Where's The Essence Of Life In Science

By: Archmage

Brian Westgate

December 9th, 2002

Where’s the Essence of Life in Science?

The essence of life is about caring! The reason we live, why we do what we do, and how we see things are all emotionally based. It is in these emotions that our essence and meaning come. Emotions are the care-factor in our lives, and they make us enjoy life, have opinions, and strive for better. Without emotions, humans would never do anything because the reason to act would never be seen. Instead, we would be a clump of chemicals and reactions. In this case, the most humans would ever do is feed and reproduce. Is this “living?” In order to simply feed oneself and reproduce, a being does not need to be aware of its world, its own existence, or the fact that it is living by scientific terms. The common cold virus is an example. There is no care-factor in such a being. However, when that virus becomes more developed in the mind and more aware and caring of itself and the world, it transforms from something living and into something “living.” From this, the “essence of life” can be found.

Michael Novak pulls us in with “Camus’ conviction that the central ethical problem of our century is the problem of meaninglessness: of nihilism” (1). When we apply and view nihilism to the essence in our society’s lives, what can we see? Some people are more nihilistic than others, while some are more anti-nihilistic. The anti-nihilistic people find more essence in life and often do more than the minimum to feed and reproduce. Many Nihilists are found forcing emotions and pleasure by using drugs in their lives. Drugs can very well bring pleasure. Science has even bettered drugs in both the unhealthy and healthy way. We will soon, though not yet, understand the mind so that we can activate or deactivate a series of neurons in the brain to stimulate select emotions. Currently, we can inject certain chemicals into the mind to stimulate certain emotions. These are often illegal drugs, and it is forcing emotions upon one and reduces their essence of life. Not only must we not care much about life to begin illegal drugs, but also as people find more pleasure in such drugs, they care less about life (often leading to the use of more powerful and life-threatening drugs).

Consider if science invented a technological machine that brings humans pleasure at little or not cost. Let this machine be known as the Pleasure Machine. The Pleasure Machine would allow one to lie in bed, maybe get up to eat and drink on occasion. During all the time that person is in bed, the machine would constantly stimulate positive emotions. Sadly, millions of people today would instantly purchase and use the Pleasure Machine until the day they die. A few people currently, and many people of past ages, would see such a machine as unethical, perverse, and possibly “unholy.” Why? With light support from Elizabeth Kübler-Ross from a man in her essay, “he may be moved to X-ray and he will overhear opinions of his condition and discussions and questions to members of the family. He slowly but surely is beginning to be treated like a thing. He is no longer a person. Decisions are made often without his opinion” (301). Kübler-Ross is supporting us by demonstrating how “he” is being stripped of his opinions and care and thus saying “he” is no longer a person. His essence of life is being taken away, and one could argue that he is being “killed.” The Pleasure Machine is unethical because it damages one’s essence of life.

As time passed and technology grew in our human world, what did we see? In ancient times, people were not so nihilistic. “Pure pleasure” was considered to be sinful and wrong, though these people often could not explain it. Dr. Alan Pratt gives us evidence that Nihilism was not well known until the nineteenth century: “<Nihilism> only became popularized, however, after its appearance in Ivan Turgenev's novel Fathers and Sons (1862) where he used ‘nihilism’ to describe the crude scientism espoused by his character Bazarov who preaches a creed of total negation” (1). Today, in a world with stresses and confinements, Nihilists are more abundant as well as atheists. The numbers of Nihilists are growing as science and technology progresses. Our appreciation for the essence of life is diminishing!

How are science and technology demeaning our lives? Science gives us a goal in life. We can and do find pleasure in searching for the absolute truth. Scientists often apply the newfound knowledge to bring us products and hope to better our lives. These products are often an attempt to make life simpler. Pursuing science gives us something to do, something to look forward to, and a certain thrill and love for it. This goal is everlasting because there is likely infinite knowledge to be obtained. Caring about science gives us meaning to our lives and builds on the essence of life.

Then what parts of science diminish the essence of life? What parts enhance it? Science seems to be two-fold in this area. One view of looking at science is as a goal and something to care about. It does indeed enhance our essence of life in this manner. Scientists are often encouraged to “dig into” this infinitely large cluster of information and knowledge. Even science has an emotional appeal to it that people strive for. This is the part of science that enhances the essence of our lives. The part that diminishes the essence of our lives is the part that “make(s) life simpler.” The products of science that hope to better our lives are doing nothing but restricting our essence of life. We have schedules to follow, limits to our freedom, and restraints to originality. The products of science and technology are weakening our individuality and livelihood. Caring for science can better our essence of life; the products of science cannot.

Products of Science

Humans were evolved (or created) into a world without technology. Without advanced technology, people had to work hard to get food, water, and shelter. Life may have been difficult, but often the people were thankful for the rewards of hard work. There was also a certain appreciation just for the work alone. Just like the pursuit of science, working to get food, water, and shelter kept one occupied, gave him or her something to look forward to, and rewarded pleasurable things.

The world was also more open in both time and space. Tribes often defended large amounts of land and claimed it to be their own. Their home was as far as they could see and had no walls or borders. They put in hard work to keep it their home. Time was measured in phases of the day. There were no watches or clocks because people had no need of them. People hunted when they saw the need to, possibly when they were hungry or well before then to be safe; there were little time constraints.

Today, most humans do not live in such an environment anymore. We live in cities and see several, if not hundreds, of people every day. Our shelters and lives are spent in relatively small amounts of space with walls or cubicle cells. Our employers give us schedules to perform every day that have very little variance. The majority of our goods are purchased with a fixed amount of money obtained by working in a scheduled life. Our lives are confined by little space, strict time, and scant money.

Bob is a modern-day person. His sleep may be disturbed repeatedly as he keeps hitting the snooze button on his alarm clock. Once he finally wakes, showers, and dresses, he eats a small breakfast and does other preparations for work. Then Bob remains in stressful traffic for thirty minutes to an hour. On his arrival at work, some colleagues may greet Bob before he sits in his small cubicle to do redundant work for hours at a time. After the eight hours of boring work, he will spend more time in heavier traffic attempting to go home so he can watch television until he is tired enough to sleep. IN other words, Bob lives the “nine-to-five job” life cycle.

Ku is a past-day person, possibly living with a tribe of others. He may wake naturally or someone may wake him. He and his trusting companions will have to earn their food that day out in the land. After drinking some water from a nearby stream, a good deal of Ku’s and his men’s time will be spent out in the land looking for their hunt. Once found, they will have to work as a team and use their minds and weapons to capture the game and bring it home. Once home, Ku’s tribe may have a prayer or small ceremony before or after they eat to show their gratefulness. The rest of Ku’s day may be spent doing a variety of smaller chores such as repairing shelter or tools, farming, or caring for young or weak in the tribe.

Let us try to view both Bob’s and Ku’s life equally. Bob may have stress or money problems. Ku may have health or nutrition problems. Ku’s life is not as confined as Bob’s life, and Ku’s tribe has no way of accurately telling time. Ku’s life is more native to the immediate needs of life: food, water, and shelter. Bob’s life is a bit more complicated as well as confined. He must work in a completely different manner in order to obtain money. Once Bob has the money, he may only need to spend a small portion of it on food, shelter, and water. However, Bob needs more to be satisfied with his life. He must also spend money on entertainment, recreation, and comfort. A large part of what Bob must work for is more emotionally based things, whereas Ku’s emotional needs may very well already be satisfied. In contrast, Ku must work hard for more physically-based things, whereas Bob’s physical needs cost little.

Ku’s life expectancy may be only around forty years, whereas Bob’s may be eighty to ninety years. However, Bob may need to deal with problems such as stress, depression, or anxiety, whereas Ku may never have a problem such as that. Bob’s world grants him quantity of life rather than quality of life. Ku’s world grants him quality of life rather than quantity of life. Bob lives in an artificial world filled with technology. Ku nearly lives in the world the human race was born in.

When Bob looks around, what does he see? Does he see anything that was not artificially created or modified? Compare the world around him to Ku’s world. Bob may be standing on a carpet, wood floor, or tile. Ku may be standing on dirt or grass. When Bob looks at the horizon, he does not see hills, trees, or forests. Instead, he sees buildings, smog, and streets. When Ku looks at the horizon, he does see more natural things. If Bob were to look at the sky, would he see a clear, crisp blue, maybe with puffy clouds? No, the sky would seem to have a haze to it, and the color would not seem natural. Ku would never see a haze in the sky due to pollution.

Science has changed our world to be so different from the world humans used to be in. With this different world comes a different lifestyle. With this lifestyle come different needs and haves. We have health and have far surpassed our natural needs in order to literally live. But the products of science seem to have neglected that there is an emotional side to life and that we are individuals. With this, the products of science seem to have had a negative impact on our essence of life.

Pursuit of Science

The pursuit of science does a lot for us as humans. Pursuing science may be the need or desire to find the ultimate truth. It does nothing for us by giving products that people will think better their lives. Barbara Ehrenreich says, “through research, we seek to know that ultimate Other, which could be called Nature if the term didn’t sound so tame and beaten, or God if the word weren’t loaded with so much human hope and superstition” (406). The knowledge science gives us is beneficial to the essence of life as well. Lastly, the pursuit of science is an occupation: not in terms of a job that pays, but in terms of something to do. Science is something to keep us entertained, something to look forward to, and something that feels good upon a discovery.

Science has a rather emotional side to it. Comforting truth is found in science. Humans like to know this truth and think upon it. The fascination of such a massive concept stimulates our emotions and drives us to want more. Science keeps giving small bits, or puzzle pieces, of this Ultimate Truth. It is entertaining to be able to take these puzzle pieces and put them together to get something larger, such as a bigger portion of the puzzle we seek to complete. Even though most humans well know that the puzzle will likely never be complete, one could say it is “fun” just to keep building and building upon this puzzle.

That puzzle, one could argue, is knowledge. It is like a database we make in our mind’s language translated from all this information written in the language of science. This knowledge seems to be approached in two ways. Math and logic are maybe developing the center pieces of the large puzzle. They are bottom-up sciences, meaning they start with certain “elements” and build with them. Physics and Chemistry are maybe the side pieces of the puzzle. They are top-down: We start with what we see and experience and try to explain those and break them down. The more of the puzzle we have, the more we can apply to certain concepts or even material things. The puzzle is information around us and our world to satisfy our curiosity.

Building on the puzzle is something to do. It is appreciated entertainment to say the least. To say more, it is a thrilling career to look forward to. With science, things can be accomplished, understood, applied, and built. There is nothing necessarily “wrong” with the products of science so long as they are kept ethical and scientists understand that everyone has emotional needs as well. Inventing is extremely gratifying work. Certainly obtaining more knowledge is gratifying as well. Though we may never complete the entire scientific puzzle, we seem to appreciate what we have and look forward to. We are humans; most of us like to build things.

The pursuit of science is the emotional side of science. This betters the essence of life and hence betters the quality of our lives. The emotions of science do not come from the objects and concepts. They come from the comfort, desire, and appreciation for them. The appreciation for our artificial world may be an outlet to satisfy our emotional needs.

Science and the Essence of Life

The products of science may make us live longer at the cost of losing the essence of our lives. However, the pursuit of science may help us re-establish the emotion quality of products and our lives and hence, re-establish the essence of life. One does not necessarily have to pursue science in order to enjoy the benefits of the scientific puzzle. Instead, one can simply appreciate science or have a fascination for it. Not everyone can be a scientist, of course. But everyone can appreciate what is around him or her. Without this appreciation or love for science, the products mean nothing to us and often do harm to the quality of our lives. The meaning in products has to be there for us to have quality with our lives, as well as quantity.

Bob may not have so frequent stress problems or have such a dull life if he appreciated the world around him. One has to do more than just exist and use the world around them. He or she has to have appreciation for this world, if not fascination. Nearly every object Bob touches has some of the scientific puzzle embedded into it, large or small. The products are there to make Bob’s life easier, simpler, and more efficient. This may diminish the essence of Bob’s life as no emotional factor is seen in the products of science around him. But the emotional factor can be found in how the product came about. This is the puzzle piece imbedded into everything artificial, and it can restore some of the essence of Bob’s life as well as everyone’s.

In Ku’s world, the emotional qualities are easily seen in the products. This is because the world is more direct to him. The world is also more natural, and his mind is more native to this kind of environment from many centuries of evolution. The things he touches may not have been built by man or have any scientific puzzle piece built into them. However, those things are not necessarily there to make Ku’s life any easier, simpler, or more efficient. They are simply there as they were meant to be. It requires very little for Ku to have a fascination for the objects and the world around him.

Every day, more of the scientific puzzle is being found and put together. It will become harder to see the emotional qualities in the products we use every day. If we do not want the essence of our lives to diminish, we have to have an appreciation for the things we have. We, as humans, have taken the scientific route in our world and will constantly be changing the world around us. If one does not have an appreciation for the science, then it will be difficult to be able to find his or her essence in life. Live throughout the quantity in life, but do not forget about the quality of life.

Works Cited:

Ehrenriech, Barbara. “Science, Lies, and the Ultimate Truth.” Science and Technology Today. Ed. Nancy R. MacKenzie. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. 405-407.

Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. “On the Fear of Death.” Science and Technology Today. Ed. Nancy R. MacKenzie. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. 295-301.

Novak, Michael. “Nihilism and experience.” Society. Transaction Publishers, Inc., 1999. 1.

http://web5.infotrac.galegroup.com/itw/infomark/852/649/29962158w5/14!pdf_imm_a11 . December 7th, 2002.

Pratt, Alan. “Nihilism.” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2001. “http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/n/nihilism.htm” December 1st, 2002. 1.


I would like to thank Dr. J. H. Gaines for her time and effort put into reveiwing this essay for me. Thank you, Dr. Gaines.

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