General Question

MissAnthrope's avatar

Why do people assign such value to life, when it's really just a matter of chance and biology?

Asked by MissAnthrope (21462points) March 14th, 2010

It’s something I haven’t understood for a long time, why people get so emotionally-involved when you start talking about life and death. I personally don’t feel that life has any inherent value, but that it’s simply a matter of chance, biology, and personal connotation (i.e. that we as individuals would miss someone or something were they to not exist).

The only magic I see in life is the brief distance between life and death (i.e. someone/something existing and then suddenly being gone), but I do not feel there is anything magical about life itself.

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67 Answers

jaytkay's avatar

Because you only get one life. No do-overs.

MissAnthrope's avatar

Again, personal connotation. Why does that make life valuable?

jaytkay's avatar

It’s not personal, it’s the Golden Rule. I have empathy for others, even the vast majority I will never, ever know.

partyparty's avatar

Because life itself is valuable.
We don’t really know what will happen to us when we die, so we must live every day as though it were our last, because one day it will be!

davidbetterman's avatar

“The only magic I see in life is the brief distance between life and death… but I do not feel there is anything magical about life itself.”

Then you are truly missing out on a wonderful existence. It is unfortunate that people who believe as do you will have to wait for death to learn the truth about the magic that was their life.

MissAnthrope's avatar

@jaytkay – I have loads of empathy for other people, but that doesn’t allow me any more insight into why life is supposedly valuable.

@partyparty – Saying it doesn’t make it so. I hear over and over that life is valuable, but why? That is my question here. Why is it valuable? Because we’re afraid of death? That doesn’t mean life is valuable, that only means we are afraid of the unknown.

@davidbetterman – Perhaps, but I expect that death brings nothingness, which would be a huge relief over my current situation, but also that I will not be aware of anything. This includes not being aware of any so-called value of life. So, again, I fail to see what the value is.

Just_Justine's avatar

We make life valuable. By loving, becoming a parent, being a daughter or son. Teaching those we meet, learning, leaving our mark. Sharing our thoughts listening to others. It is all about leaving a space that cannot be filled by another. That is what makes our life rare, therefore valuable.

arnbev959's avatar

I’m sincerely curious as to what your definition of “value” is, if you don’t feel that life has any inherent value. What, then, would be an example of something that does have value?

I’ve visited the the outer limits of nihilism; there’s nothing of value there. That’s for damn sure. Sure, it’s all personal connotation, but what isn’t? Yes, it’s a big accident. We’re worth nothing, we’re a speck of nothingness—less than a speck. But we’re here now, and that makes now valuable. Being alive makes life valuable. Knowing wonderful people makes life valuable. Life itself makes life valuable.

Fyrius's avatar

Nothing “is” valuable, if not for people caring about it. Value is not a property of that which we value, it’s a property of our perception of it. And we care about life, therefore it’s valuable.
And why we do so is easily explained. Our brains are shaped so that we will. (And the evolutionary benefit of not wanting to die is obvious enough.)

So what exactly is your question?

jaytkay's avatar

@MissAnthrope Empathy means I know others care for their own lives as much as I care for mine.

I know why I value life, and know I’m not unique.

MissAnthrope's avatar

@petethepothead & @Fyrius – I think you hit it on the head. It all seems insignificant to me, like nothing has value other than what is assigned by humans.. but then, that’s all related to how weak and scared we are, and how tightly we hang on to each other.

@jaytkay – I know others care for their own lives, I just don’t care about mine. I don’t think that makes me not empathetic. What difference would it make, in the grand scheme of things, if I simply didn’t exist tomorrow? Pretty much none.

lizzyluckbox's avatar

value your sense of smell. value your sight. value your sense of touch. value the sounds. i bet any person without would give so much..just to have. and thats most of our “gifts” for just being born. value the fact that you can run. 2 hands? 10 fingers? a beautiful functioning brain? dont waste time. embrace these priceless gifts and enjoy. id like to know why you dont care about your life.

Fyrius's avatar

“like nothing has value other than what is assigned by humans.”
Isn’t that enough?

Human life is insignificant and worthless from an impartial cosmic perspective, that’s certainly true. But at the same time, it’s precious and priceless from a human perspective. So why not look at it from there? You are human, after all.

davidbetterman's avatar

You’re right. there is no value. You are nothing special. There is no magic. Death is the end and all goes black and it is over. Nothingness is all.

I am sorry you are in such pain @MissAnthrope.

MissAnthrope's avatar

It’s just an endless wasteland of suffering and misery. I am not cut out for it. I would give a lot to make it all just stop. I wish the people in my life understood this, that it’s not personal, it’s just that I’m so miserable and don’t want to do it anymore. There are literally two things keeping me alive, and that’s my cat and my little sister. I guess I should be happy that I have any reasons to live at all, but honestly, all I want is to die and be done.

Just_Justine's avatar

@MissAnthrope life is not meant to be only suffering and pain. Is there not someone or something you can do to make your life more worthwhile? I have certainly felt what you are feeling. Is there anything I can do to help?

lizzyluckbox's avatar

when i was young i would take on the weight of the world as well. i was so depressed…
but then i started to see things in a new light.and appreciate these “gifts” i had…and i would try to help if even one person…my life would be worth it. and i would NOT take for granted what most people suffering would give ANYTHING to have.

MissAnthrope's avatar

I try.. I try really hard. I try to eke out whatever happiness I can get and life just seems to be one giant pile of shit after another. So, I don’t get the point, hence my question here. I told my mom this and she said, “You just have to keep going, because that’s what you have to do.” and I wanted to reply, “Ugh, I don’t have to do anything.”

Survival seems to be the main point of life, but what if I want more than just survival? All I ever wish for, whenever I have a free wish (shooting star, birthday candles, etc.) is to be happy. Just happiness. And it’s impossible. It’s like wishing to sprout tentacles.

lizzyluckbox's avatar

i just read your profile…i dont get it…it appears you find much pleasure in life, no?

MissAnthrope's avatar

If I’m being honest.. I try hard, I really do.. but not really.

Just_Justine's avatar

@MissAnthrope I so understand where you are coming from. I have been “surviving” for the longest time. I often feel like a purveyor of life in terms of watching others “live”. I’ve had so much shit in my life I forgot about me, about the how to, the how to be happy. I get happiness in small doses in funny moments. But I do understand the bigger picture is about me. About pushing myself out of strange routine I have created. About learning to play again. I did post a while ago about “How does one find happiness” or, I can’t find joy in life. I am still wondering. In fact I will repost a question as I am in the same boat. However, I do value my life :)

SABOTEUR's avatar

I think it’s cultural.

The East accepts.
The grass is green, the sky is blue.

The West questions
...until it finds answers it can accept.

Fyrius's avatar

Take your pills.

lizzyluckbox's avatar

i dont get it. and as a believer of reincarnation….i think you will be stuck on repeat until you do.

lighten your heart your eyes.this is your journey.

Steve_A's avatar

I think it is nothing more than the ability for a human to assign meaning or an ideal to something.

Life and death are just 2 more things to be given a definition for us as we see it.

MissAnthrope's avatar

It’s hard to be me. I know that statement sounds ridiculous, but I have someone in my life that knows the things I’ve gone through, who knows my family, who knows me very well, and she completely understands. She’s even said she’s amazed at how well I turned out despite the abuse and shit I’ve experienced.

There’s so much I want out of life, but I think I just don’t fit. I never fit. Not that there’s a lot wrong with me, I think I’m relatively well-adapted and a pretty good person despite the things I’ve gone through, it’s just that I don’t fit very well in the world. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of struggling, of questioning myself, of being unhappy, of never getting a break. I don’t understand why things come to other people and not me. Actually, that sounds ungrateful, because I’ve had some opportunities in my life that others would kill for, and honestly, I recognize that and am thankful for them. But what I mean is breaks helping me move forward, out of the broken record kind of life I’ve been stuck in for like a decade.

MissAnthrope's avatar

@Fyrius – Ugh. Please. If pills worked, do you think I’d be here?

Just_Justine's avatar

@MissAnthrope when I am “in that frame of mind” I also think I do not get any breaks. But people have been saying to me, “You are so lucky!” I am like “huh?: I think that I am so busy focusing on all the crap that happened I block out the breaks, luck, love that comes my way. I have also had people say that to me, wow! you survived all that?? One therapist said I should be mad or dead. Well I am not, either mad nor dead. So those comments can stay where they are, with the thinker. I am very much alive, because I refuse to let life kick the shit out of me. I am going to win!!!!

Fyrius's avatar

Well, you wouldn’t be the first one.
So, have you been to a shrink with this? What did they say?

With all due respect, you’re starting to sound less like someone contemplating nihilism as an interesting intellectual position, and more like someone who’s just depressed. Which is a treatable condition.

SABOTEUR's avatar


…and even as horrible as your life is
you’re blessed with the ability to express yourself.

We play the hand we’re given
until the cards are shuffled and dealt again.

Or not.

partyparty's avatar

”..... but what if I want more than just survival”
If you want something more than just survival, then you have to make it that way for yourself. Try to be more positive, happy and thankful for what you have, rather than thinking all you are doing is surviving.
Your mind is very powerful and you make what you want of life. The choice is yours.

lizzyluckbox's avatar

we all have struggles and pasts…its not easy. you just gotta find your worth it. no looking back…no keeping record of how long youve been trying to get wherever youre going…i really dont think youre going to see any truth or take any guidance right now, tho. you seem blocked. i do hope you’ll see tho. sooner than later. if you want things to be differrent do things different. you are in charge. its in you.

wildflower's avatar

I think it’s exactly the fact that life is ”..chance, biology, and personal connotation” that makes it so marvelous! It’s unique and invaluable. I firmly believe we all experience it in a unique way and no two lives are exactly the same – that’s what makes it so fantastic and precious.

CMaz's avatar

“Cogito ergo sum”
I think, therefore I am.
It would not matter if we were not too busy trying to find answers for everything.

wundayatta's avatar

@MissAnthrope I think you are asking two questions. The first is why other people find life to be valuable. The second is why life is objectively valuable.

Most people here have been giving you answers to the first question. You know that there is no answer to the second, right? Meaning is something that humans make. It does not otherwise exist. We play all kinds of intellectual games to fool ourselves into believing there is some externally produced meaning to life, but we are just fooling ourselves. The only meaning is that which we make ourselves, on our own.

You’re depressed. You know that, right?

I’m a little bit afraid to talk to you about this because in order to do that, I have to let in those feelings, too, and it wasn’t so long ago that I was in your shoes. They are not shoes I like to wear.

The thing that saved me, I think, is talking about how to kill myself with someone else who was about ready to do the same. The more we discussed it, the more absurd it became, and we started laughing and then we couldn’t stop laughing. If life is meaningless, then so is death. So why bother to change things? Death may be nothing, but you won’t know it’s nothing. So that won’t help. Get it? That’s the absurdity of it.

You want desperately to stop the pain. It is way more than you can bear. Yet… if you stop it… well, you will have no idea it has stopped. You won’t feel the relief. But the worst thing is that you will never know what happens next.

You know that, or your baby sister wouldn’t keep you here.

Now you have to know that I love you. So do many people here. It’s not much because we’re only virtual and we don’t have a personal relationship with you (well, I don’t), but what it means is that you are interesting, and I like your story, and I want you around. Sue me. It’s not just your sister who would be hurt, but me and, I believe, many others here. You are not alone. It feels like it, but it isn’t true. I believe you know this somewhere deep inside. You have a kernel of self that wants to keep going. You’d never ask this question if that kernel wasn’t there. This will pass, eventually. Hold on until it does.

If you die, a little bit of all the rest of us dies, too. You do matter. That’s why you mean something. All your connections to others. That’s why you are valuable. Deal with it.

Trillian's avatar

@MissAnthrope I’m a little worried about you. None of us can really help you with whatever it is that you’re facing, other than to urge you to seek help.
Please, get some, ok? I really enjoy your posts and look forward to meeting you at a Fluther convention at some future date.
All my best wishes and warmest regards…

phillis's avatar

To claim chance and biology at the complete expense of what makes us human is an illogical endeavor. One suggestion might be that you challenge yourself to explore why you are uncomfortable including emotions to the point that being illogical trumps common sense. Humans operate primarily from their emotions.

You must consider all parts of any puzzle, else you run the risk of sabotaging the answer you want, which is exactly what has happened. You used the word elusive, and I believe you. You’ve run yourself in circles for years because it does not work to pick and choose only what you want out of the picture. The idea is to bring all the pieces together and play with them until they resonate truth inside you (everyone has an innate ability to feel truthful resonance).

Coloma's avatar

I think that the issue of ‘happiness’ lies in the egos personnelizing the ‘story’ of me.

I have a friend right now that is convinced HER ‘story’, her pain, IS the worst story and pain ever experienced by anyone ever! lol

She didn’t take too kindly to me expressing that her situation is NOT ‘special’, unique, her pain is NOT any more so, than anyone elses. Pain is pain, suffering is suffering.

It’s like two women comparing birth stories, so what…your labor was 3 hours longer than mine, does than mean your ‘pain’ was worse? It may have lasted longer, but it was not worse! hahahaha

We can CHOOSE to drop the story of ‘me & my pain, my unhappiness’ anytime we wish.

ALL suffering is based on story. What happens, happens, what is, is. It’s the building an identity out of the story, that causes suffering.

People don’t like to hear that, infact, whatever life gives you, it has been given a gazillion times before, your story is NOT unique in ANY way!

I am not saying not to have compassion for pain, suffering, loss, BUT…it is a collective human experience, not a personnelized conspiracy against YOU! lol

I have experienced, death, divorce, job loss, poverty, and have been on both sides of just about every fence their is…and I CHOOSE happiness, peace, GRATITUDE!

You can re-write your story at anytime….:-)

tinyfaery's avatar


You have described my feelings exactly. I struggle almost everyday for a reason to want to get out of bed, to want to have a life, to want to care. I see no inherent value in anything, except for choice.

Choice is the only thing that we can place value on because it is the only means by which we can determine value. My choices, your choices have value simply because they are chosen over the myriad of choices available to us.

Sartre and the other existentialists have saved my life a few times. Give them a try.

galileogirl's avatar

@tinyfaery & @MissAnthrope Obviously you have access to a computer and education, the means for sustenance and a bed. Which means you have the tools and resources to bring value to your life and the world as a whole-more than most of the population of the planet has,

You might say a handful of seeds has no value but if you take those seeds (or your life) and put them in the earth and nurture them their value becomes apparent. It always was there, you just have to develop it.

If you want to understand how most of us find value, stop picking the lint out of your navel, take a shower and do something positive with your life.

thriftymaid's avatar

Wherever you believe it came from, you only get one.

Coloma's avatar

Maybe not? lol
Most of us still have a few more spins on the karmic wheel, undoubtedly. lolol

Who knows?

The here & now, reincarnation, lights out, heaven, hell. (????)
I do believe that both ‘heaven’ & ‘hell’ are inner states of being.

Pick your poison! hahaha

njnyjobs's avatar

People here who feel that there’s nothing better for them than to die should get a change in scenery. You think you have lived the worst life anyone can live but the truth of the matter is there are millions of people who would probably be willing to exchange lives with you in a heartbeat. Just look around the inner cities and the rural towns devastated by natural and man-made calamities. . . each day is a struggle for them to keep their heads above water. They fight to do so because they believe that there’s more to life than what they’ve been dealt with.

I get sick over people who complain that they have nothing to look forward to when infact they have a lot going for themselves. . . .

Do something worthwhile, if not for you do it for somebody else.

Coloma's avatar

Yes. The best way to get out of ones own narrow little space of ‘me, me, me’ is to give/do for/help to someone else!

tinyfaery's avatar

You can kiss my ass. Your opinion means nothing to me. You just like to tear people down. I’ll listen to those that want to help make others better people.

nebule's avatar

I think it comes down to the whole Cartesian privacy thing – we are deeply alone in this life and yet so connected through the suspended belief that we’re all going through the same thing together… and the fact that we have no idea what gives rise to consciousness which obviously entails the ‘us’ that we speak of and feel intrinsic to our existence.

Chongalicious's avatar

@MissAnthrope, you wouldn’t be at all affected if you were told you have a week left to live?

The value in life is that we are able to live it at all. No matter what biology or chance made it possible, we should be glad that we are able to live and be in existence because it’s just plain fucking awesome. Haha it’s a great experience that all of us should cherish because it’s a gift that can be taken away at anytime, the only thing we truly know about life is that it’s not permanant, so appreciate what you got!

liminal's avatar

I hear MissAnthrope having an appreciation of life and for others. I am also hearing she doesn’t place value on exsistence. It is not clear to me how doing things can change that.

@MissAnthrope If you don’t mind answering, what is it about your little sister and your cat that makes you want to stay present to them in life, why is that worth it to you?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I’m sorry you feel this way – you may not know yet what your value can be to the society around you or to the world. Your question just reflects your depression or misery about life, not reality. It isn’t reality that there’s nothing between here and death. Why do you find value in your cat and your little sister? Do you pity them or do you think they won’t survive without you? Why do they value you? Are you replaceable? If you aren’t, that’s your value.

MissAnthrope's avatar

My cat and my sister are pure souls. My cat is unusually awesome and we have a strong bond. She’s sweet, loving, and loves me a lot, unconditionally. Really, I could say the same for my sister, who is 10, and who, somehow, thinks I’m the coolest, smartest, and most fun person in the world. I’m humbled by her open hero worship of me and it helps drive me to be the person she sees me as. I love them both a lot, too. They’re good peoples.

Then there’s the fact that she would be destroyed if anything happened to me, and I don’t want to do that to her. Also, my goal from when she was born was that I hoped to be a safe haven from the craziness of her parents. I went through the experience of my mother’s parenting alone and I don’t want that for her. It will hopefully be easier for her to not internalize if she has someone who understands first-hand and with whom she can discuss it.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@MissAnthrope well so there is a lot of meaning in your life – more than some people can say.

liminal's avatar

@MissAnthrope thank you for answering.

lilikoi's avatar

Why not?

nikipedia's avatar

I’d miss you too.

I gotta back @Fyrius on this one. Depression is treatable, even though sometimes it’s hard to find the right treatment. If you wanna talk about options, send me a PM.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Coloma I entirely agree with you – It’s not our ‘story’ that determines how we value life, it is entirely our ability to choose to be happy, or to let the ‘story’ of life decide for us.

Just_Justine's avatar

@MissAnthrope just like your cat and your sister, open your heart to others that have pure intentions. :)

SABOTEUR's avatar

(Nods to @YARNLADY)

One of the greatest gifts man has been given
is the ability to choose what he thinks.

Our thoughts influence how we feel.

Any time we don’t like the way we feel
is an opportunity to recognize we can
choice once again.

shpadoinkle_sue's avatar

I think that we assign meaning to life to explain it. Science and religion are both trying to explain why we are here. If we’re here because of some mutation or a chemical reaction, than fine. If there’s a force beyond our physical selves, then fine.
I give my life value because I’ve got this hope that what I do in my life will carry over to the next and that guy is gonna be one lucky son of a bitch. I’m sure that everyone at some point has felt “what’s the point?”. I see it all the time. Giving life value gives me appreciation.

Vunessuh's avatar

What’s your address? I’ll mail you some razors.

phillis's avatar

@Vunessuh That’s a genius idea. The best way to prove to a person that their life is valuable is to let them fight for it.

Sink or swim time, baby! It’s back on yoooooou!! Whatcha gonna do now?

Silhouette's avatar

Who says you have to value your life? If you don’t, you don’t. Shrug your shoulders and watch tv. I know that sounds flippant but I really mean it. If you don’t feel any special value from you life stop letting the pressures of what you think it’s supposed to be like ruin what you have. Relax and don’t over think this shit.

CMaz's avatar

“If you don’t feel any special value from your life ”

Your life and life, I see as two different things. The question was “to life”.

Silhouette's avatar

I see it as a point of view of the one thing.

Nially_Bob's avatar

Interesting thought. My immediate conclusion, based mostly upon my relatively limited understanding of human thought patterns, is that it’s a perception commonly held for the purposes of convenience. In this regard, assigning value to life is not dissimilar to how value is assigned to a bank note. This is because a bank note technically has no intrinsic value, yet it appears to be in the best interests of most to perceive them as such as this encourages the stability of the society in question among other positive things.

It is convenient for humans to deem life as being of value as doing such will greatly heighten the humans potential to survive and breed successfully, will amplify our inclination towards altruistic behaviour which, as social creatures, we typically find pleasing (be it performed by ourselves or others) and enhances our potential to be generally happy. In addition to this (or perhaps a separate theory in itself) presuming life to be of importance provides an easy means with which to appease ones ego. Considering our life to be important may provide us a feeling of happiness at being unique in some fashion.

There are many other hypotheses available concerning this question, it’s probable that many are equally valid to that which I have speculated. One alternative being the key theological belief that we consider life to be of importance because a deity created us to think as such.

It’s all a very thought provoking notion for which i’m grateful.

@MissAnthrope I apologise if I am interfering in matters that I have no place in bothering but from what I have read here it seems as though you have a rather pleasant life. If you feel something is lacking however, I would suggest that you deduce what this is and immediately seek to fix it. If you feel that doing this is overwhelming then perhaps you could acquire assistance through friends, therapy or other means. Just some simple suggestions offered to an endearing character :)

MissAnthrope's avatar

@Nially_Bob – GA. Actually, I’m now a bit embarrassed by my little maudlin episode here..

Nially_Bob's avatar

@MissAnthrope You needn’t be embarrassed. It’s beneficial to discuss ones feelings, and there are many (some kindly folk here being excellent examples) who are more than happy to participate in this discussion and assist accordingly without passing any negative judgement as a result. You strike me as someone who would approach a troubled person in a similar manner to this.

Have a pleasant evening :)

augustlan's avatar

@Nially_Bob Way to make a comeback! We’ve missed you. :D

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