What is the Meaning of Life?

This past spring, for the Endnotes in E&S, we asked you the question "What is the meaning of life?"

As we celebrate the holidays, we thought we'd re-post some of our favorite answers, along with a few more that didn't make the magazine. 


"Understanding the meaning/purpose of life would undermine and prevent us from achieving its meaning/purpose."


"Looking for a universal answer to "What is the meaning of life?" is a betrayal of the question, because that is what the universe is asking *us*. To every living being, the Universe is posing the question: "LIFE...?" And how that being chooses to live, is its answer to the question."


"Leave the world a better place than when you arrived on it." 


"Since life itself is an anti-entropic phenomenon, it follows that this is also our purpose: reduce entropy and increase order.  This can be seen everywhere, from the preference in architecture for regular spacing in railings, the appeal of 'neat' handwriting, the thrill of organizing your book and music collection, and even nicely-laid-out traces in printed circuit boards."


"I think each person may have a different purpose for her or his life. So, the meaning of each life may be quite different. I *want* my life to be for loving those who haven't been loved. What does that really mean or look like? I don't know if there's a computer big enough to calculate that. "


"Life is a process by which valuable information is protected from the eventual breakdown of physical manifestation of information.  This is why we celebrate people who pass down what they know to many people and why we are saddened by the passing of people who did not have sufficient time.  Life also favors the higher value ideas by making the those in possession of the idea to be more productive."


"Friends (and also 42, of course)"


"Life is a game of balance.  We inhabitants of Earth must learn how to interact with each other (vegetable, animal and mineral), use limited resources wisely, and create a happy, sustainable existence for ourselves and our progeny without destroying ourselves or our lifeboat.  Depending on your beliefs, losers go extinct, are relegated to the sidelines of the afterlife, or get sent back to try again. "


"Life is the ebb and flow of energy and electrons.  What is meaningful is to discover nature's secrets of how energy and electron flow  are regulated and controlled."


"If I did not have strong memories of the Caltech community respecting minority opinions, I would be uncomfortable giving this answer. But I do, so here goes: as a practicing Christian I find myself defining the meaning of life in terms of doing what my Creator created me for. That would include things that apply to all of humanity, such as making sure that I respect the presence of God in each of my fellow humans. But in my case, because of the educational and career path I've followed, it also includes doing whatever I can to provide my fellow humans with a pathway to other planets, and potentially the stars. Because of that, I've found my approximately-42-year career as an aerospace engineer very personally rewarding. Not only did I do it well, but I always felt like it was what I was supposed to be doing. "


"Life is a search."


"Acts of kindness last forever."


"As we said in the 60's, 'Make love, not war.'"


"Chocolate, duh!"


"Invention is the meaning of life. Even my dog likes inventing games. I shouldn't say 'even,' my dog is quite smart."

 

"Family, friends, society with dance, art and music are the meaning of life. Science, medicine, history are the means of making life better. All can provide great joy to practitioners. As we packed our family to move overseas, we had to choose what to bring in our single container. Art, music, books (including the Feynman Lectures), antiques - these were first in."

 

"Life is all about leaving the world a better place for the future be that by raising children, giving a smile, lending a hand, making something beautiful, inventing a better gadget, improving health, or solving world peace.   Follow your passion!
Why should one expect there to be a meaning?"

 

"Perhaps an answer lies in the question, 'What is a life of meaning?'"

 

"The real mystery to me is why there's someting rather than nothing.  I don't mean a perfect vacuum, I mean simply not anything!  Once over that shock, I marvel at the universe in all its complexity, which without 'intellegent' life would just go unappreciated.  My studies have mainly taken me into the fields of inorganic chemistry and the earth (now planetary) sciences.  So I differ little from the layman regarding the details of organic chemistry and living matter.  The ultimate meaning of life lies far beyond me but I am enjoying the chance to participate...an actor thrown out onto the stage of life without a script to follow!  Some great minds have come up with interesting ideas, but no one yet has avoided his or her final curtain.  So I'll end where I began. The meaning of life is to find out that there's something rather than nothing."

 

"Life is a spacesuit for your DNA."

 

"First to seek God, then to find God, then to know God. After that, love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and love others as you love yourself."

 

"Beg pardon, but this is a really, really stupid question.  'Life' is a huge category including everything from viruses to humans.  The question erroneously presupposes only one meaning for all the organisms in the generalization.  The question doesn't recognize that meaning is a transitive event, namely between the object or event and the organism/person for whom it has meaning. (Omits "for whom" life has meaning.)  It ignores the context in which the meaning occurs."

 

"That is perhaps the most important human question. It is also outside the realm of science."

 

"What comes next."