As a followup to the post, Real Answers to Meaning-of-life Questions, these videos feature Richard Dawkins answering the question, “Why are we here?”
It starts out like this:
The human race is one of the wonders of the universe. We may be unique. And of all our remarkable properties, one stands out. It is that we are restlessly drawn to ask questions like, “Why are we here?” What is the purpose of life?
He answers these questions in this way:
Technology is human goal-seeking writ large. And once human beings set themselves to a goal, they force the pace of evolution themselves. This is an entirely new kind of evolution: Non-genetic evolution. Advancing at a speed that may be a million times faster than the genetic evolution it resembles.
We see its product everywhere, in the technology of the modern world. We have built a technological world that lets us move far beyond the dictates of nature, and it allows us to do astonishing things. We alleviate hunger with new strains of crops. We predict the weather with high speed computers, and cure diseases with pharmaceuticals. Through technology we have filled the world with purposeful creations.
But technology does something else. It breeds an odd habit of thought. An animal who invents will look at the world in a far different way than any other animal. We see the world through purpose-colored spectacles.
Because we create things for a purpose, in the past we assumed that there was purposeful design in nature too. There wasn’t, as it happens. It took Darwin to realize this. He looked deep into the heart of nature and discovered a beautiful mechanism which blindly simulates the illusion of purpose. For the first time, an evolved creature had seen beneath nature’s veil, and worked out what nature was really up to. It is this spirit of inquiry that drove Darwin that gives our life meaning, and still drives us today.
Powered by our technical capacity, our flexible behavior and our rapid communication of new ideas, we have burst out beyond the confines of our atmosphere to explore new worlds. And our minds have ventured even further. We have looked across the deserted vacuum of space to distant galaxies. Which means we have looked backwards in time to the very birth of the universe and of time itself. At the other extreme we have looked deep into the atom, at the strangeness of subatomic particles. And most amazing of all we have dissected the living cell, finally unraveling the digital codes of the genes themselves. And still we are not satisfied.
We reach out in our search for meaning, until we suddenly realize that it is we who provide the purpose in a universe that would otherwise have none. Nothing else can do it, at least nothing that we know of.
In a small, otherwise unimportant corner of the universe, a birth is celebrated: the birth of deliberate purpose, planning, design, foresight. For all we know, it may be an unprecedented event. We have no evidence that it has ever occurred anywhere else, and after we are gone, it may never happen again.
We can leave behind the ruthlessness, the waste, the callousness of natural selection. Our brains, our language, our technology make us capable of forward planning. We can set up new purposes of our own. And among these new goals can be the complete understanding of the universe in which we live. A new kind of purpose is abroad in the universe. It resides in us.
To learn more, see The meaning of life for details.