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Meaning and Purpose of Life

Updated on October 28, 2016
jackclee lm profile image

Before retiring, Jack worked at IBM for over 28 years. His articles have over 120,000 views.

Meaning of Life

This hub is to address the "big question". Why are we here? and what is the meaning of life? You might think what does this have to do with anything. We have been discussing about artificial intelligence and the human brain and miracles...The reason I believe we should end with this topic is that it really ties everything together. The answer to this question may shed light on everything else we do. This is my opinion and I welcome other opinions.

-January 2015


Reading the Declaration of Independence, I'm struck by the phrase "pursuit of happiness". Notice it does not say Life, Liberty and Happiness. What's the difference? The big difference is that it means that we are not endowed by our creator with happiness as a state of mind but the free choice to pursue "happiness" as a mode of living. This also implies that we have the possibility of failure and not reaching our goal but never the less die trying.

What makes us happy? It may be different for everyone. That's what make each of us unique. There are some common events that everyone can agree, such as birth of a child, wedding, graduations. In addition, learning something new and achieving something however small is also a source of happiness.

Some poets have offered the idea of "Smelling the roses along the way..." which is a good description of taking joy in the process.

Having good health and wealth is on everyone's list..

Some people finds charity giving to be a great source of joy and satisfaction. The world is full of multi-millionaires creating foundations for various charities. It is better to give than to receive.

Winning the lottery or some sports competition can be very rewarding.

Seeing nature in all it's grandeur such as visiting the Grand Canyon.

My Personal Experiences

Besides the ones I mentioned that are common to most people, I can describe some personal experiences first hand. I am an engineer by training and I worked many years for a large computer company. I can remember one of my greatest "peak experiences" is when I wrote my first working computer program. It was in APL code which is totally obsolete now. It was not a great project but to me it was such a sense of accomplishment. Years later, I had a similar feeling when I came up a new concept in image processing and it lead to my first patent. I could remember the feeling so vivid, and the few nights when I could't fall asleep and just turn over the ideas in my mind over and over.

In my college years, I was a member of the Varsity Fencing team. One of my "peak experiences" here is during a Conference tournament where many of the top school gathered to compete once a year. In one of my crucial bout, I won by a 10-9 score. It was the bout that put me into the final round. The feeling at the moment of getting that last touch was one of the greatest in my fencing career. I got many years of joy being on the fencing team and made quite a few friends that lasted till today.

In my many business trips all over the world, visiting historical sites and museums, brought me much happiness. On one such visit to the Vatican, I was standing below the Sistine Chapel. It was amazing to see the art work above. It gave me, for the first time in my life, a sense of the "inspiration" of God to human accomplishments.

On a trip to Jerusalem, walking in the old city along the via Dolorosa, I couldn't help but feel such humbleness and being at the place where Christ walked 2000 years ago. On my trip to St. Petersburg, I was at the Hermitage Museum working on a project and our host took us to the roof top where very few people have been. It was in the dead of winter and snow and ice covering the walkway. I felt such gratitude and joy to be there to enjoy the view. It was the experience of a lifetime.

On another project, I was part of a team that designed a digital imaging system for capturing the artworks of Andrew Wyeth. I was chosen to demonstrate our results to Mr. and Mrs. Wyeth at their studio in Chadds Ford, PA. I was very nervous but was confident that they would be pleased with our technology. It was one of the first to capture color fidelity of the original artworks. Mr. Wyeth is a simple man that spent most of his life painting in his studio. He is an American Icon and I was proud to be part of a team at IBM Research to provide him with a working digital capture system. He knows very little about computers but I could sense his genuine gratitude for our efforts and was very pleased with the outcome.

One last memorable event is when I visited Lutherhalle, the museum of Martin Luther's home. I stood in front of the famous church door where Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis. In all my travels, in spite of all these great places and seeing all the various cultures, my great joy is returning to America and thinking how lucky and blessed I am to live in the greatest country on earth.

My Trip to St. Petersburg, Russia 1999

My Thesis

In my humble opinion, my thesis on the common denominator in my happiness is one of discovery.

To achieve happiness, God has provided us a path to learn and to discover the mysteries of the universe. This is a never ending task. If you think about it, if there is an end, then it is futile. If you take yourself as example, the day you stop searching is the day you die. This discovery can take the form of many paths. Here are just a few examples:

  • An artist creating a new original painting or sculpture.
  • A musician writing a new tune or lyric.
  • A scientist discovering new law.
  • A programmer developing a new App.
  • Solving a puzzle such as Rubik's cube.
  • An architect designing a new bridge or building.

Thinking Out Loud

How can we keep that feeling fresh? From our own experiences, we realize that we cannot maintain a state of happiness all the time. We will get bored very quickly when something however great is repeated.

In order to keep our brain motivated, there must be some elements built in the system.

I belief there are several elements.

  1. Surprise - Not knowing what the future will bring.
  2. Infinite possibilities - Like peeling an onion, once you expose one layer, another appears.
  3. Contrast - Happiness cannot be sustained. It's like a wave, with ups and downs.
  4. Order - There must be a set of rules or laws that govern the universe.
  5. Cycle - Our calendar revolves around a yearly cycle. The changing seasons acts as a reminder and also provides a change of scenery.
  6. Progress - A slow movement towards the "ideal".
  7. Humor - Laughter is the best medicine.

Mental Exercises

I find sometimes it is good to perform a mental exercise to see what if? For example, If you had the power, what "utopia society" would you come up with that would be different or an improvement on what we have today? Remember, anything you come up with must still abide by the physical laws that we are constrained by. Once you have it, can you imaging yourself living in that world for the rest of your life? Will you be eternally happy? Something to think about...

In the current AI community, they are working to design a robot that will mimic or replace a human worker. If they are successful, which I have doubts, what will the relationship be between the designer and the "intelligent" robot? Will the robot be the property of the owner and obey every command? Is that a desirable goal? or as we humans deal with our children as God treats man? We give life to our children, we nourish them and teach them and provide them with unconditional love but once they reach adulthood, they are left to be their own person. They are free to make their own choices and deal with consequences. Will you intervene at any point to protect them or will you hold back and let them make mistakes and learn from those mistakes?

When you look at a glass of water, do you see it as half full or half empty? How you think makes a difference of what you do? Another way to look at it, if you approach life with a positive attitude, nothing seems impossible, whereas if you see obstacles all the time, you most likely will give up trying.


Let me summarize. A caveat, I don't have all the answers, no man does. I can only offer my perspective with 60 plus years of experience. I hope to incite some people to think actively. I believe we are put here for a purpose. Some may be great such as Einstein but everyone have unique skills to contribute big or small. The purpose of life is one of Discovery. That is the only way to keep us interested and happy for time eternal. Some people believe that God is all powerful and can do anything. I don't agree. I believe He has limitations because of his own doing. Once he gave Man a free will, the cast is set. He cannot go back and intervene without consequences. For this reason, I have to give Him the benefit of doubt. I don't understand all that He does or doesn't do but I believe it is for our best interest. Being a father myself, that is what a Father does - He wants us to be happy. Thanks for reading.

© 2015 Jack Lee


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