Thoughts on the Nature of Reality and Human Experienceabracad, · Categories: purpose, science and spirituality
Origins and Predestination
The best current scientific evidence indicates that the entire universe began some 13.7 billion years ago when the totality of matter that was concentrated into a single point began to enlarge rapidly in a hot explosion, known as the Big Bang.
But, that being so, does it imply that all the information in the universe was also contained or formed in this ginormous explosion? That is, the entire destiny of the universe, including the miracle of life, wonders of technology, momentous historical events, right down to the placement of every object, the timing of every happening to the tiniest degree. Not just on this earth but throughout the entire universe. All coded, inevitably, in that single occurrence.
According again to best current scientific evidence, the answer is no. Quantum theory suggests the future is not completely defined or caused by the past, but rather is subject to a degree of random variability at the most fundamental level of reality. But when viewed from a human macroscopic level the enormous number of randomly influenced micro-events appear more or less deterministic.
That raises the question of whether that random variability is truly ‘random’, or is somehow itself ‘caused’ by something outside the universe, something that for want of better terminology might be called spirit or God?
The Limits of Knowledge
'I think, therefore I am' (Descartes); I am that which is aware/conscious of reality, or actually its own perception of reality.
The true nature of reality is unknowable. However, what we believe about the nature of reality determines how we live our life (assuming we have free will)!
Science and Religion offer two types of approach to answering the unanswerable. Both contribute to the human experience. Neither can provide the totality of understanding.
Science can offer no explanation for either consciousness, free will, or any mechanism by which free will may operate. However, from our own experience, consciousness and free will are self evident.
Science can offer no explanation for the abundance of anomalous experiences reported by countless trustworthy individuals with no vested interest that lie way beyond the bounds of credible chance. Or the very convincing evidence from parapsychology research that 'something' is going on that cannot be explained by current knowledge.
Is Humanity, Life on Earth, Unique in the Universe?
Life is said to have arisen just once around 3.5 billion years ago. All life that exists and has ever existed on earth originates from that single arising. That said the universe is vast, and even the very remote likelihood of life arising by chance in theory could have occurred many times given the enormous opportunity space. And yet despite scientific efforts no evidence has yet been found of life elsewhere.
Is There Meaning?
The question is analogous to asking if there is God! Either there is; or there is not.
If there is no meaning, then consciousness is a very cruel random occurrence, effectively the capacity to suffer, leaving us aware both of our utter futility and our utter powerlessness to do anything about it.
There might even be free will in a meaningless universe, ie the ability to somehow contribute to our fate beyond the sum of our innate nature and experience, but ultimately being as powerless and pointless as a rat trapped in a cage.
And if there is meaning (or God), what might it's nature be? Observable evidence suggests it may be less that wholly beneficent to life on Earth.
Life Isn't (always) Kind
Life can be very cruel. It can also 'appear' to be kind.
But if you play dice, eventually your number comes up. You feel 'lucky', but it's pure blind chance.
What Does it Mean for Me, Now?
From the moment we are born our eventual death is inevitable, only its time and nature remain unknown.
Everything we experience, do, achieve is all (maybe? likely?) someday lost.
So why bother trying? Why bother making the token effort?
Is there an innate sense that what we do is ultimately meaningful?
Or are we purely driven by evolutionary instinct to seek 'pleasure', and by so doing continue the perpetuation of life? And whatever the reason - Why?
Make the Most of Now
Given that we cannot know the true nature of reality, the 'rational strategy' is to assume that we have at least some influence over our fate (free will) and to (use what free will we might have to) try to optimize what we have now and/or what remains, ie:
try to optimize x, where:
Individual fate = innate nature at birth + birth conditions + sum of experience + random (quantum) chance (+ free will?)
The question then is what is it that we should optimize? Is it the pursuit of pure hedonism / pleasure in the moment? Or the satisfaction of contributing something meaningful (however small) to some greater purpose (that may or may not exist), or simply to the wellbeing of others? Or some 'sweet spot' between the two?
Big Questions Without Answers
Do I really have ‘free will’? And if so, by what mechanism does it operate?
Why am I conscious? of my own existence? What is it that is actually conscious?
Why do I exist? What am “I”?
Is there any kind of reality of a different kind to the universe/multiverse, ie non-physical / mind / “spirit” / God? (Of course, if we are un-impacted by and unable to impact these other unknown realms then such speculation is pointless.)
Is the universe unique? Or are we part of something destined to repeat for all eternity? Or just one of an infinite number of multiverses each playing out its destiny simultaneously?
Why does anything exist at all? Is there meaning, God? Or is everything mere freak of chance?
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