Someone asked me today, “Why do we have earwax? What does it do?”
“It protects our inner ears from bacteria, dirt, and what not and keeps the canal lubricated.” Right after I said that, I thought, “That’s just weird as fuck since ‘purpose’ is just an idea, and it’s always relative.”
Something’s purpose is its telos, its end or goal. The purpose of glue is to bind. The purpose of soap is to clean. We can also give purpose to things we don’t create like rocks. We can use a rock as a paperweight, a weapon, a way to sharpen tools, as ornaments and jewelry that attracts others or make us happy. We could even make a hat out of rocks if we wanted to.
So purpose is definitely relative. But then there’s earwax, the heart, lungs, and teeth. These are naturally occurring things—just like rocks—but they have very specific purposes. In a universe devoid of intelligent design, how is this degree of specialization possible?
That nature, natural selection and mutation, could design organic pumps to pump, organic lubricants to lubricate, totally boggles my mind. Then if look at something like camouflage, things get even more interesting.
It’s easy to explain that a brown animal could survive longer in a brown environment than a pink animal could. Since the brown animal survives longer, it creates more offspring with its genes. Over several generation, ta-da, we’ve got a thriving species.
But there are some spiders that not only perfectly resemble tree bark, but they can also flatten themselves against branches so that they’re practically indistinguishable from the tree. That’s a highly specialized purpose, just like earwax. In a dumb universe, I could see chance creating a brown spider that thrives in a brown environment, but it’s difficult for me to imagine chance creating a spider that looks exactly like bark of the trees it lives in.
It’s definitely possible, it just seems highly unlikely. What are the odds? I learned how to calculate odds in statistics class, but that was quite awhile ago, so I’m not even gonna try.
Even though purpose can be relative, is it also conceptual? Is earwax really just there and it just so happens to what it does. Does the heart just so happen to beat, the lungs to breathe. All without any innate purpose, the same way that the word bongledingerdong has no meaning. Purpose and meaning are slightly different, but the people who deny inherent purpose tend to also deny inherent meaning.
The Mahayana would say that purpose is mind-made and determined by karma, but it would also say that the forms that seem to have a purpose are also mind-made. A spider as able to perfectly resemble a tree because both the tree and the spider are mind-made, as are natural selection and mutation. As are earwax, the heart, and lungs. As are the rock, soap, and glue along with all of their possible functions.
Most Western Buddhists take the mind-made theory as an epistemological device. The mind creates our experiences, and our interpretations and responses to them. Others take an ontological perspective and say that, “There is just these experience, just these interpretations.” Basically, that matter isn’t just interpreted by the mind as mental images, but that matter itself is a quality of mind, it’s only an image.
That’s tough to swallow from an materialistic empirical perspective, but it ties up a lot of the loose ends and incredulous aspects in materialist theories. That spider looks like a branch because its ancestors experienced the branch and this experience altered their genetic makeup.
The mind experienced vulnerability in the ears. This altered our genes to create earwax. All without a God, Mind isn’t some kind of personality or sentient being. It’s that matter itself has an inherent awareness and intelligence to it, that it’s actually the appearance of this awareness and intelligence.
That’s just a theory, mind you. I don’t believe or disbelieve it. I’ve had some experiential intuitions about that, but nothing that would make go, “It is such.” But you’ve gotta admit, it makes more sense than the, “Shit happens,” view.