FINDING MEANING BEYOND SURVIVAL
"A growing number of scholars suggest that it is not just our need to survive and reproduce that has driven this dynamic of ever greater complexity and extension. If it were only about survival, we would have maintained ourselves in far smaller numbers in a Paleolithic mode.
Rather, they believe, there is something deeper at work. If we are by nature an affectionate species that continuously seeks to broaden and deepen our relationships and connections to others, in effect to transcend ourselves by participating in more expansive communities of meaning, then our increasingly complex social structures provide vehicles for our journey. More complex energy-consuming civilizations allow human beings to compress time and space. AS mentioned, we extend our collective central nervous systems to encompass greater swaths of existence. We do so in order to find meaning in belonging to ever richer and deeper realms of reality. Hungarian polymath Michael Polanyi sees man as “the innovator and explorer, passionately pouring himself into an existence closer to reality.”
Author Edith Cobb agrees with Polanyi and goes a step further by suggesting that “If many is evolution become conscious, surely this is due to his own consciousness striving to join forces with the universe in this passionate pursuit of the realities of temporal and spatial relations.” Cobb believes that there is a force inherent in the human biology itself that is even more powerful than the classic Darwinian idea of self-reproduction. She writes that, “the need to extend the self in time and space– the need to create in order to live, to breathe, and to be– precedes, indeed, of necessity exceeds, the need for self-reproduction as a personal survival function.”
We begin to sense the possibility that there may be a purpose after all to the human journey: that the deepening sense of selfhood, the extension of empathy to broader and more inclusive domains of reality and the expansion of human consciousness, is the transcendent process by which we explore the mystery of existence and discover new realms of meaning.
Strict Darwinists might be aghast at such heresy. They would argue that the human compulsion to create more complex living arrangements and social structures is simply a manifestation of our innate biological need to assure our own individual survival and reproduction potential. Suffice it to say that critics have pointed out that the Darwinian assumption that any and every social innovation and construction that allows life to proliferate is ultimately traceable back to the need to perpetuate our genes becomes a bit tautological if not tiresome.
However, if we look closely at the historical evidence that chronicles the human journey, and especially the dialectical feedback between extended empathy and greater entropy, whole new possibilities for imagining human nature and the human quest open up for our consideration.
The recognition of another’s finite existence is what connects empathic consciousness to entropic awareness. When we identify with another’s plight, it’s their will to live that we empathize with and seek to support. The laws of thermodynamics, and especially the entropy law, tells us that every living moment is unique, unrepeatable, and irreversibly–we grow older, not younger–and for that reason we owe our very existence to the borrowed available energy of the Earth that makes up our physical being and that keeps us far away from an equilibrium state of death and decomposition. When we empathize with another being, there is an unconscious understanding that their very existence, like our own, is a fragile affair, which is made possible by the continuous flow of energy through their being. Only recently, however, have we become consciously aware that we each owe our well-being, in part, to the buildup of our own personal entropic debt in the surrounding environment.”