Is there anything as a fundamental, given, purpose of life? The answer to this question must have to be at the foundation of all philosophies and religions. Without life, no doubt the world would still exist, but there obviously would be no philosophy. A very interesting debate on the notion of development between two well known Indian intellectuals, Ashish Nandi and the late Gautam Adhikari more than 20 years ago on the opinion page of The Times of India, when many of us late mid-career folks were still in college, comes to mind. One only vaguely remembers the entire arguments, but just one point made by Adhikari to counter Nandi`™s rather esoteric model of development, stood out to grab attention so convincingly that it continues to remain registered in one`™s mind prominently even after so many years. Adhikari cited an incident in which Albert Einstein, during his anti-nuclear campaign in the 1970s was confronted by an irreverent American student during a lecture in one of the American universities. The student posed the question as to what objection the renowned scientist had to non-existence. In other words, what exactly did Einstein have against life being wiped off from the face of the earth, a prospect that was thought to be a genuine possibility at the time in the heat of the Cold War. According to Adhikari, Einstein was caught off the wrong foot and was unable to give a convincing or a coherent answer at that moment, but apparently the question troubled him so much that a week later he tried to answer the overwhelming question again in a newspaper article.
In the article, Einstein proposed that a fundamental presumption must have to be accepted by one and all without questioning. That presumption simply says `life is good`. The corollary of this axiom is, anything and everything that supports life is good and anything and everything that opposes life is bad. If this premise is not agreed upon, no rational discourse would be possible at all. All philosophies and religions would crumble too. So to the student`™s unsettling question about non-existence, Einstein`™s belated answer was, life must not be allowed to go extinct because it is good. That life is the essential and adequate meaning of life. To ask for a purpose of life beyond this would be meaningless as a rational proposition. Conceded that for believers in religion, the answer would probably be a little different. For them this meaning would be about a total surrender to the will of a higher supernatural order without questioning.
The inference from Einstein`™s argument is, all life wants to live. This is also empirically evident everywhere, both in the plant as well as in the animal kingdoms `“ life has a passion and lust for life. Even simple organisms as insects would run away if its life were to be threatened or else resort to defenses it is capable of. Plants seek out the sun and water, and find ingenuous ways to preserve and propagate its kind so as to ensure the survival of its species. Life has been found in the most unlikely places too, adopting itself to survive even in the middle of scalding hot natural hot water springs. But the answer is not so straightforward. For if this passion for living is evident, in so many cases, there are also life forms which exhibit none of these. Bill Bryson in `A Short History of Nearly Everything,` points this out with a touch of humour how it is confounding to imagine what ambitions in life sea creatures like the sponge or the garden moss could be having in life. All that the sponge for instance wants is seemingly to hang on the sides of rocks on the ocean floor without motion for thousands of years. Can there be anything as a `purpose` in life for them as humans understand the term? Bryson`™s conclusion is, often life just wants to be. This sense of life`™s vitality is a little more complicated for humans, blessed or cursed as they are with higher consciousness. Gregor Mallory, the man who is thought could have reached Mt. Everest summit three decades ahead of Edmund Hilllary in 1924, (it will never be known for he died near the summit either on the way to it or on the way back, along with his co-climber Andrew Irvine) summarized the need to stimulate and feel life`™s vitality in a spontaneous answer before his tragic but heroic expedition when he was asked why he wanted to go through the risk and torture of climbing Mt. Everest. In those days, such an expedition was indeed a great life risk. His answer: `Because it is there.`
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam