Philosophy  •  September 10, 2001   

Purpose of Purpose

To be busy is a peculiar thing. Most of us feel good when we are busy. From time to time, we might wish that we weren’t so busy, but once we are no longer busy, we realize how much better it is to be busy. We do not like to be idle. Idle time is painful, because we lose our sense of purpose, or direction in life. Why do we feel better when we have a purpose? This is the peculiar thing. If you truly question what purpose is, purpose itself seems to have no purpose.

Is a sense of purpose, something built into our conscience, psyche, body, DNA, intelligence, or instinct? It’s quite possible that it is built into our language, or communication/thought system. That is, our sense of purpose is a byproduct of our logical/intellectual devices such as cause and effect. I’m just proposing a hypothesis here. We do after all, fall victim of our own language all the time.

Have you ever counted how many things you accomplished within a day before you went to sleep, just to make yourself feel better? When you can name and count a lot of things, you feel satisfied and can fall asleep peacefully. But think about it; many things we do in our daily lives do not have specific names to them, or they do not have a clearly definable purpose to them. When you have a lot of them in a day, you feel bad. When something does not have a tangible word or label for it, it feels, umm, intangible. It’s almost like when a word exists for something, you feel like there is a material, physical substance there; as if you can hold it in your hand. When there is no word for it, it feels airy, ephemeral. This difference actually affects us emotionally. Or rather, we let it affect us. Quite possibly, if we moved to a country whose language has words for some of these activities, we might not feel so bad at night.

I’m thinking, perhaps, purpose is like that too. In our thought system, every symbol like a word, a number, or a diagram, has a specific purpose that it serves. If a symbol is not given a purpose, it will fail to make sense. As you are walking along with your friend on a country road, without any particular reason or purpose, suddenly you utter, “Computer.” Your friend will have to ask you what you meant by it. Naturally, he has to assume that there was a purpose in your utterance. If he finds out that it had no purpose, he must conclude that you had no intention of communicating. It’s like, in chess, moving your pawn 5 spaces ahead. The only thing that this gesture may communicate is that you do not wish to play.

Perhaps we assume the same for our own lives. If we do not see any purpose in our lives, we feel like we are suggesting to ourselves that we do not wish to live. Our sense of guilt when we are not productive or purposeful, is a product of our own thought system. I’m just proposing this. I’m not really sure myself, if this is true. This little essay seems to have no purpose, but I feel fine about it. So, maybe it’s wrong.