NOTE: This post was revised and corrected from its original form on 2009.09.17.

PART I
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?


PART II
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.


PART III
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.

Tags: destiny, humanity, humans, life, life on earth, people, the universe

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This raises the questions as to how much free will we actually possess.

I believe we possess none.

Hence my statement: There is nothing disallowed by the Universe that we can accomplish and nothing commanded by it that we can defy.

This lack of freewill(naturalistic determinism) is not to be confused with predictability or fate. I understand determinism as more of a manner of explaining what is than a successful method for forecasting what will be. Not because such forecasting is impossible. Rather because it's hampered by the limitations of scientific understanding at any given moment and further complicated by the influence of chaos.

I am aware of the challenge made by Sartre that introspection controverts determinism, but I understand that introspection itself arises from purely naturalistic causes and therefore any perception that the will is free is illusion. We have choice, however our choices are wholly the product of who we are and what we've been exposed up until the moment of any given decision. Just my opinion. But it's what makes sense to me at the present time.
Hence my statement: There is nothing disallowed by the Universe that we can accomplish and nothing commanded by it that we can defy.

Nate, in my hast this morning I completely misread your comment to mean just the opposite of what you wrote. I think my mind read it " that we CAN'T accomplish/CAN'T defy." Not sure why I did that. Maybe a touch of lisdexia.

I am aware of the challenge made by Sartre that introspection controverts determinism...

Can you elaborate a little?

I'm not sure what my opinions on free will are. I'm definitely convinced that we possess 100% free will, but neither am I convinced of the exact opposite, either.
Maybe we should first agree on the definitions of free will, choice, determinism (hard and soft), causality, etc., or this discussion may never end. ;-)
Oh Jaume, details, details, details.

Actually, that is not a bad idea? Any takers want to define these things as a new discussion thread? If you do, I will link to it from my main post above. I think they ought to be in a different thread.
OK. Now that I think about it, it's interesting to note that in French, volonté (will) is not quite exactly the same thing as arbitre (which, in the philosophical sense, implies both will and choice), and that we French would say libre arbitre when you say free will. So the distinction Nate made earlier (we make choices, but we don't have free will) is not as clear, or even doesn't make sense, to the average Frenchman.

Since English is the default language here, I'd suggest someone else should start this thread - or you'll all have to abide to my biased perspective. ;-)
After all, making a choice is strictly picking one out of two or more alternatives, even if the alternatives are not completely chosen by the chooser.

I think you're saying it is a false choice. We're made to choose between two or more options that are imposed upon us. But we are not free to create the choices or options, or ignore them altogether.
After all, making a choice is strictly picking one out of two or more alternatives, even if the alternatives are not completely chosen by the chooser.

I think you're saying it is a false choice.



I'm not sure that I'd term it as a "false choice".

Perhaps a limited set of choices?

We're made to choose between two or more options that are imposed upon us. But we are not free to create the choices or options, or ignore them altogether.

Yes, as these are the options imposed upon us we can be said to always be constrained to a greater or lesser degree. Free will is an illusion.
You know, there is a Free Will Does Not Exist group here on A|N, but it doesn't ever seem to have much activity.
I am aware of the challenge made by Sartre that introspection controverts determinism...

Can you elaborate a little?


It's fairly deep stuff for me, but if I understand Sartre correctly, he suggested that all of us are entities made up of two distinct manners of being, what we truly are(in-itself (en-soi))and an "other"(for-itself (pour-soi)) that observes or has awareness of this true self. It's in this gap between the two selves or the two manners of being that Sartre believes that freedom is to be found. The determinist doesn't recognize the gap or the distinction between an inert self that "is"- all that one is and has been exposed to up until a given moment(genetics, experience, language, one's past decisions and their consequences, etc.) and an "other" dynamic self that has no identity in itself but is rather consciousness of the former. The determinist sees simply what one "is" as including self-awareness or consciousness. This is my understanding of Sartre's opinion that conscious introspection negates the validity of a purely deterministic view.
Part I: It (the universe) isn't "for" anything and has absolutley no "purpose" whatever. These are merely mental concepts of brains capable of considering them.
PartII: Human life will not go extinct in the sense that so many other species have become extinct. We have the capacity to direct our own evolution and while there probably be no such thing as a "human" at some point, but the current definitions, we will have evolved, by our own choosing, into other kinds of beings. Until we know with certainty, the possibility must remain that we are the only "intelligent" life ever to exist in the universe. But there is good circumstantial evidence to suggest this is close to impossible. There may be millions or billions of other species if life at or far beyond our intellectual capacities.
Our sun will NOT ever go super nova. It does not have the mass for that and has no way of acquiring any. As it's fuel begins to run low, it will swell into a Red Giant that will engulf the inner planets, maybe Earth too. It is virtually certain that no life could exist here then, even if "here" still existed at all. However, we have at least a few billion years to figure out how to solve that problem. In my opinion, we will.
Part III: No, we no more have any "cosmic obligations" than any other species. Why would we? It would be impossible for us to creat a "cosmic goal". Whatever goals we may create would be ours, not "cosmic".

Excellent thnking and questions. :)
However, we have at least a few billion years to figure out how to solve that problem.

Astrophysicists are not as optimistic. Even today, as it slowly loses mass, the Sun tends to burn its fuel faster and become brighter as its surface temperature increases. It's probable that in less than a billion years, it'll be luminous enough to wipe all of Earth atmosphere and aquasphere.
art I: It (the universe) isn't "for" anything and has absolutley no "purpose" whatever. These are merely mental concepts of brains capable of considering them.

yup,my view too.

I'm not as confident about our long term survival in any form. My perception is that we are the only species on the planet greedy enough and stupid enough to make its own environment uninhabitable.

A true misanthrope,I suspect and hope human kind will be extinct within a few centuries,Most other species will be far better off.

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