Storms don't have them
I first thought of roles in the context of theatre where people took on roles in a play. I liked working backstage and never thought that I had a role.
But of course I did.
It was just that my role was in the context of putting the play on rather than in the context of the story the play was presenting. The role was satisfying. I was one of an ingroup that valued my contribution. Security would smile when I went backstage. I was privy to stuff the public couldn't see. It boosted my status among my classmates.
I always liked that about having a job. I liked having a role on a team. I liked being the one who knew how to run specialized machinery. Whenever I got laid off I'd lose that role and become an outsider.
Now I'm retired. I have a role as an old guy who has been in the neighborhood since forever and people cheer my beard. I have a role in Second Life that is pretty important to me.
When I was working backstage or at a job, my role was closely connected to my purpose. The role needed to be fulfilled and my purpose in the context was to fulfill it.
Now, for most of the day, I have no role. I'm sitting here by myself doing whatever I please within a range of possibilities. I make pictures and write programs and essays and read. To what purpose?
In general there is no purpose. Or at least - the purpose is to pass the time in a pleasant way.
Within that I have sub-purposes.
I'm working on a program that simulates the gravity field. I've been working on it for months. There is purpose involved there. The project itself gives purpose to all sorts of sub-projects too. That is, I can create my own purposes.
It's plain to me that reality as a whole has no purpose. I think that the context of things that evolve by Natural Selection creates purpose in reality. When you have something like a fish you can ask about the purpose of fins. You can't ask that about the shape of a rock or even a star. Those shapes just happen.
But I harken back to Christian thinking that thought that reality had purpose; ie - reality's purpose was to fulfill God's plan; inscrutable to mere humans as that might be. The idea was that each of us existed for a purpose within that plan. That is; each of us has a role to play.
When I stopped believing in a deity it didn't cause me to have an identity crisis. I met many people full of angst wondering things like; who am I? I never quite understood the feeling at the time. But then, I'd never had having a role in God's plan as a part of my own identity. We can find roles in purposeless systems like ecosystems if we think of the role of something in terms of what is it's effect. For instance; predators are said to have the role in an ecosystem of keeping the population of herbivores in check. But I wouldn't say that that is the purpose of predators.
There are other evolutionary systems besides biology. For instance, memes evolve according to the Evolutionary Algorithm just as biological things do. This shows up a thing about both roles and purpose. An individual meme just is - it has no role or purpose. But a meme can have a role when it is part of a memeplex. For instance; imagine a conspiracy theory and somebody asks of it "Why is there no evidence for it?" And the defensive meme "That's how good the conspiracy is" get's deployed. That meme has a role.
What do you think?