Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

28 Nov , 2012 by Video

An intersection of two of my favorite entities (Minute Physics and Neil deGrasse Tyson) now covers a topic that has been on my mind lately: does the Universe — and therefore humanity — have a purpose?

deGrasse Tyson was asked by the Templeton Foundation to answer this question and poses here that if there is a purpose, the cosmic environment has a strange way of showing it.

What do you think?

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Mike Petersen
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Mike Petersen
November 28, 2012 12:17 AM

No.

Zubilon
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Zubilon
November 28, 2012 2:27 PM

I hope you’re right!

Raimo Kangasniemi
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Raimo Kangasniemi
November 28, 2012 1:04 AM

We humans can give the universe a purpose through our own continued existence and achievements.

TheVeganarchist
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November 28, 2012 5:07 PM

homo hubris strikes again!

G Money
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G Money
November 28, 2012 1:11 AM

the universe is a random natural event.

Ben Dhyan
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Ben Dhyan
November 27, 2012 8:48 PM

Does the universe as perceived by bacteria living in a human host have a purpose ask the bacteria…

Zoutsteen
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Zoutsteen
November 28, 2012 3:04 AM

I can imagine that stargazing can leave quite an impression on people. Even before the invention of the telescope people looked up in awe at the river of stars which we now know to be our own galaxy. What else can one do than love it as if it was a living being? I guess that is what made some people chose their professions within astronomy.

Edward Dahl
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November 28, 2012 3:08 AM

The universe is a giant computer of sorts and is running calculations.

Lawrence B. Crowell
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Lawrence B. Crowell
November 28, 2012 3:57 AM

The universe may be a form of bootstrap. A universe of quantum observables may requires observers. I make this statement not as a scientific hypothesis, but more as a philosophical conjecture. if so then the universe gives rise to observers that have the ability to observe and thing about itself. In this sense there might be a form of reification, or an assignment of ontology to the universe or existence due to the fact it can acquire consciousness within it.

If this is the case then the existentialist philosophers, particularly Sartre and Heidegger, were right in telling us that the purpose to life or the world is entirely what we assign to it.

LC

Zubilon
Member
Zubilon
November 28, 2012 2:36 PM

Humans are exceptionally good at projecting their perspective onto everything… including the universe. If the universe has a purpose, then so do we; if the universe has no purpose, then neither do we. Some people feel uncomfortable with the latter; some do not… Hence the debate. As for me, the answer is self evident: The universe simply is.

Lawrence B. Crowell
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Lawrence B. Crowell
November 28, 2012 6:04 PM
The universe just exists, or better to say the vacuum just exists that is unstable and fluctuates locally into cosmologies. Some people find this disturbing, for the presumed hopes offered by religion are lost. For myself I think this removes the unwarranted, and I think in some ways neurotic, worries over one’s status with respect to a God or judgment and the rest. While it ultimately means that our moral behavior is something we have to work out for ourselves without some absolute guidance, it also means there is no terrible judgment coming upon us because of our so called sins and the rest. One thing in the Bible makes sense now: Gay marriage legalized on the same… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
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Torbjorn Larsson OM
November 28, 2012 9:15 PM

Purpose is observationally a social construct. Such things explicitly doesn’t come out of natural constraints but out of culture.

It is likely there are groups that doesn’t have a notion of “purpose”. It is a deceit to think social constructs are universal.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
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Torbjorn Larsson OM
November 28, 2012 9:13 PM

The best prediction for emergence of observables is decoherence. It specifically doesn’t need observers, no Schroedinger’s cat, but a large environment.

Why there is a large environment is another question. But observers can only appear with such an environment.

So I would say, like the idea that nature is the source of purpose, the idea that observables require observers is mistaking the constraint for the parameter.

Lawrence B. Crowell
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Lawrence B. Crowell
November 28, 2012 11:03 PM
Decoherence only goes so far. What decoherence tells us is how a superposition is replaced by an entanglement, where that phase or entanglement is absorbed into an ever larger set of reservoir states. It does not exactly eliminate the Schrodinger Cat issue. In fact there are quantum states called cat states that are used to look at this and related problems. We might think of the classic double slit experiment. A quantum wave function ? passes through the two slits so that it has two states corresponding to the slits. We may write ?(x) = C(e^{ikx} + e^{ikx’}) for C the normalization. On the screen the modulus square of the wave function gives us |?(x)|^2 = C^2(2 +… Read more »
Mich48
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Mich48
November 28, 2012 4:10 AM

It is humanities job to keep the universe organized.

The Latinist
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The Latinist
November 28, 2012 6:25 AM
I will start with a definition of purpose: purpose is an expression of intent that couples will with the ability to carry out that will.  Assuming this definition, purpose is also subject to the temporal constraints of causality: for an event to happen purposefully, the intent to create that event must be formed prior to the event itself. To fully consider this question, we should therefore consider it during  several different eras: 1) at the ‘beginning’ of the universe, 2) after the beginning of the universe and before the advent of human beings and 3) after the advent of human beings. First, let us consider the question of the purpose of the universe at its inception. For there… Read more »
Lorin Ionita
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Lorin Ionita
November 28, 2012 2:56 AM

You might have copy pasted some of your text a few times. And I am at the impression that you associate “free will” with “collective will”.

Dn
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Dn
November 28, 2012 1:26 AM
So by the authors own video, we have an insignificant history in the universe, more nearly related to the bacteria in our gut than to an “enlightened being (real or not)” with a long history in and significant understanding of the universe. Therefore, as we’ve only been around for 0.0000001% of the universe and can’t show a purpose at this time, we can conclude then the universe doesn’t seem to have a purpose (with some noise about 99.9999999%). That’s as arrogant as those that would say the purpose is us – it assumes we’re at the center of it all. The facts would only seem to suggest we have insufficient information and no method to test. I’m neither… Read more »
Adam Crowl
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November 28, 2012 7:17 AM

We as purposeful observers assign will to phenomena if they show signs of goal-seeking behaviour – and correct our initial perception when other causes external to the phenomena can be shown to cause the perceived behaviour. The Universe could be a purposeful entity on its own, an object used by a purposeful entity and thus having a purpose imputed to it by an exterior Being, or we have merely made a category error. I think the first possibility is more interesting than the latter two.

Guest
Guest
Guest
November 28, 2012 8:38 AM

It never ceases to amaze me how, to this present day, scientists try their best to either discredit or disprove the existence of a designer/creator of the universe even though they basically know just as much in this subject as the ‘common man’.

If i am not mistaking, there has even been a research (pardon the absence of any sources in this) as to define the word “nothing” since that’s what there was before the big bang. When put in the right context, isn’t this equally, or maybe even more, naive than assuming there was intelligent design at work upon the creation of the Universe?

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
November 28, 2012 2:15 PM
I don’t think that science exists to promote an atheist world view, and of course by the same token science should never be required to conform to any theology. I think few scientists start a career in science with some idea that they want to show God does not exist. I also think it might be bad PR if lots of scientists start actively promoting an atheist agenda. If you ask most scientists what their opinions or conclusions are with respect to God or some divine creator-designer you are likely to get a combination of muted answers and for the most part rather negative assessments on the existence of God. Richard Feynman back in the 1960s responded about… Read more »
Guest
Guest
Guest
November 28, 2012 3:19 PM
First of all, thank you for making both time and effort to reply to my post in such detail. While your and my own scientific knowledge clearly aren’t even on the same scale, i still want to comment on a few things you mentioned. You wrote that the proposition of a supreme creator is much more complicated to uphold than the proposition of a quantum void with instabilities. My comment/question in this matter is whether it’s possible that the complexity of a supreme creator lies in the fact that it defies both logic and our current knowledge/perception/physical laws and that it doesn’t have to mean that something we can’t see or measure truly isn’t or has never been… Read more »
Lawrence B. Crowell
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Lawrence B. Crowell
November 28, 2012 5:49 PM
The idea that religious faith defies reason and our ability to observe is almost a central supposition of religion. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews writes that faith is the evidence of things not seen. The problem is that this ultimately comes down to magical thinking. I can’t disprove the idea that the universe was created 6000 years ago with all the appearance of an ancient origin. In fact I can’t disprove it was created 10 minutes ago with all our memories and evidence of our history created along with that. Yet these are not effective postulates for there is nothing we observe that supports their validity. Further, these assumptions do nothing to increase our understanding of… Read more »
The Latinist
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The Latinist
November 29, 2012 3:39 PM

Thank you for this excellent summary of the argument against the God of the Gaps. Certainly anything that we don’t fully understand could be caused by some magical being using supernatural means; but every phenomenon we have ever been able to understand has been found to conform to predictable natural laws and not to be the product of supernatural forces. To speculate that there is a supernatural force underlying those natural laws is pointless in that it does not give us any additional information to improve our understanding.

Sile O'Donnell
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December 9, 2012 10:54 PM

Very good reply post. It highlights how important and indeed amazing science, particularly physics, is…

Sile O'Donnell
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December 9, 2012 10:50 PM

Very good post. It ties in with Karl Popper’s theory of falsification.. I could go on but it might get boring!. And as you say, many people believe that if something (e.g. the existence of a god/s) can be proven/unproven, a definite conclusion can be arrived at, but this belief is based on our knowledge base/logic/perception/physical laws .. certainly creates a lot of food for thought..

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
November 28, 2012 9:37 PM
I don’t think analysing religion is something scientists, or science blogs, should promote. On the other hand it is a vital part of science, and science blogs, to provide society with empirical knowledge and related services. If atheism is an observation of science, or religion is cumbersome for society, it is vital that scientists act accordingly as in everything else. _Especially_, I would say, when we all know that religion ask for special pleading, to be treated differently. That in itself is a dangerous idea when applied most anywhere. And the fact is that we know religion doesn’t work to predict what we see. Indirectly for centuries ever since we could start to compare with science. And directly… Read more »
Vyas Chady
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Vyas Chady
November 28, 2012 8:55 AM

The purpose of the universe is to create another universe.

Bobr
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Bobr
November 28, 2012 8:58 AM

How the hell do you see arrogance?!

I saw humility.

Dav_Daddy
Member
November 28, 2012 11:21 AM

IIRC I read an article on physorg not too long ago where some scientists were looking at something like the CMB or dark matter/galaxy distribution in an attempt to rule out the hypothesis than none of us really exist or are we really just variables running in some type of simulation.

Once again IIRC the results were inconclusive and they were unable to rule out that we are just a simulation being run in a computer.

Wry about the lack of links but I’ve had a long day, it’s 4AM and I think the whole thing is a rather silly pointless exercise.

katesisco
Member
katesisco
November 28, 2012 12:59 PM

Does the universe have a purpose? The universe purpose is the same as the purpose of the smallest scale. We do not know if that has been found. If it is the quantum world, then the purpose is organization.

TheVeganarchist
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November 28, 2012 5:08 PM

how the hell do i know? if there’s a purpose to the universe? i don’t even know how the can opener works!

Olaf
Member
Olaf
November 28, 2012 1:47 PM

Why on earth would someone or something need a purpose to do the things he does?
You can have a perfectly good and interesting life without need of a purpose.
The purpose thing is such an overhyped word.

Zubilon
Member
Zubilon
November 28, 2012 1:59 PM
Purpose is an invention of the human mind. The universe did not give rise to us with any purpose, though it may have evolved us to perform a function. (There is a difference between purpose and function.) Human consciousness is not required for the universe to operate (i.e. to collapse wave functions as icrowell might say) since it managed to get along without us until now. But here’s where it gets interesting —» We are not separate from the universe: on a quantum scale we are made of exactly the same stuff as everything else. The quarks, leptons, exchange particles (and fields) that constitute our brains do not have a special quality. On this scale, each of us… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
November 28, 2012 9:22 PM

The problem here is that evolution has no global target. So we know that we haven’t evolved against anything beyond fitness, and fitness is a merely a measure of differential reproduction. In other words we evolve because we can.

Dara Thomas-Bissoon
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November 28, 2012 2:07 PM

There is no end to creation because all that we are is in the mind of the Creator, so is the Universe. To ask if the Universe has a purpose I will have to say yes it does.

JeffersonWeeps
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JeffersonWeeps
November 28, 2012 2:49 PM
A classic frame of reference problem – trying to discern larger intent and purpose of the whole from the perspective of a participating component within. I think the intellectually honest answer is that as long as were limited to our human perspective – we can’t know. This is where Heisenberg, Kant, and Kierkegaard all come crashing together. Hence such issues being in the realm of faith. I recall as a kid in college listening to John Dobson’s comment about the Big Bang – that prior to the existence of measurable space, we have the absence of division. And prior to the existence of measurable time, we have the absence of change. Therefore, from our perspective, the Big Bang… Read more »
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