Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children. - George Bernard Shaw
Question #91071 posted on 04/05/2018 11:35 a.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

What is the purpose of life?

I know the Plan of Salvation, and I also know we don't know everything about heaven and the eternities yet, and that's ok. It's just that as I consider the PofS it doesn't seem to answer the existential question of "why life?" that we purport it to, but rather the PofS simply relegates the question to a larger scale. Is the purpose of it all just joy for joy's sake? I know, I shouldn't say "just;" joy is phenomenal!! We live our lives the best we can and hope and seek after that joy referenced in 2 Nephi 2:25, and even if this life on earth was all we got, I'd still be totally content with that answer, and nor can I think of a better one. Even so, will it be celestial joy for celestial joy's sake (and the joy of bringing the same growth and joy opportunities to our spirit children)? Again, I'm totally cool with that, I just hear people ascribe so much meaning in having the PofS, when to me it leads right back to the same questions, and I feel alone in that. Do we truly have an emergently more meaningful answer than The Simpsons?

-I found squirrels!

A:

Dear Aziraphale,

To be honest, I've never thought about this question before, but now that you bring it up, I find it absolutely fascinating. 

Here's what I think: Asking about the purpose of life doesn't exactly make sense in an eternal framework. Hmmm... I'm having a bit of difficulty expressing my thought process in plain English at this point, so allow me to give a mathematics example that illustrates the concept I'm attempting to communicate.

Consider a simple optimization problem with a polynomial as the objective function and affine constraints (translation: pretend you're looking at a wavy line drawn inside a rectangle, and you want to find the place on the wavy line that's higher than all the other places on that line). Like so:

 purpose of life.png

Within the pictured box, it would appear as though our wavy line reaches it's highest value somewhere around 2 (looking at the numbers along the bottom of the box). But what if we make our box bigger? Say that instead of making it go from -3 to 5, we make it go from -3 to 1000:

bigger purpose of life.png

This is still the same wavy line as before, but now we're seeing a heck of a lot more of it. This time, our highest value seems happen somewhere right before 1000. It's clear that the highest value is not obtained at 2, like we thought before. 

Obviously I can't post a picture of this wavy line that's not in a box, but if we were to remove the box, it would turn out that there's actually no place where we can get a highest value on this line; it just keeps on going up even higher forever. Thus, asking for the exact place where our wavy line is highest no longer makes sense without the box.

Learning that our existence is eternal removes our box, and by doing so fundamentally changes how life can be correctly viewed; the meaning of life can no longer be thought of in the same way. Indeed, I don't know what the correct way to think about the meaning of life is in an eternal context. I do know that common goals often sought after such as extending life are rendered nonsensical--everyone will live forever anyways. I think that finding meaning becomes a question about how best to elevate our state of existence, and thereby experience joy.

~Anathema

A:

Dear person,

I love when I come into contact with people like you. I often find myself asking questions that apparently no one else can relate to and sometimes I feel alone, too. 

I believe there is a great deal of mystery that makes the question of the meaning of life unanswerable in any final sense, at least as far as mortal human minds go. I will tell you what I think, though. 

First, I don't believe in a universal meaning of life. This is because I don't think that meaning can be found in contextless abstractions. For example, we could say that the meaning of life is love, but that abstract notion is meaningless compared to, say, the specific love I have for a particular friend due to all of the experiences we have shared. Ultimately, I don't think that there is an objective meaning "out there" (independently from anyone) because meanings are always subjectively experienced by someone.

Second, I think there are a wide variety of potential meanings that could be morally good. I think it's probably true that God intends for us to find and choose our own. Though Viktor Frankl was not LDS, I think I agree with his thoughts on this subject. The following is an excerpt from Man's Search for Meaning:

The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour... To put the question [of the meaning of life] in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to the chess champion: "Tell me, master, what is the best move in the world?" There is simply no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one's opponent. The same holds for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment... the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. 

One last thought that just occurred to me. I think the Plan of Salvation could be a source of so much meaning to people because it's basically anti-nihilism. That is, the Plan of Salvation is a direct contradiction of the idea that nothing can be meaningful because ultimately we will all die and not exist and leave basically no impact on the universe. 

-Sheebs