Saturday, March 01, 2008

the point of life?

I've been thinking again about what the ultimate purpose of life is.

For example, one purpose could be to maximize the value you contribute to the world. An alternative would be to build deep bonds with your family. Or to savor each moment to the fullest.

Or, if you are into cop-out answers, it could be a blended approach that merges all of the above, because no one metric is the right answer, and you need balance, blah blah.

Last Sunday, at the Wynn Casino buffet with my family, I posed the question to my mother.

Me: "What do you think is the most important quality to strive for?"

My mother: "Integrity. It is not merely the most important. It's the only quality that matters."

Me: "Oh really. So let's say I had failed out of school and couldn't hold down a job, but I have the same level of integrity as I do now. You'd be equally happy with me?"

My mother: "Yes."

Me: [to my dad] "What do you think?"

My dad: [smiling] "That is so not true."


Recently I'm leaning toward using the metric of "doing things which are intrinsically enjoyable".

This goes against my chinese upbringing. When I was young, and my mother wanted me to stop doing enjoyable things (reading sci-fi) and waste the time on unenjoyable things (playing the piano), she quoted the chinese saying "先苦后甜" ("first bitter, then sweet"). The idea is that taking your bitter medicine will help make your future life sweet.

This reminds me that I need to write a blog post about how Chinese mothers need to stop forcing their kids to play the fucking piano/violin.

Anyway, this metric has clear flaws. Putting gas into my car is not intrinstically enjoyable. But I should do it to avoid running out of fuel on the highway and having to walk two miles in the dark to the nearest gas station.

I could amend it to "doing things that are intrinsically enjoyable, or that will save me from much worse things in the future".


John K. Lin said...

"Chinese mothers need to stop forcing their kids to play the fucking piano/violin." - That's funny. My mother made me give up playing the trumpet to learn how to play the violin.

As for "what the ultimate purpose of life is" - well, that is up to each individual's choice IMHO.

Funny, Wikipedia has an entry for Meaning_of_life

"But humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries – but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity – reducing inequity is the highest human achievement." - Bill Gates

(note: I am not necessarily a big fan of Bill Gates but I do find his interest and involvement in philanthropy quite interesting)

Anonymous said...

WM ass kissers have no integrity! Self haters have no integrity.

Jeremy said...

There isn't a purpose to life so you should do whatever makes you happy or gives you meaning. If you like coding software then do that until you get sick of it. If you'd rather sit around on your ass all day watching The Price is Right then do that until you run out of money. I'm not sure what to advise if you want to climb a clock tower and gun people down, but I guess you can do that until the federal marshals take you down.

A lot of people advise trying to be as successful as possible. Why? Will that make you happy? Will the world be a better place if you're a douchebag lawyer making $1k/hour?

I'm white bread and my mom made me play the piano for a year until she let me take drum lessons instead.

[Long time reader, first time poster though we have a mutual friend in C.L. You know him from CalTech and I know him from Cornell]

Anonymous said...

I don't mean this critically in any way, but I don't quite understand why you wouldn't go with a combination - focused on making life better for subsequent generations. 1st: family (esp. children, and in that sense, your parents, I would think, have had a very meaningful life); 2nd: professional (esp. when it translates, as it can @ Google or say, in medicine, into something that has a meaningful impact on society); and 3rd, to impact society (locally - as you do @ the McDonald's House) &/or (inter)nationally). Cool topic!

Anonymous said...

I think this question, "what is the point of living?" is one of the best questions a person can ask.

If you are ready you might like to study classic religious texts, I believe ultimately they all lead to the same answer.

Especially I would recommend the Gita.

ArC said...

I could amend it to "doing things that are intrinsically enjoyable, or that will save me from much worse things in the future".

The ultimate purpose of life isn't fulfilled by keeping gas in your car. You should keep stuff like that out of the primary metric. (Think of it like layers, as with Asimov's Three (Four) Laws.)

Anonymous said...

Niniane's purpose in life is to kiss WM's ass.

Adam Sweet said...

It's not just Chinese parents that make their kids play an instrument. My mom required that all 4 of us kids study an instrument from the age of 4 up. In fact, we were not allowed to quit until we were out of the house and "could make decisions for ourselves".

I'm still playing the violin today at the age of 45. I love it and am so glad my mom made me do it because I never would have made it on my own.

Anonymous said...

Life is better off bitter-sweet.
My mom tells me that all the time.

Anonymous said...

Four suggestions for you:

1) Check out Tim Keller's book _The Reason for God_

2) Check out Francis Collins' _The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief_. Collins is the former Head of the Human Genome Project (Yale Ph.D. Biochemistry, UNC M.D.)

3) Go to Stanford to listen Keller speak @ the Veritas Forum this Wed. Mar. 5

4) Collins spoke this past Feb. 5 and the lecture is here:


Anonymous said...

The purpose of Niniane's life is to write this blog and post pictures of Eva to entertain my ass. kthx.

.pk, .nl said...

Lol, nym, got no bloody idea who the f**k WM is, but as to self haters, there are none here, pretty sure.

Hehe, I think I might have got an answer for the lovely Asian author, though it took quite some time to find it, I will share with You nevertheless.,_the_Universe,_and_Everything

But seriously, at least here in Europe the pyramid of good life goes bit like the maslovs but can be easily simplified:
->no pain(quite easy, watchout for out of gas situations, dont overdose the substances, grab some shelter and preferably enuff food)
->make break even(make the cash flow out for living <= salary)
->go beyond (that one is the most difficult, as it inolves learning what you want your purpose in life to be, might take Your whole life and You still wont know the true answer, prolly)

Heh, only now I realized that there is for(;;) {...} loop over the last two points, you let your pleasures point grow, you need to get more $$ to break even, "until death or buddism enlightenment do us part".

walterwu said...

hmm damn i was made to learn both instruments. And, check on the box of sneaking in sci-fi books to read under the covers to avoid disapproving parents, until my optometrist reported my -10 vision caused by my dim flashlight.

Anyways what about the amended statement "doing things which contribute to intrinsically enjoyable endpoints" which also lets you lump in stuff like getting gas, earning money and working out (unless of course you intrinsically enjoy that, masochist).. and you can cut them right out if the situation changes (move to NYC, no more gas pumping).

Niniane said...

"intrinsically enjoyable endpoints" - what is that?

Anonymous said...

I wasn't required to play the piano...

I had to play the saxophone.

Adam Smith said...

Sort of a bourgeois question, no? For most, the "purpose of life" is to survive, succeed and help your loved ones to do the same.

Anonymous said...

why is a balance such a cop-out answer?

Anonymous said...

instead of playing piano,
would you oppose parents force their children to study another language ? to exercise ?

just a different value system.
most of the whites force their children to play soccer or baseball.

John K. Lin said...

Anonymous (3/03/2008 1:24 PM):

A lot of Chinese parents make their kids go to Chinese school on the weekends - Saturday and/or Sunday's. I had to until high school.

The concept, at least from my experience and observation, of Chinese parents wanting their kids to be active in sports is kind of a foreign concept, unless they think it will help them get into college...Yes, different value systems...

Jesse Hattabaugh said...

There is only one "purpose" in life that I can see; make sure your genes stay alive. Every organism on this planet seems to pursue that goal almost exclusively. Most human endeavors can be found to be rooted in survival and reproduction as well. Owning nice things for example increases your social status, and the likelihood that you'll find a mate. Our bodies make sure we adhere to this rule in myriad ways, and I don't think it's possible or advisable to ignore it.

But that's the purpose of life in general, not human life persay. The beautiful thing is that, though we are just as wired to propagate our species as a bee or a cat, we are endowed with enough intellectual complexity to see beyond the survival of our own genes and find higher purpose.

The general consensus seems to be that human happiness and pleasure are good, and pain and suffering are bad. The problem is how to achieve the most pleasure for the most people. As you pointed out there are two schools of thought on that subject. The first which I'd call the Socialist view says that we can make ourselves happy by making everyone else happy, because we are only as happy as those around us. The other which I'd call the Libertarian view, says that we should all make ourselves happy because we are the ones best able to determine what we need.

In typical American fashion I find myself a centrist. I believe that in the end, no one is responsible for my happiness but me, and if I'm not happy I have no one to blame but myself. However, I realize there are those who don't have the advantages I have (education, white-male-ness, and IMHO good looks) and so, I think it's also necessary to contribute my surpluses to those who need them.

The beauty of sharing is that it not only improves the collective happiness of society, but also serves to assuage my body's need for social acceptance. Every time I reach into my pocket and hand something of mine to someone who needs it, I get back their appreciation, their acceptance and deep down my genes are sure that they are in a better position because of it.

Anyway, thanks for giving me something to waste time on while I should be working!

Anonymous said...

Tried to post it with OpenID, seemed to work as posted, but never showed up upon refresh. Hmm...

Trying again with anonymous...

As a writer, don't you think the purpose of life would be: to understand and illustrate the universe, especially, the human conditions, such as why some of us are so hung up on the purpose of life?

Happiness, intrinsic or not, is irrelevant.

Selfish gene propagation is never a purpose but an artifact of evolution.

Religious answers are cop out answers.

halobacter said...

Finally, a question I can answer. What is the meaning of Life? (clears throat)

"To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of the women..." --Conan the Barbarian

Like shooting fish in a barrel, I swear. :)

The point might be to survive the next four years with patience, perseverance and understanding. I'll leave you with a nice quote from Rumi...

You and I have spoken all these words but for the way we have to go, words are no preparation. I have one small drop of knowing in my soul. Let it dissolve in your ocean.

omar said...

i can't believe no one has mentioned wine as one particularly wonderful thing that must be caught up, in some way, in the meaning of life.


and pass me the beer while you're at it.

Anonymous said...

Two questions:

Niniane are you happy or not?

I think you have a nice job and you live in a nice place in a nice country (Calfornia, USA).

Who is WM?

RC, The Netherlands

Anonymous said...

RC, The Netherlands -

WM = White Male - i.e.

trolls (Internet)

There are still some a**holes who follow Niniane's Blog who portray Niniane as an Asian women who hates Asian men who only like White Men due to a previous tongue-and-cheek post "Why I Don't Date Asian Men"

Anonymous said...

WM ass kisser -> White Males Ass Kisser?

I believe Niniane Wang has hurt some namus feelings ;-) !

KE Liew said...

《先苦后甜》 has its principle in character building. In English context, there's a saying that perseverance builds patience which builds character. In essence, it's the training of one's attitude and mindset. Us Chinese are very philosophical and wise in the way of life. 生命之道! ;)

Apply the above to the "forcing children to play an instrument" does show lots of "sense". Even though our parents may not know what the value is or know its purpose, but results show. Even science can confirm that playing instruments helps one's brain development. I guess our Chinese genes are far more advance than science? Haha

In my humble opinion, the most important quality in life is, 智慧 (wisdom). Chinese terminologies have lots of meaning behind it, split those two words, am sure you can extrapolate it's meaning. :)

Random Stuff said...

The purpose of life is to become perfect. The tricky part is that it's impossible. Once you've figured that out and decided to keep trying anyway, you have at least begun.

Q said...

I don't care about finding the ultimate point of life, that usually helps. Living on impulse, when I don't have to work...

pokai said...

what's wrong with the violin/piano? music is good.

Dicky said...

I love your post!
Especially the part where you say chinese mothers must stop forcing their children, couldnt help but laugh!

I have yet to spend some time on your other posts, but I think im going to enjoy that, I like your style of writing!

(and I think youre gogreous ;P )