Here is an interesting article–“Does Life on Earth Have a Purpose?” (Purpose Article) I suspect most of us have thought about this question at one point or another, both from a personal perspective and from a larger, universal perspective. For many people, religion provides guidance. The science doesn’t really give a good answer. We don’t know how this all started, much less why, or if there even is a why. Is the notion of a beginning even the right way to look at whatever exists. We appear to be real, to have real thoughts and real interactions with other real people. So why are we are, and is there some larger purpose to the existence of the universe that should guide our actions individually and as the human race?
The author of this article starts down an interesting path, but I think gets a little detoured. It is important to understand a difference between purpose and meaning. Meaning is a highly individualized concept, based on what animates a particular person’s existence and sense of fulfillment, if any. Far too many people appear to have lost any sense of meaning and live large self and socially destructive lives. Purpose, as applied to the universe, asks whether we see any reason for its existence, any larger goal or objective that can be inferred from its history or characteristics.
The author correctly notes that one characteristic of the universe is increasing complexity, and that in our tiny corner of the universe, here on earth, we see that increased complexity in the form of living beings, human and perhaps others, that have an awareness of their existence and a great capability to shape change their environment. I simply don’t accept the notion that across the literally uncountable numbers of galaxies and stellar systems in the universe there are no other worlds where “life” and complex life has not similarly arisen and progressed. I believe the author incorrectly says this doesn’t tell us anything about purpose in the universe.
The evolution of the universe tells us that it “started” or had an initial condition that favored this growth in complexity and the development of living things. We would not be here otherwise. Self-awareness is the most startling evolutionary development on earth and I would suspect anywhere else that has advanced life. It allows greater intentionality and greater guidance of our intelligence for ends which should benefit us individually and as a species. I believe that the purpose of the universe is to in fact favor complex life that ultimately can gain control of the environment in which it exists, not just at small scales, but at large scales.
We don’t yet know the fate of the universe for certain–does it expand forever, gradually seeing the energy it contains die out and fade into nothingness. Does it contain enough mass to eventually counteract the expansion and lead to mash-up of all matter. Is there a singular fate to the universe, or can it separate, can different regions of space-time have different futures, become causally disconnected as it were. I think the purpose of the universe is to create “life” such as humans, that have the possibility of understanding not just how the universe works, but how to manipulate and change how it works. If the universe would expand forever, is it not possible that in a few hundred or thousand years humans, or similar life on another world in the universe, will understand how to control massive amounts of energy and change that fate.
What is important about this discussion is how it may inform our current lives and policies. If we have a common understanding about a purpose in the universe, a purpose that we should harmonize our existence with, then perhaps we can overcome our current tribal bickering and slaughtering and devote all our energy to exploring space, moving human life beyond earth, beyond our solar system, even dare we dream, beyond our galaxy; and to deciphering the apparent fate of the universe and modifying that at least in part to ensure the perpetuation of this complex life which the universe, randomly or not, sprang into existence. And sensing and living with that awareness of a purpose to the universe, a purpose which led to our very being, may then provide greater meaning for individual humans.