When someone mentions the universe, the first thing that may come to mind is how enormous or how old it is, or perhaps its galaxies and suns and planets, or maybe even the empty darkness that makes up most of it.
Have you ever wondered what purpose it all has? What’s the meaning of it all? Sure, suns are there to provide heat and light to the planets orbiting them. Perhaps occasionally, in some remote corners of the universe yet to be discovered by humans, they accommodate life. Furthermore, it is conceivable that a portion of them harbor intelligent life.
Nevertheless, whether Earth is the only place in the universe to house life or not, the question persists. Why would all this vast emptiness exist, all just to contain life on one or more planets which are minuscule compared to the rest of the cosmos? Another question might emerge in us, namely: what is the purpose of this life?
For a very long time in human history, religion was there to address this question: this life is merely a temporary phase of existing, after which you pass into the afterworld. The first “basic” religions didn’t really give meaning to life, as you simply passed on to the afterworld after death, without your deeds in life influencing anything. As civilization progressed, religions started adopting a worldview—still commonly held by modern religions—that this life is merely a test, so that the gods or a god can decide which afterworld you go to (e.g. Greek mythology, Christianity), and/or what happens to you after death (e.g.Buddhism, rebirth). The question remains basically the same in both cases: whether you believe in an afterlife or rebirth, or that you can become a god if you live in such a way. Why? What is the point? What meaning does a heaven have, where souls go and just chill about until eternity, or a hell where they suffer forever? Why would you become a god, which is, again, just another being that maybe occasionally does things, if you have no incentive to do anything at all?
Nowadays, biology gives us a different explanation. You are born to later reproduce, pass on your genes, and die. Not a very satifsying explanation, is it? On top of it not being a satisfying answer to our existence, it still doesn’t explain the purpose of those parts of the universe we will never reach before going extinct as a species.
However hard we try to think of a reason for it all, we will realize it is meaningless. Our existence is as meaningless as a thing can be, but that’s why it’s so beautiful: you must make it meaningful for yourself. The world doesn’t care about meaning, yet the best life is a life of meaning. And that is, perhaps, life’s greatest contradiction.