September 2015

A universe without purpose or guidance

Written by Rob Mason

In general, philosophy describes methods of approaching reality. It provides subjective approaches to fundamental questions, the Why of the universe. Science on the other hand often pretends to answer the Why but really only can answer the How.


Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature was the philosophical study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered to be the precursor of natural sciences. Empirical science historically developed out of philosophy or, more specifically, natural philosophy. In the 14th and 15th centuries, natural philosophy' was one of many branches of philosophy, but was not a specialized field of study. The first person appointed as a specialist in Natural Philosophy per se was Jacopo Zabarella, at the University of Padua in 1577.


Roger Bacon (1214 - 1284) is credited as the first scholar to promote inductive reasoning as part of the scientific method. (Inductive reasoning is a logical process in which multiple premises, all believed true or found true most of the time, are combined to obtain a specific conclusion.

When conducting research, scientists use the scientific method to collect measurable, empirical evidence in an experiment related to a hypothesis (often in the form of an if/ then statement), the results aiming to support or contradict a theory). aims for measurable results through testing and analysis. Science is based on fact, not opinion or preferences. The process of science is designed to challenge ideas through research. We live in a culture in which science, along with its applications in ever more powerful technology, predominates. That is, perhaps, the most distinctive mark of the twentieth century. The glorification and adula-tion of science give the word "scientific" its eulogistic connotation. Science is useful in ways that enable it to claim that it showers great benefits upon human life and human society. However science cannot tell us what our purposes ought to be. It does not tell us whether we ought or ought not to produce certain things (such as thermonuclear bombs or supersonic transport planes); It does not tell us, in short, what we ought or ought not to do and what we ought or ought not to seek.

A quote from Jacob Bronowski --  "Dream or nightmare, we have to live our experi-ence as it is, and we have to live it awake. We live in a world which is penetrated through and through by science and which is both whole and real. We cannot turn it into a game simply by taking sides." Lawrence Krauss comments that: one person's dream is another persons nightmare. A universe without purpose or guidance may seem, for some, to make life itself meaningless. For others such a universe is invigorating . It makes the fact of our existence even more amazing, and it motivates us to draw meaning from our own actions and to make the most of our brief life in the sun, simply because we are here, blessed with consciousness and with the opportunity to do so. Bronowski's point, however is that it doesn't really matter either way, and what we would like for the universe is irrelevant. Whatever happened, happened, and it happened on a cosmic scale. And whatever is about to happen on that scale will happen independent of our likes and dislikes. We cannot affect the former and we are unlikely to affect the latter.