Tuesday, 23 February 2016

What purpose serves the Universe?


Lent 2016: Day 14

My brother e-mailed me with a follow-up to yesterday's post. Four points, but it was the fourth that instantly intrigued me (the first three shall be addressed in future posts).

My brother asked: "Are we in a teleological universe? Perhaps not in the sense of an final cause as in 0 to 1 but a direction (infinity is best understood as a direction rather than a state... Can a universe which does not possess metaphysical agencies have teleological properties?"

Teleology - defining something by its purpose rather than by its physical properties. According to Aristotle, the purpose of an acorn is to become an oak.

A little googling and up pops Thomas Nagel, author of Mind and Cosmos (2012). Prof Nagel refutes the notion that the Universe does not possess metaphysical properties, saying that evolutionary biology does not take the conscious mind into account, and is therefore incomplete. The Universe is expanding with a purpose. "Each of our lives is a part of the lengthy process of the universe gradually waking up and becoming aware of itself.” Wow. That's amazing. I feel part of that process. And purpose. Continual improvement of the whole, a direction.

The nub of Prof Nagel's argument is that objective, reductionist science can explain matter but cannot explain our thoughts, our awareness, our consciousness. Scientists would argue that our bodies are discreet, complex organisms, and all that goes on in them is a result of chemical and physical actions and reactions. From Wikipedia: "Nagel's position is that principles of an entirely different kind may account for the emergence of life, and in particular conscious life, and that those principles may be teleological, rather than materialist or mechanistic." Wow again. And this from an atheist, Larry.

So - can the Universe have teleological properties? And is the fact that we are conscious proof of that? And if so, are we part of the process of the Universe evolving?

Plenty of meaty questions (and more) for the remaining four and half remaining weeks of Lent. Two weeks gone. All Lenten resolutions stoutly upheld!

[Coencidence: I think not... Prof Nagel taught philosophy at Princeton University from 1966 to 1980. Ethan Coen (one half of the Coen Brothers) studied philosophy at Princeton, graduating from there in 1979. Nagel gets slyly referenced in Coen Brothers' movies The Big Lebowski and A Serious Man.]

This time last year:
Will your Soul last for eternity?

This time five years ago:
On the road to Węgrów

This time six years ago
A week into Lent

This time seven years ago:
In the stillness of a winter forest

This time eight years ago:
Over the fence

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