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What is driving the will to exist?

  1. Apr 30, 2010 #1
    Living organisms seem to try to exist as long as they can. Not only that but (some/all?) try to maintain and secure the existance of their kind even to the point of knowing (as humans do) that they may not be there to see whatever result this drive might be leading toward.

    So what is it that is trying?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 1, 2010 #2
    Maybe because all once living organisms, which did not care about living as long possible and secure the existance of their kind, are all extinct now?

    How did Darwin call that?
  4. May 1, 2010 #3
    I think you can figure this out if you think about it. Did you ever see the episode of Friends where Phoebe and Joey have the argument about whether or not there can be a truly unselfish act?
  5. May 1, 2010 #4
  6. May 1, 2010 #5
    The driving will to exist is pain. To voluntarily stop existing, you first have to do something that hurts.
  7. May 1, 2010 #6
    Thank you all for the replies. :smile:
    I've seen that episode many times (my wife and I own all ten seasons :redface:). Still, I am not sure that I get your meaning here.
  8. May 1, 2010 #7
    I'm saying apparently "altruistic" acts are actually selfish in some way, shape, or form, and the drive to take care of others, or contribute to something good, the results of which you'll never see, is actually a selfish thing in disguise. We adopt the orphan or the stray cat because we identify with it, and we contribute to environmental causes because we identify with the as yet unborn people who will inherit our mess if we don't clean it up for them.
  9. May 1, 2010 #8


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    What does this have to do with a given animal wishing to live as long as possible, and why they eat and drink to stay alive? I think you missed the gist of the thread.
  10. May 2, 2010 #9


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    Sex. Organisms are elaborate mechanisms to ensure the survival of their genes.
  11. May 2, 2010 #10
    That's correct, but it's likely because my question wasn't very well constructed. I think I placed undue importance on how the will to exist might play out rather than the 'what and why' aspect of this sense.

    I'm asking "what is it that is trying?" because it seems that we are programmed to act this way for a reason (of course). A computer has no means of wanting to exist but is can be programmed to act that way.

    As I consider this I have to at times wonder if how we are programmed doesn't imply an ultimate will or intent beyond us.

    By the way, this is NOT intended to be a religious thing. :smile:
  12. May 2, 2010 #11
    Which is exactly what I sensed and what my answers address: there is no external force driving the will to exist. The sense of a will or intent beyond us arises as a misreading of the epiphenomena of mundane selfishness.

    These things work both for the species and the individual, therefore they constitute the kind of advantage that would be selected. Which is what Andre was pointing at.
  13. May 2, 2010 #12
    First, I certainly agree with you that there --probably-- are no truly selfless acts.

    But isn't evolution a sort of external "force"?
  14. May 2, 2010 #13
    I realize now that I should have been more clear that I was talking about all life, not just human life.
  15. May 2, 2010 #14


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    I'm not sure anyone misunderstood that. Seemed pretty clear to me.

    I'm still not sure what zooby is getting at.
  16. May 2, 2010 #15
    No. There is no drive behind evolution. It's a default kind of thing. Things just mutate at random. Some of these mutations are bad and the mutants die out. Some mutations are neutral, so they have no effect. Some mutations are advantageous, so the mutants thrive and might even supplant the non-mutated ones.

    The other thing that happens is that the environment changes. Suddenly the "neutral" mutants might be at an advantage. Say the climate gets colder and the neutral mutation was thicker fur. Suddenly the neutrals squeak by and live while the normals freeze to death.

    There is no "drive" to get better and stronger as some people think. The "fittest" might end up being the smaller, less food dependent members of the troop. Pygmy animals sometimes evolve on islands that get separated from mainlands because the islands cannot support a breeding population of full sized animals.
  17. May 3, 2010 #16
    I wasn't sure either...

  18. May 3, 2010 #17
    Although I haven't spent a great deal of time looking yet, I'm having a difficult time finding a definition for evolution synonomous with evolution=random mutation.

    I am aware of my ignorance of the matter so I do apreciate any afforded patience, but here is what I can observe:

    • The geese that hang out by the pond outside my apartment have recent offspring and now hiss at me if I aproach them.
    • A woodlouse bug was just passing by when it fell on its back. It wriggled and whrithed for a good two minutes, ultimately utilizing a blade of dead grass within reach to right itself and it was back about its way.
    • My cats will not leave me alone if I don't feed them (unless of course I continued to not feed them long enough...).

    One more question (okay, well, two): Is our abstract self-awareness a result of evolution? If so, is it a desirable or undesirable; "good" or "bad" mutation? Because right now it's really hindering any efforts I should be making to get ready for work!

    Very enjoyable discussion. Thanks all. (and don't worry, I fed the cats)
  19. May 3, 2010 #18
    I am, but it's really abstract. Once you wrap your mind around it, it makes all kinds of sense.

    Really quickly -- Natural selection defintion:

    The process in nature by which, according to Darwin's theory of evolution, only the organisms best adapted to their environment tend to survive and transmit their genetic characteristics in increasing numbers to succeeding generations while those less adapted tend to be eliminated.


    The operative word in that explanation is "and". The word isn't "to" or "in order to". There's no design, there's not compulsion, just mutations that continue. There's nothing "driving" anything. There's nothing making conscious decisions. Genes can't think.

    I'm not clear what your list is supposed to represent but,

    Parents of live offspring have a chemical reaction go off (really simplified version) that creates the reaction of protecting their young. The geese that developed this mutation reared young to the age where they too procreated. But the geese or the chemicals in their brains didn't have a goal. The geese without this mutation didn't have offspring that continued because predators got them. But the geese genes don't have an agenda.

    If you fall down, do you get back up again and right yourself? Or do you just lie on the ground where you fell?

    Because chemicals in their stomach collect and cause a sensation that eventually turns to pain if they don't eat. Once they eat, the pain goes away and they also experience some pleasure. They ask you for food because they know you control it and they're trying to control pain.

    Again, I'm not really sure of the significance of that.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  20. May 3, 2010 #19
    What is driving the will to exist?

    The desire not to be 'eaten' by another animal, and seeking pleasure when there are no threats apparent.
  21. May 3, 2010 #20
    Perhaps the OP is trying to ask a slightly different, more global question. Are you asking why, out of random processes, highly dynamic and complex "things" emerge and interact?

    Or is this a question about the nature of subjective experience?

    It seems to me the OP is not trying to ask a simple evolution question, but perhaps isn't expressing himself/herself clearly.
  22. May 3, 2010 #21


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    Seems pretty clear to me that he is simply asking about "the will to survive".
  23. May 3, 2010 #22
    I'm glad I stumbled on this interesting thread and I'm glad it's currently active.

    I think the question "What is driving the will to exist?" has two components. The first is: What causes an organism to behave in a manner to prolong its existence? Andre provided a good answer: "Maybe because all once living organisms, which did not care about living as long possible and secure the existance of their kind, are all extinct now?" In the competition for existence evolution will favor organisms that behave to preserve their own existence, or better yet, the continued existence of their genes.

    The second question is tougher: What is the source of the will to exist? A non-theological answer is required on a physics forum. To push the question further, what is the source of an organism's behavior, whatever it may be. Here we're getting into the question "what is life?" The answer has to distinguish the behavior of a falling rock from the behavior of a growing crystal from the behavior of a virus or other living creature from the behavior of a Martian Rover, programmed to carry on all its functions without further human intervention. That is the problem I was working on when I stumbled on this thread. I'm still working on the answer.
  24. May 3, 2010 #23
    I believe that the will to exist is first to reproduce.
    At a deeper level, nowadays, since we don't have to struggle to keep our species alive, I believe it is to contribute something worthwhile, and teach your kids something worthwhile. My goal and drive is to know mooore and moooooooore. I crave knowledge. And I hope to use it someday to do something novel.

    I think it nowadays depends on the individual person. I don't think we much follow evolutionary I-have-to-live-longer-to-have-sex stuff.
  25. May 3, 2010 #24
    Could/would you explain that thought for me, please? Because there are a whole bunch of folks wandering around existing -- willfully and everything -- without reproducing or having any will to. So. I'm curious.
  26. May 3, 2010 #25
    Yes, this is the thing the OP doesn't fully appreciate. With random mutations those that create behaviors that happen to contribute to the well being of the animal will get "selected". A creature born with an under active sense of hunger will be more indifferent to eating than it's fellows, and so, is likely to starve to death before it's old enough to breed. A creature that does not run from danger, but just observes it complacently, will get killed much more quickly than it's fellows, again most likely before it's old enough to breed.

    After billions of years of this those things that have behaviors that look like a "will to exist" are the only things around. There is actually no over-riding drive going on here. It's more like a default filter.
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