« Philosophize This!

Episode #197 ... New Atheists and cosmic purpose without God - (Zizek, Goff, Nagel)


As we regularly do on this program-- we engage in a metamodernist steelmanning of different philosophical positions. Hopefully the process brings people some joy. Today we go from ideology, to New Atheism vs Creationism, to Aristotle, to Thomas Nagel, to Phillip Goff's new book called Why? The Purpose of the Universe.


Better Help: https://www.BetterHelp.com/PHILTHIS

EXCLUSIVE NordVPN Deal ➼ https://nordvpn.com/philothis Try it risk-free now with a 30-day money-back guarantee!

Thank you so much for listening! Could never do this without your help. 

Website: https://www.philosophizethis.org/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/philosophizethis 


Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/philosophizethispodcast

X: https://twitter.com/iamstephenwest

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/philosophizethisshow

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hello everyone, I'm Stephen West, this is Philosophize This. So what's an example of one of these ideologies we were talking about through Zizek last episode? What's an example of... Ideology where the people immersed in it see themselves as seekers of the truth, that we're the intellectually honest ones, and that are opposite the other, people that are truly lost in an ideology that they don't see. What's an example of that? Well, there's dozens we could use here to get this point across, but given that this is a philosophy show, Opportunity to give a non-trivial example of an ideology that's likely to be one people listening to this can relate to, whether that's because it's a position you used to hold, you currently hold. Whether you just see it in people around you. What I mean is I want to give an example of an ideology that isn't obviously an ideology, because the Zizek, the most powerful form of it. Ideology is one that operates in the background, where the contradictions that are at the bottom of it are things that the people using it don't even notice, despite the fact they form big parts of their worldview around them. This episode will hopefully be a nice visual example of two competing ideologies.
In today's world. Hopefully this can be an example where you can practice detecting the ideology I'm trying to bring in as I'm... Steelmanning all sides of this as we do on this show. But anyway, if you're Zizek, it could be said that... That some modern philosophers out there, like Philip Goff, are trying to find a way to preserve the best parts of both of these two different ideological approaches. Find a way to move these conversations forward in a productive way. And on that note, we also promised to talk about the new book from the philosopher Philip Gough on this episode, and we will. We'll use it in this investigation of different ideologies, but I guess it's important to say this in that Book we're going to talk about a little later. Philip Goff is building off of the work of a philosopher named Thomas Nagel. Thomas Nagel wrote a book in 2012 called Mind and Cosmos. And when he wrote that book, Mind and Cosmos, he wrote a book called Mind and Cosmos. In Cosmos, he was responding to an ideology that he thought was exploding in popularity at the time. Popular among fans of the new atheist movement that was going on at the time, and it's a position that he thought was all...
So an overall attitude that's taken hold of academia more generally, what he's fighting against, is what's often been referred to as material reductionism, or the idea that the true... About anything that's worth knowing about the universe can and should be understood by studying that things are made out of and the fundamental forces that govern them. That is where the truth lies. You want to know anything about the universe? Don't sit around speculating about what the purposes or the meanings of things are like we've done in the past. We got to stay focused. We got to Break things down into their component parts, study them empirically. That's where you gotta look if you want to get to the truth about the sum total or the whole of those component parts. The truth of the universe can be arrived at through a purely material explanation. Now somebody can hear that and think, What's so wrong with that? How is that an ideology? I mean, to be real, that just sounds like someone who's a fan of science. But again, take the neigth... Connotation off the word ideology for a second when we're trying to see the world through the eyes of Zizek like we talked about last time
Instead of seeing ideology as a bad thing, try to see it instead as a deeply embedded network of tactics and symbols that are used by people to simply— By reality into something coherent, where it's a process that literally everybody is engaging in, no matter who you are. Again, the point is, you check it's not the hate on people for having an ideology. The point is to examine ours more closely, to have more self-awareness about the ideologies we're using, how they operate, how exactly they work. Their way into people's heads. And since we're coming at this from a place of zero hate, a very humanizing activity, I think, when it comes to trying to understand any ideology people have, is to try to put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand why it makes total sense from their that somebody would internalize a particular ideology given the specific culture they live in. For example, take a pretty common one. We all know someone who fits this profile. Imagine someone who's born at the end of the 20th century, 1970s onward.
This is the type of person who is an atheist. They are a very rational person at heart. They are a big fan of science and the scientific method. And because of these three things... Things, when it comes to what they're going to believe in about the truth of the universe, they generally lean in a positivist direction, which is to say that I'll believe in something as long as it's something that science can prove to me. If science can prove it, I'll believe it. If it can't, no offense, but when we... Getting into that kind of territory, I don't even know what we're talking about. I mean, beyond a certain point, with no evidence, you can say anything. And it's all just unverifiable speculation if we can't empirically prove it. Imagine what it's like to be… This person born into the world. You look around you, it's the end of the 20th century and science. Is the way that we're making sense of all the mysteries of the universe. I mean, when it comes to other explanations for how. Universe might be the way that it is, they can hear about religion. They can hear about the miracles of the Bible. Some guy walking on water levitating, you
hands with the lepers rubbing Jesus lotion all over their back, moisturizing them. They can hear about 2,000 years ago and some miracles that may or may not have happened. But on the other hand, being born when they were, they can also just look around them and see the miracles of science going on. And the world they live in when it comes to science and technology. Look, they're sequencing the genome right now. This podcast is being delivered. You by invisible waves flying through the sky. I mean, this stuff to people just a couple generations ago would have seemed borderline magical. Just saying. Understandable why it's something to believe in. And then you got all the great communicators of this way of making sense of things. The Carl Sagan's, the Richard Dawkins's, all the horsemen of the atheist apocalypse. The Neil Tysons. And then imagine as this person gets a little bit older, maybe they were born into a religious home. Maybe they were just forced to go to church a couple of times, but they hear this message.
Every Sunday being delivered to them, a fundamental guilt and redemption through this invisible man sitting up in the sky somewhere, and they say, Look, this thing, religion, doesn't have a monopoly on the truth. Clearly, this is a story that's been designed in some ways to just control people, and it's led to crusades, and it's led to religious violence, and it's just... A good look for me as a thinking person. They decide I'm going to set the bar higher for myself when it comes to why I believe what I believe, and these creationists, these are The people out there that are believing in stories. Okay, I'm not. I'm only proportioning my belief to the empirical evidence that's in front of me. I'm a truth seeker, not an ideologue. I mean, honestly, what could be wrong with the position that I'm not going to believe in something unless if there's evidence to prove that it exists? Ever go wrong with that? And because of this commitment they have to material explanations for things, there's predictable…
common lanes that this type of person will fall into when it comes to their views about non-material things. For example, consciousness. We don't know exactly how our subjective experience of phenomenal consciousness emerges out of the brain, or if it even does. It's a mystery we've still got to solve. It's kind of exciting, actually. But this person might say, understandably given the culture that they're in, Look, I'm a materialist. Yeah, it's a mystery. How does something that seems non-material come out of something that's entirely material? But look, I've seen science solve plenty of other mysteries before in my day. You know any mystery that may still be there with consciousness is just because we haven't had enough time to study how the brain works Long enough or we don't have the technology yet. And well, obviously I don't know for sure Have a little faith in science. Just give us a few more years And is it crazy to think science will eventually solve this mystery too? No. Another common lane this process has.
Will fall into is hard determinism. Because if ultimately you think that everything can be understood by having a deeper and deeper understanding of the atoms that make everything up in prior events, then what may seem like a good thing is that the atoms that make everything up To someone like it's just reality, you know, that you're making free choices every day of your life. That's actually an illusion to this person. That's going to be explained by science one day as well. Just again, give us some more time. This stuff isn't done overnight. See again, this person might say, I'm a truth seeker. Okay, like a real truth seeker because I value only the truth that science can directly verify to me one-to-one about the world And because I don't waste my time on any unverifiable speculation that's outside of that. Being a hard determinist, a materialist, This may seem counterintuitive when it comes to some explanations about our direct experience of the world, but to me, these are just the… kind of positions that naturally blossom out of this intellectual honesty that I have. When you actually seek the truth, you...
Sometimes you gotta take counterintuitive positions like these. See, I'm not like one of these creationists out there that are a bunch of ideologues, to spot the contradictions the way those morons look at the world. Look at them, cherry pick their scientific data. They're shameless. About it. They'll say look at all the evidence for God's existence when they can bend the science to fit their narrative, but the second the science doesn't fit the narrative... They conveniently ignore it. That's a contradiction. They even do this in their personal lives. Sam Harris gives a great example. They'll say, Oh, look, look, isn't God wonderful? For making sure my mom got the bank loan for her house right when we thought all hope was lost. God is great, they'll say. But then when a... Natural disaster takes out 10,000 people in a matter of minutes, they'll say God is mysterious. How can a creationist not say God is mysterious? The contradictions that are grounding their entire worldview. From the perspective of Slavoj Zizek, listening to all this, this take on creationist ideology,
It's a sense in which this person in their critique is right. He would say there are contradictions at the core of a creationist ideology. And like we talked about last episode, those contradictions. Are the fingerprints of them using ideology to make sense of the complexity of the universe. And yes, the creation is... Probably do well, he thinks, to pay attention to the structures of the ideology they're immersed in. But here's the thing. So would the Fan of science that's doing all the critiquing. He'd say this common materialist style of ideology is not harnessing the truth without using contradictions. It just feels like they are to them. Because they lack a level of self-awareness about the ideology that mediates their thinking. For example, what could he possibly be talking about here? Well as it's been said, you can't just go to the website and buy it. Pointed out in the history of philosophy, in order to even get to that place where you make the statement I'm only going to believe in something if it's empirically verifiable. In order to do that, you have to have to smuggle in philosophical assumptions at the bottom that are themselves not empirically verifiable. For example, that the universe...
Is something that is rationally coherent, to the point that human rationality can be used to study and understand it. That's a philosophical assumption, not something proven by a science experiment. Or how about the one from Hume, the problem of… That you have to assume there's a continuity to existence where someone can study individual examples of things using science and then derive general conclusions from them. Again, another philosophical assumption. Or how about the principles of causality you need to conduct science, or the existence of universal laws? None of these are empirically verifiable. There's a sense in which if you told a material reductionist that there may be a rational ordering to things, a teleology, a goal to reach, nature to the universe that aims towards rationality. They would tell you I'm sorry, but that's unverifiable speculation. We can't prove it. It's dangerous to speculate about the... Kind of things. But again, to Zizek and to Quine and to so many other philosophers who have looked at this problem, verifiability science is.
Always value laden. No matter how much it seems like it, you are not starting from zero A one-to-one depiction of reality. See, because on another level, the conceptual frameworks we use to make sense of scientific data matter. You want proof of this? Just consider the that the same empirical data can be looked at through different conceptual frameworks, and it changes what your whole view of reality is. Take light as an example. At one point in the history of science, we thought that light was a collection of photons, and that photons are particles, core puzzles that seem to be the core of the universe. They used to call them. Little later on, it was believed that light was in fact a wave instead of a particle. Changed the whole way we thought about what light is. Little later than that, as a quantum physicist in today's world, depending on what we think of light, we'll be able to change the whole thing. world depending on Kind of operations you want to do, you would view light as either a particle or as a wave. and thinking of light as some sort of wave-particle duality is probably the best description we got right now. Now this is just one example of many from the history of science, but it illustrates how science is far from this
Totally neutral valueless enterprise. The conceptual frameworks, the philosophical assumptions, the ideology that we filter the data through. Has to be something that we're self-aware of. And there's a type of person out there who romanticizes science. People who are not scientists. And these people position themselves as the opposite to this ideology of creationism, while they view themselves as truth seekers and live in ignorance to the contradiction. That ground the ideology they're immersed in. Now, here's the thing. Does this mean that every ideology is equally valid? No. Does this mean we throw out science? No. Does this mean we all invest in Jesus lotion? No. Am I interviewing myself right now? Well, yes. Yes, I am actually. In all seriousness, does this mean that because... Found contradictions at the bottom of this one, that now the whole thing, everything about it, was false, and now it all goes up in smoke. No. Again, to Zizek, get rid of this idea you're carrying around that you're ever gonna have a worldview that doesn't have contradictions at the bottom of it.
To throw everything out. There's just a greater level of self-awareness about the game we're actually playing. It's actually very freeing once you get past the initial feelings of discomfort. There's this initial stage where you may try to use ideology to find all the ways you're not actually in contradiction, but to Zizek, we have to be in contradiction at some level. That said, it also helps to understand the philosophical origins of this type of thinking. And this is where Thomas Nagel and... Book Mind and Cosmos can help us. He would start by saying that if we just go back far enough, back during the time of Aristotle for example, Assuming the teleologies of things, or the goals or the purposes of things, was not... Controversial position to take at the time. People would look at the eyes or the teeth of an animal, And they would look at how something like the eye, with all of its intricate parts, in our scientific language we'd say you have the retina and the cornea and the optic nerves,
At all the parts of the eye working together in unison and they would see the eye as something that obviously has a clear purpose for a creature. It's obviously part of a larger system where these things allow the creature to see and navigate its environment. And if you were living at that time, and you wanted to doubt that there was some sort of teleology or goal intrinsic to these sorts of things, if you wanted to doubt that, much like the atheist… Who makes fun of the religious person in today's world. People back then might be like, look, go ahead and doubt all you want. But at a certain point, I don't even know what it is we're talking about. Clearly there's a purpose at work here, and that purpose… Purpose may extend to the overall creatures themselves, that purpose may extend into human life. It's not crazy to think this is a thing. May extend to the way we structure our societies. What's the purpose or function of a society, and how do we design one that will fulfill that purpose for us? And as we know, people took this obvious purpose… That must be embedded into everything, and they ran with it. They ran so far with it. Forrest Gump's got nothing on these.
People. As a couple thousand years later, right around the beginning of the modern scientific revolution, there were some thinkers at the time that had enough of it and came up with a great idea. There were several of them, Francis Bacon building off of the work of Descartes, Galileo, Isaac Newton, many others at the time, but these great thinkers looked around them and they saw a bunch of people who were pretty distracted, all things said. Considered. They were doing science with an Aristotelian scientific method, assuming the purposes to things. They saw… People around them studying alchemy, believing that certain metals had spiritual properties that we just couldn't see. They look at all this stuff. Themselves embedded into it, by the way. I mean, Newton spent a lot of his life on alchemy. But they look at it, and eventually there's this idea like, okay, all this non-material stuff out there? This has become a distraction, people. We're not making as much progress as we could be making on the quantifiable side of things because we're too busy
focusing on all this stuff that we can't measure. So how about this? How about we take all this other non-material stuff that today we'd call consciousness, cognition, qualities, As value and all the rest of it, and let's bracket that stuff off as the domain that science doesn't try to study, and let's insta… see what happens if we stay in the realm of the three dimensions, material reality. Let's do that, and see if anything changes. Well that happened, and… Now we're sequencing the genome, and this podcast is being delivered to you by invisible waves that are flying through the sky. Yeah, turned out to be a pretty good thing on the quantifiable side of things. But the point is, what started with these thinkers as a very conscious choice to brag? it off certain aspects of reality to clear the way for studying the physical side of things better, meaning they knew good and well that they weren't harnessing all of reality. What started as that? With all the progress being made in the sciences, to Thomas Naims, Over the years this turned into an overall attitude in academia, not just that material...
Explanations are what we should be aiming for, but instead further, that if something can't be explained by studying the materials that it's made out of, it's Either an illusion, it doesn't really exist, or it's a delusion, or it's scientific ignorance, where there must be some kind of material explanation that's possible, but we're just essentially a bunch of monkeys rattling their cages, frustrated we haven't done enough science yet to fully understand it. Years you can see this attitude start to crop up in different places. Nietzsche famously declaring God is dead. Mark saying... Religions the opiate of the masses, Freud saying that a belief in God is ultimately a longing for daddy. And what all this leads to is a more... Common ideological attitude amongst people living at the beginning of the 20th century that science… is the way that we arrive at the truth, and that anything that isn't understandable by studying the materials that something's made out of is likely to be the truth. Be religious nonsense. And what this leads to is an overall skepticism in people of non-material explanations for things overall. Hence the very
use unconsciousness, where no matter how non-material it may seem, it's gotta be in the brain somewhere, hidden from us. We just need more time. Or with hard determinism. No matter how much it seems like we make free choices, gotta ultimately be predictable with the atoms and the prior events in some way. Morality is at best something that's completely subjective, we'll argue about it forever, and at worst it's a total delusion, purely relative, just my Monkeys rattling their cage. These positions are logical conclusions if you're starting from the ideology of material reductionism, as well as conclusions that life is completely meaningless, that it's obvious we live in a totally disinterested, absurd universe and that nothing really matters. That's a hallmark of the times as well. Picture of a what if scenario that Thomas Nagel and Philip Goff would want us to consider. Philosophize this everybody can't believe I ever used to do that. What if in
500 years. People look back on the time we're living in right now, and they see the ways that we were thinking about science and materialism and they say, Look, I think I get it. I think I get where they were coming from. These people knew their religious history. They knew how they used to project meanings onto things that were fake. They didn't want to do that again. again. Saw the miracles of science going on all around them. They were living in the wake of some of the greatest scientific discoveries the world had ever seen at the time. They had mad respect for science. Because they were living in this precise historical moment, because it was understandable to commit yourself to materialism in this extreme of a way, these people ignored… the obvious purpose and order to the universe that was staring them in the face the whole time. That anybody 500 years before or after just assumes is a Obvious, as one of those necessary philosophical assumptions we have to smuggle in to be capable of doing good science, something on the le-
of induction or rational coherence. What if that's how this time ends up being seen? Let's consider it for a second. Is there any guarantee that the current scientific theory… Medical model is the model that's going to be able to explain everything? The people that created it knew they were bracketing off large sections of reality. Is it time we start talking about part of the reality? assumptions we could additionally bring in to fill in some of these gaps. Just so we don't interrupt the show at any point beyond this, I want to thank everyone out there who supports the sponsors of the podcast today by going through the links. I really appreciate it. Philosophize This is sponsored by BetterHelp. What's the first thing you'd do if you had an extra hour in your day? I don't know. I'd probably learn to play more things on classical guitar. I would play some chess. And I'd always finish the word games on the New York Times app. Those are the things I do whenever I'm not working or hanging with the family. But hey, a lot of us spend our lives wishing we had more time. The question is time for what?
If time was unlimited, how would you use it? The best way to squeeze that special thing into your schedule is to... Know what's important to you and make it a priority. Therapy can help you find what matters so that you can do more of it. If you're in a place in life and you got a certain way that you're feeling. And you think you might not be able to do everything totally by yourself, and you think talking to somebody might be something that could help you out, BetterHelp is a great service that helps people get over that initial hump. It's entirely online. It's designed to be convenient, flexible, suited to your schedule. Just fill out a brief questionnaire to get matched with a licensed therapist and switch therapists any time for no additional charge. Learn to make time for what makes you happy with BetterHelp. Visit betterhelp.com/fillthistoday to get 10% off your first month. That's BetterHelp. Plp.com/fillthis, P-H-I-L-T-H-I-S. The last sponsor of the show today is NordVPN.
Two main reasons I started using a VPN. One was for when I was traveling. Wifi in an airport or a coffee shop is great and all, but being on public networks like that can be sketchy honestly if somebody knows what they're doing. Mind in those circumstances. Second reason was that I wanted to be able to watch stuff that was region locked across the globe. Not sure if you know this, but if you have a VPN, you can watch shows or sports games that otherwise are only available to people in a certain area. So if you're into... Obscure sports, or old man millennial TV shows in my case, it can be helpful. NordVPN is a great choice, it's the fastest VPN in the world, I'm told. It's the one I can recommend. And how about this? It is actually the price of a cup of coffee per month. And you can protect your whole family. One account works on six different devices. I'm just saying, the price is super reasonable. And how do you put a price on peace of mind? It may sound cliche, but it's absolutely
True here. Our link will also give you four extra months plus a bonus gift. There's no risk with Nord's 30-day money-back guarantee and you'll help support our podcast. The link is in the podcast episode description box. And now, back to the podcast. Any guarantee that the current scientific theoretical model is the model that's going to be able to explain everything? The people that created it knew they were bracketing off large sections of reality. Is it time we start talking about parsimony? assumptions we could additionally bring in to fill in some of these gaps. What gaps though? There are no gaps. Well, see, that's the thing to somebody like Thomas Nagel. A fan of the New Atheist movement will be quick to attack a creationist for using what they call a god of the gaps argument. We've all heard this one before. To bring back our example of the eye, the creationist will say, Look, you scientists out there may be able to explain all the parts of the eye, and I don't know what to do.
What was naturally selected to refract light and produce vision. But none of you can explain how that eye was created in the first place. And where you guys can't explain things with your science, I'm gonna say that God did it. Again, wherever there's a gap in scientific explanation so far, God must have done it. The God of the gaps. But Nagel says there's another type of trap you can fall into on the other side of that as well. When someone is so committed to materialism that they won't see outside the borders of it for any… alternative explanation of reality, they can start to give what he calls the evolution of the gaps argument. That if something isn't explained by the current theoretical model fully, then it's Well, it couldn't be that maybe the model itself needs some work. Any gap in our understanding of things will eventually be filled by science. We just need a couple more thousands of years. Years of doing science the exact same way we are right now. But history is filled with changes to the theory of science. Radical models that we use to understand reality. Maybe you've heard of Aristotle's four causes from back when he was doing his work.
During a time where he obviously didn't have all the access to scientific knowledge we do. And partially because of that, he was-- Interested in a much larger question that's interesting to think about, he wondered, what is it to have a full understanding of something? Like, of course there's having a partial something, and there's all different kinds of knowledge about any one particular thing. But if we wanted to say that we understood something fully, what would that require? Take the example of a chair. Modern science primarily… Focuses on understanding the materials that the chair is made out of and the process or the sequence of events that led to that chair being the way that it is. But is this having a full understanding of all things chair? Aristotle would say no. Having a full understanding of any one particular thing requires knowing its four different causes or explanations. There's the material cause, what it's made out of. There's the efficient cause, the maker or process that created that chair. But then there's the formal cause, the form or design of the chair. And the final cause, the purpose or function of the chair.
Until you have all four of these, you don't have a full understanding of what that chair is, or whatever it is, whether it's a chair, the human brain, or the universe. Well, Thomas Nagel gives an example of this in his book Mind and Cosmos. He says picture a pocket calculator. Now you can type in the keys 5+3=5+3. And there will be a little pixelized 8 that comes up on the calculator telling you the answer to the problem. Now in terms of just went on there. There's one type of explanation. You can give a purely material account of what just went on by describing the plastic that the… Buttons are made out of, the solar power, the electricity going through all the different microchips and circuits. And if you did that, what you would have is a great material explanation. But what you would also have is an incomplete explanation of what it was that just went on. Because outside of anything material that's going on... There's also this non-material understanding of a mathematical system that you need to even be able to grasp the relevance of the problem that was just solved, or whether it was the right answer.
A teleological understanding that's needed, or else we're always potentially cutting our own legs off with our own theoretical model. Neo-darwinian evolution as a theory. As a fan of science, you may see this as an incredible explanation for the efficient cause, or for how something like the eye of a creature came about because of certain environmental But no matter how much you think that explains the how, it does nothing to explain the why. There's a difference between a cause and an explanation. There's a difference between how. A sequence of events that led to something and an explanation. There's a sense in which we need more holistic explanations for the purposes of these things within a larger system to be able to get a full understanding of them. But it also seems to be true to Nagel that... That at a certain point, a purely materialist neo-Darwinian account of reality cannot get us there, at the very least when it comes to consciousness, cognition, and value. As Nagel says, if life forms that have rich exp—
Experiences of mental life are not anomalies, but are as they seem to be just normal parts of nature then if that's the case Biology as a field cannot be a purely physical science. What are we missing in our understanding of these life forms? Aristotle would definitely think it's something important. Not to destroy the sciences here, but to ask how can we incorporate all the great science that we've done. Into a more broad meaningful picture of what reality is. And to be clear here, neither Thomas Nagel or Philip Goff are saying That because a materialist neo-darwinian account of reality doesn't have all the answers, that there must be some guy sitting up in the clouds with a plan for everybody. Again, an ideology doesn't always have to be replaced by its opposite. In fact, quick aside here. In many ways, what these two modern...
Philosophers are trying to do here, from the perspective of someone like Slobodan Žižek, is that they're trying to find a resolution between these two sides that supposedly are opposites. This is Hegel's dialectic inaction to Žižek. This is how social progress is made. There's two ideologies positioned on either side of an argument, and both these positions are necessary and inevitable and of them contain partial truths about reality as well as containing their own contradictions, Battling it out in this form of ideas that both sides end up resolving the contradictions that are at the bottom of their worldview. To Hegel, this is the dialectical way that ideas progress. And it's not just ideas to him, it's material reality, it's identity, it's so many other things that we talked about on the Hegel series. Now, Zizek slightly disagrees with Hegel here. He doesn't think that we're resolving contradictions through this process. But really just understanding our own contradictions better and getting more clarity about the issue overall. We'll talk more about that next episode.
So when we talk about Zizek and ideological progress, but again, this debate between material reductionists on the one hand and creationists on the other, with Thomas Nagel and Philip Sitting somewhere in the middle trying to preserve the best of both worlds. This can serve as a pretty good visual for the type of ideological battle that Zizek thinks is going on everywhere. And that's what matters to a philosopher like Philip Goff. How do we answer these fundamental questions about the purposes of things and value in the universe without sacrificing anything that's great about science as it's currently done? The title of Philip Goff's new book where he tries to explore some answers to this... This is called Why? The purpose of the universe. And before we talk about how purpose in the universe may make sense without there being some sort of supernatural man with a staff, I want to follow up with a few things. Up on that what-if scenario that we gave before. If we are living in a particular moment in history where we're obsessed with materialism, in more ways than one, then that must mean that there's evidence that the universe has a purpose all around me and I'm not a purpose.
Either not seeing it, or I'm reframing it through my own biases in a way where I just can't see it. Where is that evidence, if it's there? Chapter two of Philip Goff's book is called Why Science Points to Purpose. He starts by saying that for a long time, there wasn't good evidence to point to if you wanted to believe in purpose, over a hundred years without good evidence. But all that has changed to him in just the last few decades. What he's referring to is, as he may already be aware of, scientists that study the... Nature of reality, look at reality through what's known as the Standard Model. Standard model includes certain constants, certain fixed numbers that we gotta plug into the equations about reality in order for the equations to work. These constants include things like the masses of fundamental particles and the exact strength of the forces that are governing them. Well, as Goff says, once we figured out what these fixed values were... People got a little curious and started running computer simulations wondering what the universe would be like if these fixed values were just a little different. And what they found was that
the overwhelming majority of the possible universes that are out there were completely With the existence of life. And not just carbon-based life like we know about, but any kind of chemical complexity whatsoever. However, the periodic table of elements as we know it doesn't exist in most of these worlds. For example, the strong nuclear force. The force that binds together the elements in a nucleus of an atom, the fixed value of that can be represented, Gafses, by the number 0.007. Now, just as an example here, if that number had been 0.006 or less, the universe would have contained nothing but hydrogen. Had been .008 or higher, almost all the hydrogen would have burned off in the Big Bang and water would have never existed. Chemical complexity would have never existed. ...stands to the physical properties of things, he says. If the mass of a down quark had been greater by a factor of three... The universe would have contained only hydrogen. If electrons had been bigger by a factor of 2.5, the universe would contain only neutrons.
With the more than 60 million chemical compounds we know about in our universe, he says. Now combine all this with the discovery of the value of the cosmological constant, or the amount of dark energy that's in empty space. And consider the fact that this number is so small and so precise that if I even wanted to read you the number of trillions here that it is precise to tell you about it, even that would be a chore. That if the cosmological constant were even slightly bigger, things would have shot apart too quickly in the universe for gravity to clump them together into stars and planets. And if it was slightly smaller, then the universe would have collapsed back in on itself. When you consider all of this, and the very specific way that our universe is, to Philip Goff you're left with a choice. Accept all this as a wild coincidence, which you may, or you can consider what he calls the value selection hypothesis, or the idea. That the numbers we see in the fine-tuning of physics like this are the way they are because they allow for a universe containing great value. As he says, quote,
Where there is life in all its richness, including people who can fall in love, experience great beauty, and contemplate their own existence and Now, the value selection hypothesis is just one position of many that Philip Goth explores in the book, but it doesn't just have to be value selection. To him, this is one subcomponent of a much larger discussion that's neglected in his eyes, of the possibility of cosmic purpose in the universe that exists without some sort of omni-god that must have created it. Much more on that in a second, but it would be important to note that, To Philip Goff here to pause and speak to some of the people out there that would be perfectly fine seeing what he calls overwhelming evidence for purpose as just a coincidence. The response back to hearing this from Philip Goff could be, Okay, I'm not against it. But how about the fact that coincidences happen, Philip Goff? It's not that I can't see how this could be possible. What I'm saying is, in my world, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Or how about the multiverse theory? Haven't quantum physicists already explained how all this is possible and it ultimately doesn't mean anything? Well, he gets responses to all these questions and even more in the book. I want to be respectful and not cannibalize too much of it here on my podcast. But I will say this, that when it comes to quantum physics, to the multiverse in this other conversation we're having right now about ideology with Zizek, notice how the theory of the multiverse could easily be a point that a... Materialist has popping up in their head instantly when they start to hear all this from Philip Goff. Like yeah, it's highly unlikely we'd get a universe fine-tuned for life. One in ten to the high- 136 in fact. But with the multiverse theory, there's 10 to the 136 universes, far more Versus than that, and this is just the one we landed on. It makes total sense. In light of the other conversation, notice how this is entirely non-material theoretical explanation to ground their worldview that ironically needs to always be grounded in material evidence.
Again, ideology can be something that's so powerful, this type of person who is otherwise rational, a thinker. Person, but someone who's romanticizing science, they will say these kinds of things, not even thinking about the contradiction that may be there. To Zizek, it's almost like it lies in the subconscious of people. Again, some more food for thought in preparation for next. Episode. How about the more general question someone might ask Philip Goff here? What if this is just a coincidence? I mean, forget ideology. I'm not trying to defend a worldview here. Couldn't it just be a coincidence, Philip Goff? And he'd say, It's possible, I guess. But again, look, part of the way we model our understanding of the world around us, in the sciences and otherwise, is by using probabilities. The evidence we have now, filtered through a very standard Bayesian probability equation that we use to model a lot of other ways we see reality, to Philip Goff. It is a very simple and simple It's just far more likely that the value selection hypothesis is true, or that it's far less likely that it's false.
And he goes into this in the book. He says, look, people can say, hey, you're like that guy that's making breakfast in the morning. And he looks at his toast and he sees the face of Jesus and his toast staring at him. And he's like, oh, God's trying to communicate with me. Odds, man, it's Jesus. But he says, look, Jesus showing up in your toast is unlikely, but it's not that unlikely, all things considered. Planet being in the Goldilocks zone where it supports life existing on it. It's unlikely, but it's not that unlikely. About a conservative estimate here of 1 in 10 to the 136. That's the equivalent of sitting at a table, rolling a dice, and having it come up six 174 times in a row. As Gough says, at a certain point you wouldn't be sitting there saying, Well, it's six again. How's that for a coincidence? No, you'd be thinking the dice is loaded so that it always comes up at six, or that there's some explanation for what's going on. He understands this skepticism though. He says in the book... Scientists in the 16th century struggled to accept the mounting evidence that the earth was not, contrary to what had been assumed for the
Thousands of years in the center of the universe. Popular science discussion often involves scoffing at this inability of our ancestors to follow the evidence where it leads. Every generation absorbs a worldview that it can't see beyond. In our own time, we're so Used to the idea that science has done away with cosmic purpose, that we're incapable of dispassionately... Considering the overwhelming evidence that's emerged in support of the value selection hypothesis. It may take time for the culture to catch up with the evidence. There's a sense in which if you're a skeptic good on you for being a skeptic we need skeptics in this world these days when no one's around you try doing it in the shower when no one's looking just allow yourself to temporarily release the skepticism for a second that with this one intend to the 136 probability of it being structured this way. Just allow yourself to entertain that we're part of something that has a greater purpose to it. This lotion, not one given by a God that cares about you personally, but an impersonal teal.
Biological law to the universe, something imminent in nature, where the laws of gravity, thermodynamics, motion, these are maybe subcomponents of a higher level... Teleological law that selects for chemical complexity or rationality or value. No, this is not explicitly goth, what I just said. But this is very much along the line of thinking where we consider other conceptual frameworks to view the same empirical data through, and it changes our view of what reality is. Remember our example of light from before. Again, the goal here is not to undermine the sciences, but to find a way to incorporate all the great science we've done so far and explore how it connects to a landscape of meaning. So in the book, to build one of his cases for the possibility of purpose existing in the universe without the existence of a personal god, Philip Goff cites the work of Thomas Nagel in his book Mind and Cosmos, who himself was building off of a version of teleological laws given by John Hawthorne and Daniel Nolan. Gough says, What Nagel had realized is that
no incoherence in the idea of cosmic purpose without God, provided we can expand our conception of the laws that govern the universe. The laws of nature we've been used to for the past 500 years move from past to future, ensuring that what happens at earlier times determines what happens at later times. Nagel's proposal is that there may also be laws that move from future to past, ensuring that the present is shaped by the need to get closer to certain goals. The future, such as the emergence of life. In other words, there may be laws of nature with goals built into them, and we call these teleological laws. There are certain things to Gough that just don't make sense or seem hard to understand. Highly unlikely if we truly live in a universe without any sort of goal directedness about it. Not just fine-tuning or the cosmological constant, but how about the emergence of consciousness, or us being the sort of creatures that have experiences that are full of meaning and values. You. If we take a purely neo-Darwinian approach to explaining this, natural selection just cares about behavior. There's absolutely no way that natural selection is a natural selection.
There's absolutely no reason, he says, that we needed to evolve with rich subjective experiences of the world like this. It makes little sense that we did with our current theories, but it makes total sense that the universe is goal-driven towards selecting for value. More than that, considering the value selection hypothesis also opens up the possibility of exploring theories that account for free will. Take another example that Philip Goff explains in the book, the theory of panagentialism. Where if you consider a teleology of rationality in the universe, particles, as he says, could be... Disposed from their very own nature to respond rationally to their experience. Part of the thinking here is, look, we as human beings are not just human beings, we Beings have an understanding of rationality and what it is to be rational that's been highly. By millions of years of our survival-oriented existence, running from lions back in the day. Running from door-to-door solar panel salespeople in today's world. But what if rationality is actually...
Something far more layered than that, something that orders reality itself in an unseen way, almost like gravity, where the stuff that's all around us in the world is rational stuff, he says. That there's a very simple kind of rational impulse going on that explains a very simple kind of behavior of particles and non-conscious objects, but that when this proto-agency gets coupled with experiential understanding and consciousness at higher levels, well, it starts to have some big implications on the possibility of... Free will. Again, the conceptual frameworks we view reality through change our view. Of reality. If the universe is meaningless, then the logical conclusion is absurdity. But if it's not meaningless, then what does that make the logical conclusion for...
Person born into it? What does that make the logical way we should be setting up our societies? The book is a fun, interesting exploration of a resolution between some common disagreements in philosophy, and the hope from Philip Goff is that this book can help the conversation move forward in a productive way. It's called Why The Purpose of the Universe. Now that said, hopefully this was all very thought-provoking today, not just when it comes to the details of the scientific And our responsibility there if we want to have better and better conversations, but also when it comes to the role of ideology in all this, if you're Slava Zizek. I just picture Zizek... Waiting for the ideas we're going to talk about next episode. I see him sitting on the sidelines in a field at a soccer game, sitting on one of those fold-out chairs eating a hot dog.
He's watching this game being played that we're talking about on this episode, clapping at what he's seeing. He's some kind of Roman emperor, just waiting, ready to pounce, ready to get us thinking about the real game he thinks we're all playing. Thanks for sharing the podcast with a friend if it's something you enjoy. Patreon shoutouts this week, Kat Clark, Stanford De Silva, James Traub, Sergiu Felipe, and Yesterdays Rice. That's both someone's name and, you know, I'd just like to thank Rice in general. Really has developed into a fine, respectable carbohydrate option. Thank you for listening. I'll talk to you next time.
Transcript generated on 2024-03-12.