What is the meaning of life? We could look up the word “Life” in the dictionary, but that's not really what people are asking. What are we being asked? What does the question about meaning mean?
Perhaps it means, “What is life for?” That is to say, most “meaning of life” questions are probably asking, “What is the purpose of life?”
Well, as I see it, life is what creates purpose.
Look at a spider building a web. Is there any question where or what the purpose is? It's life attempting to continue to be life. Look at a tree clinging to the very edge of a cliff. Is there any doubt about the purpose of putting out roots? Look at the tree's leaves. Their purpose is obvious to anybody with a bit of science knowledge.
Consider a flower. Its main purpose is connected with reproduction — the continuance of life. Yes, as a side benefit the flower is lovely, but above all it is something life created, on purpose, for the benefit of life.
If life is what creates purpose, then perhaps asking about life's purpose is like asking about light's shine.
Go for a walk along a beach and pick up a small stone on the shore. What is its purpose?
Well, until you came along, it was just a rock. Now, though, it's something of interest to a living, perceiving being. At long last it has some kind of purpose. Maybe you can skip the rock over the water — yet more purpose! But in every case it's really your purpose, not the rock's.
Unless a rock is alive in some strange way (with a tiny sparkle of awareness spread over a billion years, perhaps) then it cannot have anything resembling purpose.
It seems that a non-living thing like a rock cannot have an intrinsic purpose. Can it actually have anything at all, though? It doesn't own anything in the human sense; it doesn't have moods; it doesn't even have color unless a living being perceives it as such. It does, however, have mass.
A really big rock, like the moon, can tug on the tides even when nobody's paying attention to it. Even a rock can possess physical attributes. But it doesn't have a purpose unless one is attributed by a living thing.
Does the moon “want” to create the tides? No, it just does what it does, according to physical laws.
What, in fact, is purpose? Is it not bound up with the future? A human being might construct a concrete support pillar to hold up a building. The pillar doesn't — and can't — care that it's a structural member, but the human intent is to prevent the building from collapsing in the years to come.
How did the pillar's (human-assigned) purpose get tied up with the building's stability? Is purpose simply about ... continuation? (Here's the weirder version: Is purpose life's repudiation of the very processes of entropy that define time's arrow?)
If so, then what about biological viruses? Some people say they are not “truly” alive. It certainly isn't much of a life for the individual virus: all it does is attempt to be fruitful and multiply. On this basis alone, though, I would classify a virus as a kind of life. And there's purpose in there.
What about a computer virus? It, too, attempts to be fruitful and multiply. A really sophisticated computer virus can recognize and counter threats. That makes it far more life-like than a mere rock. Is there any doubt it has purpose? It, too, is a kind of life (in my opinion).
I should point out that viruses per se do not create purpose. It's the action of life itself — the evolution of the extensible anti-entropic process — that creates purpose, not the individual repercussions.
You might object that I'm defining life too broadly. Let's look into that.
Imagine a universe with no life whatsoever. No replication of evolution-prone pattern. Just energy and matter careening around in a dance of ever-increasing entropy. There is no purpose in such a universe. Nothing has any meaning. It just is.
Oddly enough, the same might be said of our universe. We just are. The dance of entropy is hard to resist. Most of what we do (like picking a slice of apple pie instead of cherry pie) is ultimately meaningless. But still we struggle against entropy, winning tiny victories in the face of an uncaring, dead cosmos.
So, to summarize all this chatter, what is the Meaning of Life?
If you are craving a Really Big Meaning, consider this: it's possible that one day, somehow, life will be completely victorious over entropy. In such case, entropy would drop to zero — which is precisely how things were at the start of the universe. The next step was the Big Bang. In this wacky scenario (that I don't claim is true), life itself creates the next universe, which means we're creating the next Creator God. How's that for meaning!?
But it's not necessary to speculate that wildly. We don't even have to say that viruses are “kind of” alive. We need only observe that, as humans, we create purpose while we live. We can't avoid it!
It is strange to ask about the meaning of life when we are the very life of meaning.