Reason & Religion

“[Regarding religion], one is generally agreed that it deals with goals and evaluations and, in general, the emotional foundation of human thinking and acting. Religion is concerned with man’s attitude toward nature at large and with mutual human relationship.” – Albert Einstein

powerful-portraits-of-humanity-artnaz-com-1
Photograph by Sarawut Intarob.

Research suggests that religious individuals suppress the brain networks used for analytical reasoning in order to engage the network for empathetic thinking. On the other hand, non-religious individuals tend to suppress their empathetic thinking for analytical reasoning. Nevertheless, both reason and religion are essential for the survival and flourishing of our species. Here’s why.

A great majority of the world identifies with a faith that upholds kindness and generosity. And for everyone else, these moral virtues are certainly worth respecting. Yet we see corruption, suffering, and perversities of every kind. And with such apparent depravity in our nature, many have given up hope, or reserved their ideal of perfection for some heavenly notion. But if humanity is to survive on planet Earth, then the harmony we seek in afterlife must be realized in this life. “We need a movement that makes practical use of the compassion and altruism potentiated by every major faith… But unlike other spiritual awakenings, this one must begin with the intellectual mind.” (Scientists & Sociopaths)

“I believe, indeed, that overemphasis on the purely intellectual attitude has led directly to the impairment of ethical values. Without ethical culture, there is no salvation for humanity… “A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” – Albert Einstein

So far, my philosophy has emphasized a fundamental belonging to nature—this sense of significance is a basic element of many spiritual convictions. However, the most influential beliefs stress not only a connection with creation, but also a connection with humanity. And in nearly every faith, the source of human harmony is a conscious phenomenon that we call love—an alignment of emotions towards one purpose: to exist, together, forever (axiom 3).

istock_000001673165medium500pixels

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
– Jesus Christ    

nullifiers-of-prayer

“You will never enter paradise until you have faith,
and you will not complete your faith until you love one another.”
– Prophet Muhammad    

mahatma-gandhi

“God is love; it is the only truth I fully accept.”
– Mahatma Gandhi    

martin

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr. 

biafran-children

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.
Without them humanity cannot survive.”

– Dalai Lama    

Our greatest moral leaders all recognized one thing: whatever the truth is, it must involve love. If there is any reason to hope in humanity, then it’s our capacity for compassion. And if there’s any sure source of meaning, then it’s found in human connection. Through various beliefs, different cultures have reached the same conclusion: love is why we live, and why we want to live forever. For the prosocial majority, the concept of love implies a mutual survival—a “happily ever after.”

29-powerful-photos-that-will-restore-your-faith-in-humanity-25
Major Terri Gurrola reunites with her daughter Gaby. Photograph: Louie Favorite/The Journal of Constitution/AP

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl (1947-1997) recalls the moment when, while a prisoner of a Nazi concentration camp, he realized that the thought of his beloved wife gave him the will to survive:

“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory…”

cross-fs

“This is my commandment,
that you love one another as I have loved you.”
– Jesus Christ   

If I have learned anything from my faith, it is this: there is no phenomenon more powerful than love. Through its effect on the sentient mind, love is the single most potent sustainer of life. Fortunately, human nature allows almost everyone to feel compassion—all we need is a reason to. And as shown by religion, we have come up with some very fantastical reasons. Nonetheless, faith underscores the possibility that human nature, with its capacity for evil, holds an even greater potential for good—that feeling allows us to hate, but to love even more. Maybe we’re inclined towards a harmony that is meant to be. Maybe we’re not inherently broken, but momentarily misaligned.

“A phenomenon like self-transcending love does entitle us to make claims about the human mind. And this particular experience is so well attested and so readily achieved by those who devote themselves to specific [religious] practices or who even take the right drug that there is very little controversy that it exists. Facts of this kind must now be understood in a rational context.” – Sam Harris

29-powerful-photos-that-will-restore-your-faith-in-humanity-06

“We have broadened the circle of those we love. [But] if we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. – Carl Sagan

brain-stain4
Micrograph of the neurons from a mouse’s brain. Image source: Carl Schoonover.

Just consider: your mind is the result of 100 billion neurons communicating over 100 trillion synapses. Your body is not a single entity, but trillions upon trillions of molecules that continue your collective being. If such harmony can exist at the chemical level, then perhaps nature—human nature—has allowed for such harmony at the conscious level.

celldiv
Cell division in epithelial cells.

At the chemical level, the components of an organism seem bound together by a certain purpose: to continue their collective being. To sustain, in a delicate balance, the trace flows of energy throughout its trillions of compartments. To maintain the flux and gradient of every molecular form across every lipid membrane in its assembly. To recreate, from four nitrogenous bases, the precise passing of electrons by every enzyme from conception to death. What gives life at the chemical level manifests, at the conscious level, as love—an alignment of emotions towards one purpose: to exist, together, forever. To continue our collective being.

worship

mosque-muslim-prayer

buddhism_devotion

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.” – Albert Einstein

milky_way_at_concordia_camp_karakoram_range_pakistan-1200x800
Photograph by Anne Dirkse.

“It is quite possible to lose one’s sense of being a separate self and to experience a kind of boundless, open awareness—to feel, in other words, at one with the cosmos.”  Sam Harris

m51op_hubble

“For small creatures such as we,
the vastness is bearable only through love.”
– Carl Sagan     

“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.” That is, consciousness is the highest experience of order continuing order. And at the sentient level, this order is driven by love.

800px-Orion_Nebula_-_Hubble_2006_mosaic_18000
The Orion Nebula (1,500 l.y. away). Image Source: NASA, ESA

“God is love…
We love because
 God first loved us.”
(1 John 4:8,19)

ngc6357schedler_s2hao3_60
The Lobster Nebula (8,000 l.y. away)

“God is love;
it is the only truth I fully accept.”
– Mahatma Gandhi    

982px-pillars_of_creation_2014_hst_wfc3-uvis_full-res_denoised
The Pillars of Creation (7,000 l.y. away)

“Consciousness is the highest experience of order continuing order. And at the sentient level, this order is driven by love.” Thus, our creation is the manifestation of our Creator’s affection. And now we—the created—have become the Creator. Such a realization must necessarily motivate a love that extends beyond ourselves and our species to the whole of nature in its beauty. Should we hope to continue our existence, then we must love our existence—its past, its present, and its future.

tumblr_m5jybnl1if1qdn9izo1_1280

“Our remote descendants, safely arrayed on many worlds throughout the Solar System and beyond, will be unified by their common heritage, by their regard for their home planet, and by the knowledge that, whatever other life may be, the only humans in all the Universe come from Earth. They will gaze up and strain to find the blue dot in their skies. They will love it no less for its obscurity and fragility. They will marvel at how vulnerable the repository of all our potential once was, how perilous our infancy, how humble our beginnings, how many rivers we had to cross before we found our way.” – Carl Sagan

Mankind stands at the edge, caught between a stampede behind and an abyss below. The priest looks to the heavens, and the scientist looks to the stars—both believing that they have found their own hope, but neither aware that they seek the same salvation. The only alternative to extinction is eternity, and the only solution to death is love.

Pale_Blue_Dot.png

“If we seek nature, then love can be informed by truth
instead of being based on ignorance or self-deception.”
– Carl Sagan    

Some ideas are inherently powerful because they appeal to the deepest of our spiritual intuitions. And there are three concepts that seem to underlie our most influential beliefs: (1) Eternity—the mind finds comfort in a form of immortality, be it reincarnation or some heavenly notion. (2) God—there are minds more advanced than ours, eternal entities that we often deem the origins of our existence. (3) Love—our capacity for compassion allows for the transcendent harmony of humanity. And for me, this third concept is what made religion so compelling. When I was a child, prayer and worship often inspired a transcendent love, a feeling of connectedness that brought about an incredible euphoria. As evangelist Charles Finney said about his conversion experience, “I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love.” This experience is what brings crowds to the altar and congregations to tears. And now I’ve rediscovered this phenomenon, this captivating sense of communion, but this time in a rational context: eternity, god, and love may seem like three different concepts, but in fact they reflect one truth: God is love, and we are God becoming self-aware.

“The phenomenon of self-transcendence is generally sought and interpreted in a religious context, and it is precisely the sort of experience that tends to increase a person’s faith.” − Sam Harris, “Waking Up.”

eso_eso1309a_6000
The Lobster Nebula (8,000 lights years away).

“If I have learned anything from my faith, it is this: there is no phenomenon more powerful than love. Through its effect on the sentient mind, love is the single most potent sustainer of life.” And my philosophy is meant to inspire a love based not on wishful beliefs, but on a reverence for the beauty of our existence as revealed by modern science, and on a fuller realization of our purpose. If we wish to believe in free will, then we now have a choice. We can embrace our role as Creator, and create an existence more beautiful than the mind can comprehend. Or we can refuse our cosmic calling, and let ourselves fall into the darkness.

“The religious myth is one of man’s greatest and most significant achievements, giving him the security and inner strength not to be crushed by the monstrousness of the universe.” – Carl Jung, Symbols of Transformation

milkyway4
Image source: Reddit user u/south_of_home.

“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending.
You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds?
Lay first the foundation of humility.”
− St. Augustine    

Human culture has tended to encourage an unfounded sense of self-importance. But a practical religion should inspire humility from even the self-perceived greatest. And there is nothing more humbling than seeing a larger picture of how everything might connect to everything else, and realizing that one’s welfare belongs to the welfare of everyone else—that lasting joy comes from the joy of all humanity. Indeed you and I are absolutely nothing, and only with our species can we be something. If you seek greatness, then look up at the stars and let the glory of God show you what it means to be truly relevant. Real significance is about creating a world that is cherished by every descendant of humanity, and being part of an existence that sees eternity. In the cosmic perspective, true greatness arises from humility and kindness—these enable the unity and adaptability that are necessary for our survival. The loss of this foundation is what brings power to corruption and society to ruin.


NEXT:   The Human System   |   CONTENTS   |   ABOUT
IMAGES IN THIS BLOG ARE NOT MY PROPERTY. IF YOU WOULD LIKE ANY IMAGE CREDITED OR REMOVED, OR IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, OR CONCERNS, PLEASE leave a reply BELOW OR CONTACT ME AT IFTRUTHEXISTS@GMAIL.COM.

A Cosmic Purpose

This post is being expanded. Last edit: 4/13/19

“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)

moon-flag-645

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’s to perpetuate its existence. And if we have any aim, then it’s 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 exist to exist, and we live to continue life.

solens_dod
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—perhaps a delusion, but a sure 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, a thought once incredible has now become tenable: science has presented humankind with the possibility of existing indefinitely. If we want to survive, then eternity can no longer remain a religious fantasy—it must now become our cosmic vision. Because we, the created, have become the Creator.

* “One of the all-time greatest cosmological discoveries, cosmic expansion implies that the universe has a finite age.” (https://www.quantamagazine.org/cosmologists-debate-how-fast-the-universe-is-expanding-20190808)

0b8cd2db47e7e621d42363bafc03903304befb28

“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, mathematician and theoretical physicist

“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” (Scientists & Sociopaths). As Sagan said, we are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.

https://www.quantamagazine.org/the-universal-law-that-aims-times-arrow-20190801/

01-eso1907a-press
The Event Horizon Telescope’s (EHT) image of the black hole at the center of Messier 87 (M87), a large galaxy in the Virgo cluster. This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the sun. Credit: Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al.

“The light EHT collected from M87 headed our way 55 million years ago. Over those eons, we emerged on Earth along with our myths, differentiated cultures, ideologies, languages and varied beliefs. Looking at M87, I am reminded that scientific discoveries transcend those differences. We are all under the same sky, all of us bound to this pale blue dot, floating in the sparse local territory of our solar system’s celestial bodies, under the warmth of our yellow sun, in a sparse sea of stars, in orbit around a supermassive black hole at the center of our luminous galaxy… I am moved by the image of a species looking at an image of a curious empty hole looming in space.” – cosmologist Janna Levin (Source: Quanta Magazine)

telescopescollage_2k
The radio telescope observatories involved in Event Horizon Telescope’s observations were (clockwise from top left): Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile; SubMillimeter Array (SMA) in Hawaii; South Pole Telescope (SPT) in Antarctica; Submillimeter Telescope (SMT) in Arizona; Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) in Chile; Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) in Mexico; James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) in Hawaii; and Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique (IRAM 30m) in Spain. Image source: Iztok Bončina/ESO; Steven H. Keys; University of Arizona/Junhan Kim; Dave Harvey; Juan de Dios Santander VelaA. Woodcraft; Luyten; ESO/B. Tafreshi/TWAN

“[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

black_hole
The quasar TON 618 (10.4 billion light years away) has the largest blackhole known to man. It has a mass of 66 billion suns and spans 2600 astronomical units, or 65 times the distance of Pluto from the sun. Image source: Interstellar

“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    

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 small as saving our habitats and making them on Mars. And for our descendants, it could be as awesome as the Big Bang, or as grand as expanding the cosmic web.

maxresdefault

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.

https://m.phys.org/news/2019-07-astronomers-vast-void-cosmic-neighborhood.html

laniakea-pp

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.

comment_b5xkbsnmikxg6itf0kh7vicqixrreelq

“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

creacic3b3n_de_adc3a1n_miguel_c381ngel

“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 the mind. 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.

render-1024x576

“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. It’s time that we, as a species, find our place in the Universe. 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.”

We, the created, have become the Creator. 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

Smog in Harbin, China

“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

161118144402-polar-bear-climate-change-super-169
Photo by Patty Waymire.

“Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. 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

dnews-files-2015-01-pillars-creation-infrared-670x440-150105-jpg
An infrared image of the Pillars of Creation (6,700 l.y. away).

Indeed, life is not just a right, but also a privilege that comes with an obligation. We are part of something beautiful—something we are now accountable for. Should we survive, then we must assume responsibility for the creative capacity that we have come to possess.

“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

hubble-space-galaxy-photo-big-611x400
Galaxy M106 (23 million l.y. away)

As a child, I’d sometimes 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, this philosophy is one of purpose and hope. Like faith, this idea is about finding God—but not through a book or a prayer. Rather, the nature of our Creator ought to be reflected in the nature of his creation. And in searching the mind of Man, perhaps we can glimpse the mind of God. If we seek eternal relevance, if we crave a higher calling, then this we must assume: We, the created, have become the Creator. We are God becoming self-aware.

“There is a God-shaped hole in the heart of man where the divine used to be.” – Jean-Paul Sartre, atheist and existentialist philosopher


NEXT:   Reason & Religion   |   CONTENTS   |   ABOUT
IMAGES IN THIS BLOG ARE NOT MY PROPERTY. IF YOU WOULD LIKE ANY IMAGE CREDITED OR REMOVED, OR IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, OR CONCERNS, PLEASE leave a reply BELOW OR CONTACT ME AT IFTRUTHEXISTS@GMAIL.COM.

So Don’t Stop

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

“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.” – Carl Sagan

To my younger self, life was nothing short of a divine miracle. Sixty thousand miles of blood vessels in my body, and all of it from one cell! God truly was an awesome Creator. But now, I look at a tree outside, even more amazed by the fact that it and I came from the same cell roughly 4 billion years ago. I’ve always had a deep fascination with life. But without my faith to explain its origin or purpose, I turned to reason. As an engineering student, I was taught to view everything as a system, a relationship between inputs and outputs that can be described by some mathematical function. We use systems to understand everything from atoms to computers to galaxies, but what about life? Can biology be reduced to a bunch of equations?

ultrasound2

“We cannot fathom the marvelous complexity of an organic being. Each living creature must be looked at as a microcosm―a little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars in heaven.” – Charles Darwin

The complexity of life is one reason why some scientists attribute our existence to intelligent design. Life, at its essence, is intelligent. One person very creatively—but quite accurately—described a cell as “a high-tech factory, complete with artificial languages and decoding systems; central memory banks that store and retrieve impressive amounts of information; precision control systems that regulate the automatic assembly of components; proof-reading and quality-control mechanisms that safeguard against errors; assembly systems that use principles of prefabrication and modular construction; and a complete replication system that allows the organism to duplicate itself at bewildering speeds.”

An animation of real-time DNA replication.
An animation of real-time DNA replication.

The origin of life remains one of the most perplexing mysteries of science. Because the processes of a cell are overwhelmingly interdependent, considering which came first is like an unsolvable puzzle of chicken or the egg. Genes are needed to build proteins, but proteins are needed to make genes. However, neither genes nor proteins can function if they are not contained by lipid membranes, which are also made by proteins. Moreover, proteins cannot work without energy from metabolic reactions that rely on proteins and lipid membranes. How did all this result from a soup of chemicals? Most theories propose a concrete sequence of events that may have led to the first cell. Many scientists say that life began with the formation of RNA molecules or giant viruses, while others think that metabolism or lipid protocells arose first. But in their search for these physical pathways, biologists have overlooked a metaphysical mystery in the emergence of life: a determination to exist.

The following claim may be controversial, but my logic does not violate any proven principle of nature. And, given the mind’s craving for relevance, I think that this assumption may be necessary for the survival and flourishing of our species.

1
A white blood cell pursues and engulfs bacteria. Image source.

“Biology is the study of complicated things that have the appearance of having been designed with a purpose.” – Charles Darwin

Apart from the mentally ill, we all strive to exist—a biological tendency to sustain oneself. Arising with the first cell, this will to survive is a major distinction between living and nonliving matter. Indeed, the origin of life must involve the origin of its purpose—to live. And purpose must involve a mental element, because purpose implies intent, and intent demonstrates the presence of a mind, however primitive it may be. Thus, the very concept of survival requires a determination that can only be explained by a sense of agency. This “struggle for existence” necessitates a motivation that may constitute the very beginnings of consciousness.

But of course, some argue that this “awareness” and its “purpose” are not what they seem to be. Having evolved from nonliving matter, all biological phenomena must be derived from the purposeless laws of nature. Since life is nothing but a coincidental sequence of chemical events, mind and purpose are just confusions of molecular interactions. The metaphysical is just an aimless byproduct of a purely physical system. In other words, your consciousness is an illusion—an illusion that loves, an illusion that laughs, an illusion so self-aware that it has realized itself to be an illusion.

tumblr_nkagejdxfj1qd479ro1_500
Tardigrades are the most durable of known organisms: they can survive temperatures near absolute zero, the vacuum of outer space, and radiation at doses hundreds of times higher than the lethal dose for a human.

For obvious reasons, this physical assumption remains unverifiable. Besides, its implications are incredibly demoralizing. Explaining our desire to exist as some delusion is a depressing thought, even for the most stable mind. But if our survival instinct isn’t an illusion, then how real is it? Supposing that life’s striving cannot be fully reduced to its physical components, then it must be emergent from or intrinsic to its physical components. And in the latter case, our will to live may be as real as the ground beneath our feet. Our desire to exist may be fundamental to the nature of the Universe. We are, after all, made of the Universe.

800px-the_galactic_centre_and_bulge_above_the_eso_3-6-metre_telescope
The Milky Way galactic center above the ESO 3.6-meter telescope. Image source: ESO

Maybe the only reason we ask “why do we exist?” is because we want to exist.
Maybe the better question is, “why do we want to exist?”

Evolution may be chance, but evolution cannot occur without a replicating entity. Natural selection cannot act without this “struggle for existence,” this self-sustaining tendency that is innate to all of life. But how do self-sustaining molecular systems evolve from interstellar dust? My theory, like any discussion on the origin of life, remains speculative. And while this is unimportant for the remainder of my philosophy, I do think it’s an idea worth exploring: perhaps this existential drive is inherent to our concept of dark energy and the arrow of time. That is, the propagation of spacetime also perpetuates every oscillation in nature, from the spins of galaxies to the spins of electrons. When these cosmic and quantum cycles intersect, they align and resonate, producing the self-sustaining cycle of chemical energy that we call biological life. Simply put, life is the resonant frequency of the Universe.

https://www.quantamagazine.org/physicists-discover-exotic-patterns-of-synchronization-20190404

giphy
NASA time-lapse showing the 12-month cycle of all plant life on Earth.

Whether or not my theory holds, I will continue with this assumption: survival is somehow fundamental to the nature of reality. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And there is no evidence more compelling than the absurdity of your very being and its desire to be. Extrapolating this motivation of life to all of nature may seem rather unscientific. But we evolved from nature, and the laws that govern the evolution of life are the same laws that govern the evolution of stars. So when you see life and its struggle for existence, it seems possible that this struggle is innate to existence. Perhaps life itself is testimony to an influence beyond our present understanding of physics. Our survival instinct may reveal a truth greater than the outcome of any experiment: there is, underlying the laws of nature, a perpetual drive that is manifested through life and its awareness. Simply put, nature has one purpose: existence has a tendency to exist; being is bound with a will to be (axiom 2a).

4
Kidney cells in culture. Image source.

“Bottomless wonders spring from simple rules,
which are
repeated without end.
– Benoit Mandelbrot    

6
Bacteria in culture. Image source.

In a sheaf of notes intended for an unfinished book, Carl Sagan printed the following quote by philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz:

“Why does something exist rather than nothing? For ‘nothing’ is simpler than ‘something.’ Now this sufficient reason for the existence of the Universe…which has no need of any other reason…must be a necessary being, else we should not have a sufficient reason with which we could stop.”

And just beneath the typed quote,
three small handwritten words in red pen,
a message from Sagan to Leibniz and to us:

“So don’t stop.”

spinning-top_518

“Concepts that have proven useful in ordering things easily achieve such authority over us that we forget their earthly origins and accept them as unalterable givens. The path of scientific progress is often made impassable for a long time by such errors. Therefore it is by no means an idle game if we become practiced in analyzing long-held commonplace concepts and showing the circumstances on which their justification and usefulness depend.” – Albert Einstein


NEXT:   A Cosmic Purpose   |   CONTENTS   |   ABOUT
IMAGES IN THIS BLOG ARE NOT MY PROPERTY. IF YOU WOULD LIKE ANY IMAGE CREDITED OR REMOVED, OR IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, OR CONCERNS, PLEASE leave a reply BELOW OR CONTACT ME AT IFTRUTHEXISTS@GMAIL.COM.

Made of Starstuff

“We have found that scientific laws pervade all of nature, that the same rules that apply on Earth as in the skies, that we can find a resonance, a harmony, between the way we think and the way the world works.” − Carl Sagan

982px-pillars_of_creation_2014_hst_wfc3-uvis_full-res_denoised

“How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?’ Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.” – Carl Sagan

most-beautiful-sunset-in-the-world-wallpaper-1

shining-edge-universe-wide

render-1024x576

milky_way_at_concordia_camp_karakoram_range_pakistan-1200x800
The Milky Way Galaxy from the Karakoram Range in Pakistan. Photo by Anne Dirkse.

Our galaxy (200,000 light years across) contains about 300 billion stars.

image_5608_2e-Jupiter

17-051

These images show the gas patterns of Jupiter’s southern hemisphere and south pole, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Multiple images were combined to show all areas in daylight, enhanced color, and stereographic projection. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/B

All stars are born from collapsing clouds of gas and dust called nebulae. Shown above, the Carina Nebula (7,500 l.y. away) contains some of the youngest and most luminous stars known in the Milky Way. Photo by NASA/ESA‘s Hubble Space Telescope.

v838_mon_hst
Dust is illuminated by light from the red supergiant star V838 Monocerotis (20,000 l.y. away).

canismajorisfromsaturn3

UY Scuti (9,500 l.y. away) is the largest known star in the Milky Way. If placed at the center of the Solar System, this red supergiant would engulf the orbit of Jupiter. Its core is expected to collapse in a supernova explosion.

343552390

“The atoms that comprise life on earth, the atoms that make up the human body, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high-mass stars…

Explosion of planet or star

…these stars went unstable in their later years, exploding their guts into the galaxy and enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

010_crab_nebula
The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant that is about 1,000 years old.

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars…

sn1006c

…We are made of starstuff.” – Carl Sagan

A supernova remnant in the Milky Way about 13,000 light years  from Earth.
SN 1572 is a supernova remnant that is about 450 years old.
ic-443-jellyfish
The Jellyfish Nebula is a supernova remnant that is about 10,000 years old.
simeis147_ha_o3_b
The Spaghetti Nebula (3,000 l.y. away) is a supernova remnant that is about 40,000 years old.

“We are part of this universe. We are in this universe. But perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us…

The Lobster Nebula (8,000 l.y. away).

…When I reflect on that fact, I look up. Many people feel small, because they’re small and the Universe is big. But I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There is a level of connectivity.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

tarantula_brimacombe_big
The Tarantula Nebula lies within the Large Magellanic Cloud (163,000 l.y. away), the largest satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. Photo by Joseph Brimacombe.
738999main_pia16884-full_full
The Small Magellanic Cloud (197,000 l.y. away) is the third largest satellite galaxy of the Milky Way.

Carl Sagan: “There is a [world] with four suns in the sky; two of them are so close together that they touch. [There is] a sun the size of the Earth—and made of diamond. There are atomic nuclei a few miles across which rotate thirty times a second. There are turbulent plasmas writhing with X- and gamma-rays from mighty stellar explosions. The universe is vast and awesome, and for the first time we are becoming a part of it.”

andromeda

The Andromeda Galaxy is the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way. This structure is 2.5 million l.y. away and contains about 1 trillion stars. It is expected to collide with the Milky Way in 3.5 billion years.

8416833561_a5e096d251_o
The Whirlpool galaxy (23 million l.y. away)
m51op_hubble
The Whirlpool galaxy (enlarged)
Hubble Mosaic of the Majestic Sombrero Galaxy
The Sombrero galaxy (28 million l.y. away)
heic1006a
Messier 66 (35 million l.y. away)
lossy-page1-1920px-NGC5949_-_HST_-_Potw1732a.tif
NGC 5949 (44 million l.y. away)
32480-ngsversion-1422036026856-adapt-768-1
NGC 2841 (46 million l.y. away)
A spiral snowflake
NGC 6814 (47 million l.y. away)
ngc-5907
NGC 5907, an edge-on spiral galaxy about 53.5 million l.y. away.
hubble2005-01-barred-spiral-galaxy-ngc1300
NGC 1300 (61 million l.y. away)
IC_1101_in_Abell_2029_28hst_06228_03_wfpc2_f702w_pc29
Image of the giant galaxy IC 1101, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 at 702 nm.

 

IC 1101 (1 billion l.y. away) is a supergiant elliptical galaxy, one of the largest known galaxies. It spans 6 million l.y. and contains about 100 trillion stars. Image Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

PIA20058_hires

It’s thought that almost every large galaxy, including the Milky Way, has a supermassive black hole at its center. The image above shows Galaxy NGC 1068, whose core (inset) contains a supermassive black hole.

pia20051-nustarsolo

The black hole of quasar H1821+643 is one of the largest, with an estimated mass of 30 billion Suns and a diameter 28 times the span of the Solar System.

800px-nasa-hs201427a-hubbleultradeepfield2014-20140603

The Hubble Ultra-Deep Field is an image of a region of space that is just one thirteen-millionth of the total area of the sky (smaller than a 1 mm by 1 mm square held 1 meter away). An estimated 10,000 galaxies are visible. Image source.

eso1438b

In a computer simulation of the cosmic web, galaxies form from gas (orange) that cluster along filaments of dark matter (blue). The region in this image spans about 350 million l.y.

maxresdefault

The location of our own galaxy (red dot) on the fringes of the Laniakea Supercluster, our filament of the cosmic web. Along its major axis, this supercluster spans 520 million l.y.

galaxie

“We are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically… That’s really what you want in life. You want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

comment_b5xkbsnmikxg6itf0kh7vicqixrreelq

When you think about it, there is nothing more absurd than the fact that we exist. On the atomic scale, we are 99.999999999999% empty space. On the cosmic scale, we’re just an expanding field of energy.

edb50da16d12418c24129bb299e8793d
Neurons in a mouse’s cerebellum.

Somehow, this energy has assembled itself into an entity capable of pondering its very existence.

Somehow, the Universe has become aware of itself.

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 2.02.15 AM

“We humans have seen the atoms which constitute all of nature and the forces that sculpted this work. And we, who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the Cosmos, have begun to wonder about our origins. [We are] starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at last, consciousness arose. We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.” – Carl Sagan

m42_wittich_1024

“Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion.” – Albert Einstein


NEXT:   So Don’t Stop   |   CONTENTS   |   ABOUT 
IMAGES IN THIS BLOG ARE NOT MY PROPERTY. IF YOU WOULD LIKE ANY IMAGE CREDITED OR REMOVED, OR IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, OR CONCERNS, PLEASE COMMENT BELOW OR CONTACT ME AT IFTRUTHEXISTS@GMAIL.COM.

The Religious Mind

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

“The word ‘religion’ comes from the Latin for ‘binding together,’ to connect that which has been sundered apart. And in this sense of seeking the deepest interrelations among things that appear to be sundered, the objectives of religion and science, I believe, are identical or very nearly so.” – Carl Sagan

4048204627_043a16b478

Towards the end of college, I regarded religion with distaste. Faith should have no place in society. It is foolish, outdated, and deceiving. As a child, I had embraced a delusion that included everything from speaking in tongues to raising the dead. And without a doubt, letting go of my faith was a difficult process. But now I see my upbringing not as an unfortunate circumstance, but as invaluable insight into one of the most powerful dispositions of the human mind.

Spirituality¹ seems to be hardwired into our brains. It has always been, and will continue to be, integral to the human experience. From our religious beliefs arose our laws, our literature, our art, and our first attempts at understanding the world and its heavens. Even after four centuries of scientific reasoning, we remain trapped by our religious assumptions. In a society transformed by quantum mechanics, many still manage to believe that the Earth is six thousand years old.

¹I use the words “spirituality” and “spiritual” rather interchangeably with “religion” and “religious.” However, spiritual insights and experiences often exist outside the context of organized religion—concepts like self-transcendent love and moral goodness can certainly manifest without dogmatic beliefs or superstitious rituals. In any case, my philosophy overlaps with religion in a few ways. It creates a set of principles about our objective reality—assumptions that are subject to scientific scrutiny and philosophical inquiry. These principles ought to evolve with evidence. Also, this idea can be considered “religious” in a social sense; it might inspire various forms of human organization. But these social constructs, like the principles that underlie them, are open to experimentation and adaptation.

ProjectionsOverview.png

Our religious behavior likely began as intentional burials over 100,000 years ago. As cognitive scientist Philip Lieberman suggests, burials signify a “concern for the dead that transcends daily life.” However, new evidence might indicate that our propensity for such behavior is more deeply seeded in our evolutionary past. Even more, we may not be the only species with a concept of mortality—death “rituals” have been observed in elephants, dolphins, primates, and birds. Unsurprisingly, these animals also demonstrate the greatest capacity for cognition, emotion, and complex social and moral behavior.

maxresdefault2

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that nonhuman animals have… the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

aphelocoma_californica_in_seattle_cropped

Consciousness has developed independently in different branches of the evolutionary tree. In particular, birds appear to offer a striking case of parallel evolution in their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy. Although the lineages of birds and mammals diverged about 320 million years ago, “mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microcircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously thought. Moreover, certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra finches, neurophysiological patterns, previously thought to require a mammalian neocortex… Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots… Magpies in particular have been shown to exhibit striking similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in studies of mirror self-recognition.” (The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness)

14bb1242eb42fbb9bc1188d8431a247b949f7db4_1600x1200

Fairness, reciprocity, empathy, cooperation—caring about the well-being of others seems uniquely human. But behavioral research confirms that we share many of these moral traits with primates and other mammals. Other studies suggest that birds get jealous, rats have empathy, dolphins show compassion, and dogs feel guilt. On the darker side of human nature, immoral behaviors are also found throughout the animal kingdom.

elephants

Elephants have been observed to return to the remains of their dead, touching and sniffing the body with their feet and trunks. In some cases, the carcass was visited by completely unrelated elephant groups. Thus, researchers have concluded that elephants have a “generalized response to the dead.”

CHIMPANZEE

A newly-published film captures the solemn reactions of a group of chimpanzees who discover the dead body of a friend. As in humans, chimps and other primates seem more affected by the death of individuals with whom they have formed meaningful relationships and closer social ties.

tumblr_n04ilceari1snvn11o1_500

The original Great Pyramid of Giza was smooth, white, and shiny. Its construction, which remains an engineering mystery, required tens of thousands of skilled workers crafting and moving 2.3 million stones that weighed several tons each. The sides of the pyramid’s base had a mean margin of error of just 2.3 inches. For more than 3,800 years, this tomb was the tallest man-made structure in the world—just one example of our “concern for the dead that transcends daily life.”

e9e0b5627bd68ba1152409d8b919c4cf7b712a71

[insert] “Evolution’s Random Paths Lead to One Place.” A massive statistical study suggests that the final evolutionary outcome—fitness—is predictable. Could sentience be an evolutionary endpoint?

“Human nature may represent a universal tendency found in the evolution of all sentient beings. Maybe any self-awareness that arises will consider its own existence meaningful, and its intelligence will be bound with an emotional purpose.”

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. In this case, our beliefs in angels and ghosts are indicative of something more than complete nonsense. 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. Supposing the mind has any purpose, perhaps there is some truth in what the mind believes its purpose to be. So what makes our beliefs so captivating? What creates such meaning and hope?

nature

The earliest religions began with the worship of nature. Everything had a spirit, including mountains, lakes, animals, plants, and the cosmos. Some believed that nature had many minds, or that one mind encompassed all of nature.

“There is one body and one Spirit, one God and Father of all
who is over all and through all and in all.”
– Ephesians 4:4-6    

Why nature? Because we came from nature. And the self-aware mind, in order to make sense of its own awareness, figured that it must have been the product of a greater awareness. We assumed that our health and harvest weren’t up to chance. They were determined by the same causes that created us. Our Origin. Mother Nature. Father God.

desktop

“Stop and consider God’s wonders. Do you know how he controls the clouds
and makes his lightning flash? Do you know how the clouds hang poised,
those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?”
– Job 37:14-16    

cornelis-van-poelenburch-la-expulsion-del-paraiso-pintores-y-pinturas-juan-carlos-boveri

As we distanced ourselves from nature, our beliefs followed suit. Our concept of god became more humanlike, and our rituals with the environment turned into our interactions with each other. But still, this profound bond with nature remains a fundamental feature of human spirituality. Psychologist William James described the religious sense as a “feeling of being at home in the Universe.” From the complexity of life to the elegance of the cosmos, nature brings an indescribable awe to the human mind. This is perhaps best captured by the Japanese word yugen: “an awareness of the Universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and powerful for words.” Carl Sagan, in one of his essays on religion, described this same phenomenon:

“By far the best way I know to engage the religious sensibility, the sense of awe, is to look up on a clear night. I believe that it is very difficult to know who we are until we understand where and when we are. I think everyone in every culture has felt a sense of awe and wonder looking at the sky. This is reflected throughout the world in both science and religion.”

rwjispirvy7jhsn73qsu9l

“The heavens declare the glory of God.
The skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
– Psalm 19:1    

Antennae Galaxies reloaded
This collision of two spiral galaxies, also called the Antennae Galaxies, is located about 45 million light years away. Image source: NASA/ESA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

“I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is
the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research.”
– Albert Einstein    

“Supposing the mind has any purpose, perhaps there is some truth in what the mind believes its purpose to be. So what makes our beliefs so captivating? What creates such meaning and hope?” Most obviously, we want to exist. Like any other organism, we have an innate determination to survive. And as the mind evolved towards self-awareness, it developed a concept of its own existence—and a fear of its nonexistence. Thus, we find comfort in a form of immortality, a continuation of the mind through reincarnation or an afterlife. Our aversion to death explains, at least in part, our beliefs in heaven and hell, spirits and souls, gods and ghosts. 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. Simply put, we crave eternal relevance.

dnews-files-2015-01-pillars-creation-infrared-670x440-150105-jpg
The Pillars of Creation.

“The pioneering psychologist William James called religion a ‘feeling of being at home in the Universe.’ Our tendency has been… to pretend that the Universe is how we wish our home would be, rather than to revise our notion of home so it embraces the Universe. If, in considering James’ definition, we mean the real Universe, then we have no true religion yet.” – Carl Sagan


NEXT:   Made of Starstuff   |   CONTENTS   |   ABOUT
IMAGES IN THIS BLOG ARE NOT MY PROPERTY. IF YOU WOULD LIKE ANY IMAGE CREDITED OR REMOVED, OR IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, OR CONCERNS, PLEASE leave a reply BELOW OR CONTACT ME AT IFTRUTHEXISTS@GMAIL.COM.

Two Trillion Galaxies

“What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the world” – Albert Einstein

The Lobster Nebula (8,000 lights years away)

With telescopes, detectors, and particle accelerators, we’ve developed a rudimentary understanding of our universe. All the matter we see can be reduced to four fundamental forces involving at least 17 elementary particles. But these particles make up just 4% of all the energy in the universe; the other 96% remains a cosmic mystery. And while the physics can tell us the what, it fails to explain the why. Why do we exist? Why does anything exist at all? Is the universe just a simulation? A quantum fluctuation? One universe in an infinite multiverse? Whatever answers our scientific knowledge can provide are still nothing but speculations that seem to demean our existence as some meaningless accident or faulty experiment. At least the speculations of faith provide more comforting answers. But for many, a quantum fluctuation remains far more plausible than any interpretation of Genesis. Critical thinking and scientific observation are the best guides to the nature of reality, and wishful beliefs will get us nowhere. After all, the world’s dominant religions were founded on the obsolete assumption that man was the focus of creation, that Earth was the center of the Universe.

“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.” – Carl Sagan

800px-nasa-hs201427a-hubbleultradeepfield2014-20140603

The Hubble Ultra-Deep Field is an image of a region of space that is just one thirteen-millionth of the total area of the sky (smaller than a 1 mm by 1 mm square held 1 meter away). An estimated 10,000 galaxies are visible.

“The major religions contradict each other left and right. You can’t all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It’s a possibility, you know.” – Carl Sagan

In the last six centuries, we have discovered that we are anything but the center of the Universe. The Sun is one of 300 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and the Milky Way is one of at least two trillion galaxies that we can see. The observable universe has a diameter that spans about 91 billion light years. If 91 billion l.y. were scaled to the distance from NYC to LA, then the distance to the nearest star (4.4 l.y.) would be the thickness of foil. And if 4.4 l.y. were scaled to the distance from NYC to LA, then Earth spans less than a millimeter. Beyond the observable universe, we don’t really know what exists.

cosmic_web_crop1

The galaxies in our observable universe are clustered along filaments of dark matter (invisible sources of gravity), and these filaments are connected in a cosmic web. Scientists think that the universe is probably infinite, or at least 250 times larger than the observable universe.

The most prominent scientists also remind us of how small we are. Stephen Hawking has called humankind “just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star.” Carl Sagan describes each of us as “a tiny being, permitted to ride on the outermost skin of one of the smaller planets for a few dozen trips around the local star.” In a metaphor, biologist E. O. Wilson relates Earth to the universe as “the second segment of the left antenna of an aphid sitting on a flower petal in a garden in Teaneck, N.J., for a few hours this afternoon.”

“Only the most extraordinarily self-centered species
could imagine that all of this is going on for our sake.”
– Christopher Hitchens    

Hubble snaps NGC 5189
NGC 1365 (3,000 l.y. away)

“Although our situation is not necessarily central,
it is inevitably privileged to some extent.”
Brandon Carter    

Physicists and cosmologists agree that the universe is “fine-tuned” for life. The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of an electron’s charge or the constant of the gravitational force. And the conditions that allow for life can only occur when these seemingly arbitrary numbers lie within a very narrow range. If any of them were only slightly different, the universe would be unlikely to support the development of galaxies, stars, atoms, and life as we know it.

For an argument against fine-tuning, I recommend “Anthropic Arrogance,” by David P. Barash, evolutionary biologist. https://aeon.co/essays/why-a-human-centred-universe-is-not-a-humane-one

“The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired.” – Stephen Hawking

But many dismiss the significance of this fine-tuning with the weak anthropic principle: the universe must be as we observe it to be, because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to observe it. Assuming we exist in an infinite multiverse, only in a universe capable of supporting life will there be living beings capable of observing and reflecting upon any such fine tuning. In other words, our universe just happened to have the laws that support the existence of sapient life. We are just a coincidence, and our reality is nothing but an accident.

In a hypothetical multiverse, every universe is like a bubble popping in and out of existence. Each has its own set of physical laws, and ours happens to have the physical laws that allow for life as we know it.

Likewise, many academics have adopted a materialistic philosophy, which assumes that nature has no purpose. From the complexity of life to the brain’s awareness, everything can be explained by the aimless laws of science. At the subatomic scale, our entire existence can be reduced to a coincidental sequence of physical interactions—of particles bumping into particles. We are, in the grand scheme of things, completely irrelevant. There is no “design,” no deeper meaning to life, and certainly no higher purpose for us to realize. Like every other species, we will vanish in the blink of an eye.

“Some things occur just by chance. What if our most fundamental questions, our late-at-night-wonderings about why we are here, have no more satisfying answer than an exasperated shrug and a meekly muttered, ‘things just seem to have turned out that way’?” – Richard Dawkins

translational_motion

“The Standard Model describes most of the interactions between all of matter’s building blocks, as well as the forces that act on those particles. For decades, this theory has successfully predicted how matter behaves. However, there are a few nagging exceptions to the model’s explanatory success. The Standard Model doesn’t explain dark matter, a mysterious and invisible substance that exerts a gravitational pull, yet emits no light. And the model doesn’t account for gravity alongside the other fundamental forces that influence matter, according to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).” – Mindy Weisberger, LiveScience

Perhaps the materialist is right, and there is no why. Some of the brightest minds think that we’re just a blip on the radar, fated to extinction. But while nobody can prove that we matter, nobody can prove that we don’t matter. Not even the materialist can claim with absolute certainty that our existence is meaningless, that our intuition is completely mistaken. The anthropic principle is certainly plausible, but it hinges on a hypothetical multiverse that is currently unverifiable*. And while the reality of other universes might be interesting to ponder, there is a reality that we cannot ignore: the healthy mind is inclined to consider itself relevant, and its vitality is rooted in purpose.

“People are prone to resist scientific claims when they clash with intuitive beliefs.” – Atul Gawande

*The technical limits of science render some experiments undoable and their questions untestable. As a result, ideas like multiverse realities or string theories cannot be proven nor disproven, and many have begun to question their value. In an opinion piece for Nature (2014), cosmologist George Ellis and astrophysicist Joseph Silk write that “as we see it, theoretical physics risks becoming a no-man’s-land between mathematics, physics and philosophy that does not truly meet the the requirements of any.” An idea might be called a science by one but a pseudoscience by another. Likewise, consciousness is deemed an illusion by some and a fundamental property by others. As far as knowledge has come, our understanding of science remains compatible with numerous perspectives and leaves open many doors of philosophical inquiry. But I’ve found one to be especially promising—one that might prove useful for advancing discovery and inspiring harmony.

“It is tempting to think that scientific authority is natural and will soon reassert itself like a sturdy self-righting boat knocked over by a rogue wave.” – Robert P. Crease, “The rise and fall of scientific authority, and how to bring it back” (Nature 2019)

We all want to exist, but no one wants a meaningless existence. As small as we are, as insignificant as we may be, the majority of the world clings to a faith rooted in the notion that the universe was made for us, the human species. Even when reason says otherwise, the human mind claims that we are indeed the center of the universe. The image of God. The creator’s purpose for creating. So what if our sense of relevance isn’t entirely unfounded? What if our search for meaning isn’t all that vain?

92809240_1024caters_nightscapes_12

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. Because human nature, as hopeless as it seems, is our only hope.When considering the fact that 85% of the world is religious—a figure that is expected to rise—it seems that our materialistic speculations will be of little benefit to our species. Because of human nature and its teleological inclinations, the most meaningful ideas inspire the greatest cooperation, and concepts that impart an existential objective will be the most useful for the preservation of humankind.

“Concepts that have proven useful in ordering things easily achieve such authority over us that we forget their earthly origins and accept them as unalterable givens. The path of scientific progress is often made impassable for a long time by such errors. Therefore it is by no means an idle game if we become practiced in analyzing long-held commonplace concepts and showing the circumstances on which their justification and usefulness depend.” – Albert Einstein

m51op_hubble
The Whirlpool Galaxy (23 million l.y. away)

“If humanity is to survive, then we must mobilize the intellectual community to take its place as the head of the human system. We need an agreement among the thinkers who will ultimately guide the future of our species” (Scientists & Sociopaths). But such a unity seems unlikely given the many ideological differences among our academics. Of particular concern is the pervasiveness of our nihilistic assumptions: everything is chance, there is no meaning or purpose, and we may as well be nonexistent. These are dangerous notions because, as cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker notes, “pessimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.” If we cannot let go of extinction, then we may doom ourselves to extinction. If we fail to hope, then we will remain hopeless. Thus, we can no longer afford to demean life as some chance anomaly, or the mind as some blind illusion. 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 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.

“We humans have seen the atoms which constitute all of nature and the forces that sculpted this work. And we, who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the Cosmos, have begun to wonder about our origins. [We are] starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at last, consciousness arose. We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.” – Carl Sagan

738999main_pia16884-full_full
The Small Magellanic Cloud (200,000 l.y. away)

Even if we exist in a multiverse, the weak anthropic principle does not preclude the possibility that our universe has become aware for a reason. Just because our existence is lucky does not mean it is necessarily trivial. And while the human species is coincidental, human nature may represent a universal tendency found in the evolution of all sentient beings. Maybe any self-awareness that arises will consider its own existence meaningful, and its intelligence will be bound with an emotional purpose. And perhaps our intuition tells us we matter because we do, in fact, matter. In the interest of our survival, this is certainly worth considering.

“There is in this Universe much of what seems to be design. Every time we come upon it, we breathe a sigh of relief. We are forever hoping to find, or at least safely deduce, a Designer. But instead, we repeatedly discover that natural processes… can extract order out of chaos, and deceive us into deducing purpose where there is none… The evidence, so far at least and laws of Nature aside, does not require a Designer. Maybe there is one hiding, maddeningly unwilling to be revealed.” – Carl Sagan


Next:   The Religious Mind   |   CONTENTS   |   ABOUT
Images in this blog are not my property. If you would like any image credited or removed, or if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please leave a reply below or contact me at iftruthexists@gmail.com.