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The Real Meaning of Life and Human Existence

Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you're alive, it isn't. Richard Bach


The human condition is a complex and multifaceted one. Commentary is presented on a few of the most significant aspects.

Formation of Character

It seems likely personality is formed from a combination of what is innate and from the effects of early influences. Although slight change might occur in later years personality is largely determined within the first decade of life.

The mind is complex and what creates us, and what drives us, is far from easily understood.

Freedom of the Will

Maybe we have free will, maybe we don't. The potential rewards are greater and the losses less if we work on the assumption that we do. Similarly a belief in some greater reality or purpose beyond this finite incarnation is favored.

The most likely scenario is that most of what happens in the material plane is deterministic. Occasionally, spirit is able to influence the micro-quantum level to exercise its will upon the physical.

It is therefore prudent to live purposefully in the pursuit of some predefined goal(s). See Free Will - fact or fallacy?


Every action changes forever, however slightly, the destiny of the universe. Every experience changes forever, however slightly, the nature of the man.

Life is finite. Its purpose is the achieve the dual goals of significance and satisfaction. Earthly pleasure is transient, thus it is ultimately insignificant and unsatisfying. True satisfaction comes only from making a (positive) difference to what otherwise might have been.


Time constantly marches forwards. Whilst we may savour a moment we can never possess it. Human existence, earthly incarnation is finite. Indeed, the earth itself along with the physical universe may also have a finite existence. This existence is either part of some far greater whole, or it is completely without meaning. If it is without meaning then each and every earthly act or achievement is totally futile. If it is part of some greater whole then material acquisition beyond the satisfaction of basic need is nothing more than a distraction at the side of that infinite pathway. Far better to seek growth of the spirit through experience and understanding.


Notwithstanding the inescapable uncertainty and transience which enshrouds human existence the rational being will still seek satisfaction. True satisfaction , i.e. that which does not die with the relentless passage of time, results not from hedonism, but from the sense of meaningful achievement resulting from living with a purpose.

The simultaneous existence of various societies with differing values, customs and ethical codes, as well as the differences in accepted values found over time within a single society/culture, supports the hypothesis that good and evil are not absolute but relative concepts. An individual is born, by pure fate, into one of these distinct groups and is generally conditioned by that particular group throughout its early years.

The more fortunate individual is born into the society best suited to its unique character. Most will find discrepancy between their environment and their ideal. These are faced with the choice of acceptance (consciously or through ignorance), moving to something more suited, seeking to change the existing order or outright rebellion (which carries the risk of potentially negative consequences).

The rational being will most likely choose to live in the society most suited to its unique character, and furthermore, that once established within that society may seek to exert its influence upon it in order to shape it even closer to its vision of an ideal.

We can pursue but a single pathway. Choices must be made between competing options and this inevitably means rejecting some potentially hopeful possibilities. Make choices based on reason supported by instinct, and having done so do not regret. Hold the knowledge that the alternative would have been worse and that the best choice was made in the light of circumstances and available knowledge.

Do not seek change for change's sake, but do not fear change when change represents opportunity for progress and growth. Evaluate risks against potential gains and decide accordingly.

We are born into unique circumstances and with unique character. The first step to fulfillment is acceptance of these realities and a resolve to make the best of them. Self may change in the light of knowledge and experience, but change should not not be sought for its own sake. Dissatisfaction is unproductive and wasteful of energies that could be used creatively. Being comfortable with the true self, and acceptance of the unalterable circumstances in which it exists, is the basis and essential prerequisite for purposeful growth.


The pursuit of excellence is a noble one, and indeed the acceptance that one has done enough is tantamount to an admission of redundancy. However the harsh reality is that the the earthly incarnation, the human form, is inevitably imperfect. No single being can ever achieve all that there is to be achieved, not even within the narrowest of domains. This should not prevent individuals from striving to fulfill their full potential, nor from obtaining satisfaction from achievements, however limited these may be on a universal scale.

Right and Wrong

We are, each of us, individual and unique entities pursuing individual, unique and often conflicting goals.

But given we can prove nothing beyond our own existence who is to say what is good or evil, right or wrong? In a system without law he who is able is free to express his will in any way he desires, even to the detriment of others unable to resist him. This is the law of the jungle, of mother nature.

Where we disagree with others' conception of right and wrong I believe we have the right to do so, and we have the right to express our disagreement and our reasons for it and to attempt to persuade others to our point of view. But I do not believe we have the right to force them to change their conception to conform to ours.

The human spirit is sufficiently complex that it cannot always understand the reasons for its own leanings. But given the impossibility of defining absolute right or wrong and the finiteness of time prolonged self-examination is ultimately pointless. Instead it is better to be loyal to one's instincts whilst retaining sufficient openness to be convinced otherwise in the light of persuasive enough evidence.


Mankind observed the benefits of society, of cooperation and specialization. In order to encourage maximum cooperation and hence to create maximum benefit he devised and enforced laws.

We are, each of us, born into an established society with established laws. We are conditioned by that society and by the individual knowledge and experience that we gain. We form a personal conception of right and wrong which is continually modified throughout our experience.

But laws vary from culture to culture, from society to society and from time to time. Who then is to say what is good or bad law?

And one justification of laws is to maximize the total welfare enjoyed by members of the society in which they apply, but not necessarily to maximize the total welfare of every individual. Thus there will be those who will have reason to break laws because they believe their welfare will be improved by doing so.

Breaking the law is effectively taking a gamble, a consideration of the potential gain against the potential loss weighted by the perceived probability of success.

A single set of laws applies to all members of a society regardless of whether each and every member agrees with them. An individual or group is able, if sufficiently strong and well-resourced, to impose its will upon others. The strength or resources enjoyed by an individual or group have no bearing on its righteousness, whatever meaning, if any, may be attached to righteous. It may be the case that the most righteous view will be shared by the strongest group (in terms of numbers), but it may also be the case that the group enjoying the most privileged position will impose laws designed to protect its status. This is the mechanism by which class systems are perpetuated.

A society with just laws motivates individuals to contribute more since it guarantees greater freedom to enjoy the fruits of their labours, the more individuals contribute the more society as a whole has to offer its members.

Laws are created to favor the existence of some ideal, which might be utilitarianism, equality, maximum opportunity, maximum wealth creation Esc etc. However, since these ideals may differ determining that which should be pursued is a purely subjective process.


Utilitarianism may be defined as the ideal of the greatest good to the greatest number. But it is a hollow and meaningless ideal since the greatest good and the greatest equality are different states. Utilitarianism alone cannot be pursued within a society, instead more concrete ideals must be defined and justified. However, in the absence of absolute right and wrong there will always be competing ideals with legitimate claims to supremacy.

Human Nature

Individuals generally act to maximize the welfare of the individual, or occasionally of the small group of which it is a part. Apparent selflessness may also be a part of maximizing the welfare of the individual. A fair and equal society is one in which there is less motive for anyone to harm his neighbour. Thus an individual advocating such a society is advocating one in which there is less motive to harm him.

It is for this reason that too much power placed in the hands of any single individual or small group is dangerous.


Undoubtedly one of the most powerful human motivators is love, the unconditional elevation of the rights and welfare of another to a status equal or superior to that of our own. Most commonly love is felt between a man and a woman or between parent and child and thus may be said to serve the purpose of the survival of the species. It may also be felt for an arbitrary grouping such as nation or religion and thus serves the continuing prosperity of that grouping. This latter example is surely a distortion of the inherent natural instinct.


We are all born into unique circumstances. We are all born as unique individuals with unique character(istic)s, strengths and weaknesses. As we are unique so we are not equal.

We should be treated equally by the law of the society in which we live. We should be treated equally in terms of employment opportunity, if only because equality of consideration maximizes our employer's gain.

Despite the ideal of an equal society we are all influnced by personal prejudice, rational or otherwise. We have certain stereotypes we feel more positively towards than others. This is neither right nor wrong, it simply is. But we must carry the awareness that our prejudices may ultimately be detrimental to our own quality of existence.

State intervention that eliminates inequality, in terms of material reward, is as undesirable as the total lack of state intervention that would inevitably result in massive inequality of opportunity.

Some are born into far more favourable conditions than others. Those that attain material success through hard work or innate talents should have the right to pass the fruits of their achievements to whosoever they choose, most usually their offspring. However, it is undesirable for society to be so far biased against those born into less favourable circumstances that civilisation is likely to collapse as a result of those unfortunates being driven to take arms against their perceived opressors.

A compromise may be found by designing legal and fiscal systems to limit, but not eliminate inequality. We should all be guaranteed a dignified minimum standard of living, quality of education, standard of healthcare, protection under the law etc. State benefits should be directed towards those that need them, rather than those that qualify merely by age or any circumstance other than need.

Those that are most able should be taxed at higher marginal rates than their less fortunate peers. The state should not foot the bill for geriatric care for those who are able, or have descendants who are able, to foot the bill for themselves. The state should maintain the right to take a portion of the estates of those who die, where those estates exceed some threshold.

The Individual, Society and the State

The state is that central authority which makes and enforced the laws to which a particular society is subject.

Did it arise to formalize the notion of society and thus protect the resultant benefits of cooperation and division of labour through the
the creation and prosecution of laws? Such a state promotes good citizenship by virtue of both the carrot (rewards of labour) and stick (punishment for criminality).

Or did it arise as a mechanism to consolidate and legitimize the exploitation of the weak by the strong?

Or are its origins a mixture of both, or does it have some other root(s)?

Individuals are born into a given society and subject to a given set of laws by chance. They may choose to accept the conditions of the society into which they were born, to change the conditions within that society, or to join a different society to which they are more suited.

The options within the second course might include the building of popular support, the running for office in a democracy, the pursuit of position of influence or, in the extreme, undertaking vile acts in order to put one's point across.

It is the final option which is labeled terrorism and widely condemned by established regimes. Indeed it is often complete innocents who suffer from its effects. But can we dismiss the desperate acts of the hopelessly oppressed as being pure evil? The more any established regime denigrates, the more it subdues, that to which it is opposed, the further that which is opposed is driven to extreme action.

It is the greatest challenge to mankind to accept the relativity of morality and to find tolerance and space for those that hold alternative views. It is, perhaps, only those who cannot find this space and tolerance who should face universal condemnation and wrath.

Relationship with Nature

Mankind possesses by far the superior intellect on planet earth making him unquestionably the dominant species. As such do we have the right to exploit all other life forms for our own ends? Given the relativism of morality is it possible to even attempt to answer this question?

Nature may be seen as a vast self-supporting system capable of providing for its entire membership. We now stand at a point at which we have the capacity to destroy our very means of sustenance should we choose to do so, but to do so would be unwise since it would imply our own destruction too. As such any exploitation of the earth's resources should be responsible.


Democracy is supposedly the system of governance of society which is determined by its membership. It should permit an individual to influence its society from within. In practice government is realistically open only to major parties with the means to present their case effectively to the masses. Furthermore there is usually little to choose in practical terms between the electable parties since all are subject to a non-changing establishment.

In contrast to democracy various forms of unelected dictatorship exist in which power rests with an individual or elite. Such powers may serve a variety of purposes; e.g. self-perpetuation, the good of the masses... To a certain extent these powers too exist only at the will of those they govern since the power of the whole exceeds that of a few, so any alternative which is able to gain sufficient strength of support has the capacity to itself become government.


Human nature is such that the individual tends to feel loyalty towards the groups of which it is a member, be they family, neighbourhood, company, political allegiance, country, race etc. I make a distinction between those groups which one positively chooses to join (such as political party), and those over which one has no control. And in the second category I distinguish between those of which the individual has a direct, personal intimacy with (e.g. family) and those more distant (e.g. country).

It is the final category which I find hardest to comprehend since I feel no allegiance to my country whatsoever. National boundaries are man-made, and while different countries and their corresponding nationalities have distinct characteristics it is pure chance as to whether an individual born into a particular country would feel an affinity with its national characteristics.

Perhaps the widespread phenomena of patriotism is evidence for character being formed by one's environment rather than being innate. But I do not believe patriotism is a universally felt emotion and neither do I believe it is a constructive one. At its worst patriotism denigrates those of other nationalities and races and may even lead to international/interracial conflicts. At best it limits one's thinking to an artificially restricted domain.


War is the state in which two groups are openly aggressive to each other. The groups may be national, religious, political etc. Wars are characterized by large numbers fighting for a common objective and encouraged or forced to do so by a far smaller leadership.

Do all those engaged in war believe sincerely in the cause for which they fight? Or do they fight as a result of ignorance exploited by insidious indoctrination?

Is war one of the worse outcomes of too much power residing in the hands of too few? Is war the result of a rogue group seeking to oppress others? Or, given the impossibility of defining right and wrong, is it the ultimate, and sometimes inevitable, means of conflict resolution?

War exacts a terrible cost from its participants, both victors and vanquished. A comprehensive and unbiased (if such a thing is possible) education for all is a major disincentive to war since it provides its recipients with the tools to question.


By what right may individuals stake a claim to ownership of the earth's resources? Effort is rewarded by the right to enjoy resources and this is not disputed for were it not so there would be little or no incentive to make effort. The question is more concerned with claims to ownership of the earth itself, i.e. of land.

Modern history is dominated by two major competing socio-political ideologies, namely capitalism and socialism. The former is driven by market economics underpinned by distinct ownership of land, the latter considers land to be the shared property of all and advocates the need for an all-powerful and benevolent state. Undoubtedly the former has been the more successful at wealth creation, but at the cost of greater inequality and real or perceived injustice with the result of a lessened quality of life due to crime and disregard for the welfare of others. It is highly debatable as to how much additional wealth, above and beyond necessity, adds to the more subjective measure that is quality of life.

Individuals vary in strength, ability and willingness to contribute. It follows that the rewards enjoyed by individuals will also vary, as will the levels of such rewards passed down to their descendants. But how did land come to be owned? Because some of our far distant ancestors were better at fighting for territory, or at taming nature in its raw, or were sufficiently subservient to the right masters. Whatever the reason it is now lost in the mists of time leaving a status quo in which the right to acquire a piece of the earth comes at a very high cost, and the legitimacy of those from which it must be acquired is highly questionable.


Throughout its existence mankind has felt the need to seek and identify with an unseen superior power, which may be labeled God. Some claim direct experience of such power. Whether God actually exists, and if so what its nature is are unanswerable questions, except to those claiming direct experience. However, the concept of God undeniably exists.

Numerous religions exist based upon the teachings of various prophets and enlightened ones. Undeniably religions have been abused by men as a means of control over their followers. It is however interesting to note the commonality to be found among independent and individually developed religions which implies that they may indeed be attempts at describing a central underlying truth.

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