meaning in a silent universe

20160315_TNA47GleiserCopernicusw400Marcelo Gleiser at The New Atlantis:

If the universe appears to lack any ultimate design and we are just a coalescence of matter, temporarily assembled by contingency and soon to dissolve into nothingness, how are we to find meaning? We are back to the Copernican angst. In the almost five hundred years since Copernicus published his landmark treatise on the heavenly spheres, we have learned much about the universe and about our seemingly insignificant place within it. We live on a small planet around a small star, in an average-sized galaxy among hundreds of billions of other galaxies, in an expanding universe made mostly of dark matter and dark energy — mysterious ingredients of yet unknown composition. The stuff that we are made of — electrons, protons, and neutrons — comprises a small fraction of what fills the universe. On the face of it, science appears to decree our insignificance; the more we learn about the universe, the more insignificant we seem.

However, this way of looking at things is misleading. Our significance should not be measured by our size relative to the rest of the cosmos, but rather by how different we are from everything else in it. As with precious gems and metals, it is our rarity that makes us special, and one way to express what is rare about us is that we have enough self-awareness to ask questions about our origins and place in the cosmos. The emergence of higher intelligence necessary to ask such questions entails that the universe has changed in profound ways over the course of its existence. Stars had to burn for a long time in order to fuse hydrogen into carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and other heavier chemical elements; planets and moons had to have relatively stable orbits, and other geophysical conditions were needed to support the complex biochemistry of life’s metabolic and reproductive functions. And it took time for intelligent, self-aware creatures to develop through the workings of evolution.

more here.

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