It follows without great difficulty that the purpose of relationships (proximal purpose) is to facilitate these internally deduced purposes for each other,  The subtlety here concerns differences that various types of relationship impose on each party. Different relationships entail different degrees of reciprocal support for each other’s internal purpose; while some types involve unique roles. Romantic love offers one form of extreme intimacy, including physical and spiritual interconnectedness, metaphysical wholeness, experience of the beautiful, and perhaps even transcendence of space and time. Romantic love of course also is the common means for biological continuance through reproduction. True friendship offers a second type of extreme intimacy with another – this free of the burden of physical desire – including an enduring mutual altruism, a unique quality of pleasure in association, growth of the self, and a metaphysical confirmation of the other in reality and of the universe in the finite.

Family purpose includes belonging to a group with shifting roles throughout life, informing one’s sense of identity, ethics, and fate, providing psychological sanctuary, and for some, experiencing a divine or transcendental understanding that one can extend to all of humanity or even all living things. Acquaintances, while of mixed value, fill a nearly universal human need for the companionship of other humans. Strangers offer purpose in learning to overcome psychological obstacles of unsociability and prejudice, the experience of diversity and the opportunity for novel relationships of greater breadth.

Societal and cosmic purpose are perhaps more precarious than internal and proximal purpose, requiring a more analytical approach considering personal and environmental factors. Nonetheless they represent our more common notion of what is meant by purpose. They serve in multiple ways to assure a purposeful life by being our source of subsistence, self-fulfillment, authenticity, direct benefit to humanity or to Nature or to the cosmos, and our hope for an enduring legacy that symbolizes a kind of immortality.

When one asks what is the purpose of life, particularly one’s own life, the answer is complicated and must be addressed at these four levels of reality – internal, proximal cultural, and cosmic. Anything less is incomplete and ill-fated.  We simply must adopt a lifetime commitment to all dimensions of human purpose remembering at all times that if virtue is the result of practice and habit, purpose is the result of planning and persistence.


“No living person can give genius the power to shoulder the meaning of the world. Yet, what are we to say about this problem if even Jung, who always relied on God, could still faint away with the burden of life? Probably in the last analysis only this: that all men are here to use themselves up and the problem of ideal illusion doesn’t spare any man from that. It only addresses the question of the best quality of work and life that men can achieve, depending on the beliefs they have and the powers that they lean on. – Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death.1

In this section we have seen that the second key ingredient of a meaningful life is purpose which is perhaps the most critical if guided by a strong moral compass. Some persons might argue that the word ‘purpose’ is even interchangeable with the word ‘meaning’ when referring to life, but clearly purpose is further enhanced by adornment with virtue, contentment, and the encounter with ultimate reality.  Virtue and purpose-driven intention are, it seems, two of the most defining features of what it means to be human.  In contrast a purposeless life fails nearly every person’s minimal standard of a meaningful life.

If we define ‘purpose’ as “the reason for which something exists or is done, made, or used; an intended or desired result, end, or aim”2 it becomes clear that an abridged definition might be -purpose is the answer to “why” we exist. On the other hand one’s individual purpose answers the question, “What is the desirable result, end, or aim of my particular life?” The answer, it turns out, is not objective and imposed from without, but subjective and self-determined. This principle applies even if one decides to follow what one believes was the intended purpose of one’s creation by whomever is considered responsible for it (e.g. parents or a divine creator).

Being subjective, purpose then originates from internal reality… inside oneself. At that level purpose is surprisingly straightforward, derived logically and is perhaps universal. One wishes to make a good life for oneself,  improve oneself, understand reality and find happiness and meaning. In other words, my purpose is to find a lifestyle that offers common necessities, pleasure and security, limits pain and unease, optimizes a reduction in my imperfections, offers the opportunity to make sense of my surroundings and the world, and enables a state of sustained  meaningful Eudaimonia.

(continued next post)


Of course one wishes to have success in whatever cosmic purpose chosen and factors in that success come down to: (1) an optimal selection process, (2) commitment paired with extraordinary patience, (3) flexibility, (4) enjoyment of role, (5) realistic expectations, and (6) relentless focus. Analysis of persons with successful cosmic roles reveals they have one or more or even all of these elements in play.

The rewards are of several orders starting with individual ones particularly self-fulfillment and legacy including anticipation of a kind of immortality through accomplishment in the highest realm accessible in life. But the purest benefit is external – participation in and advancement of the designs implicit in Nature and the universe. As a bonus, there is an immense opportunity for work in these areas to benefit humanity as well.

In a greater sense, success is secondary; the simple decision  to further the ‘goals’ of Nature and of the universe coupled with sincere effort qualifies one to a place on the roster of significant persons who have ever lived even if one’s efforts are never publicly recognized. When one considers whether there is a meaning to life, the most defensible stance for an answer in the positive is having attempted or, better yet, fulfilled a self-defined cosmic role. Human agency transcends human finitude in cosmic purpose. We may all end up cosmic dust, but the significance of our existence is forever affirmed in our voluntary contributions to cosmic destiny.

I close by returning to  Jonas Salk’s powerful synthesis presented now more fully:

“He [Man] has not yet seen the importance of understanding life’s ‘purpose,’ and therefore, his purpose individually and collectively, and of understanding where he fits into the evolutionary scheme of things. …If human life is to express as much harmony, constructiveness, and creativity as are possible for fulfilling the purpose of life, as ‘required’ by Nature, and the purposes in life, as ‘chosen’ by Man, an attitude will be needed, not of Man ‘against’ Nature, but of Man ‘inclusive with’ Nature. A more reasonable attitude would be for Man to ‘serve Nature’ in order to serve himself…”1

Plenty to think about.


1Salk, Jonas, The Survival of the Wisest. Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1973. ISBN 0-06-013738-X, pages 3-4. ( His italics and quotation marks.)


“From the intrinsic evidence of his creation, the Great Architect of the Universe now begins to appear as a pure mathematician. – Sir James Jeans.



I have proposed that purpose is the second key component of the meaningful life (the first being virtue (the third and fourth being contentment and relationship to ultimate reality – both discussed later). In turn the first three levels of human purpose concern the self, one’s direct contacts, and society or humanity more generally. At those levels purpose comes down to establishing a good life for oneself and one’s close contacts, perfecting oneself and helping others perfect themselves, increasing one’s understanding of the world, finding happiness and meaning and facilitating these for others, and identifying the optimal role or roles by which one may contribute to society and humanity. A similar set of guiding principles can be defined for cosmic purpose that answer the fundamental question, “What am I uniquely positioned to do in the cosmos for the benefit of Nature or in support of the trajectory of the universe?”

We can again bracket this question and pose its inverse, “What purpose is indicated by the laws and directionality of Nature and the universe?” Through close inspection we see that Nature, itself a subsection of the universe, progresses through a gradual evolution of the environment and of living things, while the universe appears to be directed at an increasing complexity and diversity of substances and entities (what I have called compartmentalized order). Reason tells us that cosmic purpose for each of us must thus take the form of contributing to these inclinations of the cosmos, particularly with regard to the Earth. The abridged answer to the original question then is this – cosmic purpose is finding that unique and authentic role most conducive to our furthering the emergent purposes implicit in the history of Earth and of the cosmos.

This conclusion seems oversized for a mere human, but in fact the specific role of any individual is more circumscribed. Roles include occupations in relevant fields (e.g. climate science), callings (e.g. environmentalism), missions, missions (e.g. endangered species preservation), influencers (e.g. nature writers), pure scientists (e.g. particle physicists) and enterprise builders (e.g investors in reusable rocket programs). Cosmic purpose is ultimately optional, but seems to offer a greater likelihood of a subjective assessment of one’s life as meaningful. Specific choice should be based on one’s interests and aptitudes, and especially one’s tolerance for tediously slow progress or outright failure.

(continued next post)


Last time we looked at the direct benefits to Nature and the Earth arising from human cosmic purpose noting some pitfalls related to artificial manipulations even in the case of noble intent. Pure science and mathematics represent a different dimension of direct benefit to the cosmos. One must see pursuits in these areas as humankind being the agent for the universe’s self-disclosure. I find it entirely credible that the development of sufficient human intelligence by Nature to discover and understand the underlying laws of the universe is de facto endorsement of such work. The caveat here is that practical uses of these discoveries must be subjected to scrupulous ethical considerations aligned with the trajectory of the universe. Thus understanding the power of atomic fission and fusion cannot ethically be deployed for devices which devastate nature, but perhaps may be utilized in space travel for the dissemination of terrestrial life. I would add that, while detailed analysis and debate are still needed, the exploration of space and eventual colonization of other worlds supports the apparent trajectory of the universe.

Incidental benefits to humanity are the last benefit of cosmic purpose and are of multiple orders. First there are the direct ones: the comradery of shared cosmic purpose with like-minded individuals and the inspiration and respect of those in one’s life or of whom one becomes aware dedicated to cosmic purpose. A second tier of potential human benefit is the experience of unspoiled nature, the delight of seeing diverse species of animal and fauna, and the excitement of second-hand experience of seemingly superhuman accomplishments such as landing on the moon, probing the moons of Jupiter, or viewing the images of the Hubble space telescope. Examples of tertiary benefits include salubrious air and water from pollution prevention and clean-up, improved food production and human health from sustainable agriculture and reductions in pesticides, and of new pharmaceuticals that may be derived from spared plant and animal species.

In closing, cosmic reality is the level wherein each of us can attain the highest sense of purpose. Benefits are immense – personal, direct, and incidental – countered only by the possibility of failure. However I would argue that even an unsuccessful effort with cosmic purpose is ultimately rewarding in knowing one aligned oneself with the course and destiny of the universe.


“Nature is like a great river of materials and forces that can be directed in this or that channel by human interventions. Such interventions are often needed because the natural channels are not necessarily the most desirable, either for the human species or the Earth. Nature often creates ecosystems which are inefficient, wasteful, or destructive. By using reason and knowledge, human beings can manipulate the raw stuff of nature and shape it into ecosystems that have qualities not found in the wilderness. They can give a fuller expression to many potentialities of the Earth by entering with it in a relationship of symbiotic mutualism.” – René Dubos, French-American microbiologist and environmentalist.1

In the last two posts we discussed mainly personal or individual benefits of cosmic purpose. Now we turn to external benefits of which there are two types: (1) those accruing to Nature and the Universe (the intended beneficiaries), and (2) incidental benefits for humanity. Let’s begin with the direct cosmic benefits. The first of these is the conservation of the diversity of natural species and environments for their thriving and unfettered evolution. Purpose is particularly clear for saving endangered species whose impending extinctions are human caused, for creation of nature reserves, and for efforts to reverse human pollution. Less philosophically defensible is wildlife rehabilitation for non-threatened species except perhaps those injured by human thoughtlessness. In other words, saving animals from perishing from natural causes may be seen as thwarting the workings of nature, though who among us does not feel a desire to help innocent creatures when it is in one’s power?

Also less clear is the place of wilderness management (for example animal population control) and habitat management (for example controlled forest fire setting). Here I fear that the aim to affect Nature’s ecosystems is oxymoronic by virtue of being artificial. We must be cautious in using human assessments of the value to Nature and other species of our manipulations no matter how well intended. It seems to me we remain ethically safe by restricting our endeavors to those which mitigate problems of human origin. It is hubris to believe we have the right or knowledge to spare animals from what we see as suffering in a natural environment though it may be ethically justifiable to manage such systems (eg. deer populations) when the underlying cause is human effects on the environment (eg. elimination of natural predators).

No such concerns exist for the study and thwarting of human caused climate change. Whatever the current narrative, for the most part, Homo sapiens does not face an existential threat from climate change, but one need not have an advanced scientific degree to see that other animals and plants face such a risk. There may be no greater cosmic (or societal) purpose than battling climate change … except perhaps fighting nuclear arms proliferation and averting a global thermonuclear war – the ultimate threat to all life on Earth.

(continued next post)


1Brown, Vinson, The Amateur Naturalist’s Handbook. Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1980.  ISBN 0-13-023721-3, page 353.


Similar analogies with societal purpose exist for cosmic purpose regarding a sense of control and the source of creativity resulting from commitment to one’s chosen profession, though control is less prominent when cosmic purpose is the end and creativity is more essential. The fourth personal benefit, consolidation of virtue, is perhaps more elusive – there seems little ethical significance to pure mathematics for instance. However protection of the environment and of innocent wildlife species entails virtue as we discussed at length in an earlier section.1 Contentment via cosmic purpose is a mixed bag; the pure scientist may be frustrated in the slow process of discovery, but the rocket scientist must feel tremendous satisfaction, even elation, in being a part of a successful launch.

Fulfillment and authenticity are at the two extremes of personal benefit in the case of cosmic purpose . Self-fulfillment obviously is so contingent on a level of success that this benefit is intricately tied to a focus on the success factors detailed in the earlier blogs. For the environmentalist who sees little progress, one must, like in the case of suffering, find meaning in the endurance of failure and feeling one’s efforts are worthy of the purpose one pursues. On the other hand, authenticity seems more assured; one simply does not choose one of the cosmic roles unless it seems to be the genuine purpose of one’s life, partly because of the difficulties involved, but also because of the intangible nature of the likely outcomes. For example, the choice to become a pure mathematician is made only when once recognizes it as the authentic role one should or must choose. This is much less likely to apply to the choice to become an attorney, physician, or educator.

We end with legacy where cosmic purpose offers the ultimate form. Euclid’s book of geometry is one for all time. There is little chance that Galileo’s devotion to astronomy will ever be forgotten or considered inconsequential. His development of the working telescope and his demonstration of the sun-centered solar system are legacies that are eternal. Theodore Roosevelt’s initiation of the national park system is a legacy far greater than his work to end the Sino-Russian War even though it led to his Nobel Peace Prize or his support for the Panama Canal with its waning significance as ships become too large to navigate it. Immortality through legacy is one of the great draws of many cosmic purposes.


1See posts on this site 3/31/21 through 5/4 2021.


“The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.” – Steven Weinberg.

Given the difficulties of attaining cosmic purpose and the lack of expected utility for humanity we might wonder it there are sufficient benefits to justify this course of action. As in the case of societal purpose, there appear to be several orders of potential benefit via cosmic purpose of which three appear to be shared with societal purpose: subsistence, self-fulfillment, and legacy. The fourth and possibly least tangible benefit is cosmic value per se, but this may be partly mitigated by incidental human benefits as a fifth consideration.

Like societal purpose, cosmic purpose can fulfill the need for subsistence of oneself and one’s dependents. However there is a meaningful difference in that personal compensation for one’s work in the cosmic realm is contingent not on a direct monetary value such as one finds in a business or a practical profession, but on the good will and shared vision of a government, an institution, or an individual benefactor. An intermediate source of funding serves as a filter to affirm the likely cosmic value of one’s efforts. A good example is NASA’s funding for the remarkable New Horizon’s mission to Pluto by the skilled team of dedicated scientists who of course also received  for their work salaries support.

Another dimension of benefit of cosmic purpose is its deeper personal rewards including again: identity, stability, creativity, virtue, satisfaction, contentment, understanding, and authenticity. Starting with identity, the role one chooses for making a difference in the progress of science, the preservation of Nature and the Earth, or in humanity’s extraterrestrial future serve in defining one’s image of oneself in the world, even in the universe, just as much as their profession defines identity for the professor or the concert pianist in society. As before, one’s lifelong devotion to a cosmic purpose becomes integral to the very sense of self.

(continued next post)


The fifth factor in successful cosmic purpose is realistic expectations. Here I cite the example of Marie Curie, double Nobel laureate and discoverer of radioactivity and the element radium. When she left the comfort of her parent’s home in Poland  for the Latin quarter of Paris in the 1890s, she sought purpose not in the social sphere, but in physics. Quoting from her biography (written by her daughter, Eve), “From childhood the Polish girl had carried the curiosity and daring of an explorer with her…In her walks in the woods she always chose the wild trail or the unfrequented road.”8 For her doctoral thesis Mdm. Curie decided to build on the work of Henri Becquerel who had found uranium emitted rays of an unknown nature that made an impression on a photographic plate.

Through meticulous investigation, she learned this radiation was an atomic property also found with thorium, and assigned the name radioactivity to the phenomenon. But her measurements of radioactivity from raw uranium and thorium ores were unexpectedly high leading her to discover two other previously unknown radioactive elements, polonium and radium. She later stated, “When radium was discovered, no one knew it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it.” Curie understood the pursuit of pure science must include reasonable expectations, even though the utility of her work was an exception. A final concordant thought from from this remarkable woman, “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.”

The last of our success factors is intention or deciding on a specific goal and formulating a plan for its accomplishment. Johann Kepler (1571-1630) was convinced at age 22 that Copernicus was correct that the sun was the center of the planetary system. Forsaking a career in divinity, he accepted a university post in mathematics and devoted his life to science. “What Kepler aimed at throughout his whole life was to find a law binding the members of the solar system together as regards the distribution of their orbits through space…”9  In his first great work Prodomus Dissertationum Cosmographicarum continens Mysterium Cosmographicum, he made convincing arguments against the Ptolemaic system in favor of the Copernican. When trigonometry failed to explain planetary motion, he chanced upon geometry as his platform, but saw that he required better data than that available to Copernicus. He next traveled to the observatory of Tycho Brahe with whom he collaborated until the latter’s death. With Tycho’s precise measurements and ten years of painstaking calculations, he learned that the planets including Earth follow an oval or elliptical path not a circular one as had been assumed by all prior astronomers and that the speed of movement varies by the distance from the sun. From this decade of pointed work he formulated the three laws that finally explained the nature of planetary orbits still accepted to this day.

In closing these six great historical persons exemplify the critical factors for a successful cosmic purpose: commitment, patience, flexibility, enjoyment, realistic expectations, and intentionality. Next we look at the benefits of cosmic purpose.


8    Hutchins, Robert M. and Adler, Mortimer J. (editors), Gateway to the Great Books Volume 8. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago, IL, 1963, page 32.

9Dreyer, J. L. E., A History of Astronomy from Thales to Kepler. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, N.Y., 1953. Page 373.


The third success factor is flexibility. Here I propose Thomas Kuhn as an excellent example. He began with an academic career in physics initially researching radar at Harvard during World War II.  His doctoral thesis concerned an application of quantum mechanics to solid state physics. Until 1956, he taught a class in science for undergraduates in the humanities from which he developed an interest in the history of science. In 1961, he took up a post in the philosophy department at the University of California Berekely, where he transitioned from the history of science to the philosophy of science  and his publication of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962. In this influential and controversial work, he argued the development of science is driven in normal periods by adherence to a ‘paradigm.’ The functions of the paradigm are to delineate problems for scientists to work and provide the tools for their solution. When the accepted paradigm fails to account for increasing numbers of aberrances called ‘anomalies,’ a crisis ensues and a scientific revolution follows wherein the existing paradigm is superseded by an alternative which is not fully commensurable with the science developed under the earlier paradigm.4  Like Michelangelo who accepted cultural purpose in painting not sculpting for Pope Sixtus IV, Kuhn achieved cosmic purpose, not by sticking to his comfort zone in physics, but by being flexible enough to find his perfect niche.

The fourth success factor is enjoyment, that is, success is more likely if one chooses work one enjoys that can also serve as cosmic purpose. Consider John James Audubon, who combined his love of nature, painting, and travel into an enduring cosmic purpose. In his Mississippi River Journal he writes, “Ever since Boy[hood] I have had an astonishing desire to see much of the World & particularly to Acquire a true knowledge of the birds of North America.”5 The famous Henry Clay wrote a letter of introduction in August 1820 stating, “I have the satisfaction of a personal acquaintance with Mr. John J. Audubon…being about to take a journey through the southwestern portion of the country with the laudable object connected with its natural history, I have great pleasure in recommending him…”6  Imagine Audubon leaving Cincinnati on a flatboat in the first quarter of the 19th century in his words, “…without any Money My Talents are to be My Support and My anthusiasm [sic] My Guide in My Difficulties, the whole of which I am ready to exert to keep and to surmount -.”7 Anyone who has seen the work of Audubon, not just his paintings of birds, but also his work on mammals (Quadripeds), his observations on Native Americans, and his scientific journals, cannot help but perceive his great cosmic purpose and the rationale for his name being nearly synonymous in our time for wildlife conservation.

(further continued next post)


4The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Thomas Kuhn. (An example would be the paradigm shift that occurred when Newtonian physics yielded to Einsteinian physics.)

5Irmscher, Christoph (editor), John Hames Audubon – Writings and Drawings. The Library of America, New York, NY, 1999. ISBN 1-883011-68-x, page 32.

6Ibid., page 44.

7Ibid., page 3.