Improvement as the Purpose of Life
Or, why we always want to improve ourselves.
What is life?
Life is the continuation and spreading of complex patterns of information throughout time and space. Life is the process that turns matter into more of itself. But what does that have to do with improvement?
Evolution is about improvement and life is evolving constantly. Competition, a changing environment, mixed together with random mutations and selective pressure produce a constant stream of new adaptations.
Why? Life is the opposite of death. And because it exists at the edge between chaos and order, it always has forces pulling it away from existence. In one way, there is only stasis and in the other way, there is too much growth, too much chaos, and no patterns to be extracted. At one end is the heat death of the universe, boring universal coldness, while at the other end is the extreme heat and burning chaos of a star. Life can only exist somewhere in the middle.
That's what makes Life complicated and messy. It has to be, to exploit the patterns of energy it can find in this world. It needs to keep improving, so that it can extract energy from new and different places and keep existing, in its own novel, ordered, yet complex ways.
But the problem is that once life has adapted to a certain environment, and figured out the rules of how to exploit the environment, it also has changed the rules of the game it was playing fundamentally. Life only by existing in a certain place, starts to compete with itself. Living things have to continually improve and adapt, because they live together, in competition with one another. It is without a continuous stream of innovation, progress, and improvement, that life would quickly die out.
And we, as humans, are very much part of this process of life. What's more, we have abstracted this idea of improvement, and lifted it onto different levels. In a way, we are progressing on all of them simultaneously. Because the idea of evolution, of selected change, is not tied to biology at all. Biology is just one realm where evolution can be at work.
There are other realms to evolution too. Evolution can happen in our heads. Where ideas compete. They can change and evolve too. So can our personalities and characters, which are made up of ideas and words as well. So can the social constructs we build together. Firms, countries, families, political groups or even entire religions evolve, too.
Therefore everything we do as humans is an expression of evolution, of improvement. That's why I think improvement is the purpose, not only of life in general but of our life as human beings as well. Without it, life would quickly reach equilibrium and equilibrium in our universe means permanent death.
Improvement as the Purpose of Personal Lives.
Because we, as persons, are only an extension of life itself, we follow the same rules. That includes me and you, and everybody else alive.
That's why I want to learn and understand things. Because to get better over time, is the unifying theme driving the whole of evolution forward. It is what moves me to tears when I am reading about the progress of technology. It is what I enjoy so much when I finally solve a problem in coding after hours of failed attempts. It is why I practice and enjoy doing parkour and sports. Or why I paint. Or write. Or travel. Or play the piano. It's all about having a sense of progress.
It is, incidentally, also what makes me addicted to computer games. Because in a sense, computer games are a way of tricking our brains into believing that they are doing a lot of progress. And that feels good. That's what most games are about. That's why they have achievements, quests, items and so on. That's why they are addictive.
Progression. That's what life is about.
A deeper truth about myself
The fear of missing out doesn't make sense. Because I am happiest when stretching myself to the very edge.
I am happiest when achieving things: When learning, traveling... progressing.
If I want to become happy, I still have to accept that I am going to miss out on an awful lot. Because stretching myself in a direction, requires turning a blind eye to other things. There is an opportunity cost attached to everything. Progress comes at a cost. We can't progress and stay the same. And whatever we do, we have to sacrifice at least our time in order to do it.
Keeping up a mix of healthy habits: reading, writing, photographing, traveling, learning languages, coding, painting, doing sports and playing music are my priorities in life right now.
I want to do all of them and realize that when not pursuing one of them I will become unhappy. It feels like a part is missing then. And so doing all of them is in a sense who I am. A piece of my identity is wrapped up in these activities.
Which is fine. This is who I want to be. And I want to become better, over time, at all of them. Even if that means that the maximum distance I can go is limited because of that, I still want to stretch myself in all of them. I want to be a generalist.
Single-mindedly focusing on any of them is not what I want to do. Because that's not who I am. And I love all of these hobbies too much, to let any one of them fall by the wayside.
Even if that means that I am not going to be exceptionally good at anything in the end... But since that's not what is important to me, I don't care!
As long as I get a little better in all of them, by cycling through them, day by day, week by week, month by month and even year by year, I will be living a fulfilled life... a life that I enjoy.
When reading these words they at the same time sound so right and yet so wrong. Because I still want to compete with the best. But I know that these two are mutually exclusive. Either I am who I am happy, but not excellent, or I can compete in a narrow field of expertise. But I can't both excel at one of the things I want to do, while also doing everything else I want to do. Potential at many things comes at the cost of excellence in a particular field.
Sometimes I wonder how this feeling of wanting to be better, to excel, to outgrow others got there... It is nested deep within me, and I don't like it being there sometimes. Then I think about whether there could be ways to change this part of my personality. Is it an extension of competing within hierarchical structures for my entire life? Or is it because improvement, as the purpose of life originates out of competition against other organisms and therefore competition is also motivating us in a more general sense?
Even if that were true, I have to be careful, because, in the end, this idea of competition could become something that keeps me from trying. With a thought like, hmm, if I can't be the best, why push at all?
In the end, that would be the fixed mindset at work. My mind is afraid of failure, and sometimes I am internally aching because others are better than me. And all of this, because I compare myself to others and see myself as a "failure", because I won't become as good as they are at what they are doing. And this thought has enough power to taint the things I enjoy with jealousy. I have to be immensely careful about this and that's why it is a fundamental problem in life for me.
A sense of progress.
I think the theme unifying all of the points above is that I like to learn and experience new stuff and gradually become better at it by practicing and learning and having new experiences nonetheless.
It feels exhilarating to know things. And that is enough.
When something clicks in my mind and I finally understand something better, that makes me tremendously happy. There are those moments where I just can't help myself but smile and brim with happiness. Sometimes moments of understanding make me dance around my little room.
So what is the core value, the one theme unifying it all?
It is curiosity and a passion for learning. In other words, the hunger for improvement.
But then I have to ask, why. Why do I feel that it is so important to learn new stuff constantly?
Why is learning so important to me?
Turns out, the thing that excites me about learning is not learning itself and neither is it knowing more than before. Or even knowing more than others. It's also not the ability to explain what I have learned and then share it with others, even though that that too feels great.
It is way simpler than that. In the end, I crave improvement. And I choose that as my path, learning and improvement as the purpose of my life. Like with everything else, I am a continuation of this principle of live and evolution itself. And I embrace that as a purpose.
Do you too?