Purpose (2018)


The world is made of matter, and so are people. People have purpose. Why is that? Matter doesn’t have purpose. It follows the laws of motion. Purpose starts at some level above the basic movement of matter.

The first thing that movement does is increase entropy. But there are still times when local entropy decreases, even as overall entropy continues to increase. That can happen when a heat engine runs inside a heat differential, as when evaporation and rainfall fill lakes with clean water that has been distilled from salty oceans. Here, sunlight is driving a process that runs against the increase of entropy. It’s a local ordering process.

Evaporation and rainfall depend passively on surrounding conditions. They don’t maintain themselves. Life, in contrast, adapts to its surroundings. A species of bacteria maintains itself through natural selection. When surroundings change, the descendants change so they keep running directly against entropy. That which survives, survives. Evolution has no will or plan or intention, but it has a purpose. Its purpose is adaption and survival.

Every adaptation is written into matter. A pool of genetic information is ordered matter. The process maintains order by reading and writing information. It’s a computer. Evolution is a computational local ordering process.

Information also exists in the nervous systems of big animals. This mental information is different from genetic information. It only lasts as long as the individual animal. However, there is more of it, and an animal can plan ahead to control its surroundings. The mental computer is better at adaption and survival.

But the individual thought process is a subprocess of evolution. It does not keep itself going indefinitely. An animal’s brain exists only for the evolutionary advantage of one individual. In many species, individuals take advantage over others through cooperative behavior such as kin selection and reciprocal altruism. Those behaviors result in local ordering through natural selection, not through the more powerful methods of the individual thought process.

However, the human thought process replaces evolution. It takes control of genes and reproduction. This is possible only for humans who share their individual thought processes and build the right tools. The shared thought process maintains itself through symbolic manipulation and planning instead of competition and natural selection.

Humans need communication, not advantage. We control our individual surroundings, not each other. We refuse to seek evolutionary advantages over each other because we understand that the shared thought process is better than evolution at maintaining local order. It is more efficient and effective. This understanding is the crowbar that will pry us away from our old purpose and move us over to our new purpose.