Okay, so evolutionary psychology can answer questions regarding why we are the way we are. But that only pushes the line of questioning one level further — what about the question ‘why are we here at all’? In other words — Why evolution? Why life?
Before we try to answer that question, we need to reflect on what ‘why’ really is. What we need to understand is that the ‘Why?’ is merely a tool within our minds. It is a tool that helps us figure out the purpose or intention behind an action. We already discussed how from an evolutionary perspective, we are all unconsciously in a race to the top of a social hierarchy and that we’re competing with each other to get there. In this context, reflecting on ‘why’ is a tool that helps us figure out the purpose of other’s actions and what their intentions are, while also helping us formulate our own intentions.
‘Why’ by nature is a question about the reason, purpose or intention of something. But only conscious living beings can have a purpose or can see purpose in others’ actions. An object like a rock, for example, doesn’t have a purpose because it doesn’t have a mind. Similarly, processes like say the wind, or the waves, don’t have ‘intentions’, or ‘reasons’ or any ‘purpose’. That just doesn’t apply to things other than sentient beings. Purpose requires the existence of an agent with a plan. When it comes to evolution — it is merely a process, there’s no agent and there’s no plan.
Asking “why life?” is basically similar to asking ‘Why gravity?’, or ‘Why mass?’ or ‘Why the universe?’. Such questions don’t make sense and never will. These things exist. We can study how they work; we can study the rules. But there can just never be an answer as to why they exist, because that is not a valid question in the first place.
“Humans have always wondered about the meaning of life…life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA…life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” — Richard Dawkins
Some find it hard to accept that all of life around us is the result of a mindless algorithm. But it is a mistake to think otherwise. There is no grand plan, no ‘maker’ or ‘designer’. Evolution is definitely not an easy concept to get one’s head around. Richard Dawkin’s book The Blind Watchmaker is focused on helping people understand how such a complex world can emerge from an algorithm.
Evolution is just a process. It does not have a mind and therefore, doesn’t have a purpose. It is merely an algorithm, albeit an incredibly complex one. Our very useful tool that helps us figure out intention and purpose just does not apply to such processes. So the quick answer the question of “Why life?” is — there is no answer, and there can never be. It is like asking why the universe? or why the rock? or why the waves? We can explain the ‘how?’ part maybe, but when it comes to the ‘purpose’ or the ‘intention’ — there is none, there never was and there will never be.
‘Why?’ exists only inside our minds.
It is very unsettling to have this realization, right? It seems that this answer is unacceptable to many. It leaves a gaping hole at the center of our existence. Many fill this hole with answers that are entirely inaccurate and have no place in science. Many start believing that the purpose of life is to be reincarnated, or go to heaven or attain moksha — phenomenon for which there is not a spec of proof or evidence.
So the answers to the biggest questions one may have about life and existence are quite straightforward. We are merely vehicles of our genes, whose sole purpose is to propagate themselves. The process by which this happens is called evolution, and why all this happens is a question to which there can never be an answer.