Friday, August 3, 2012

What's the point of it all?

God is the correct answer to a silly question.

Xenocrates

This fantastic sight wasn't created. It evolved that way. The NGC 1672 Spiral Galaxy © Hubble Telescope.
A young woman confronted me recently about my last post. She was angry at me because it made sense. All her life, even though she doesn't subscribe to any particular religion, she still wanted to believe that somewhere out there, there was something more than the life that we have. Apparently she was dissatisfied with how her life turned out and hoped that there was something more. So I conceded that yes, there is something more, but it is probably not spiritual. She was furious: "Why not?" She prodded. "How else can we explain our existence if there isn't some grand purpose to it?" This post is my answer to her very poignant question. 


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Why 'Why' is a silly question

The more you think about it, the more you realize that "why" is sometimes a silly question.

Have you ever asked yourself "Why do we exist?" You may or may not realize it yet, but the answer to that question doesn't exist. Why is that, you ask? Because that is a silly question. The question we should be asking is not why we exist, but rather how we came to exist. Why is a silly question for all the same reasons asking "What does the colour blue taste like?" is a silly question. While it is grammatically correct on its own, a grammatically correct statement isn't necessarily a logical one. We don't immediately detect the fallacy in the question because of how we as humans tend to think. The reason why we exist isn't actually rooted in purpose.

Allow me to explain.

A matter of Anthropomorphous Cognition


As I have stated many times on this blog, humans are nothing more than sophisticated animals. What  hasn't sunk in yet for most people who've read that line is how insignificant that actually makes us. It doesn't humble them to realize that we are actually no more special than any other animal on this planet. We can't help thinking that way because of our intellect.

Well allow me to fix that: Humans and apes had a common ancestor. The point I am making here is that like apes, we are particularly good with tools. We are a tool making species. We make stuff. We have been doing it for the last two million years. In fact, of all the evolutionary changes that have happened to the human line of apes, one thing hasn't changed: we have become increasingly adept at making tools. I elucidated this point in the last post for a reason.

Because we've been making things for so long, we naturally came to the conclusion that things exist for a purpose since everything we've made had a purpose. Extending outward, we therefore assumed that everything else that we did not make also has a purpose and therefore, there must be a grand maker behind it all. We assume the universe was made in more or less the same way we make things. This is why the gods of our religions seem human.

The fundamental problem here is that when humans invented religion to explain the universe, we not only made the center of the religion think like a human being, but we also made the human mistake of proposing that the universe was, in a very human way, created. The mere fact that we invented the word "creation" as a pseudonym for the entire universe shows the fundamental flaw behind our thinking since we are exceptionally prolific creators ourselves.

We are essentially making a narcissistic presumption that a creator god must exist simply because we as creators exist, as if no other explanation could suffice. We naively assume therefore that being created, our lives must therefore serve some profound purpose, just like the things we create also have purpose. This is despite the fact that we only exist on a tiny planet in the back corner of one of trillions of galaxies. For all we know, this may be actually be the sixth iteration of life on this planet, the previous five being destroyed by meteor impacts.

The proof of this egregious logical fallacy is written all over human history. The Greek Gods for example were lascivious, deceitful, fornicators and adulterers. The Roman Gods mirrored their behaviour. Ancient civilizations saw humanoid patterns in the star formations of the night sky. The Judeo-Christian God exhibits emotions like love, anger, regret and jealousy. The Muslim god is no less impatient and even encourages followers to occasionally indulge in vengeance.

Our god has suspiciously human behaviour because we are inextricably human. Ergo, God is intrinsically a creator simply because we are ourselves creators. Similarly, if there is another race of beings on another world with their own religious philosophy, their religious theory of how the universe came into being would take on some quality that is unique to their species.

For example, if a race of asexually reproducing worms had their own religion, they would believe that god is the universe and that the universe simply split off from god, just like they do. If unicellular organisms had their own religion, god would have created the universe by dividing himself several times. If fish had their own religion, then their god would have laid eggs that matured into the universe. I could go on all day here, but I'm sure you get the idea.

Because we create things, we assume our universe was created and just like our creations, we assume that we have a creator. Do you see how that works? Throughout much of human existence, we have assumed that the universe was created simply because of our own tunnel vision. We have not thought of it in any other way simply because we are narcissistic animals.

How is the universe not created?


I admit that for the lay man, this may initially be a difficult concept to grasp. How can something not be created? Well are you created? Of course not. You were born, right? Is that the same thing as creation? Not quite. Most of us actually use the word "creation" incorrectly. It's a misnomer. The act of creation implies the generation of something that's completely new.

Were you completely new when you were born? Nope! You are an evolution of your parents' DNA. Why are you an evolution and not a creation? Because other humans procreated (i.e. reproduced) themselves to facilitate your existence. If you were created, you would look nothing like your parents, and yet you do. This is why scientists prefer to talk about evolution.

...not creation.

You've no doubt been to a hospital and seen a woman giving live birth to a baby. Even if you haven't, you've either seen it on television, in books or the internet. Either way, one of the key things you notice about every human child is that in most cases, it very closely resembles its parents. It's not an exact copy (which is impossible), but a very near match to its parents. Every human baby resembles its parents precisely because it evolved from its parents' DNA.

If you repeat this process often enough and long enough, then future humans will be very different from us, just like today's humans are different from humans that lived 350,000 years ago, which were different from humans that lived two million years ago. Every time a human baby is born, it is just a little bit different from its parents. This is biological evolution in motion.

The same principle applies to everything else in the universe. The adage that "there's nothing new under the sun" actually takes its cue from this rather profound philosophical observation. Everything you see around you, from the dust on the ground to the stars and galaxies in the sky, all evolved from something different by changing just a little bit at a time over a long time.

Using the standard model of physics, we now know that subatomic particles interacted in a particular way with what is called a Higgs boson to produce the big bang, which was the very first instance of matter occurring in a universe that initially had no mass. This means that there are big bangs going off all the time and new universes are being instantiated as you read this.

Obviously, we can't see these new universes as they are being created because they will exist on a parallel plane of existence that is just too far away to be observed. So that leaves us with an obvious question: If subatomic particles were responsible for the creation of the universe, what created the subatomic particles in the first place? Where exactly are they from?

Aha! Right? Not quite.

Who created the creator?

There we go making the same mistake again. The Higgs boson was not created anymore than the rest of the universe was created. But a good question to ask is where did all of the subatomic particles responsible for universal creation come from? To answer that question, I'll need you to add layers of mass to your brain to wrap your head around this very simple idea:

It was always there.

According to the God theory, God was always there. He wasn't created. He is eternal. He is the first mover and is himself unmovable. That seems pretty straight forward for somebody who believes in religion, right? Couldn't we say exactly the same thing about the Higgs boson? If God is eternal and not created, why couldn't we say the same about the Higgs? Well, that's probably for all the same reasons why we can't ask what created God—he was always there.

According to the law of conservation of mass, mass can neither be created nor destroyed. It shares an inextricable relationship with energy (which also, cannot be created or destroyed). According to the laws of physics, mass and energy are one and the same, simply existing in two different states. This relationship is elegantly explained by Einstein's equation: E=MC².

So if mass and energy were always there and are just shifting in state, why can't we say that God created mass and energy? Well, because that introduces the problem of infinite regression. If God created mass and energy, then what created God? Does being god exempt God from being created? Hardly. If physics says that mass and energy were always there, then a creation event isn't required. If God created mass and energy, then it would logically follow then that God has properties that are not intrinsic to mass and energy.

...and thus the question of his creation.

As you can see, this is a postulate that can quickly get out of hand. Is it simpler to say that God did it and that God is the unmade maker? Sure, if you're willing to ignore all of the other problems that introducing God into the equation will provide. Is it simpler to say that the universe was not created, but simply evolved into being, by changing one bit at a time? As paradoxically simple as that idea is, it doesn't satisfy theists, because it is bereft of humanity.

And that brings us right back to square one.

Preferring a Creator God to an Evolutionary god

A god with a human face is easier to embrace than a god that isn't human at all.

As human beings, we are emotional creatures. Therefore, it is not natural for us to see the universe as an unemotional evolution versus an emotional creation (even if we ignore how narcissistic that makes us). However, if science has taught us anything, it is that truth and comfort are rarely found in the same place. The universe doesn't cater to our fragile psyches.

With that said, despite evidence to the contrary, even if we were to build star ships that could easily traverse the vast expanses of space / time and trace our human origin to a race of malevolent engineers, we will still ask the same silly question: "What made them?" It is for this reason why religious belief will probably never die, since we are inescapably human and we therefore attach emotional significance to everything—even in cases where it does not apply.

It is for this reason, why my rather unhappy female friend (and I imagine many others who have initially rejected religion in search of the truth) often find themselves slowly but surely wandering back to religion. It's not because religion offers a better answer, but because religion offers a more emotionally satisfying answer (even though it makes very little sense).

A lot of people reject their faith and embrace humanism (specifically, secular humanism) or some other form of theistic agnosticism because their faith doesn't offer as logically satisfying an answer is it does an emotional one. What many of these people also fail to understand, is that jumping the religious ship also requires completely changing how they think about things.

You Must Change Your Thinking

This is how we perceive ourselves, and consequently how we perceive god. We must change that view.

If you reject religion, you also reject the humanity embroiled in it. You can't reject theistic belief and embrace the cold, dark, emptiness of the universe and expect a similar level of emotional satisfaction. You first have to recognize your true place in the universe, that you are to the Sun as a molecule of bacteria is to a 100 megaton nuclear explosion. You have to very seriously humble yourself before the immense, cold, violent, deadly blackness of empty space just as much as strands of virulent bacteria must helplessly bow to the authority of antibiotics.

If you reject religion, you must also reject the idea that a maker is responsible for all of this, since the very idea of a maker is as human as a lover and we only appreciate love because we have brains evolved for such. You consequently have to reject the idea that your emotions have any significance, that they are nothing more than electrochemical reactions in your brain. They are automated responses that can be engineered just like everything else in your brain.

You have to embrace the idea that just as how other animals are considered less significant because we can experience emotions they can't, that if the universe is so big, then there are probably other animals who can experience things we cannot, which would make us likewise less significant. We have to embrace the idea that humanity is not the center of the universe.

You have to embrace the idea that being human is only one of the many trillions of possibilities that exist in the universe, and that your significance in it, only exists in your own mind. You have to embrace the idea that the religion you reject is inextricably human and therefore useless in the universal scheme of things, which themselves are certainly not human either.

That brings us to the ultimate question:

So what's the point of it all?

Does this all have meaning? Is that even a reasonable question?

The simple answer is that that there is none. This too is a silly question, because we assume that there is human definable purpose to everything. We still haven't figured out what the point of viruses and bacteria are, let alone the point of our own existence. So how are we to contrive a point to our existence without making one up to satisfy our narcissistic sensibilities?

It is my personal belief that humans are on the same level of significance to the rest of the universe as the bacteria that infects our bodies. If I may quote the Bible, we are but a vapour that withers away. What's the point of a vapour? Do you see how silly that question sounds? In the same way, asking "what is the point of our existence" is equally silly. Why? Because the answer will be inextricably bound to our human cognition and thus will be universally useless.

What do I mean by this? The answer to the question "What is the purpose of humanity" has an answer that exists outside of humanity, (presuming of course, that humanity actually has a purpose). If humans attempted to answer that question, the answer would inexorably require placing humans at the center of the universe. This would be morbidly hilarious if humans were destroyed by a meteor the next day and the universe went on oblivious to our past existence.

Therefore, the question is inherently silly.

A more meaningful question would be "How did humans come to exist?" Because that question has an answer that would be useful to our understanding of the complexity of the phenomenon we call life. We often think that asking a grammatically sound "Why" question is worth answering because it feels profound when it is no less ridiculous than asking about the taste of the colour blue. Even if we could answer such a question, of what use is the answer?

So what does the colour blue taste like? Maybe to some being living on the other side of this galaxy where synaesthesia is a natural part of their biology, this will make a perfectly logical question. But to humans, we lack the biological faculties to make this question sensible. This means that as humans, we have the cognition to ask questions that humans cannot answer. Can God make a rock so heavy that even he cannot lift it? Who cares? The mere fact we can conceive of such an inane question suggests that our capacity for stupidity knows no bounds.

Perhaps we should spend more of our short time in existence asking the questions that we can meaningfully answer, instead of inciting answers that have no meaning. Any question that humans cannot answer is a silly question. That is why "God" is the correct answer to a silly question—and rightfully so. Because it is true that silly questions only deserve silly answers.


E-mail: accordingtoxen[at]gmail[dot]com

9 comments:

  1. hmmm, would you say that they rules of physics evolved?

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    1. I would say that our understanding of the laws of physics evolved. The laws of physics are still being uncovered and they have remained the same since the Big Bang.

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  2. Excellent post as always. You summarize many of my sentiments but I could not express them as articulately as you do. I've left the safety and comfort of religious thinking behind. It was a slow process and not one that made me comfortable, but I'm attracted to truth like a moth to a flame. Once I know that there may be better explanations for things, I cannot rest until I've examined the truth, even if it makes me uncomfortable. I think I moved past the depression stage of shedding religious worldview and have come to accept our meager place in the universe. A part of me still hopes this is wrong and that there really is some sort of benevolent creator or light at the end of the tunnel. It is a bit depressing to think that at a certain point all that will be left is a cold, empty cosmos filled with nothing but burned out brown dwarf stars and black holes. Luckily I won't be around to see any of that.

    As to the creation/evolution of the universe, you suggested that we have multiverses and that universes are being created all the time. As of yet, we do not know this as fact. We also don't know why matter formed in just a way so that life could be possible. I'm sure you've heard these arguments before, that if the bonds between atomic particles were any stronger or weaker, matter would not exist and so forth. One has to come to the conclusion that either the universe is fine-tuned for existence(because the mathematical probability of the big bang getting it right the first time is extremely tiny), or we'd have to believe that perhaps there's an infinity of failed universes and we just happen to be in the one where everything was just right. After all, where else would we be if we're having this conversation in the first place?

    You know, if I was ever abducted by aliens from a civilization millions of years in advance of us, these are some of the first questions I'd ask them, assuming they actually wanted to talk to me.

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    1. I am intrigued by your comment, Chris.

      Here's why the multiverse theory is likely correct:

      1. The math says so. The same math we used to predict the existence of subatomic particles (like the Higgs) also predicts that multiverses are real.

      2. Subatomic particles literally flutter in and out of existence. We know that energy is never destroyed, and yet all of matter is being held together by a force we call "dark matter". We can't see it, but we know that it's there because we can see the effects of it. A parallel universe where these subatomic particles pass through to get to our own would explain why all mass doesn't just explode into nothingness, which based on our observations, it should.

      3. The Fine tuned Universe theory is partially correct. However, just because this universe is fine tuned for our existence, it doesn't mean that other parallel universes "failed". It simply means that they are fine tuned for the existence of something else that is completely unlike what exists in this universe. In those parallel universes, the laws of physics are different and thus the fine tuning will also be different. They are only "failed" universes as it pertains to how things came to be in this universe. They are not failed universes in the true sense of failure.

      I hope I made this idea clearer.

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    2. I feel the "purpose" of life's or even matter's existence is to promote variety, to gain knowledge in a sense. Like Experiences, lifeforms, feelings, events, changes, and so on. Maybe this is the reason that the life we know of came into being. But then again, the life we know of here on Earth (that came into existence because of water and carbon and DNA blah blah blah) could maybe just be a taste of the massive amounts of "creations" that could spawn. Maybe these unknown life forms couldn't even perceive things like feelings, or experiences, or events, maybe they live in a completely different way. Maybe they live in a way that we wouldn't even consider to be the normal water-based life that we are so used to on Earth. Like I said, maybe it is all about variety. Maybe the "Universe" is a cruel and curious force, slowly completing and changing it's own science project in a quest for knowledge. I not saying it is God, I'm thinking it has also been and always will be, it is an endless, vicious circle. But then again, maybe I'm just being stupid, maybe I think that anything can answered (I really don't), maybe there is no reason to try and answer this question.

      Also, the color blue taste like blue raspberry. Duh

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    3. hey eric, i thought about the same thing; that if higgs boson was initiated by some sort of creator, 'variety for knowledge' might just be a sub-theory for our existence; in a deistic sort of thinking that is.

      well, not that this will get us anywhere, as clearly described by the genius xen; but our yearn for an afterlife, therefore god, seems to be the relentless culprit for such discussions.

      any tips xen, or anyone, on how to lead a happy hopeless life, aside from being ignorant? albert camus didnt do a great job for me and im still looking

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  3. God is the answer if im not interested into the discussion. every silly questions count for me, and God, once again is the last resort when the discussion runs boring ;)

    anyway, 'what' and 'why' are explicit type of question, and there's nothing to do with sillyness IMHO. on contrary, 'how', since it's a tacit question/knowledge, it provokes more in discussion, because it less quantifiable and need effort more to adjust the understanding between people.

    the taste of blue? exciting. :D hi from Bali, Indo. Nice articles you have, and you have another new fan.

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  4. so basically our purpose is to create and use tools.

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  5. i feel better knowing that there are people out there that are thinking in a somewhat similar way to me ,,as it can be lonely .

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