What’s the point of the universe? Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson answers

Nov 29, 2012 By Abraham 11

His response is predictable, but also, as is usually the case with Dr. Tyson, intriguing and entertaining…

(via BuzzFeed)

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11 Comments

  1. Nathan James Norman says:

    The error here is that Dr. Tyson first faults religious folks of not using empirical evidence to answer the question of purpose in the universe . . . but questions of purpose are not in the realm of scientific knowledge, but rather metaphysical knowledge. Furthermore, while he claims to be rooting his philosophy in empirical evidence, he is clearly leaning more on the discipline of philosophy than science to come to his “I’m not sure if the universe has a purpose” conclusion.

  2. Jonathan says:

    In syllogistic form, he seems to be saying approximately this:
    P1. If the universe has a purpose, it should be accomplished as quickly and efficiently as possible.
    P2. The events in the universe have not happened as quickly and efficiently as they could have.
    C. Therefore, the universe has no purpose.

    It seems to me that neither P1 nor P2 are self-evident. It’s not even clear how a scientific/empirical argument could establish either one.

    He also manages to address the question without even an acknowledgment of the challenge posed by the so-called anthropic principle.

    1. DonH says:

      I don’t know what you mean by “challenges posed by the anthropic principle.” I’d say this principle is very much embedded in what he’s saying. The fact that we exist allows us to ponder why we exist. The nonexistent “people” in the other 99.9999% of the universe’s history can’t ponder why they don’t exist because they don’t exist. It’s like if a building collapses and one guy out of 100 lives, he’s probably going to think there was a purpose in his surviving, but the other 99 people aren’t around to think about why they didn’t live. They’re dead. The anthropic principle sort of explains why so many people conclude that there’s a grand purpose in their lives.

      1. Jonathan says:

        What I mean by “the challenge posed by the anthropic principle” is that the universe’s apparent fine-tuning is so unlikely an occurrence that it can be dismissed or explained primary in a couple of ways:
        1. There are (either simultaneously or serially) an astronomical (pun intended) number of universes with different physical constants, so that it becomes at least possible to imagine the existence of a universe permitting life (i.e., ours) arising through chance.
        2. There is something beyond chance at play.

        Your example of the building leans toward number 1 (since it introduces the idea of multiple people, only one of whom survives). Of course, the scale is completely out of proportion.

        Many people are so philosophically committed to not permitting anything beyond chance to be involved, that they are willing to abandon Occam and proliferate entities in this case, even though it is almost certainly true that science in this universe would never be able to find any evidence of other universes.

        My contention would be that such people find themselves in an odd position of advocating for empiricism while postulating the existence of an essentially infinite number of entities, the existence of which not only has no empirical evidence, but will almost certainly never have any.

        Regardless, the main thrust of my comment was not related to the anthropic principle, but to the logical weakness of the argument which Dr. Tyson does advance.

        1. John says:

          1. There are (either simultaneously or serially) an astronomical (pun intended) number of universes with different physical constants, so that it becomes at least possible to imagine the existence of a universe permitting life (i.e., ours) arising through chance.

          Which is both possible and non-relevant: All we can tell, as observers in our universe, is that our universe supports life.

          2. There is something beyond chance at play.

          No, that’s not supported either. You’ve presented a false dichotomy.

          Shuffle, say, a hundred decks of cards together. Deal out the cards randomly, recording the number, suit, and source deck of each card in order.

          The odds of your having reached *that order* of cards one in 1.36*(10^17067) – one in “a number seventeen thousand digits long”. If you were do do a new deal once a second for the rest of the expected lifetime of the universe you would expect to never again reach that specific combination.

          The chance of that specific ordering of 100 decks of playing cards, shuffled together, coming up is so infinitessimal that we don’t have words for how unlikely it is.

          And yet, you can go buy a hundred decks of cards, shuffle them together, and you will get ONE of these inconceivably likely results, because no matter how unlikely it is that any one of them will occur, the probability that AT LEAST one of them will occur is 100%. And nothing but chance was involved in producing this astronomically unlikely specific result.

          My contention would be that such people find themselves in an odd position of advocating for empiricism while postulating the existence of an essentially infinite number of entities, the existence of which not only has no empirical evidence, but will almost certainly never have any.

          No, because it doesn’t matter how many attempts it took to reach this universe, because if this hadn’t produced us we couldn’t observe it failing to produce us. We might be the first and only universe, we might be the “a number seventeen thousand digits long”th universe, but there’s zero way to tell that, and thus zero meaning to be extracted from it.

          Put another way: Out of our sample size of one, all universes support life.

          (The “fine tuning” argument also fails utterly when confronted with the concept that our universe supports US, but other universes would support things that aren’t us – or that, lacking certain properties, it might be impossible for a universe to exist at all, making those properties inevitable. And, of course, all “fine tuning” arguments in the end return to an attempt to cheat, and add “and therefore my God” to them – but they don’t support those, either.)

          1. John Goering says:

            The difference is that each of those random card combinations in the sense of “universes” is not equal. Fine-tuning talks about how the universe is one of the card combinations that is non-random, e.g. if you shuffled well and then dealt all cards ordered by suit and number.

            The only explanation I have heard so far by evolutionists to explain the fine-tuning is “parallel universes, maybe?”. I doubt that hypothesis would hold up in a poker game where the cards seem to be stacked because one player keeps getting a straight flush.

            You are right however, that Christians WAY “overplay their hand” (ha!) on the power of the fine-tuning argument. All it can point to is AGAINST the concept of a random, purposeless universe. That isn’t going very far, but it still is worth considering.

  3. Joel says:

    Everyone would get along much better if scientists stuck to science (how, not why) and philosophers stuck to philosophy (why, not how).

  4. outlet says:

    Danke für das Angebote, das Gebiet hat mich interessé wahrhaft entscheident. Grace hinein dies Schnäppchen konnte ich neue Sachen entscheident gelernt, gute ich in keiner weise kannte. Danke, bravo sowie Respekt.

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