Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

Originally posted on May 30, 2011

Stimulated by some friends alluding to the discussion posted at  , contemplating their responses, here’s mine:

It’s a misleading question. It assumes that there’s a “there” there, that there is an objective reality apart from what we are co-creating. In that sense, it may be a mistaken assumption that anything can “have” a purpose without a mind-set that is intrinsically involved. The question, then, assumes that a purely objective reality exists, apart from he power of mind to shape the nature of that reality. Such assumptions are fundamentally mistaken.

Take it into depth psychology: The problem is in the assumptions that meaningful questions or statements can be made about existence regardless of the implicit challenges for the people who ask the question. It is an act of neurotic denial to assume that questions are not based on real issues in the minds of the questioner—i.e.: “How shall I live? Shall I live “as if” there were a purpose, or as if there were no purpose? What difference does this make in the ecology of other values that I hold dearly in my heart. Oh, no, I am objective; I am dispassionate; I just want to find out, or think it out, or know for sure. My search will not be biased by my inner inclinations. I’m too intelligent and modern to let that happen. I am in control, not my unconscious inclinations.” Yeah, right.

So this whole edifice of self as objective, the association of cool and detached objectivity with true intelligence, the unconscious association of that with the scientific progress made over the last few centuries; and an equal and slightly more unconscious flight from the superstition-infused illusions that supported traditional and authoritarian politics and religion in the preceding centuries, mixed with all the other “old-fashioned” cultural norms that now seem repulsive—all this combines to support the deep, visceral identification with rational self. It supports the insane illusion that we are not largely non-rational.

The comfort of no-purpose is the reassurance of freedom, and the background for that reassurance is a flight from social-family pressures, internalized, that says that the purpose is established and known by others and disagreements will be met with threats of divine punishment.

But lacking any need to find no purpose, or even to believe that there is an “out there” or objective reality, with or without a superimposed purpose, the predicament becomes again personal.

Here I confess my bias—a pragmatic bias. There is a choice to participate in making the world a better place as if that mattered, or to abdicate from that challenge and retreat into self-gratification, disguised by a pseudo-generous kindness to one’s own circle of caring. (I can’t be selfish if I love my extended family, now, can I?)  And this choice may be also because one is aware of no way to participate in a greater calling, a collective endeavor, a meaningful contribution.

I confess, then, that my sensing that the tools and ideas and people and other stuff I know about and admire might actually help in building a better world is a leap of faith. I’m aware that for all my efforts, and the efforts of those whose efforts I respect, the forces of folly may predominate and we’ll all end up where it seems as if we (the totality of humanity) are heading. Alas for that.

So I see myself as a bit player in a great heroic drama in which there’s a chance of losing as well as winning. In this drama, I imagine that my feeble contributions, my widow’s mite, so to speak, nevertheless helps. So my sense of value and meaning is partly tied up with this.

It’s not as if I can’t enjoy life without it—I am blessed many times over with many types of good fortune, and simply savoring these blessings could fill my life. But I’d feel a little unfulfilled, because, as I say, I know about these tools, ways to help the cosmos be born in a more healthy way, and I just don’t prefer to see this vision wasted.

If you come back and say, “Aha, you admit your bias!” I would respond, “Yes, and don’t go pretending that you don’t have as deeply set a bias as I do.” Perhaps your bias is to find some rationalization for not acting if the cosmos “had” a purpose.

In summary, take it back to metaphysics and the underlying and misleading assumption of objective reality: The question isn’t whether or not the universe has a purpose; rather, it’s whether it’s meaningful at all to ask if anything has a “purpose” without then exploring the mind-like nature that gives whatever that is its meaning. To assume there is meaning without mind is meaningless. To assume that mind is peripheral to rather than intrinsic to existence is shallow. It’s a common enough illusion, reflective of the modern mind, but it’s shallow.

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