A Cosmic Purpose

This post is being expanded. Last edit: 9/19/18

“If there is any optimism for mankind, any chance of unifying our species, then it remains in the possibility that our existence is, in fact, bound with a greater purpose.” (The Sentient Mind)

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What is the purpose of life? As sentient beings, we ask this question in our search for meaning and happiness. As living beings, the answer is simple. The purpose of life has always been, and will always be, survival. If nature has any aim, then it is to perpetuate its existence. And if we have any aim, then it is to perpetuate ours—we exist to exist. There is no greater meaning to our being and no higher purpose for us to realize. Because any reason for existing must, at the very least, involve an existence—there can be no purpose in being without being itself.

“Since we cannot prove the absence of purpose, it would be wise for us to assume a purpose that agrees with both our logic and our intuition.” Quite beautifully, the only logical purpose in existence—to exist—also happens to satisfy our most visceral instinct—our desire to exist. If our nature reflects the nature of reality, then our struggle for existence is a fundamental part of existing. We want to be because we are meant to be. After all, our religious intuitions claim that we are meant to be forever.

“The mind wants to be, so it considers itself an eternal being. We want to continue beyond the spacetime boundaries of the Universe. While some might call this fanciful imagination, most of the world considers this their fate. The mind is inevitably drawn to the idea that its being is just one part of a never-ending sequence.” And there is only one logic that can satisfy our longing for eternal relevance. In our search for purpose, I believe that our species will come to one conclusion: we live to continue life.

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In several billion years, an expanding Sun will vaporize all the water on Earth.

Because the truth is, everything dies. You and everyone you know will die. In three billion years, life on Earth will die. In 8 billion years, the Sun will die. Our galaxy will die, and so might the Universe. But still, the mind tends to consider itself eternal—a likely delusion, but a powerful indication that a reality beyond space and time has long been fully conceived by the human mind. And while the religious mind looks at eternity and discovers its own importance, the scientific mind looks at eternity and sees its own insignificance. But no matter your view, there is, in the religious perspective, an inescapable truth: the only alternative to extinction is eternity. And because of our intellect, the unthinkable has become thinkable; science has presented humankind with the possibility of existing indefinitely. If we want to survive, then eternal life can no longer remain a religious fantasy; it must now become our cosmic vision. Because we, the created, have become the Creator. We are God becoming self-aware.

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The ALMA array in Chile is a collection of 66 antennas that provide unprecedented insight into star birth during the early universe. It is the world’s most complex telescope and largest astronomical project. Photo by ESO/José Francisco Salgado.

“[Reason tells me of the] extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capability of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man.” – Charles Darwin

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Perhaps best known for its discovery of the Higgs boson, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland has been critical in advancing our knowledge of quantum physics.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God
who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect
has intended us to forgo their use.”
– Galileo Galilei    

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There is no foreseeable end to the progression of the human mind and the evolution of its intellect. The growth of our knowledge is accelerating. We predict cosmic and quantum phenomena with increasing precision, and manipulate the laws of nature in ways that are inconceivable to the ordinary mind. We expect to find and spread life beyond Earth within a few centuries. We will soon have the ability to edit our own genes, and to guide our own evolution. And we will soon create machines more powerful—minds more intelligent—than ourselves. We dream of colonizing the galaxy, and of discovering the truth about our origins. As Sagan said, “we are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”

“I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.” – Freeman Dyson, theoretical physicist and mathematician

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“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

“If human nature reflects the nature of all sentient life, then our spirituality may be tied to higher consciousness. A religious tendency may be an indispensable element of self-awareness… By creating the most compelling distortions of reality, our spiritual views also reveal the most powerful dispositions of the mind. And while these views reflect subjective truths (and delusions of all sorts), their underlying parallels may uncover something real about the nature of consciousness.” (The Religious Mind)

A concept of eternity is a pivotal step in the evolution of consciousness. The fact that we can comprehend a reality beyond space and time, be it an afterlife or a multiverse, or that we have the intellect to ponder the initial conditions from which our universe arose, speaks to the possibility that the mind itself is somehow implicated in the continuation of its reality. Perhaps higher consciousness is responsible for recreating the order from which it evolved. And perhaps our spiritual obsession with eternity is not some misguided delusion, but the fullest manifestation of nature’s striving for existence. That is, the mind is the highest experience of order continuing order (axiom 2b)—we are, in a functional sense, the center of our universe. Such an assumption may be necessary for the survival and evolution of a species beyond the stage at which we presently find ourselves. Such an embrace of eternity may bring the transcendence of humanity.

If we are a way for the Cosmos to know itself, then we may certainly be a way for the Cosmos to continue itself. Our ability to reason, to feel, and to self-reflect—maybe it’s not some aimless accident. Rather, our existence evolved to know and to value itself for the purpose of preserving itself. Awareness arose for the extension of life, in this universe or the next. For us, it might be as simple as colonizing Mars. And for the future of humanity, it could be as grand as making a big bang or expanding the cosmic web.

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The Laniakea supercluster, our filament of the cosmic web, was defined by mapping the movements of 8,000 galaxies after subtracting the effects of cosmic expansion.

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The Milky Way sits near the divide between the Laniakea and Perseus-Pisces Superclusters. These structures surround a vast region of empty space known as the Local Void.

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“In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.” – Carl Sagan

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“We must consider the possibility that we exist for a reason. Because intellectuals and imbeciles alike are bound to this principle of human nature: cooperation requires a unifying objective. Scientists and sociopaths, like everyone else, will not work together without a reason to.” And there is only one reason that makes any sense: the purpose of life is to continue life. And if we are relevant, then our purpose is cosmic. But with a capacity for creation comes an equal capacity for destruction. Should we continue to exist as intelligent, sentient beings, then we have a moral responsibility to understand and to cherish our existence.

“We on Earth have just awakened to the great oceans of space and time from which we have emerged. We are the legacy of 15 billion years of cosmic evolution. Now we have a choice: we can enhance life and come to know the universe that made us, or we can squander our 15 billion-year heritage in meaningless self-destruction.” – Carl Sagan

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“It is, surely, our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth.” – Sir David Attenborough

At 1.5°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, an estimated 6% of insect species, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates would lose more than half of their habitat. These figures would be at least twice that at 2°C. Source: the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2018.

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Photo by Patty Waymire.

“Our loyalties are to the species and to the planet. Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.” – Carl Sagan

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We exist to exist, and we live to continue life. There is no motive as moral and no purpose as noble as this. Because the truth is, life is not a right. No one is entitled to existence. Rather, life is a privilege that comes with an obligation. We are part of something beautiful—something we are now responsible for. Should we survive, then we must assume responsibility for the creative capacity that we have come to possess. Maybe there is a reason why humanity, confined to this pale blue dot, is so drawn to its destiny in the cosmos. As Sagan said, “the sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.”

“The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning. We long for a Parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.” – Carl Sagan

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Galaxy M106 (23 million l.y. away)

As a child, I would spend hours studying a single chapter of the Bible. Every verse had many layers of meaning that was to be extracted by prayer, meditation and careful examination. The goal was to know God, to discover my Creator through truths powerful enough to transform the world. And like religion, my message now is one of purpose and hope. Like faith, my philosophy is about finding God—but not through a book or a prayer. Rather, I discovered the nature of my Creator through the nature of his creation. In searching the human mind, I found the mind of God. If we seek eternal relevance, if we crave a higher calling, then this we must assume: we are God becoming self-aware.


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