We explored the notion of purpose from the perspective of Abrahamic Religions, Eastern Philosophies and early sciences in the last few blog posts in this series. Let’s now have a look at this notion from some of the modern scientific viewpoints.
Modern sciences have developed new theories, from the findings of the early sciences, about the evolution of life. An initial review of this literature does not provide specific answers regarding the purpose of life and the purposeful living of beings, specifically human beings. Therefore, this body of knowledge needs to be further analysed for deeper and wider understanding, which could lead to a theory regarding purposefulness (major theme in my doctoral inquiry). The discovery of Nuclein and Double Helix Structure of DNA by Crick, Watson and Wilkins (Olby, 1974) has helped deeper understanding of its role in the makeup of human beings, providing potential to understand the purpose of our lives.
The Big Bang Theory that originated in 1912 when Vesta Slipher measured the first ‘Doppler Shift’ of a ‘Spiral Nebula’, led Georges Lemaître to introduce the idea of the possibility of tracking back the expanding universe to a single point, in 1927. It has now developed to a current understanding of the theory with contributions from scientists such as Edwin Hubble and Stephen Hawkings, among many others. Significant progress has been made after the late 1990s with the advances in telescope technology and analysis of data from satellites. It is interesting that Georges Lemaître, an early contributor to the Big Bang Theory who proposed an expanding model for the universe to explain the observed redshifts of spiral nebulae, and calculated the Hubble Law Theory, was a Belgian Catholic priest. He based his theory on the work of Einstein and De Sitter, and independently derived Friedmann’s equations for an expanding universe (Liddle, 2002). This resonates with my religious background and rational mind, as explained in the earlier blogs.
The work done by Fritjof Capra as written in his book, ‘The Web of Life’ unifies many fields and theories to explain living systems and how we have evolved to who we are today. He uses a variety of theories in developing the theory of ‘Living Systems’. ‘Systems Thinking’, which evolved with the work of organismic biologists, gestalt psychologists, ecologists, physicists and philosophers over a period of time, and Process Thinking, Tektalogy and General Systems Theory developed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy forms the base for his work. He extensively uses Cybernetics developed by Norbert Wiener who had a strong influence on Gregory Bateson, who roamed freely across disciplines. Information Theory developed by Norbert Wiener and Claude Shabnnon, Cybernetics of the brain developed by Ross Ashby and computer models of cognition developed by Herbert Simon and Allen Newell (Capra, 1997, pp 36 – 71), which includes three criteria; patterns of organisation, structures and life processes understood through the concepts of ‘autopoiesis’ (self-making) developed by Humberto Maturin and Fransisco Varela, ‘dissipative structures’ as defined by Prigogine as the structure of living systems, and ‘cognition’ defined initially by Gregory Bateson and more fully by Maturana and Varela as the process of life (Capra, 1997, pp 155 – 157). Other theories and concepts such as Gaia theory, Chaos theory, Socials Systems, Eco Systems, Systems Thinking and Ecological Thinking used by Capra in explaining living systems could also provide useful windows to understand the purpose of life and ‘purposefulness’
The sense I make from these interesting scientific concepts is that the evolution of the knowledge about life and the purpose of life are as complex as the evolution of life itself. As my understanding of life evolves during this doctoral process, I start to see my world differently and begin to feel the need for the refinement of my currently perceived purpose. Therefore, I believe that the understanding of our individual purposes requires the understanding of our world; the world we create and experience. Perhaps, our purpose could be related to identifying our role in contributing to the ecological well-being of the world, starting from the well-being of each living being. This resonates with the law of causation in Buddhism, which promotes interdependent organisation – nothing exists independent of anything else (Stcherbatsky, 1962, as quoted by Ho, 1995, p.122).