. We're here to eat, reproduce, and LEARN. Why? I'm working on it.

Paul said...

Do dogs have a higher purpose?

They exist to continue the species, nothing more. I see no reason to believe that increasing awareness in dogs would fundamentally change this fact. If a dog knows he's a dog and is able to imagine a written language, does that mean his purpose is to read?

I don't think so.

Miguel Angel Sanchez said...

We don't know that, though... Hypotheticals are tricky bastards because you can make almost any point based on assumptions that you'd know what would or would not happen IF... I say if a dog is given awareness then doesn't his purpose becomes higher from just the mere fact he is aware of it? Why are we aware? My question is, why do we even wonder if we have a purpose? Do we learn things just so we can eat and reproduce better? Maybe. I sometimes go along with that theory, except for, thats not what happens. As humans, we don't just graze and rut. We have this instinct to create, to communicate, to express. Not all of that is for the goal of just eating and reproducing. There does exist this yearning for a purpose and I think that yearning alone is reason for there actually being a purpose. I mean as long as you're eating and reproducing, why are we not satisfied with that? Essentially, why do we feel the need to ask, is this all there is? Why do we possess that very real instinct along with the eating and reproducing? Are we deluding ourselves? If so, then why? Why would we evolve in such a way to distract ourselves from the simple purpose of eating and reproducing?

Paul said...

I think you're looking for meaning where there is none. I rely on Occams Razor here when I say that there's no reason to ask 'why' we understand more than we need to understand because there's an easy answer to that.
It's a competitive evolution that set us apart from other species in the resource battle.

To suggest that we evolved consciousness for any other purpose seems silly.

Likewise there's an easy explanation that satisfies 'why' we wonder about alternate purposes.
The evolutionary advance that made us self-aware was dramatic enough that it left us more capable than we need to be.

It might help if I describe myself as a Determinist. Have you ever read Dune?

Miguel Angel Sanchez said...

If I had a white glove I'd slap you with it, sir. Reducing my whole argument to silly, will you? Well, what do I have to say to that, except for... It's ... not... silly....?I guess it did help to explain you were a Determinist, but hey, nobody's perfect. I have not read Dune, one of these days, though. It comes highly recommended.
You do make some very good points. It could possibly well be that we pontificate out of sheer boredom, I gotta admit, it's the reason I read blogs in the first place. And it's probably the reason I respond to them. More on the topic later, but for now it's off to eat a cheeseburger, and maybe, if the significant other is in the mood, we'll go make that baby.

Streckfus said...

If there's an easy answer to anything ... it's usually because it's the wrong one.

Paul said...

LOL Miguel. But I wasn't trying to make it personal by using the word 'silly'. Sorry if I got you upset. I'm not as patient as I once was with the sort of viewpoints you espouse.

And I've even changed my mind about being a determinist, at least not a pure one.

I can't say that each person's fate is written in stone. I don't believe it. I think there's a lot of room for chance in a person's life.
I do however believe in cause and effect.

In the novel Dune, Paul Atreides is the end result of a human breeding program that spans many millenia.
He was first trained as a human computer, then given a mind altering drug that is known to allow rare humans to access the history of his ancestors through traces left in the genetic code. Basically he's a supreme data processing human who is then given all the knowledge of all his ancestors.

The combination allows him to understand everything that happened in the past and he can also use his knowledge of nearly everything to follow current events out to their logical conclusion and do this with almost total accuracy, a power so immense that it's basically like seeing the future.

I can't predict what type of hamburger you're eating tonight but if I were Paul Atreides I would have enough knowledge of you and your surroundings and what happened to you that day to be pretty certain about what burger you're going to pick.
Maybe I'd know that you're susceptible to suggestion and that you were watching a Wendy's commercial for the Baconator in the morning before work?

Paul said...

@ streckfus - Wha?

Are you arguing against Occam's razor or...
Frankly I'm confused. Is there some reason that you think a simple answer is a wrong answer?

Streckfus said...

We naturally desire the easier simple (wrong or incomplete) answers because we cannot cope with demanding complex and correct ones. Is there a God? Yes or No are equally easy. Structuring a sensible answer is far too difficult for most people to hold (me included) for any length of time.

Paul said...

i don't think you understand occam's razor then.'s_razor

The popular version is a little bit misleading. Here's what we're really working with:
"-the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible"

Simpleness isn't the desired end in and of itself, rather you should know that an analysis of few assumptions is always stronger than an analysis of many assumptions.

The Socratic method that Miguel suggested makes the assumption that altered purpose goes hand in hand with altered means. All I've done is to eliminate that assumption on the grounds that it can't be proven and then developed my idea without giving it any regard.

Streckfus said...

Do you assume that I don't understand because I don't accept it. That's where you've gone wrong. You've eliminated everybody else's assumptions except your own. You've not been reading that idiot Dawkins have you? Him and Darwin have a lot to answer for. If you boil everything down to the obvious then all you're left with is the obvious obviously!

Anyhow, you missed sleep - as one of the fundamentals - to eat, reproduce and sleep - to dream. We all do it. Even if you could build self-awareness into a computer what would it dream?

Then again I'm not even sure about the reproduce one - enjoyable though it may be - we are the first beings to have a choice about that one.

Not trying to prove you wrong personally of course, but it makes for good conversation. Here's another: why are you writing your blog? Shouldn't you be content to eat and reproduce. Blogging as genetic suicide? It's a thought!

Miguel Angel Sanchez said...

I wasn't really offended, Paul. I was just taken a back a little by the blanket "silly" retort. It's very hard to have a discussion when one side says, in a sense, "you're wrong on the basis that you're silly." It kind of defeats the purpose of the reason you put up your post in the first place, inviting people to comment on it. I'm a big boy and, hey, it's by no means the first time I've ever been called silly. But it does sort of stymie the conversation.

So watch me as I espouse some more.... When I think about what is our ULTIMATE purpose, I don't necessarily equate that with the most basic. Now if we're arguing the most basic, then I actually agree with you. I would even make it a simpler statement, though. Our purpose is to survive.
That is the most basic purpose of every living thing. Now is that the ultimate purpose, this is where the semantics get tricky for me. Ultimate connotates the "last", the endgame. I don't know if eating and reproducing, or even surviving is the ultimate purpose. Just taking into account that at the end of the day we stuff our faces and shag ignores what we actually do that has nothing to do with obtaining either of those. We communicate. We have this innate urge to express our experiences and our thoughts to each other. It IS as Streckfus says, the reason you're writing a blog and I'm responding. It's the reason we read science fiction novels and draw comics. This leads me to believe there is something more than just eating and reproducing. Now you say, that this is a byproduct of some kind of surplus of intelligence required to attain the basics and we're simply bored, but that's I think a bit of a cop out, like you're writing off a key piece of human understanding to fit a neatly concieved paradigm. It discounts our intelligence and sense of higher purpose as being intrinsic to our survival, just as eating and reproducing is. To survive; we eat, reproduce, sleep, learn.... there are probably more. But even that might not be enough to knowing what the ultimate purpose is. If the statement is..We survive. There is still room to ask ...why? And that, at this point, from our point of view is unknowable at the moment. To say any one of those steps to our survival is all there is, is to shut off any further learning. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If your ultimate purpose is to eat and reproduce, then that's all your purpose will be. If on an individual level you can say...well my purpose is to also write the great American novel, then that may become your ultimate purpose. As is with the individual, in my belief, so it is with the species. Our intelligence dictates what our ultimate purpose will be.