Logo IMG
HOME > PAST ISSUE > May-June 2005 > Article Detail


The Soul of Science

Michael Shermer

Bootstrapping Purpose

Purpose is personal, and people satisfy this deep-seated need in countless ways. Among these are avenues by which we can bootstrap ourselves toward higher goals that have proven to be especially beneficial to individuals and society. These include:

Deep love and family commitment—the bonding and attachment to others increases one's circle of sentiments and corresponding sense of purpose: to care about others as much as, if not more than, oneself;

Meaningful work and career—the sense of purpose derived from discovering one's passion for work drives people to achieve goals so far beyond their own needs that they lift all of us to a higher plane, either directly through the benefits of the work or indirectly through inspiration;

Social and political involvement—as a social species we have an obligation to community and society to participate in the process of determining how best we should live together;

Transcendence and spirituality—a capacity unique to our species that includes aesthetic appreciation, spiritual reflection and transcendence through  art, music, dance, exercise, meditation, prayer or quiet contemplation, thereby connecting us on the deepest level with that which is completely outside of ourselves.

My own journey up the pyramid began with falling in love, parenting a child and making the commitment to place family before self. The immeasurable joy generated by the most quotidian of family functions reinforces this commitment on a daily basis. Even with unlimited wealth, I would continue my career no differently because I have been fortunate enough to find a profession that offers more than just personal gain. As such, my work takes me ever further out of selfhood and toward global goals. Although I have visited many of the grandest cathedrals in the world and sensed a spiritual veneration of the highest order, my greatest transcendent experiences have come through the contemplation of nature in her grandeur, such as the view from Edwin Hubble's chair through the 100-inch telescope atop Mt. Wilson. From that perch, one's picture of the cosmos grows to galactic proportions, dwarfing any prior world view and yielding a perspective transcendent beyond imagination.

comments powered by Disqus


Subscribe to American Scientist