Purpose in life

Some people have no purpose

The beginning of this post is actually about The Alchemist. I left that bit out though.

There is a Chinese proverb that goes like this:

“When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other.”

But what if you only had one penny? Bread or lily? Bread and survive, or lily and die. Which one? If I knew that I would only get bread and never any lily for the rest of my life, it seems pointless to survive for the sake of surviving. There isn’t any logical answer to this, although many Christians would probably give a moral answer: the former, because the latter constitutes suicide, a sin.

“How is it that one knows this is what I’m put on the planet to do?” Questions like this assume the existence of “Personal Legend”, the purpose of life. I have met many people who apparently have their own Personal Legends, but to claim that absolutely all of us are born with one is rather presumptuous.

I have met some people who, at no apparent fault of their own, had no passion for anything. I believe that many are born that way. Most kids are interested in everything, but there are some who are not interested in anything. We are tempted to assume that there is something wrong with them, but I do not agree that this is necessarily the case. If we project problems onto them, they will end up with a complex, an unnecessary feeling of guilt for not feeling passionate. “The Alchemist” was written by someone who had the passion, “Personal Legend,” but it would be a stretch to claim that absolutely everyone is born with one. How would he know?

I find those who live like a floating cork in the ocean to be very peaceful and pleasant. No pursuit, no goal, no purpose. Eat when hungry, sleep when sleepy. Goals and purpose in life tend to cause internal conflicts, which explains why many successful people I know are some of the most miserable people, and those who do not have any goals, are most peaceful with themselves. When you are concerned about your immediate survival, the question of the meaning of life does not come into your mind. The purpose becomes self-evident. You don’t “have” a purpose; it’s just there.

In my mid-twenties, when I was trying to figure out the meaning of life in my own way, I approached the problem in the exact opposite way from “The Alchemist.” I challenged myself to give up everything. Soon I found that it was much harder and more painful to give up goals, purposes, and ideals than to pursue them. I spent all my spare time sitting on a park bench, or sitting at home staring at a wall. I had no TV. I gave away all my CDs. At one point, I didn’t even allow myself to read. I wanted to know if I could do nothing and have no conflict within myself. If this could be accomplished, anything I do should be a joy, I figured. Nothing would be taken for granted. I wouldn’t have to have a nice apartment, car, girlfriend, fun job, good food, or vacation. I would not need a feeling of accomplishment, success, pride, confidence, fame, or talent. I wanted to attain nothingness and be peaceful with it. But eventually I was faced with a paradox of having the goal of not having one. So, to be consciously purposeless was a matter of impossibility. I realized that it had to lie outside of my consciousness.

For those who are logically inclined, Ludwig Wittgenstein in his “Tractatus” dealt with the riddle of life in the most profound way:

When the answer cannot be put into words, neither can the question be put into words.

The riddle does not exist.

If a question can be framed at all, it is also possible to answer it.

We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. Of course there are then no questions left, and this itself is the answer.

The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem. (Is not this the reason why those who have found after a long period of doubt that the sense of life became clear to them have then been unable to say what constituted that sense?)

The correct method in philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing except what can be said.

From his perspective, the purpose of life cannot be put into words, not even whether it exists or not. I feel that this is the most rational answer. Why assume for others what one happens to have for oneself? For me, Wittgenstein was a true alchemist.


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