Excellence Reporter: Jean-François, what is the meaning of life?
Jean-François Gariépy: What do we mean by the word meaning? The meaning of something is its intended effect or signification. Hand waves, smiles and tears are all things that have some meaning, because we infer the message carried by these behaviors. There is someone behind the action. What is life carrying as a message? Who is behind life?
No one. We may, by a stretch of our imagination, hypothesize that some supernatural being has created the universe and the life that populates it. Thus, a so-called God may have inculcated into life the meaning that He envisioned for it. Even then, however, our quest for an answer would be incomplete. The supernatural being would be alive too, and finding the true meaning of life would then involve asking who is behind that God. Imagining supernatural entities is of very little help to our problem.
However, I may have went too far in stating that no one is behind life. We know that living things do come from something; they are produced by other living things, through reproduction. In consideration of this fact, we may say that “life is behind life”. Then, however, the meaning of life would be “life”.
Saying that something would be its own meaning is like saying it has no other meaning than what it is, no appealing reward to offer to those who want to think that reality isn’t enough and that something else has to underlie all of it. Life is what it is because it is based on DNA, and DNA creates copies of itself during reproduction, thus insuring that it can stay around for longer periods of time than most of the other complex groupings of atoms in our universe.
Beyond our living bodies, the rest of the space that extends into the cavernous expanse of the universe is filled with other configurations of atoms that simply tend to fade with time, not having found the tricks that DNA found to survive. The rapid and chaotic destruction of these glimpses of structure remind us that nothing is eternal, and that even DNA, which has sustained life for billions of years, will eventually be entirely annihilated, along with anything that our life form has ever produced.
~Jean-François Gariépy, PhD is the host and creator of NEURO.tv
Postdoctoral Researcher — Duke University
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