The question concerning the meaning of life is important, but it immediately confronts the present authors with insurmountable obstacles from a philosophical standpoint, as it would require us to define not only what we hold to be life, but what we hold to
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The question concerning the meaning of life is important, but it immediately confronts the present authors with insurmountable obstacles from a philosophical standpoint, as it would require us to define not only what we hold to be life, but what we hold to be meaning in addition, requiring us to do both in a properly researched context. We unconditionally surrender to that challenge. Instead, we offer a vernacular, armchair approach to life’s origin and meaning, with some layman’s thoughts on the meaning of origins as viewed from the biologist’s standpoint. One can observe that biologists generally approach the concept of biological meaning in the context of evolution. This is the basis for the broad resonance behind Dobzhansky’s appraisal that “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. Biologists try to understand living things in the historical context of how they arose, without giving much thought to the definition of what life or living things are, which for a biologist is usually not an interesting question in the practical context of daily dealings with organisms. Do humans generally understand life’s meaning in the context of history? If we consider the problem of life’s origin, the question of what constitutes a living thing becomes somewhat more acute for the biologist, though not more answerable, because it is inescapable that there was a time when there were no organisms on Earth, followed by a time when there were, the latter time having persisted in continuity to the present. This raises the question of where, in that transition, chemicals on Earth became alive, requiring, in turn, a set of premises for how life arose in order to conceptualize the problem in relation to organisms we know today, including ourselves, which brings us to the point of this paper: In the same way that cultural narratives for origins always start with a setting, scientific narratives for origins also always start with a setting, a place on Earth or elsewhere where we can imagine what happened for the sake of structuring both the problem and the narrative for its solution. This raises the question of whether scientific origins settings convey meaning to humans in that they suggest to us from what kind of place and what kinds of chemicals we are descended, that is, to which inanimate things we are most closely related.