David: I wanted to ask a related question, because it’s come up a lot. There’s the reductionist side of things. They’re also fond of saying, ‘Look, there’s no such thing as meaning; things don’t mean anything. There’s no meaning in this, no ultimate meaning in the universe.’ And I’m just wondering what you think about that?
They paint this picture saying, ‘You know, our position is meaningless, and we’re one species, on one planet, round one sun, and the laws the universe is governed by have no meaning.’
GE: The laws have no meaning. What actually is happening here is the following, and I’m seeing it with a lot of my scientific colleagues. There’s a lot of data about the universe. Basically what is happening with these guys is they’re saying if you want to understand the universe, you must take data from microscopes, telescopes, particle accelerators. You must take that scientific data, and that will tell you the nature of the universe.
When they say the universe is meaningless, the hidden agenda is they are saying, ‘We choose to ignore all of the data from human life, human history, from the great literature, the great art, all the rest of it. We choose to say that that has nothing to tell you about life and the universe, because we think the only evidence that matters is the matter that the hard science can tell you.’ They’re arriving at that position by ignoring all of the data they find inconvenient.
David: Yes. So their conclusion is already there in their assumptions about what counts as evidence.
GE: Yes. And, of course, with these people, they either live a totally bipolar life where they have these theories over there, and then they go to their family and say, ‘Hello’, and life is all meaningful, and they pat the dog and play with the child, and all the rest of this. Or they don’t, in which case their home life must be bloody hell.
I think one of the things which is a simple fact is that there is meaning in the universe. Now, where or how that meaning arises is something we discuss, but the fact that there is meaning in the universe is, I think, absolutely…
David: And it gets back to fine-tuning, because I always imagine all the universes, and I was thinking if your god had to find the universe again, it would need to have little signs by them: ‘This is the universe that’s got life in it.’ And I think the word that God would write down on the flag attached to our universe would be meaning. It’s not just fine-tuned for life, it’s got meaning in it.
GE: Well, you see, it starts off much earlier than that. All of biology is to do with function and purpose in some sense. What is that information for? That information is all for a purpose. It’s for a purpose of reproduction, of getting food, of sensing things. So life is about purpose.
David: So not only is there meaning in the universe, you’re saying there is purpose as well?
GE: There is purpose in the universe. I’m not saying it’s built into the laws of physics. It’s not built into the laws of physics, but it comes into existence, and there isn’t any question it comes into existence. How does it come into existence? Well, my position on that is that the possibility of meaning is built into some of those possibility spaces. The possibility of meaning was there before the universe came into existence, and so therefore, in a sense, the universe was expecting meaning to arrive. And I think that that is, once you start thinking about it, a logically incontrovertible position. There is meaning in the universe. That is only possible if it’s possible to have meaning, which means one of those possibility spaces I’m talking about had the possibility of meaning in it.
So the deep question, the deep question of cosmology, is why are those possibility spaces what they are? And the theological position is very persuasive in many ways for this, because the purely physical argument doesn’t begin to touch a lot of what is going on in the universe we see around us in our daily lives.
Ard: I think that’s right. You need to think theologically.
David: No! No! George is saying the opposite! I don’t need to think theologically. I don’t need God. I just need to have this realm of ideas, which is where…
Ard: But the question is, where did this realm of ideas come from? The theological explanation makes the most sense.
GE: I think you can defend with absolute certainty, as it were, once you’ve thought this through, the existence of these possibility spaces. If you ask where do they come from, you’re then in a realm of speculation where everything is right open and I…
Ard: We think a theological explanation is a good one but you don’t, yeah, as long as you… you don’t have to buy into that if you don’t feel it.
GE: If you have someone who says there is no meaning in the universe, I can only say they are just ignoring all of everyday life.
David: That’s the feeling I’ve had all along.
GE: If you want to ignore all of everyday life, that’s fine, but then don’t tell me you’ve got an adequate theory of the way the universe is because you haven’t.
David: Yeah, that’s exactly how I felt all along because it does feel like just explaining away the things which your present bit of science has a difficulty explaining, it just seems to be not…
GE: It’s one of those tricks: someone tells you what questions you’re allowed to ask and what you’re not allowed. Where do they get the authority to tell you what questions you’re allowed to ask and what you’re not allowed to ask?