Philosophy  •  September 16, 2002   

Purpose of Purpose - 2002 version

“Purpose” is essentially a “center” in Post-structuralist’s sense of the term. The stronger the center is, the more stable its components are. We have a natural tendency to seek centers in everything that we do. Wittgenstein argued that the problem with St. Augustine’s attempt at defining what time is, did not lie in the definitions themselves, but in his attempt at finding a singular, or central, definition that encompassed all of what we consider “time”. In other words, the problem was in his habit of seeking a center.

The idea of having a center is so naturally attractive to us that conscious “deconstructing” or “de-centering” is always necessary in order not to fall into that trap. This is especially difficult in the West where everything is so centered. Look at even holidays that we have here. (Today, happens to be Yom Kippur.) Every holiday in the West has some sort of center, whether it is Christ, Allah, or Moses. In Japan, most holidays have no centers. It’s actually pretty funny: New Year’s Day, Coming of Age day or Young Adults Day, National Foundation Day, Spring Equinox, Nature Day, Constitution Day, People’s Day, Monday after Children’s Day, Day of the Sea or Marine Day, Monday after Respect for the Elders Day, Autumn Equinox, School Sports Day, Monday after Culture Day, Labor Thanksgiving Day, Emperor’s Birthday. The only one that has a clear center is the last one. To the Westerners who are so used to having a center in everything, these national holidays of Japan sound almost like jokes. And, this is not a result of trying not to offend people of various religions; it’s always been this way.

Purpose in life, therefore, becomes a more pressing issue in the West. The need for a center comes from having too much “play” or looseness, and the lack of center also encourages the play. The purpose of life, therefore, has a functional purpose: it secures the center and stabilizes one’s life. For this reason, the purpose in life becomes a necessity for many people. One might ask, “Then, isn’t a center necessary for everyone? Wouldn’t everyone’s life be an utter chaos without a center?” For many, having a center is a good compromise, but it is not absolutely necessary.

Each cell of our bodies do whatever it does every day without being aware of its contribution to the whole. It has no purpose at least in its own consciousness (that is, even if it were conscious). What drives the cell to do what it does is what I would call, for the lack of a better sounding word, “drive”. Drive is unconscious, so it cannot function as a center. In fact what this drive makes you do, do not have any consistency or coherence, and therefore avoid having a singular definition. Drive is not part of “yourself” in the vernacular sense of the term. One can look at someone with drive to be “driven” by something other than himself. When this drive exists, purpose, or center, has no meaning. In fact, most of us had this when we were children, when every day was filled with adventures, excitements, and joys. As our egos gradually developed, we became more preoccupied with controlling and stabilizing them. Eventually the drive is so muddled up in the noise of our egos that we can’t hear it. This is when a center becomes necessary, because, otherwise, your life is a chaos. For this purpose of having a purpose, virtually anything would do: Moses, Christ, Allah, Buddha, Yoda, a king, a queen, a philosopher, an artist, a writer, a rock star, Oprah, Anthony Robbins, money, art, science, politics, a race, sex, the earth, the sun, a planet, the moon, a nation, a flag, space aliens, Nike, Sony, IBM, Microsoft, or DYSKE.

Does a purpose in life exist? It does, in a sense that anything can be a purpose in life. Is there such a thing as the absolute purpose of life? By “absolute”, if you mean a singular purpose everyone serves unconsciously, then maybe yes and maybe no, but this question is not only irrelevant and uninteresting, but is nonsensical, for there is no answer to a question that lies outside of our consciousness.

Purpose of Purpose - 2001 version