Universal Death and Meaninglessness

In this diagram, time passes from left to right, so at any given time, the Universe is represented by a disk-shaped “slice” of the diagram.

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.

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One thought on “Universal Death and Meaninglessness

  1. The limited time of the universe does not in itself argue for meaning or not, so I’m not sure why you draw any conclusion from the existing data. A limited time could just as easily suggest that something must be done within the time provided. The fact that we don’t know what the meaning of the limited time of the universe just means we don’t have enough data.

    I would also think that at some point, given enough information, we can draw a conclusion based on facts as to the question of meaning. We live in a state of ignorance.

    On what basis do you conclude that “Though the details of these and other competing models go beyond the scope of our inquiry, none of them, or any other variants likely to be proposed, have a place in them for supernatural gods.”?

    The universe as we know it does not offer any facts to prove or disprove a higher being; all we can determine is that the universe exists and that it started to exist at some point. But the existence of a field where time and space start suggests the existence of something outside of time and space, where beings of a higher order than ourselves could exist. We have no information and can only speculate, but the lack of information may in itself be a clue.

    But I agree with your conclusion, as the escape from death – in some form – would provide the universe with meaning to human life. But I would say at this point we lack enough information to make a conclusion, so that the logical step now is to continue collecting data until we can resolve this foundamental question. Any conclusion at this point – supporting meanng or meaninglessness – is just speculation.

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