On Why the World Exists

I received these perceptive comments from a reader regarding my recent review of Jim Holt’s book: Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story.

Comment – “I think life is largely mysterious and we’ll probably die without getting even close to fully understanding the larger context behind the universe (if there is one). This might change if there is a friendly intelligence explosion – but it might not (if there’s nothing to grasp, even a super-AI can’t grasp it).”

Reply – I think the reader is correct. Without intelligence augmentation or artificial intelligence or some other kind of superintelligence we will not be able to understand these ultimate metaphysical questions. No wonder Kant cautioned philosophers against grand metaphysical assertions and doubted their ability to know the noumenal world of things as they really are. And, as the reader notes, if existence is unintelligible or has no selector as Parfit suspects, then there are no answers to be found. The only option then would be to make the answers, to give existence a cause, reason, or explanation. I think this is what we should do–make life meaningful. That is our purpose in life. For more see this page.

Comment – “One way I think about this is: think about all the ways the world could be different? What if we had 12 fingers, instead of 10? Or 5 sexes, instead of two? Or lived for five seconds? What if we had 15 senses, instead of roughly 5? Or 10 limbs? Or a moral map that made torturing babies fun? The kinds of different possible worlds is practically infinite, and there is no apparent reason why we live in this one, rather than another one. There is no contrastive explanation, at least not one available to us.”

Reply – This is roughly Parfit’s position. If reality was completely good or bad that would be indicative of a selector, but the reality we live in is consistent with no selector, as are the other worlds the reader mentions.

Comment – We just have to deal with this fact . [That no explanation is avialable.] I think of life kind of like a video game, I enjoy the challenge, and I try to score as many happiness points as I can (or, in other words, make the journey as comfortable as possible). You’d be surprised how much comfort-chasing and law-abiding correlate with each other. You don’t have to be a devout Jesuit to be a good citizen and neighbor.

Reply – This is roughly the eudaimonistic/utilitarianism combined with the idea that morality and self-interest coincide. Happiness as the goal of ethics is a defensible position and both Aristotle and the utilitarians defend it. The idea that morality and self-interest coincide is debatable. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it may be in your interest to not kill, lie , cheat, and steal–the authorities or watching–but sometimes it may be in your interest to do those apparently immoral things–there are no regulations or coercive powers preventing your from stealing lots of money.

Comment – The exciting thing is that a lot of exponential super technology is around the corner. We’re close to tipping points in virtual reality, life extension tech, and artificial intelligence. The future could be very good, or very bad, but it will definitely be very interesting.

Reply –  I agree with the reader. Scientific knowledge, based on reason and evidence, and its application as technology is a necessary condition if we are to be saved. In addition we need morality. I have discussed these issues recently here and here.

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