I hope you're well. I've been wrestling with two "philosophical" questions that
I find quite unsettling, to the point where I feel like life may not be worth
living because of what they imply. Hopefully someone here will offer me a new
perspective on them that will give me a more positive outlook on life.
(1) Why live this life and do anything at all if humanity is doomed to go extinct?
I think that, if we do not take religious beliefs into account, humanity is
doomed to go extinct, and therefore, everything we do is ultimately for nothing,
as the end result will always be the same: an empty and silent universe devoid of human
life and consciousness.
I think that humanity is doomed to go extinct, because it needs a source of
energy (e.g. the Sun) to survive. However, the Sun will eventually die and life
on Earth will become impossible. Even if we colonize other habitable planets,
the stars they are orbiting will eventually die too, so on and so forth until
every star in the universe has died and every planet has become inhabitable.
Even if we manage to live on an artificial planet, or in some sort of human-made
spaceship, we will still need a source of energy to live off of, and one day there
will be none left.
Therefore, the end result will always be the same: a universe devoid of human
life and consciousness with the remnants of human civilization (and Elon Musk's Tesla)
silently floating in space as a testament to our bygone existence. It then does not
matter if we develop economically, scientifically, and technologically; if we end
world hunger and cure cancer; if we bring poverty and human suffering to an end, etc.;
we might as well put an end to our collective existence today. If we try to live a happy
life nonetheless, we'll still know deep down that nothing we do really matters.
Why do anything at all, if all we do is ultimately for nothing?
(2) Why live this life if the development of civilization will eventually lead
to a life devoid of fulfilment and happiness?
I also think that if, in a remote future, humanity has managed to develop
civilization to its fullest extent, having founded every company imaginable;
having proved every theorem, run every experiment and conducted every scientific
study possible; having invented every technology conceivable; having automated
all meaningful work there is: how then will we manage to find fulfilment in life
At such time, all work, and especially all fulfilling work, will have already
been done or automated by someone else, so there will be no work left to do.
If we fall back to leisure, I believe that we will eventually run out of
leisurely activities to do. We will have read every book, watched every
movie, played every game, eaten at every restaurant, laid on every beach,
swum in every sea: we will eventually get bored of every hobby there is and
of all the fun to be had. (Even if we cannot literally read every book or watch
every movie there is, we will still eventually find their stories and plots to be
similar and repetitive.)
At such time, all leisure will become unappealing and boring.
Therefore, when we reach that era, we will become unable to find fulfillment and
happiness in life neither through work nor through leisure. We will then not
have much to do, but to wait for our death.
In that case, why live and work to develop civilization and solve all of the
world's problems if doing so will eventually lead us to a state of unfulfillment,
boredom and misery? How will we manage to remain happy even then?
I know that these scenarios are hypothetical and will only be relevant in a
very far future, but I find them disturbing and they genuinely bother me, in the
sense that their implications seem to rationally make life not worth living.
I'd appreciate any thoughts and arguments that could help me put these ideas into
perspective and put them behind me, especially if they can settle these questions for
good and definitively prove these reasonings to be flawed or wrong, rather than offer
coping mechanisms to live happily in spite of them being true.
Thank you for engaging with these thoughts.
After having read through about a hundred answers (here and elsewhere), here are some key takeaways:
Why live this life and do anything at all if humanity is doomed to go extinct?
- My argument about the extinction of humanity seems logical, but we could very well eventually find out that it is totally wrong. We may not be doomed to go extinct, which means that what we do wouldn't be for nothing, as humanity would keep benefitting from it perpetually.
- We are at an extremely early stage of the advancement of science, when looking at it on a cosmic timescale. Over such a long time, we may well come to an understanding of the Universe that allows us to see past the limits I've outlined in my original post.
- (Even if it's all for nothing, if we enjoy ourselves and we do not care that it's pointless, then it will not matter to us that it's all for nothing, as the fun we're having makes life worthwhile in and of itself. Also, if what we do impacts us positively right now, even if it's all for nothing ultimately, it will still matter to us as it won't be for nothing for as long as humanity still benefits from it.)
Why live this life if the development of civilization will eventually lead to a life devoid of fulfilment and happiness?
- This is not possible, because we'd either have the meaningful work of improving our situation (making ourselves fulfilled and happy), or we would be fulfilled and happy, even if there was no work left.
- I have underestimated for how long one can remain fulfilled with hobbies alone, given that one has enough hobbies. One could spend the rest of their lives doing a handful of hobbies (e.g., travelling, painting, reading non-fiction, reading fiction, playing games) and they would not have enough time to exhaust all of these hobbies.
- We would not get bored of a given food, book, movie, game, etc., because we could cycle through a large number of them, and by the time we reach the end of the cycle (if we ever do), then we will have forgotten the taste of the first foods and the stories of the first books and movies. Even if we didn't forget the taste of the first foods, we would not have eaten them frequently at all, so we would not have gotten bored of them. Also, there can be a lot of variation within a game like Chess or Go. We might get bored of Chess itself, but then we could simply cycle through several games (or more generally hobbies), and come back to the first game with renewed eagerness to play after some time has passed.
- One day we may have the technology to change our nature and alter our minds to not feel bored, make us forget things on demand, increase our happiness, and remove negative feelings.
Recommended readings (from the commenters)
- Deep Utopia: Life and Meaning in a Solved World by Nick Bostrom
- The Fun Theory Sequence by Eliezer Yudkowski
- The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch
- Into the Cool by Eric D. Schneider and Dorion Sagan
- Permutation City by Greg Egan
- Diaspora by Greg Egan
- Accelerando by Charles Stross
- The Last Question By Isaac Asimov
- The Culture series by Iain M. Banks
- Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow
- The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
- Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom by Martin Hägglund
- Uncaused cause arguments
- The Meaningness website (recommended starting point) by David Chapman
- Optimistic Nihilism (video) by Kurzgesagt