The question is akin to a multivariate optimization exercise (well thats only going to satisfy one half of the brain, but I figure coming close to answer half of this question might be good enough). So that question is – what is the “objective function” of the complex optimization exercise called life? What is the “goal seek” for our “excel”ence in life?
That being the primary question, here is the secondary question -
What is the time horizon of this exercise?
Should we optimize life for this lifespan or include the relevance of our actions in the larger scheme of things? Many people will infer that I believe in rebirth or karma. Maybe I do, maybe I dont. I dont know. But I do know that our actions and the optimization solution will be different depending on whether we optimize for the 60-100 years that we are expected to leave, compared to the situation where we “goal seek” for the impact of our lives on our kids, their kids, subsequent generations, our planet, the universe, the combined conscience of humanity and this list goes on…
Often, when I delve on these questions, I start believing in the concept of the “matrix” (yes, the cult movie series). But more on this later. For now I will stop here. I promised to myself that I will resist the temptation to jump to answers and give the due credit to the question.
I had a nice long discussion with one of my good friends, Ravi Ivaturi. Ravi’s view is that the objective of life should be ‘the original’ reason why life evolved in the first place’. I think this opinion is a good example of deductive logic. I beg to differ. This logic assumes that a life came about for a reason, and on top of that assumes that life has no free will and it should do whatever it was destined for. This is similar to the argument:
Premise: Every event has a cause
Premise: The universe has a beginning
Premise: All beginnings involve an event
Inference: Implies that the beginning of the universe involved an event
Inference: Therefore the beginning of the universe had a cause
Conclusion: The universe had a cause
In other words, since life exists, a reason for creation of life must have existed, and hence that should be the objective of life. But in my view, as living beings, its our prerogative to explore what is our free will. But free will is not free till we free ourselves of ignorance of choices that may exist and we may not know. So let me share the universe (pun intended) of MECE choices that come to my mind, and I am sure there are others that I am ignorant about :
Option 1: Lead an agnostic life
Such a person makes no effort to optimize the outcome of his life as such a person assumes that either objective function cannot be known or pursued.Pros - Simple uncomplicated and spontaneous life experience. Cons - The outcome is purely path dependent
Option 2: Optimize lifetime around material dimensions
Such a person spends his/her lifetime in pursuit of maximization of one of the popular dimensions such as wealth, fame, pleasure, ethics, self-pity etc or in most cases a combination thereof. Pros - Provides focus and direction to one’s life, less confusion/self-doubt. Cons - The outcome seems spiritually deficient in most cases
Option 3: Optimize lifetime holistically in all known dimensions
This is where every decision of such a conscious and mature individual pursuing this option becomes a complex optimization exercise as many dimensions trade-off against one-another. Pros - If exercised effectively, the outcome of this choice can be considered a local maxima. Cons - Lack of focus due to competing objectives, low success rate due to higher complexity
Option 4: Optimize lifetime and its impact across time and space around all known and unkown dimensions
A person pursuing this choice will first have to be become aware of the purpose of his life as if he/she were one with the universe of universes, the known and the unkown, the past, present, and the future. I think this awareness is known by different names such as enlightenment, Nirvana, Moksha, and I am sure there are many others. And on attainment of this knowledge, he/she will spend the remainder of life in pursuit of this purpose. Pros - Outcome imho should be the global maxima of one’s life.Cons - Successful practice of this choice is so rare, mathematics and common wisdom would consider the chances of its successful outcome as near zero, and therefore not even worth a shot. But logic is a very weak tool to assess this choice.
Ravi found these choices as a good starting point as it appealed to his structured thought process and he remarked – “Hmm….interesting choices… ascending order of non-linearity/complexity”.
Ravi and I did agree on one of the dimensions of the objective function of life. That parameter is “good health”. Unarguably, one should lead life while ensuring one does whatever in one’s control to ensure good health, both in present and in future. Assuming good health leads to a longer lifespan (in most cases), this ensures that one has a longer window of opportunity to attain the maxima in life. Good health enables one to perform better in most material and spiritual quests. In summary, pursuit of this objective/goal seemed to hold its water against all the dimensions of analysis that we could think of.
Even if this e-shastrarth (an Intellectual discussion between Pundits, in Ancient India) does not yeild much else, I think this is a good take away – one should invest in good health. Obviously, it is not the only objective of one’s life, but it definitely brings one closer to achieving the objective of life. Hopefully other dimensions will reveal themselves as I continue this quest.
Now that we have established that maximization of good health is unarguably one of the dimensions of achieving maximum out of one’s life, can there be more low hanging fruit in this quest? Can something like morality or ethics that most people consider noble and righteous be another such undisputable category.
The answer to this, according me, depends on definition of morality or ethics. According the Marriam Webster Online Dictionary:
morality is defined as: conformity to ideals of right human conduct
ethics are defined as: the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation
As exemplified in above definitions, such words cannot be defined without the use of another word that is subjective to a person’s, society’s, country’s, or local social context’s set of beliefs. Words such as right, wrong, good, bad – words that are subjective by design. In some societies, polygamy is considered bad, while it is encouraged in some. Some people may consider it virtuous to give a few bucks to a panhandler, while some will argue that it kills their will to earn their livelihood.
Therefore, asserting that one should lead a moral life only demands one to act in accordance with the tacit or codified rules of one’s local context. This however can be considered a maximizing dimension for a homogenous local context such as a given family, neighbourhood, society, country as long as every member of that subsystem holds the same set of values (definition of right/wrong and good/bad).
So the quest continues, maybe the answer is 42 but I kinda like the process argument better… but then should'nt process have a starting and end state? Is the starting state – birth and end state – demise? I will stick with 42, but it at least gives me a semblance of purpose to my life… Happy Living to you all!
What is the purpose of life?