"Remember man, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is man."
These words from Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Man” might be quite satisfying to many people when attempting to nail down our place in a godless universe. After all, we are what we are, conscious, experiencing humans, bodily stranded here in a remote space of the Milky Way. If we begin by analyzing what we know about ourselves, surely we can synthesize some intelligent belief—a purpose for our own being.
I can touch, taste, smell, hear, and see myself because of data I’ve perceived from the outside world. With a mirror, I can see my entire naked self in one glance. Early on in grade school and then later in high school, I learned about the various systems of this body.
The blood system, of course, depended on the pumping heart, but the heartbeat relied on signals from the brain. Muscles moved in response to sense stimuli interpreted by the brain; likewise every part of the body—every system within it—depended on an equilibrium between body parts to keep me alive.
But what intrigued me most, even as a child, was that the explanation for the nervous system seemed a bit lacking. I can recall diagrams of the central nervous system atop which sat the brain with its fissured lobes. The diagram reminded me of a tree planted upside down. Branches of the nerve tree grew smaller and smaller until the axons and dendrites reached the most distant body parts. Of course, the brain appeared to act as its root system.
The purpose for all these body parts working together is to provide me with life. Instinctively, I know I am more than the sum of my body parts. Even as a tiny tot, when I skinned my knee and went crying home to mommy, I would tell her “I cut my knee,” or “My leg is bleeding,” or words to that effect. I identified my knee as belonging to me, an entity existing separately from my knee. I was a “people.”
Thus, part of the purpose problem is solved: The thingie I posit as my body has a genuine purpose: to keep me alive and hopefully well. That makes me happy—well, not quite. To have a meaningful life—to have the desire to live and survive—I must have some purpose other than death. Like it or not, human logic instills this intelligent belief.
In The God Part of the Brain, Matthew Alper (Philosophy of Science Degree) suggests there is an actual God center in my brain, which makes me believe, however falsely, that a supernatural motive for living exists. If this is not true, Alper claims the human race could never have evolved.
Why? As early man developed into a thinking creature and grasped the truth that his only purpose was to die, an overwhelming hopeless lethargy would have led him to meaninglessness, emptiness, despair and eventual extinction. Thus, according to Alper, when looking back on the immensities of the past, all the discoveries and advancements made by humans up till now, occurred because man’s brain has supplied false trust in the existence of something supernatural beyond this life.
I would think that if humankind could not develop a sense of purpose for its own existence, then pursuing any purpose for an expanding universe is comical foolishness. I liken this dilemma to a pocket watch resting on a desktop. Assume the watch spring is tightly wound; it is highly intelligent. Could the watch spring ever figure out its own purpose? Would it ever know the purpose of its parts as a ticking timepiece before it stops? Incidentally, Matthew Alper is an avowed atheist.
In The Mind of God, Paul Davies (Professor of Mathematical Physics) initially agrees somewhat with Alper. Davies believes that our mental powers “… are presumably determined by biological evolution.” Accordingly, the scientific quest Davies argues, to seek the structure of the atom, to hunt the law of gravity, to determine the laws of electromagnetism, must be traced back to some “… highly special, cosmic initial conditions.”
Although he proposes that these initial conditions involved the exploding Big Bang singularity, like many philosophic thinkers including Alpert, Davies seems to suggest that the universe might have just popped into existence. He explains that nuclear particles act differently from the material of our everyday world. At the subatomic level, physicists have shown that particles regularly pop in and out of being.
Since they race at unbelievably fast speeds, only at the instant when they are measured do these particles appear to have being. Left in their natural state, merely the speed or energy waves/strings of these possible particles can be measured. Akin to them, the Big Bang singularity could just as easily pop in or out of existence.
Yet Davies believes all reality is following certain laws which scientists keep uncovering. He believes these laws are actually out there governing the universe; they are not mere concessions scientists statistically generate to explain reality. These laws are framed as mathematical relationships so Davies would insist math itself is a reality much like Plato's Universals. It exists as the bona fide language of the natural world.
However, in spite of science’s inability to answer the final questions: Why? What is the purpose of existence? Davies believes we are linked to a real supernatural dimension which will forever be beyond our capacity to comprehend, much like the “intelligent” mainspring of the pocket watch mentioned above. Yes, “We have cracked part of the cosmic code,” but Science can only go so far and then as conscious, self-aware beings, we must embrace the metaphysical mystery for what it is.
At the present time, my own thinking would align more with Davies than Alper. Some basic instinct urges me to question my being, maybe neurotically so. I find it difficult to believe that a life of the mind arose strictly by accident and evolutionary adaptation from an explosive singularity some 13-15 billion years ago.
There is more to me and my mind than the sum of my physical parts; there is more to the universe than the sum of all its particles. Although I may never find it, I believe I have a purpose. Some people, especially in the East, I think, might call this obsessive search: the path to the Ultimate. I wonder …
Powered by Sidelines
"I am," I cried.
"I am," said I;
"And I am lost, and I can't even say why … (Neil Diamond)