Daily Archives: January 4, 2015

Universal Death and Meaninglessness

Notice that the possible stories of the origin, evolution and end of our universe discussed yesterday present a picture that is not particularly conducive to the idea that life has meaning. When we look at the facts dispassionately, there doesn’t seem to be room for objective meaning. If all began without purpose, proceeded without design and ultimately ends, then what room is there for meaning? Universal death is the ultimate extension of our own deaths. While we may be able to reconcile ourselves with our own deaths, finding meaning in the legacy of our work or children, if all ultimately dies, if eventually there is nothing, then how can life have meaning?

We can grasp this basic idea through a thought experiment. Imagine that there was a previous or parallel universe where living beings once lived, labored, loved, suffered, and died. But now that world is extinct, and nothing about it remains in any fashion. We can say that these now unperceived and non-existing worlds mattered to the individuals who lived in them, but how do they matter to us?  How do they matter or have meaning from a universal perspective? What is the difference between something gone forever that left no trace, and something that never existed?

We could reply that former worlds have some minimal effect on our own, but it is hard to see how such a small effect, if real, could give their lives significance. And if everything vanishes in the future, then it will not matter that we have been either. I find it hard to escape this conclusion.  Modern science reinforces the view that the meaning of life is, at the very least, problematic.

That is why the possibility that there is some way to escape universal death would be so uplifting. Without that proviso, there may be no meaning.