What on Earth am I here for?
This is one of those internal/external locus of control questions.
To me there cannot be any simple answer to any such question.
There is a very real sense in which we are all survival machines at many different levels of pattern.
There is pattern in the replicating molecules within every cell (RNA and DNA), and all their attendant protein, lipid and sugar structures. Many layers of pattern in every cell.
Then there is layers of pattern between cells, the way cells modify their behaviour by communication with neighbours and more distant cells. Growth is usually controlled by signaling with nearest neighbours, but is also influenced by groups of cells often far away in organs like the pituitary gland, which can be influenced by other organs like the brain, which is influenced by everything around and within it.
So we can look at what questions from the external aspect, of things that happened outside and inside, and all in the past in a very real sense, and such things are always an important aspect of any answer, and for all people there are at least 15 levels of complex adaptive systems (both biological and cultural) involved in an answer.
Then there is the internal aspect. The aspect in which whatever it is that we identify as the aspect of self that has some level of volition and influence on the whatness of our being.
Physicists and psychologists and biologists and complexity theorists and systems geeks have been arguing about details of the interface and influences, and it seems clear to me that there is a meaningful (though very complex) sense, in which we can speak about our freedom of choice – though such freedom is not entirely free of the influences of the past, and it has degrees of freedom – and the more aware we become of the degrees of external influence present, the greater the influence we can exert. And it is a very complex set of things, as the conscious rational mind is only a very tiny part of the totality of what it is to be human, and only holds a very limited subset of the competencies and experiences available in being human.
So there is a very real extent to which old ideas captured in many ancient traditions (like Zen Buddhism or many mystic traditions, or most religions and belief structures) that point to the unknowability of infinities both beyond and within self, have accurately captured the essence of something, even if the particulars of the stories within which that essence is captured are very low resolution models of the structures within which it is embedded. So from a modern scientific perspective, many of the lower level interpretations of the old stories have been disproven, and that stops many looking deeper – which is a serious error.
So I don’t have a single or simple what.
I am that I am.
I seem to be a particular expression of the evolution of life on this planet, which seems to be a process some 4 billion years old, which seems to be part of a physical universe some 14 billion years old.
And while those times of billions of years are vast, I suspect that the conceptions of time used by most are very low resolution models of something vastly complex, and I suspect there is more time hidden within a hundredth of a second than in all the hundredths of all the seconds that have existed in the some 14 billion years of this universe; yet we are existentially blind to such existence – it is simply the matrix of our being.
So I am a human being, a human doing, an individual, a family member, a member of many different communities of people and other communities that include non-human entities (biological and non-biological).
I am here for many different levels of purpose simultaneously.
Some of those I have creative influence upon, some are vastly older.
This seems to be what is available, what it is to be human.
It seems that there is a real possibility of creating systems that allow individuals to responsibly explore the possibilities inherent in existence, and that word responsibly is key.
Responsibility seems to require that we acknowledge our biological and cultural realities, and that we each take conscious action to maintain both. And that demands of us that we create systems that give every individual that option, at every level.
It demands of us cooperation, and responsible action.
Pick up the rubbish.
Check on the neighbour.
Plant a tend a tree.
Limit the pressure we put on the environment.
Take some time each day to think carefully about the impacts of the things that we do – what is the cost to the environment, to our social systems, and how can I minimise those? How can I create the greatest benefit to me, to my family, to my community, to the ecosystem, to the culture?
How can I accept and express both freedom and responsibility, in myself and in others?
Where are the boundaries that one needs to seriously consider before crossing?
How might we develop usefully simple models of such things, that work in practice at least well enough to allow us to survive?
One thing is certain to me – our modern system of markets and money and capital at all costs, are not sustainable, and are our single greatest source of existential level risk.
The next greatest level of existential level risk is adopting systems that are too simplistic to work (and that is deeply recursive).
There would seem to be an eternal exploration required, an eternal going beyond the boundaries of the past.
And such going beyond will appear as dangerous to many, and it is required and must, to some degree, be accepted.
What we need to consider very carefully is the degrees.
So my “what” is, in a sense, the eternal exploration of the possibilities of existence.
Part of that is appreciating the natural world.
Part of that is appreciating the worlds of cultures and arts and human creativity.
Part of that is exploring the abstract realms of systems and relationships, and instantiating new patterns in reality.
All of that seems to be important in my “What”!