My friend John asked to interview me for a paper he's writing in his high school English class. He had the same questions for a variety of topics and I chose the meaning of life. Here are my answers.
Why is this question important to you?
It's a question that I've thought about for a long time. I lost my mother to cancer when I was 12 and that event made me think about complex questions regarding our existence at a young age. My mom was only 35, which is just 11 years older than I am now, and in some ways, it's difficult for me to think about living past 35.
Why did you choose this question?
When I was young, I found comfort in religion. The idea that someone or something bigger than me could see and understand the answers to the questions that I could not was comforting. As I grew older, the hope that there was a reason for my mom's untimely death started to feel intellectually dishonest and delusional. I became an atheist and found comfort in the lack of an answer as the answer. My transition is something that I like to share with others.
Has this topic affected or touched your life?
I believe that when people don't (falsely) believe they get to exist forever, they are more diligent about their only chance at existence: they don't fight for stupid reasons, they don't waste time on pettiness, they try to do something productive with their time instead of wasting away in front of the TV.
What is your opinion on this topic?
The universe does not provide a purpose for you, but that does not mean you have no purpose. You can find a purpose for yourself. The meaning of life is the pursuit of happiness as an individual and making life better for the life that will come after I no longer exist.
If you could, what would you change about it?
Everyone wants to live forever. I think death is so unfortunate. It's more than the loss of a person. It's a loss of everything that has gone into making that person: the education, the joy, the tears, all of the experiences that bring understanding. I know how hard I work to be better as a person and I think the world is a better place because I'm here and what I want to accomplish.
Reasons for thoughts on this?
Because I know the universe existed before I was born and I had no consciousness during that period and I know the universe will continue to exist when I resume having no consciousness.
Reasons for other peoples' thoughts?
People like to think they're above the natural world. Death is the only thing humans haven't conquered. I can understand why people are okay with the delusions religion offers. We are narrative creatures. We want to feel there is a beginning and end to our story.
What's so wrong or right about this?
Thinking about your finitude can be crippling. At the same time, it can be motivating to make today mean something when there is clearly no meaning for existence in the first place.
Why do we need to answer this question?
We all must find a reason to get up in the morning and justify the consumption of resources necessary for our existence.
Can this change a person and how?
Yes. For those that find an honest meaning of life, it causes them to behave in a manner conducive to their own answer of the meaning of life. Those that don't start holy wars, act like sheep, and behave in a manner that is unsustainable.
Anything I forgot to add that you want to add, go for it, any random comments from you would be great.
I offer two quotes from famous atheist Richard Dawkins in his book Unweaving the Rainbow: "We are fantastically privileged to exist at all, but then we also have the privilege of understanding this beautiful world in which we find ourselves. That should make us all the more eager to soak up as much as we possibly can of understanding our world and our place in it before we die." And: "Mysteries do not lose their poetry when solved. Quite the contrary: the solution often turns out more beautiful than the puzzle..."