NOTE: This post was revised and corrected from its original form on 2009.09.17.
Lately I have been watching a lot of documentaries on space, the planets, black holes, and the like. I am overwhelmed by the vastness of space—the extreme distances between the planets and stars—as well as the immense amount of energy being spent or transformed by the Universe. Of course, there is also the inconceivable amount of time that has transpired within the Universe, and the infinite future that lies before it. It seems impossible to wrap one’s mind around it.
While I have no theistic tendencies, I can’t help but wonder what it is all for. Theists of course pretend to have the answers. They simply make up whatever nonsense they want to make up and pretend that their lives have a purpose: to serve the whims of a creator who has a cosmic plan.
Outside of embracing mumbo jumbo, what are to think of, or about, the Universe we see? What is the purpose of it all? Why does it go to so much trouble doing what it does?
Consider the fact that a million trillion miles away there are galaxies being born, stars dying and exploding into super novae, planets coalescing, and a whole host of other natural phenomena—but there is no one there to see it, study it, acknowledge it, record it, or even be concerned about it.
So why does it bother? Can inanimate matter have a purpose or goal? And does any of it matter if there is no conscious life around to witness it, or take part in it?
Human life will go extinct. It is inevitable. Everything is transitory; everything will fade. If we don’t destroy ourselves, then something else will. The number of threats to our planet are numerous, and all are potential possibilities—with some being more inevitable than others. For example, our sun will turn into a red giant, and then collapse into a white dwarf one day, as all yellow giants do. Alternately, our molten iron core will cool one day, and when it does the magnetic field that protects the earth from the solar winds will disappear, too. Either situation means the end of all life on earth.
The only known witnesses to the passage of time and the unfolding of the Universe, and we will be gone—no one to care that we were here, and no one to acknowledge our existence; all our accomplishments, and everything that defines us—simply gone.
So what’s it all for?
I know that sounds like a theistic question, but it isn’t really. It is a human question.
Earth is the only place in the Universe that we know of in which chemical and organic life has combined in such as way to create consciousness. Surely, the extraordinary importance (and improbability) of that fact is lost on no one here.
From a cosmic point of view, it seems like such a shame to lose it.
Keeping in mind what I have said so far, I want to pose these questions:
Being that we are the only life forms in this chaotic cosmic drama, do we have a purpose, and do we have a destiny as a species? Whether it is a destiny imposed upon us by the demands of DNA, or a destiny freely chosen and defined by us, do we have one?
In other words: Do we have a cosmic obligation to reach some goal? And if we don’t already, should we create one?
I know I’ve asked a lot of questions here. Please choose the ones you think you’d like to respond to and share your opinions below.