continued from a previous entry
Yet, as we ascend these mountains of thought, we are brought back to earth. Looking to the past we see that truth, beauty, goodness, love, and meaning have emerged from cosmic evolution but so too have ignorance, loneliness, war, cruelty, despair, poverty, and pain. Surely serious reflection on this misery is sobering and we must temper our optimism accordingly.
We should also remember that if we find patterns of progress in evolution, we might be victims of confirmation bias. After all, progress isn’t the whole story of evolution—most species and cultures have gone extinct, a fate that may soon befall us. Furthermore, this immense universe (or multiverse) is largely incomprehensible to our three and a half pound brains, so we should hesitate to substitute an evolutionary view for our frustrated metaphysical longings. If reflection reveals that our deepest wishes may come true, our skeptical alarm bell should go off. For we want to know, not just to believe.
Yes, cosmic and biological evolution—and later the emergence of intelligence, science, and technology—leave us awestruck. But this doesn’t imply that we are meant to be here or that human consciousness was inevitable. It is only because we value our life and intelligence that we succumb to anthropocentrism. The trillions and trillions of evolutionary machinations that led to us might easily have led to different results—ones that didn’t include us. We want to believe evolution had us as its goal—but it did not. We are radically contingent, our existence serendipitous. Like the dinosaurs, we too could be felled by an asteroid.
So while we can say that meaning has emerged in the evolutionary process, we cannot say these trends will continue as evolution proceeds. We are moving, but we might be moving toward our own extinction, toward universal death, or toward eternal hell. We long to dream of better worlds but our skepticism awakens us from our Pollyannish imaginings. The evolution of the cosmos, our species, and our intelligence give us some grounds for believing that life might become more meaningful, but they offer no guarantees.
Here then is the essence of the problem. Despite our best efforts we may collectively fail to bring about this meaningful reality we imagine. In other words, while we know how life could be fully meaningful, we don’t know if it is or will become fully meaningful. We could only know that sub specie aeternitatis. So it seems that we can’t erase all our doubts or allay all our fears. As long as we are committed to intellectual integrity we must admit that life may be utterly absurd, futile, and meaningless. All of reality may be heading … nowhere. Our lives, our cares, our dreams … all for naught.