Everything Matters

10/08/2015

Based on the reaction to my last post, I still feel that way too many people don’t understand the difference between “the meaning of my life” and “the purpose of my life.” They frequently use words like purpose, meaning, fulfillment, and satisfaction interchangeably.  So, let’s start with some definitions:

According to Merriam-Webster, purpose is:

  •  the reason why something is done or used : the aim or intention of something
  •  the feeling of being determined to do, or achieve, something
  •  the aim or goal of a person : what a person is trying to do, become, etc.

One example of a purpose of one’s life is to feed the homeless.  Another example would be to express oneself artistically so as to feel fulfilled and satisfied.

With respect to meaning, Wikipedia offers different flavors of the word “meaning” but the one being discussed here is as follows:

  • The meaning of life, a notion concerning the nature of human existence

 

In order to clarify things a bit, perhaps, a few more quotes might be in order:

  • “Life has to be given a meaning because of the obvious fact that it has no meaning.”
    – Henry Miller
  • “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”
    – Joseph Campbell
  • “Everything matters not in spite of the end of you and all that you love, but because of it. Everything is all you’ve got…and after Everything is nothing. So you were wise to welcome Everything, the good and the bad alike, and cling to it all. Gather it in. Seek the meaning in sorrow and don’t ever turn away, not once, from here until the end. Because it is all the same, it is all unfathomable, and it is all infinitely preferable to the one dreadful alternative.”
    – Ron Currie Jr., Everything Matters!

For those of you who are religious, I offer you this quote from King Solomon in the Bible: “Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). The reason for what King Solomon said is that God created us for that which is beyond what we can experience (and understand) in our lives. Thus, the attempt by religion to comprehend the incomprehensible.

Going back to Wikipedia, the key element in the meaning of life has to do with the nature of our existence.  For example, how did humanity originate and is there a reason why a species like ours exists? Do we have a place in the cosmos?

In that regard, I would offer up the following thoughts:

  • What is the nature of reality?  I would say that we don’t know.  Even Einstein would agree that man cannot grasp the universe. Therefore, if you can’t say what reality is, how can you answer such a question as what is the meaning of life?
  • Any definition of the meaning of life has to start with an assumption with respect to the existence of God.  Whether you believe in a Creator, or not, totally colors your perception of life – and, therefore, its ultimate meaning.

Perhaps, this extra commentary helps clarify this matter.. or perhaps not.  I didn’t mean to muddy up the water…or, then again, maybe I did. Yes, life has meaning…or maybe it doesn’t. In any event, as Ron Currie Jr. said, some meaning is way more preferable to a life of no meaning. That’s why everything matters.

 

Is scientific inquiry meaningful if it never leads to a discovery of what caused the universe to exist in the first place? That is, what’s the point (no pun intended) of proving that there is no point to life? In that vein, it was theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg who said, “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless.”

So here’s my question: Why does Weinberg, and scientists like him, keep trying? What is the objective of their scientific inquiries? Is there a purpose to any of it? In a perverse sort of way, I think there is. You see, there are many different disciplines in science, but really only two kinds of scientists – those who believe in a Creator and ultimately are trying to prove it through their research and those who don’t believe in a Creator and are trying to prove that one doesn’t exist – to wit, life is pointless.

Two rather interesting viewpoints on this issue from giants of the scientific community are those of Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein. It was Hawking who said that, “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but science makes God unnecessary” and Einstein who declared that, “Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man….” Oddly enough, Hawking’s comment does tend to somewhat confirm what Einstein said about a spirit being manifest in the universe. It was Dr. E, himself, who first posited that space and time were constructs (somebody built them). More recently, theoretical theorist Dr. James Gates said that his research shows that certain theories which describe the fundamental nature of the universe contain embedded computer codes. Then there is cosmologist Max Tegmark who says that our external physical reality is a mathematical structure and physicist Paul Davies who stated that, “The universe conforms to an orderly scheme.” More on them later.

Scientific American’s recent article entitled “2 Futures Can Explain Time’s Mysterious Past” is a fascinating article about two competing theories that would revolutionize our idea about time. The problem with the two theories is that they both assume that the universe is a closed system. Accordingly, both theories will always contain anomalies because they exclude that which exists outside of our universe. I say outside of our universe because even theoretical physics now encompasses ideas of other worlds, be they parallel universes, the Multiverse or whatever. So if you can’t incorporate what lies outside of our universe in your scientific theory, then you can never comprehensively define how the universe was created or exactly how it all works.

Aye, there’s the rub because science, by definition, can never prove anything that it can’t observe. John Horgan discussed this very issue of the limitations in science in his book The End of Science. The implication is that science will, if it hasn’t already, hit a wall beyond which it can only speculate. The upshot is that for scientists the rest of Creation (that which is beyond our universe) is unobservable and therefore God, if he exists, will forever be unknowable.

Aside: That is, you can’t scientifically prove whether God exists or not.

Of course, philosophers generally don’t have the same constraints as scientists. It was Time magazine which some years back published the story “Modernizing the Case for God.” In that article, it discussed that philosophers are reexamining the case for God. For many, that discussion harkens back to the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument which was named for its author Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who was one of the great thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Leibniz posited that everything that exists has an explanation for its existence and since we exist there’s an explanation for our existence.

Aside: Another way of understanding the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument is to say that our existence is not found in its own necessity and therefore has to have an external cause.

Today, many scientists painfully realize their dilemma. As Lincoln Barnett wrote in The Universe and Dr. Einstein, “ Along with philosophers’ reduction of all objective reality to a shadow-world of perceptions, scientists have become aware of the alarming limitations of man’s senses.” Despite that, it hasn’t kept them from trying to fathom the unfathomable and to comprehend the incomprehensible. However incomplete, the work of Einstein, Gates, Tegmark and Davies (see above) do have one rather remarkable thing in common – an understanding that there is an underlying order in the cosmos; to wit, somebody or something constructed space/time, was responsible for the computer codes embedded in the fundamental laws of the universe, and created mathematics and the structured order of the universe. In other words, there is an intelligence in the universe. In the words of Leibniz, the universe does not exist because of its own necessity so it must have an external cause – and that external cause implies intelligence (or even vice versa).

This intelligence has been downplayed by various people, in some cases referring to it as Nature or the Natural Laws of the Universe. But as Einstein observed, there can be no laws without a lawgiver. So, I think that it’s high time that this intelligence gets a name. As I’ve suggested before, perhaps we could call it Bubba. However, for some, God might do just as well.

 

“The universe does not exist ‘out there,’ independent of us. We are inescapably involved in bringing about that which appears to be happening. We are not only observers. We are participators.”                

– John Wheeler, physicist