In the brief time we spend on earth, each of us goes about our business in whatever particular way we do, placing one foot in front of the other as the days and years roll by. “Waxing philosophical,” as my late father used to say, is something else apart, the activity of ruminating on the “why” questions that can’t easily be answered by anyone. When one gets old and organs begin to wear out, thinking about the meaning of life comes more naturally, so here’s my tentative answer: The Meaning of Life is to Eat, Shit and Reproduce; everything else is gravy.
From a biological perspective, all living things eat, shit and reproduce; it’s the essence of self-perpetuation and the perpetuation of one specific species and other species. The interdependent, synergistic system of life on earth is based upon a cycle of life and death, a “no-waste” ecology of integration and disintegration where the by-products, the shit, of all living things – plants, animals and microbes of all types – become the building blocks for the lives of other living things. Leaves on trees, for example, utilize the carbon dioxide animals discard as a by-product of using oxygen for energy, and animals utilize the oxygen discarded as the by-product of leaves’ photosynthesis. Thus it is and thus life has always been. Eat, shit and reproduce; that’s life’s system.
This brings us to the gravy part. And considering the lowliest single-celled animal to the most sophisticated, the role of gravy cannot be over-estimated. A single-celled amoeba handles life’s basics, of course; it eats, shits and reproduces, but we know nothing of how it feels to be an amoeba. In the presence of something to eat, does the amoeba feel excitement, or a rush of pleasant anticipation? Does an amoeba get gravy, too?
Emotions are essential tools of survival, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the emotions I feel evolved from the amoeba-like, simplest experiences of feeling. Perhaps the entirety of sense perception developed in service to eating, shitting and reproducing, and what we solemnly regard as thinking is simply the act of filling unattended, left-over space during a 24-hour day. Predictably, much of that thinking is about eating, shitting and reproducing. Hollywood gets it, and HBO, and Arby’s.
For the fortunate, living provides some mighty-fine gravy. The eating thing, in particular, makes people happy. Tastes vary, but when something is tasty it brings feelings of pleasure and a vast, biological cascade of chemically-induced happiness. Need I draw your attention to the newest restaurant in town? The mere prospect prompts excitement. Music produces the same effect, or enjoying the view from the Overlook Trail; this speaks to the tempting role of gravy in life and the power of feeling. Life’s motivation is gravy-centered.
Which brings us to reproduction; talk about the release of chemical happiness! Studies show that people think about sex as often as they think about food. Reproduction is what keeps the system of life going, so it delivers big ladles of gravy.
Waxing philosophically for a moment, I wonder if the arising of self-awareness – consciousness of self and other – is simply the “gravy-effect” or something more? Conversely, is the meaning of life on earth about the evolution of consciousness, and all the eating, shitting and reproducing actually in the service of gravy?