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A universe without purpose

30 December, 2007

I’m re-reading Richard Holloway’s Looking in the Distance, which I’m finding very comforting at present.

Referring to the need to update the myths that we use to help explain our existence, he says:

“Today’s scientific story differs from the Christian story in almost every way. For one thing, the time frame has shifted unimaginably. Rather than Archbishop Usher’s manageable 6,000 years, we now have to get our minds onto a time line that began 14 or 15 billion years ago with the Big Bang. This earth, the centre and purpose of the cosmos in the previous paradigm, is now described as a tiny fragment of stardust, prob­ably about 5 billion years old, in a back street of one small galaxy in a universe of billions of galaxies. We are told that though life on earth emerged 3.5 billion years ago, our human ancestors only diverged from chimpanzees a mere 5 million years ago. Instead of being the hero of the narrative from the begin­ning, our species appeared on the scene comparatively recently, anything between half a million and 34,000 years ago.

And far from having a divinely ordained purpose and direction, the whole thing seems to be in a permanent state of Heraclitan flux, a vast and meaningless explosion of energy that is prodigal in its indifferent wastefulness. … The paradox is that, being gifted and afflicted with consciousness, we pay close atten­tion to the universe, even though it is uninterested in us.

We are creatures with a passion for discovering the meaning of things who find ourselves in a universe without any discernible purpose.

“So what now can be the basis for human values? If there is no ultimate meaning, how do we find prox­imate meaning for our lives? … The practical dif­ficulty we face is how to live harmoniously with each other within the empty spaces of the quantum uni­verse.

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