Disclaimer: I haven't seen any other posts about this anywhere and one night, I was just thinking and scribbled this down, so I don't know where this could be found otherwise.

What if, there is no true meaning to death? Many scientist believe that death is simply death, and when you die, there is nothing left but the individual cells that will break down and be recycled by the Earth. So, despite the constant energy within our own cells, could death be evidence for evolution? For example, could death be a preventive measure against harmful mutations, inbreeding, while at the same time a management solution for overpopulation and depletion of resources? Without getting into DNA's mysterious origins, with death, could it be that immortality is something that everyone of us could experience, but we have the system of death making sure that doesn't happen?

So, let's go back to the root question: Can death be given meaning through the theory of evolution? Is it so, that maybe death isn't an escape from reality and sins as many religions tell us, but in fact a balance on species, ensuring survival and evolution?

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    Is there any chance I might be able to persuade you to develop this a bit further? It would seem to me death has a plain meaning in terms of natural selection; I guess I'm just not sure how we are making the leap to the big-picture "sense" or philosophical "meaning" of death. Maybe you could share with a little bit about what might you have been reading or studying that has made this an interesting or urgent problem? What might you have found out already? What sort of answer are you looking for?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Oct 30, 2012 at 18:27

4 Answers 4


I think you have a point, though I wouldn't phrase it quite in the terms that you have.

Being alive is difficult: pathogens, DNA damage, injury, starvation, cancer. This is what makes death (of cells, at least) unavoidable.

Life has come up with a really clever way around these problems, though, in reproduction: make as clean of a copy as you can (preferably with recombination with someone else so you get a chance to swap out the bad bits) and keep going.

(And it's probably best when one gets too damaged to just die and avoid competing with your offspring for resources.)

So, basically, death is unavoidable--not an escape from sins, but from physical and chemical and genetic damage. And life (with reproduction, and therefore evolution) is the best cheat yet implemented.

  • I don't particularly like the OP's question because it's overly broad and lacks specific references so it seems like it's merely soliciting discussion, but I do like this answer. This is how I've been thinking of evolution for a long time, almost from when I first learned of it: we are not "new" organisms with each successive generation; the organism doesn't die when individual units die. We are the same organism, improving itself. The hippies have been saying "we are all one" for years; well, in a way they're completely right. ;)
    – stoicfury
    Nov 6, 2012 at 3:48

This is much more a biology/evolution question than a philosophy question. There is a Wikipedia article on the topic.

Evolution in the sense of the survival of the fittest should only be interested in lifespan as to its impact on the success of a species. Presumably dogs that live much less than 10 years or much more than 20 don't propagate as successfully as dogs as we know them. Presumably the various insects with lifespans in the days or weeks similarly.

Humans have a very long life, especially as compared with our closest relatives in the primates. Without a reference to back it up, I think this is because with language and minds, but before books and the internet, our oldsters passed on information to the youngsters, so it was biologically worthwhile to support the old SOBs because they might tell you something useful every once in a while. This IS sort of apropos for a philosophy board, old farts sitting around the campfire swapping tall tales strikes me as the very beginnings of philosophy.

  • <<survival of the fittest>> this is a wrong perception on how evolution works. <<survival of the most adaptable>> would be more accurate Jul 1, 2015 at 14:25
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    @Matze I have forwarded your correction to Darwin.
    – mwengler
    Jul 2, 2015 at 19:54

Meaning can be found in action -- therefore if you find meaning in life (whatever that means for you) but you die sometime, your meaning likely dies with you. In such an event I'd say that life has no meaning unless it's always existing -- namely because "the meaning of life" is multifaceted and could mean various things. You can't reasonably argue of "meaning of life/evolution/etc." if life isn't the prime factor.

Is death given meaning as per evolution? Maybe, but I'd still strongly say that your life's meaning is meaningless per se -- you died and therefore you joined the pea in the pod. Meaning only lives on with you as its purveyor -- the extension beyond this is an enactment of your destiny or meaning in proxy-esque form. With no life to ever be there is no meaning -- evolution in this sense cannot fulfill any "meaning" any more than an idea in a vacuum. So ultimately death is not a meaning -- it's unfortunate.

  • Hi Fox! I'd suggest you to support your answer by references, or at the very least philosophers who support your position. Oct 13, 2019 at 11:55

No. If limited life span was the result of generational evolution, unlimited lifespan would have been tried and rejected.

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    This is false. Evolution doesn't necessarily "try all possible alternatives" before resting on the final "accepted" evolutionary path. In fact, it definitely can't try all possible alternatives. (Note: I'm using the term "try" here very liberally to describe the general process of natural selection by which the meta-process—when looked at as a whole, single entity—can be said to be "testing" new evolutionary branches against the rigors of nature. Some lines succeed, others fail ("get rejected").)
    – stoicfury
    Oct 31, 2012 at 3:44
  • It's not false. Nowhere did I imply evolution "tries" all possible alternatives, but in this strange hypothetical proposal there are only 2 choices: limited lifespan and unlimited lifespan, and for limited lifespan to be considered an evolved adaptation it must have evolved from an alternative, the only alternative being unlimited lifespan.
    – obelia
    Oct 31, 2012 at 17:12
  • Why is that the only alternative?
    – stoicfury
    Nov 1, 2012 at 2:54
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    -1 for nonsense. "No lifespan" is another alternative to "limited life span", as is "longer but still limited life span". Also, in one sense you can't "try unlimited lifespan" because you don't have time; in another, it's tried all the time, and you can see just how well cancer works out for us.
    – Rex Kerr
    Nov 1, 2012 at 11:58
  • You're correct in that '"No lifespan" is another alternative to "limited lifespan"' but it cannot be tested by evolution, that's why it's not a valid alternative in this case. There's an implied question in the OP as to whether unlimited lifespan has been "tried" by evolution. "longer but still limited" is not distinct from "limited" in this context.
    – obelia
    Nov 1, 2012 at 23:39

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