Join Date: Nov 2006
I've been thinking about this one for a while now. I've tried Steve's exercise, and of course came up with a hodge-podge of the various answers you see in this thread, help others, consciousness, etc, but I wanted to try thinking a little bit deeper about this.
I am currently a graduate student in applied mathematics at UT Austin, and being biasedly of a scientific mind, couldn't find a clear answer that I was satisfied with. You see, I feel it is easy to watch movies and hear stories and listen to people tell you what's truly right and what's truly wrong, and give you feelings inside that make you say "Yea, this is so right, I can feel it.", and stop questioning whether it really is. However, we all know that different feelings can be created in people by different effects, and people can be heavily persuaded by appealing to emotions and creating those very same effects. Hence the selling power of lawyers, marketers, politicians, comic books, and astrology charts.
Anyway, I will get to my point. In mathematics modeling problems, as professional researchers we start with two things: a general description of the physical problem, and the objective. For example, we may have a well-theorized decsription of fluid flow in the ocean, and our objective is to better predict weather patterns. Or we know how strong titanium and other materials are and how materials break different stresses and our objective is to make sure the space shuttle stays in one piece. Once you get used to this process at the professional level, it really helps clarify your thinking in other areas. So when confronting the question "What is my purpose in life?", I thought my highest priority should be "Well I want to do what is most good for the world. Period." Ok, so then what? I asked the tougher question ,"What is the most good for the world?". What can we define as good? I'm sure there's probably several of Steve's articles on the subject that I will be quickly referred to after this, but nevertheless, I ask. Now of course, there are quick and simple answers , most of which are slightly less fuzzy in nature, such as peace for everyone, happiness for everyone, consciousness for everyone, etc.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm definitely into personal improvement and will take any step I feel in my heart is in the right direction. For now, I try to bring happriness to all of the people I know and am becoming stronger and creating research which I think will have a massive impact on the world, but in the back of my mind I still stray from absolute satisfaction and clarity with this fuzzy notion of just helping others and making them feel good as a permanent life's goal.
For example, although it may seem ridiculous, why do we choose to help other humans rather than making, say, ants and flies be happy? Well, of course, they're just flies and ants, right. This is classical evoolutionary psychology(of which I am a biasedly huge fan) but all of this help other people stuff and basically all drives and motives and morals we have seem to all just come down to life's self-programmed "objective" of continuing life, and for us ,more specifically, continuing the species of humans. Even wanting to help others seems like an evolutionary mandate because if you help other people, they will usually help you. Agian, I'm not suggested this is bad or stupid, but rather that there is some internal drive telling us it's a good thing becuase it's beneficial for us and the whole species rather than some absolute good that exists within it.
I know this was a long jumbled writing, and I should organize my thoughts better in the future, but please let me know what you think. For now, I use those same "purposes" that many of you have, primarily happiness for others, but I'm also searching for more. If I found something I could truly believe in all the way, then I could commit my heart and sould to it.
Thoughts? Questions? Criticisms?