Michael Battalio

Monday, September 24, 2007

Serious Conversations... (part 4)

A bit of a disclaimer, this is the fourth in series of serious blog posts about religion and philosophy. If you have ever chatted with me about philosophy and religion and very much disagree, be prepared for that to continue.
These are my responses (Edited, of course, to offend as few people as possible; although offense is inevitable with me.) from a conversation I am having with an atheist friend of mine about the meaning of life, consciousness, physics, the kitchen sink, religion and a couple of moral issues thrown in to boot.
Before every single religious person starts chomping at the bit, let me say this is not an argument about whether there is a God. This is more philosophical in nature. Also let me say that my unnamed friend is one of the most moral, responsible and decent people I have ever met, so no one take the high ground until you’ve read the entire series, and still don’t take it then either. This fourth entry is about the purpose of all of existence.

My friend had just commented on the lack of a purpose for noncomplex life. The example was an amoeba. My friend had also commented on why we need a purpose to life. No other creature needs a purpose; why should we need one? Lastly, my friend pointed out we need to differentiate between the purpose for all of existence, the purpose of life, and an individual’s purpose. I responded…

Perhaps an amoeba is just a by product of the evolution of life; perhaps an amoeba has already served its purpose, as simply an early step of life. And now the amoeba simply exists just because it knows no better. It could be also that one of the purposes of an amoeba is to support the ecosystem(s) in which humanity can thrive.
Sentience could be the goal of the universe, or at least life, to figure itself out, and the purpose of everything around us is to support us in trying to figure the universe out. (It’s also true we could be just a stepping stone to something even more important than us. Actually, I hope we are; if we aren’t, we still have some serious evolving to do if you ask me.)
I wonder why we need a purpose in life. Why can’t we just live like everything else? I don’t think anything else needs a purpose to life. I doubt any animals can think about things of this nature, so why are humans so insistent on having a purpose to life. I don’t have a good answer to that. (Here is the best answer my friend could come up with: Humanity is a very goal oriented species. We make “to do” lists, we set career goals, the government supposedly has a set of goals for Iraq. We’re all about doing things for reasons. Perhaps humanity’s need for a purpose of existence is just an extension of our human nature.)
My friend pointed out that a person’s purpose in life might be to find their purpose in life. (Even though that’s circular reasoning.) I think that could be a valid thing to say, but if there really isn’t a purpose to life, then that person has wasted their life. This is why I need something more to my purpose in life than just finding my purpose. There has to be more to the purpose than the purpose. Was there a purpose to the universe at all before humanity came around to start looking for a purpose? I don't know.
I'm a believer in the anthropic principle. (The anthropic principle is born out of physics. It comes in several forms, but the gist of it is this: The universe is very fine tuned for our existence. So fine tuned that any infinitesimal change in any of a number of constants [e.g. the fine-structure constant, the masses of any of the fundamental particles, the strength of any of the fundamental forces, the speed of light, etc. etc.] would throw the universe so out of whack that the most complex form of matter would be random protons and neutrons flying around [and perhaps not even that]. No atoms, no stars, no galaxies, and no life. Our existence is a big coincidence. How does science explain this? By the anthropic principle, which states: we wouldn’t be here to measure the fundamental physical constants if the constants were of a strength precluding our existence. In other words, we are here now because if things were different we couldn’t be here. That may seem like circular reasoning, and actually it kind of is except for the theory of the multiverse. It states that there are an infinite amount of universes each existing simultaneously with different properties. The reason we are in this universe and not in any other is because of the anthropic principle. The multiverse is a very vague, unprovable concept in physics, but it has an elegance that appeals to me.) And to me the anthropic principle is enough to answer the “how we are here?” of existence for me. Assuming God doesn't exist, I really can't think of a reason for the universe or life or anything really, except for that principle. (I find it necessary to have a reason beyond God for there to be a universe. Some people are blessed-or cursed depending on your view-to have a faith where faith is all you need. I am not one of those people.) But being here now, I'm glad the fundamental forces are in balance and that light travels the speed it does and that the proton isn't a bit heavier.

Existence as a whole may not have a purpose, but individuals can give themselves a purpose. Next a discussion of that.

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