A Universe Without Purpose

Disc CloudLawrence M. Krauss writes in the LA Times:

The illusion of purpose and design is perhaps the most pervasive illusion about nature that science has to confront on a daily basis. Everywhere we look, it appears that the world was designed so that we could flourish.

The position of the Earth around the sun, the presence of organic materials and water and a warm climate — all make life on our planet possible. Yet, with perhaps 100 billion solar systems in our galaxy alone, with ubiquitous water, carbon and hydrogen, it isn’t surprising that these conditions would arise somewhere. And as to the diversity of life on Earth — as Darwin described more than 150 years ago and experiments ever since have validated — natural selection in evolving life forms can establish both diversity and order without any governing plan.

As a cosmologist, a scientist who studies the origin and evolution of the universe, I am painfully aware that our illusions nonetheless reflect a deep human need to assume that the existence of the Earth, of life and of the universe and the laws that govern it require something more profound. For many, to live in a universe that may have no purpose, and no creator, is unthinkable …

Read More: LA Times

19 Comments on "A Universe Without Purpose"

  1. Gregory Wyrdmaven | Apr 3, 2012 at 8:45 am |

    Well, there’s another assumption out there in that a planet has to have the same circumstances as the earth to support life.  There is no reason that life on other planets has to look anything or work anything like life on earth does.  We look at not just our planet but the cosmos through the narrow pinhole of our understanding and try to make reality conform to that understanding.

    Wouldn’t it be much easier to just experience what we perceive rather than trying to own it by claiming we understand it?  And since we actually do understand that material existence is made up of particles that are just energy, then why not put the focus back on innerspace rather than outerspace? 

    When you see that the cosmos doesn’t appear to have any point, any purpose, then why get out of bed in the morning?  The reality of life is consciousness, that we are energy, and the cosmos is the mobile hanging above our crib to give us something to look at until we can grow up and move on to the point where we truly do understand.

    Fiat lux.

    • I really dislike the language of humanity as a whole “growing up,” as though knowing the truth will come at some point in the distant future. If we knew the truth, then what? What would we do? I suspect we’d reject it. Not because we can’t handle it, but because, quite frankly, knowing everything is boring.

  2. DeepCough | Apr 3, 2012 at 10:35 am |

    The Universe doesn’t care if you don’t think it doesn’t have a purpose, and that’s how anthrocentric the universe is.

  3. tl;dr?
    Nihilism is the one true fact of the universe.

    • strange, it states there is no truth.  Lets just destroy this beast and be done with it!

    • Smudgeservices | Apr 3, 2012 at 10:59 am |

       that is quite a bland and equally bold statement. to bring truth into the subject of purpose opens up a whole other can of worms that is quite deceiving and sidetracking to the argument presented. would you like to clarify such a claim?

      the article is clearly presented from a purely scientific position which inherently directs the argument towards the subject of the scientific understanding of nihilism versus a metaphysical one. I can only assume your claim that “nihilism is the one true fact of the universe” is based on the scientific position and evidence of such presented in the article. but if you didn’t read the article because it was too long then why are you even commenting such bold statements to begin with?

  4. Terryjamesneal333 | Apr 3, 2012 at 11:30 am |

    So having a “mythological god” to worship and think for you makes it all meaningful? Are you some kind of an idiot or do you retain position or wealth by posting such stupid ideology.   If you believe in a God…then the intellect that he gave you should start being used!

    •  Shut up and go back to reading man written bible, the only ‘book’ you propably ever owned.

  5. I believe the concept of ‘infinity’ best describes the universe. It puts into perspective how insignificant our brief moment of existence is, yet it ensures that it is happening, has happened, and will happen again. If matter/energy can neither be created nor destroyed, energy must then be infinite. The configuration of this infinite energy is what we perceive. The mind (a product of this configuration, or perhaps, energy in itself) must therefore also be infinite. However, certain conditions must be met if the mind is to perceive the energy around it.
    These conditions are mathematically ‘common’ in terms of the vastness of the universe. M theory says that there may be infinite universes. Therefore, there must be infinite possibilities for infinite configurations of the energy in infinite universes. Our mind must then be nothing more than part of the infinite energy interacting in infinite possibilities of infinite configurations of the infinite energy interacting in infinite possibilities of infinite configurations of infinite energy….If we are conscious at this very moment due to certain configurations in the universe, and if there are infinite possibilities in how the universe is configured, then this configuration has happened before, and will happen again. Consciousness is nothing more than a product of this configuration. Perhaps this life is the only possible configuration for our self-aware minds; maybe not. But if it is happening now, it has and will happen again. 

    God may be nothing more than the concept of Infinity and everything (including our consciousness) it entails. The only ‘end’ in the universe is our consciousness not being able to interpret the energy around it, but as infinity implies, an end and a beginning are one in the same. 

  6. It is also just an assumption that there is no purpose to the universe.  There is no way to prove that.

  7. Strange that the author of this article made no explicit mention of the “anthropic principle”. Seems like that might be an important element of a discussion like this.

  8. Bradcdavis222 | Apr 4, 2012 at 12:50 am |

    Mr Krauss, perhaps you underestimate the number of ways that the term “purpose” can have for people. It is perhaps possible, that in the thicket of purposes that you would find objectionable as a class, at least one or two of them might be reasonable…randomly or otherwise. If you stretch your imagination a bit, maybe one of those ideas could even be yours.

  9. Think Infinitely | Apr 4, 2012 at 12:59 am |

    “This is a war
    universe. War all the time. That is its nature. There may be other
    universes based on all sorts of other principles, but ours seems to be
    based on war and games.” — Burroughs, William S.

  10. There are lines between disciplines for a reason. While science can inform philosophy, it is not itself philosophy.  This article, consequently, is worthless as not only science, for it has said nothing that any scientist qua scientist can profit from, but also as philosophy, for it makes no arguments that any philosopher would take seriously. I can say this because his only argument that is even slightly philosophical–in which he states, because it seems fitting or unsurprising that a planet like ours should have come into being, that therefore there is no purpose–does not follow.

    In short, he attributes to science things which science is incapable of making any meaningful statement about. Science cannot change our idea of nothingness. It can tell us the space we once thought as empty is in fact not empty, but it cannot say anything about what nothingness is (or isn’t, as the case may be). Read Heidegger’s Being and Time if you want to know a 20th century theory about nothingness, or read Plato or some other philosopher if you don’t like 20th century philosophy. But don’t expect science to somehow empirically prove what it means for there to be nothing. Likewise, don’t expect to empirically prove that there is no purpose. If purposelessness is going to be proven, let it be proven within the discipline that has the tools necessary to make such statements.

    • mannyfurious | Apr 5, 2012 at 1:55 pm |

      This pretty much sums it up. That’s why when I read Hawking’s book about the “death” of philosophy at the hands of science, I wanted to fucking puke. It was ironic for the same reasons this article is–you have someone practicing very bad philosophy in an attempt to show how obsolete philosophy is. The layers of irony are so numerous it makes my head spin. But, besides being embarrassing for these scientists, it’s maddening because so many people take them seriously. 

  11. I don’t know, I felt kind of liberated after I read that… when I think of a universe without purpose in that way, with no grand creator. What some of you were saying about knowing how everything works because you can contribute it all to some grand design… the idea of Gods hanging over us and planning everything out seems more desolate in comparison. Enjoyed the overall effect of the article more than anything else.

  12. Planetpix | Apr 15, 2012 at 8:34 pm |

    Is there necessarily a higher livelihood that the universe has no purpose than that it does?  I am suspicious of assuming lack of purpose just because we can’t figure out what it might be. 

  13. Planetpix | Apr 16, 2012 at 6:00 pm |

    It seems limited in the extreme to confine our concepts of the universe to just two alternative theories, 1)  It was created by an elderly figure with a long beard seated on a throne, or 2) It was just a weird accident with no rhyme or reason whatsoever.  Could there be more possibilities or…is that all we get to pick from? 

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