My recent post, Why Does the World Exist?, elicited some extraordinarily thoughtful comments from readers. Kevin wrote
Been through the desert on a horse with no name searching for answers in places called metaphysics and epistemology. Even passed through W. James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience” and found as much comfort in Joseph Campbell’s myths as I’ve found in the Big Bang theory. Does it matter if I believe the Universe is a huge mind, dreaming us into existence every 15 billion years like Vishnu and Brahma, and whose synapses are light years apart?
In the end, I arrive back [at] … understanding/overcoming that First Cause. Maybe it’s a problem with our linear thinking that wants a beginning and an end. Perhaps we’ll eventually round off Pi and come up with a unified theory, and maybe not. In the meantime, I’ll appreciate what I discovered when I left the shadows in the cave and experienced the aesthetics … the only reality I know. This, alone, has made my search rewarding. If we’re the stuff made in stars then that’s where I want us to return, to stop building walls and fighting interspecies culture wars. I believe the best is yet to come if we don’t annihilate ourselves first.
Kevin is right. We will live and die in a world we hardly understand but we can, hopefully, enjoy our journey. And I also hope, with Kevin, that the cosmic journey we are embarking on will be better than the past.
The relationship between the past and future also arose in a comment by Samuel Halpern who wrote,
Rather than responding to the question “Why?”, I challenge its unstated assumption, I.e., that existence requires an explanation or reason. Perhaps the question “why” is only a form that takes shape in the human brain— against the fullness of cosmic time, a temporary phenomenon.
I read that red dwarf stars may continue burning for trillions of years and that the James Webb telescope is seeing back merely to nearly the Big Bang, some 14 billion years ago. But that past—14 B — is an infinitesimally paltry amount of time compared to a future of Trillions. On this scale, the human mind seems an extremely primitive phenomenon.
So the very question “why” may eventually be deemed an archaic relic as the universe continues to unfold over unimaginably vast vistas of time.
So not only are our best answers unsatisfying, but our questions themselves may be trivial or incoherent. I have written many times about how primitive our minds are compared to those that “have been, or are being, evolved.” For our descendants, or for other more evolved beings in the cosmos, our questions are those of simple minds. Humans today may be like dogs and cats trying to understand relativity and quantum theory when it comes to asking and understanding possible answers to big questions. This should humble as all and in response, we should have epistemic humility. As I have previously written regarding any of my supposed insights,
My thinking is slow, my brain small, my experience limited, and my life short. Yet the universe moves incredibly fast, is inconceivably large, unimaginably mysterious, and incredibly old. We are modified monkeys living on a planet that spins on its axis at 1600 kilometers an hour, hurls around the sun at more than 100,000 km an hour, as part of a solar system that orbits the center of its Milky Way galaxy at about 800,000 km an hour. The Milky Way itself moves through space at more than 2,000,000 km an hour and the galaxies move away from each other faster than the speed of light. (Although nothing can move through space faster than light speed the space between galaxies expands faster than the speed of light. That’s why in the far future we won’t be able to see other galaxies.)
But there’s more. Our galaxy contains more than 100 billion stars and there are more than 100 billion galaxies in a universe that is nearly 14 billion years old and almost 100 billion light-years across. And we can only see a part of the universe—the observable universe. Some galaxies are forever beyond our observation because they are receding away from us faster than the speed of light—their light will never reach us and we will never be able to see them. Moreover, there may be an infinite number of universes, the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics may be true, we may live in a computer simulation, or …? Needless to say, most of this is incomprehensible to my simple mind.
Given this immense backdrop of speed, space, time, and mystery shouldn’t we be humbled by our limitations and apparent insignificance? Who other than the ignorant or delusional would claim to know much of ultimate truth? I make no such claims; I am fallible. My philosophical ideas emanate from a limited perspective and they are, at best, applicable only to a certain time and place.
I would like to thank Kevin and Samuel for taking the time to comment on my blog. We are stimulated and enriched by the encounter with other good and thoughtful minds. My sincere thanks to them both.
John Messerly, August 2022, Seattle WA.