Monday, April 16, 2012

A Larger Purpose?

Humans have always been interested in finding the answer to the question “Why am I here?”; they constantly search for an explanation on the ultimate purpose of human existence. The inquiry into how far the human potential can stretch is one bothering the minds of many. For the ever-advancing human beings full of themselves it is hard to accept that they are here simply to be, to exist. They believe, or they strongly desire to, that there must be something more than a mere physical existence, something higher and more meaningful.

For a long time through human history, religion is the tool that gives the answers to these questions. Many, however, cannot agree with the church doctrines and try to find a better rationalization. Newton is one of these people. In his work, he manages to turn people into the most powerful creatures on earth resembling almighty gods. His theory puts people in control both over nature and over themselves. In his work the Principia, published in the 1660s, Newton attempts to uncover the principles of the universe. The implications are devastating for the church dogma but lead to positive outcomes for humans themselves. According to Newton's discoveries, a single man is able to reveal the ways in which God makes the world go. This involves the idea that human beings are in the possession of abilities that make them god-like creatures. They are rational beings who recognize natural laws and thus can control nature. They also have enormous potential to achieve more and develop conveniences to ameliorate their harsh living conditions. In his exceptional work, Newton puts humans on a high pedestal and gives them the power to control both themselves and the environment. They have a high potential for enhancing their way of life, for being able to dream in unlimited amounts and make these dreams come true. By understanding the past and controlling their current situation, humans are also able to predict and create the future they desire.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the 20th century, though, two men by the names of Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud turn Newton’s view upside down. Through their theories, Darwin and Freud remove humans from the high pedestal Newton put them on and make people doubt that they are the rational creatures Newton makes them believe they are. According to Darwin’s theory of evolution, humans have no higher purpose in life than survival and reproduction. Moreover, they have no control whatsoever over the evolutionary process. The environment itself selects certain traits that will aid survival and those who have them survive and pass their genetic heritage, while those who do not have them, eventually die out. As a result, it could be assumed that there is no design, no plan to be followed in order to become better and more productive. Rather, probability and random mutations are what people depend on to evolve the way they do. It is not only that humans have no control over evolution; the fact is that nobody else has control over it. This is a terrifying thought and not all are eager to accept it. Darwin’s theory turns people into organisms unable to control their existence. All they can do is simply to exist.
Another strike against the classical view of the world comes from a discipline that many argue is not even science: psychology. The idea that humans are not anywhere near being rational and reasonable stems from the work of the well-known Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. In the beginning of the 20th century, he manages to shake the belief that humans are more than any other class of animals. According to Freud’s theory, humans also act on instincts as other creatures, and the two most powerful urges that influence their behavior are sexual desire and the need for violence. These are definitely not the motives that make Newton’s human beings higher beings able to restrain primitive desires and act in a far more meaningful and purposeful way. What Freud claims is that anything people do is a result of either sexual and violent aspirations or a consequence of their suppression. These drives have an enormous impact on one's behavior and people's failure to acknowledge that influence adds to the instability of their condition. Human existence turns into a struggle to overcome these innate urges, which aids in their becoming even more insecure.

No one would argue that people enjoy feeling superior to other creatures and in control of their current behavior as well as of their future. They feel secure knowing they are strong and rational and have a purpose in life. Newton’s theory succeeds in installing in humans the belief that they have in reality the power to understand and control the universe and themselves. His theory implies humans’ vast potential and ability to become stronger and more knowledgeable. He tries to convince others that by using science as a tool, people can explain everything, that there is no mystery left in the universe. If they do not understand everything themselves, some scientist somewhere does or eventually will. Conversely, Darwin and Freud plant the seed of doubt as to whether people are really that much better than other creatures. They make humans slow down in their effort to control the world and think about the possibility that maybe they are not advanced species with a higher purpose in life. According to Darwin, everything a person does is ultimately related to allowing them to endure and pass on their genetic material to the next generation. There is absolutely nothing beyond the need to survive and reproduce. Not only that, but considering Freud’s theory, it turns out humans cannot be in control at all because they are irrational and imbalanced beings unable to avoid acting on their primitive and animalistic instincts. As a result, people are no longer that certain that they have found all the answers referring to the ultimate purpose of their existence. It is not important whether they accept or refute Darwin’s and Freud’s theories; what matters is that all in one way or another are influenced by their ideas and sometimes are overwhelmed by the scary feeling that Freud and Darwin might be right. It is so much easier to accept Newton’s belief in people’s huge potential. Despite one’s beliefs, however, the truth about the existence of a greater purpose in life is yet to be uncovered. Until then, as the awesomest turtles from Finding Nemo would say, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…:)

 - Krasi

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