Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Do we exist for the universe or does the universe exist for us?

This is a tough philosophical question that has previously been pondered by many. Today I read in the book "Hyperspace, our final frontier" that according to some interpretations "reality does not exist unless it is observed by intelligent beings. In this (weird) argument, the laws of physics have to be what they are so that we can exist, so that we can notice what the laws of physics are and make them real."

I don't really understand what they are saying and I don't see the logic behind this argument. I think that what they are saying is that reality is in our mind ONLY and if reality is not perceived by intelligent beings, it is as if it does not exist at all. However, this is an extremely erroneous argument because it runs contrary to the factual evidence about how our brains developed (evolutionarily) and function. We know that the brain is optimized for controlling aspects of our life that contribute to our survival, period! That's the beginning and that's the end! Our brain is NOT optimized for abstract thoughts. If I am sitting here and writing about a philosophical matter that has no recognizable contribution to my survival, it is because the cause and effect chain here is extremely lengthy and complicated. It is hard for us to see how it contributes to my survival but I do know nonetheless that it does because I know that I wouldn't be doing it otherwise. I have established this from my various readings, experiences and observations: I know that whatever living organisms do, they do for their own survival and this encompasses everything they do.

Therefore, whatever we think in our minds and perceive with our senses, we do so in order to enhance our survival, NOT in order to perceive the real state of reality. This is why there are certain things in life that we will never fully understand. Do we understand what "eternity" means or what "infinity" means? absolutely not! These words conjure up ideas in our mind but they cannot be defined because to do so we must always imagine a time after the last point of time and a number after the last number. We could spend our entire lives thinking about this and our task would barely have begun. So when you look around and see things in three dimensions and you have a sense of time, it is because this perception is crucial for your survival that you have developed such a perception over millions of evolutionary years. Since it is not important for human brains to fully understand what eternity is, we don't.

I have already expressed my opinion on a similar topic and I will say it here again: Humans and life in general is merely a form of expression by nature. We don't exist as a distinct species separate from other natural beings such as hydrogen atoms, molecules of water, a clump of metal in the shape of a scissor and the star Alpha Centauri. All of these entities are just part of a whole being called "nature" and nature expresses itself in different ways in different times. Sometimes a star is born, sometimes a meteorite crashes into earth, sometimes a human baby is born and sometimes a car accident occurs and destroys human life. These are all expressions of nature and these events cause changes in matter and ultimately in life over the long run. We will almost certainly not exist as the homo sapien species in 50 million years from now but neither will our legacy be erased. We will probably evolve into a new species that is more adaptable and more suited for survival just as our ape-like ancestors evolved into humans. So the same natural force that dictates that humans shall be around in the third millennium, dictates that humans shall not be around in the thousandth millennium and it is impossible for us to interfere with this. Evolution is not something we can fight, just like we cannot choose to stop breathing. We are NOT here on this planet on our own free will; we are forced into life, we are forced to make some positive contribution to society (and ultimately to overall nature) during our lifetime and then we are forced to die. Sounds similar to slavery? Yeah, that's pretty much what it is!

And we therefore see that the universe does not need us. Instead the universe "uses" us like a device, a means to achieve a long-term goal. If life on earth were suddenly completely destroyed, nature would start our from scratch again just like if you exit your house and notice that you forgot your car keys, you return, grab the keys and exit again. It caused a minor delay and inconvenience but the overall scheme of things hasn't changed and you're not going to be late for work because of this. Similarly, even if all the accomplishments ever achieved by life on earth over billions of years was suddenly destroyed, the universe would still exist and it would go on and about almost as if the destruction it had never occurred. Eventually, a planet teeming with life will re-emerge -if not in our solar system then in some other star system.

At first, this news is a bit discouraging. All that we have worked for can be disposed of so easily and whimsically by nature? Is there no justice? Imagine if you were a contractor and every time you complete a big construction project costing millions of dollars and many weeks of strenuous effort, it is then destroyed in an instant by some force of nature and there's nothing you can do about it! You try again, but it is destroyed again at the very end, and it keeps happening again and again. You would -no doubt- be furious and you might even commit suicide. The feeling of helplessness and injustice is one of the most distressing and unnerving feelings that a human can experience.

Fortunately, though, there is order in the universe and this last-minute-destruction scenario is only hypothetical. In reality, whenever something goes wrong, there's a reason why it did go wrong and there's usually something we can learn from it so that we can prevent such a catastrophe from recurring. This is why we "investigate" a space shuttle or aircraft crash. We investigate the 9/11 terrorist attack and we recognize the factors that allowed the disaster to happen and we make personal investigations into why minor inconveniences occur in our daily lives. As a result of these investigations we learn to prevent such incidents from recurring and these disasters have therefore not occurred in vain! There is law and order in the very existence of chaos, since it is used as a tool to make us stronger, like a vaccine against illness.

Therefore, if the hypothetical becomes reality and all life on our planet is suddenly destroyed, it still would not be in vain because our life would have been a useful experiment by nature as it evolves over the years. The newer life forms that will develop in the aftermath will naturally be more immune to such a disaster. More importantly, life itself would be different. There won't be starfish, crocodiles and dinosaurs, rather there will be a starfish' (starfish prime), crocodile' and dinosaur'. It's a different kind of fish and croc. Our life experience only turns out to have been a waste if the exact kind of life is replicated later. If the post-disaster life is different -and this will inevitably be the case- then we are unique and we have not toiled in vain; rather, our life would then be viewed as having been a prerequisite to the new life.

In summary, we do everything we do for the purpose of our own survival and that is how it ought to be, but nature has grander plans and we are only a tiny component of the grand plan. Still, if we do not invest our utmost effort to survive and adapt to the environment, then we won't exist for long and the grand plan won't come to fruition. This is why nature demands from us one and only one thing: Survive! When I talk about the SAP principle (survive, adapt, perpetuate) it's really all about survival because the "progress" we are making is gauged by how much more it contributes to our survival and "perpetuate" is nearly synonymous with "survive". In fact, "progress" stripped to its core is all about adaptation, because there will always be a force of nature that initiated the events that eventually caused progress to occur. So when we are making progress and reform, we are essentially "adapting" to nature.