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New Atheists and cosmic purpose without God (Zizek, Goff, Nagel)

Ideologies and Their Hidden Contradictions, Limitations of Materialist Ideology, Historical Context of Ideological Shifts, Challenges to Material Reductionism.


New Atheists and cosmic purpose without God (Zizek, Goff, Nagel)

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 an ideology where the people immersed in it… see themselves as seekers of the TRUTH…that WE’RE the intellectually HONEST ones…and that our OPPOSITE, the OTHER…THESE are the 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…I really want to USE this opportunity to give a NON-TRIVIAL example of an ideology that’s LIKELY to BE one that the people listening to this can relate to… whether that’s because it’s a position you USED to hold, that 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 to Zizek the most POWERFUL FORM of an ideology is one that operates in the background, where the contradictions at the bottom of it… are things that the people using it, don’t even NOTICE… despite the fact they’ve formed 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 bringing 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 SOME modern philosophers, like Phillip Goff, are trying to find a way to preserve the best parts of BOTH of these approaches, and 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 Phillip Goff on this episode…and we will. We’ll USE it in this investigation of different ideologies. But I guess it’s important to say: that in that BOOK that we’re gonna talk about a little LATER…Phillip 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 was responding to an ideology that he thought was EXPLODING in popularity at that time… it’s an ideology popular among the fans of the new Atheist movement that was going on and it’s a position… that he thought was ALSO an overall ATTITUDE that’s taken HOLD of academia more generally…what he’s FIGHTING against…is what is OFTEN been referred to as material reductionism. Or the IDEA…that the TRUTH about ANYTHING that’s worth KNOWING about the universe…can and SHOULD be understood… by studying the MATERIALS that things are made out of… and the fundamental FORCES that govern them. THAT is where the truth lies. You wanna 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 gotta stay focused…we gotta break things down into their component parts…study them EMPIRICALLY…THAT’S the 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 negative connotation OFF of 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 as a deeply embedded network of tactics and symbols that are used by people to simplify reality into something coherent, where it's a process that literally EVERYBODY is engaging in no matter WHO you are. Again the point to Zizek is not to HATE on people for having an ideology…the point is to EXAMINE ours…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 understand why it MAKES TOTAL SENSE… that someone would internalize a PARTICULAR ideology…GIVEN the specific culture they live in. For example: take a pretty common one, we ALL know some who fits this profile, imagine somebody that’s born at the end of the 20th century, 1970’s onward…and imagine this is a type of person that’s an atheist, they are a very RATIONAL kind of person, they are a FAN of science…and BECAUSE of these three things… when it comes to what they’re gonna 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…then no offense, but when we start getting into THAT kind of territory, as a fan of science at a certain point I don’t even know what we’re TALKING about. Beyond a CERTAIN point…with no evidence, you can say ANYTHING…and its all just unverifiable speculation… if we can’t empirically PROVE it. Imagine what it’s like to be this person. You’re BORN into the world…you look around you, end of the 20th century…and SCIENCE is the WAY that we are making sense of all the mysteries of the universe. I mean when it comes to OTHER explanations for how the universe might be the way that it is… they can HEAR about religion…they can hear about the miracles of the bible… of some guy walking on water, levitating, shaking hands with the lepers, rubbing jesus lotion all over the back, making em all moisturized…they can HEAR about 2000 years ago and some miracles that may or may have not have happened. But…being BORN when they were…they can ALSO just LOOK AROUND them…and SEE the miracles of science. In 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 to you by invisible waves flying through the sky…I mean this stuff to people just a couple generations ago would’ve seemed borderline MAGICAL. Just saying: it’s 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’, ALL the horsemen of the atheist apocalypse, the neil tysons. And then imagine AS this person gets a little older… maybe they were BORN into a religious home, maybe they were just forced to go to church a couple times and they HEAR this message every Sunday being DELIVERED to them of fundamental GUILT and redemption through this invisible man sitting up in the sky…and they say LOOK, this thing, religion, doesn’t have a monopoly on the truth… CLEARLY this is a story that’s designed in some ways to just control people, and it’s led to crusades and it’s led to religious violence and its just not a good look for me as a thinking person. They decide I’m gonna 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 gonna believe in something unless if there’s EVIDENCE to prove that it exists? How can you ever go WRONG with that? And BECAUSE of this COMMITMENT 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 things that are NON-MATERIAL. 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 still gotta solve. Kind of exciting. But this person might say, understandably given the culture they’re in: look I’m a materialist. Yeah it’s a mystery…how does something that seems totally NON-MATERIAL come out of something entirely MATERIAL. But look I’ve SEEN science solve PLENTY of OTHER mysteries BEFORE in my day. 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 while I don’t know for SURE…look have a little faith in science… just give us a few more years and is it CRAZY to think science will eventually solve that mystery too? ANOTHER common lane this person will fall into is hard determinism. IF ultimately you think that everything can be understood by having a deeper and deeper understanding of the ATOMS that make everything up…then what may SEEM to someone like it’s just reality, you know, that you’re making free choices every day…THAT’S actually an ILLUSION…that’s gonna 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. Like a REAL truth seeker. BECAUSE I VALUE…ONLY the TRUTH that science can DIRECTLY VERIFY to me 1:1 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…these 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 I have. When you ACTUALLY seek the truth…you sometimes gotta TAKE counter-intuitive positions like these. See I’m not like one of those CREATIONISTS out there that are a bunch of ideologues. EASY to spot the contradictions in 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 an example: they’ll say oh look at God isn’t he WONDERFUL for making sure my mom got the bank loan for her house RIGHT when we thought all hope was lost…they’ll say GOD IS GREAT. But then when a natural disaster takes out 10,000 people in a matter of minutes they will say God is mysterious. How can a creationist NOT see the contradictions grounding their entire worldview? Now from the perspective of Slavoj Zizek LISTENING to this take on a creationist ideology…there’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 try to make sense of the complexity of the universe. And yes, the creationist would 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 that fan of science that’s doing 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 pointed out in the history of philosophy…in ORDER to even GET to that place… where you say I’m ONLY gonna believe in something if it’s empirically verifiable…in order to DO that you 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 induction…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 assume to conduct science, 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 DIRECTED NATURE to the universe that aims towards rationality…they would tell you, I’m sorry, but that is unverifiable speculation. We can’t PROVE it. It’s DANGEROUS to speculate. But again to Zizek and to Quine and 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 and receiving a 1:1 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 fact that the SAME empirical data can be looked at through DIFFERENT conceptual frameworks… and it CHANGES what your 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…corpuscles as 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 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 were self aware of. And there’s a type of person who romanticizes science, funny enough usually people who are NOT scientists, who position themselves as the opposite to this ideology of creationism, and they view THEMSELVES as TRUTH SEEKERS while living in ignorance to the contradictions 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 it mean we all should buy stock in Jesus lotion? No. Am I interviewing myself right now? Well, yes I am. Does this MEAN that we’ve FOUND CONTRADICTIONS at the BOTTOM of this one and now the whole THING, everything about it was FALSE and now it all goes up in smoke? NO. And again GET RID of this idea that you’re EVER gonna have a worldview that DOESN’T have contradictions at the bottom of it. This is not a reason to throw everything out. This is just a greater level of self awareness about the game we’re actually playing, to Slavoj Zizek. It’s actually very FREEING once you get past the initial feelings of discomfort…there’s this initial stage where you try to use ideology to find all the ways you’re NOT actually in contradiction. 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 his 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 a controversial position to take at the time. People would look at the eyes or the TEETH of an animal for example…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…and these people would look 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…its 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 makes fun of the religious person in today’s world… people back then might be like…look go ahead and doubt, but at a certain point I don’t even know what it is we’re talking about. CLEARLY there is a PURPOSE at work here… and that purpose may extend to the overall creatures themselves, that purpose may extend into human life, it’s not CRAZY to think this may extend to the way we structure our SOCIETIES. What is the PURPOSE or the 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. Turns out as NARRATIVE CREATURES we can get a little CARRIED AWAY with the ASSUMPTIONS we’re making about what the obvious PURPOSE of all this stuff is. And as Nagel says 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 the work of Descartes, Galileo, Isaac Newton, many others at the time…but these GREAT thinkers looked around them and saw a bunch of people who were pretty distracted… all things 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…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 we CAN’T measure. So how bout this: how bout we take ALL this OTHER non-material stuff…that today we would call consciousness, cognition, qualities, purposes, 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 INSTEAD 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 VERY GOOD thing on the quantifiable side of things. But the POINT is: what STARTED with these thinkers as a very CONSCIOUS CHOICE to bracket OFF certain aspects of reality to clear the way for studying the PHYSICAL side things better…meaning, they KNEW good and well they WEREN’T, HARNESSING ALL of reality…what started as that…with all the PROGRESS being made in the sciences…to Thomas Nagel 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 its MADE out of…it’s either an illusion, it DOESN’T really exist, or it’s a DE-LUSION, or its scientific ignorance where there MUST BE some material explanation that’s possible…but we’re just essentially a bunch of monkeys rattling their cages frustrated that we haven't done enough science yet to FULLY understand it. As Phillip Goff says over the years you can SEE this attitude start to crop UP in different places. Nietzsche famously declaring God is dead. Marx saying that religion is the opiate of the masses. Freud saying that a belief in God is ultimately a longing for daddy. And what this LEADS to… is a more COMMON ideological attitude amongst people living at the beginning of the 21st century that SCIENCE is the way that we arrive at the truth…and anything that ISN’T understandable by studying the MATERIALS that something is made out of… is LIKELY to be religious NONSENSE. And what this LEADS to…is an OVERALL SKEPTICISM in people…of NON-MATERIAL explanations for things…hence the views on consciousness…where no matter how NON-MATERIAL it may seem…ITS 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 prior events in some way. Or that morality… is at BEST something that’s completely subjective…and at WORST it’s a total delusion, purely relative, just 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 is OBVIOUS we live in a totally disinterested, absurd universe, and that nothing really matters. That’s a hallmark of the times as well. But I want to paint a picture of a ‘what if” scenario that Thomas Nagel and Phillip Goff would want us to consider. Philosophize This everybody. What if in 500 years people look back on the TIME we’re living in right now…and they SEE the ways that we think about science and materialism…and they say look, I GET it, I get where they were coming from back then. These people KNEW their religious history and how they used to project MEANINGS onto things that were fake. They didn’t want to do THAT again. These people SAW the miracles of science all AROUND them…and 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. But 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 living 500 years before or after just assumes as OBVIOUS. As one of those NECESSARY philosophical assumptions we have to smuggle in to be CAPABLE of doing good science. Something on the LEVEL of induction or the rational coherence of the universe. What if THAT’S how this time ends up being seen? Well let’s consider it for a second: is there 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 that they were bracketing off large sections of reality…is it time we start talking about parsimonious assumptions we could bring in additionally, to FILL IN some of these gaps. What gaps though? There’s no gaps. Well, that’s the thing to someone 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. To bring back our example of the eye from before…a creationist will say, look you scientists may be able to explain all the PARTS of the eye and how it 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 trap you can fall into on the OTHER side of it 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…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 thousand years of doing science the same exact way we are right now. But history is FILLED with changes to the theoretical models that we use to understand reality. Maybe you’ve heard of Aristotle’s four causes from back when HE was doing his work. Aristotle lived during a time where he obviously DIDN’T have access to all the scientific knowledge we have now…and partially BECAUSE of that…HE was interested in a LARGER question that’s interesting to think about: what is it…to have a full UNDERSTANDING of something? Like of COURSE there’s having a PARTIAL understanding of 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 focuses primarily on understanding the materials that the chair is made out of and the process or 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 the chair. The formal cause, the form or design of the chair. And the final cause, the purpose or FUNCTION of the chair. And to Aristotle, until you have ALL of these…you don’t have a full understanding of what that CHAIR is…or WHATEVER it is whether its a chair…a human brain, or the universe. Well Thomas Nagel gives an example in his book Mind and Cosmos. He says picture a pocket calculator. You can type in the keys 5+3= and there will be a little pixelized 8 that comes up on the calculator telling you the answer to the problem. Now there’s ONE type of explanation of what just went on there he says…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 the different microchips and circuits. 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 is going on…there is 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. There’s a teleological understanding that’s needed…or else we’re ALWAYS potentially cutting our own LEGS off with our own theoretical model. So take 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 conditions. 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 having a sequence of events, 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 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 with rich experiences of mental life are not anomalies, but as they seem to be, just integral 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. The goal is again not to destroy the sciences, but to ask how can we incorporate all of 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 Phillip 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, once you find contradictions doesn’t have to be REPLACED by its opposite. In fact quick aside: in many ways…what these two MODERN philosophers are trying to DO here, from the perspective of someone like Slavoj Zizek…is that they’re trying to find a resolution between these two sides that SUPPOSEDLY are OPPOSITES. This is Hegel’s Dialectic in ACTION to Zizek. This is how social progress is MADE. There’s the two ideologies positioned on EITHER side of an argument…and BOTH of these positions are both NECESSARY AND INEVITABLE, and both of them contain PARTIAL TRUTHS about reality…as WELL as containing their own CONTRADICTIONS. And it’s through BATTLING it OUT in this FORUM 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. 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 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 Phillip Goff 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 Phillip 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 Phillip Goff’s new book where he tries to explore some ANSWERS to 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 supernatural man with a staff. I wanna follow up on the 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 just either not SEEING it…or reframing it through my own biases in a way where it’s explained away. Where is that evidence? Chapter two of Phillip 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 for believing in purpose. Over a hundred YEARS without it. But all that has CHANGED to him in the last few decades. As you MAY already be aware of: scientists that STUDY the nature of reality LOOK at reality through what’s known as the standard model. Among other things this includes certain CONSTANTS, certain FIXED NUMBERS we have to plug into our 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 curious, started running computer simulations wondering what the universe would BE like if these fixed values were different. And what they found was that the OVERWHELMING majority of the possible universes that are out there were completely incompatible with the existence of life. And not just carbon based life like WE know about…but ANY kind of chemical complexity whatsoever…the periodic TABLE of elements doesn’t exist in most of these worlds. For example: the strong nuclear force–the force that binds together the elements in the nucleus of an atom…the fixed VALUE of that can be represented Goff says by the number .007. Now JUST as an example here…. IF that number had been .006 or LESS the universe would have contained nothing but hydrogen. If it had been .008 or HIGHER…almost all the hydrogen would have been burned off in the big bang and water would have never existed. Chemical complexity would have never existed. And this extends 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. Contrast that with the more than 60 MILLION chemical compounds we know about in OUR universe. Combine this with the discovery of the value of the cosmological constant, or the amount of dark energy in empty space…and the fact that this is a number that is so small and so precise, that to even READ the number of trillions here to TELL you about it would be a chore… and then to KNOW that if it were even SLIGHTLY bigger things would have shot apart too quickly in the universe for gravity to be able to clump them 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 Phillip Goff you’re left with a choice. You can 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 that we see in the fine tuning of physics are the way they are BECAUSE they allow for a universe containing great value. As he says, “a universe where there is life in all its richness, including people who can fall in love, experience great beauty, and contemplate their own existence.” Now the value-selection hypothesis is just ONE position of MANY that Phillip Goff explores in the book. But it DOESN’T necessary have to be VALUE-selection…to HIM this is one subcomponent of a much LARGER discussion that is neglected in his eyes of COSMIC PURPOSE in the universe that exists WITHOUT some omni-god that must have created it. Much more on that in a second… but it would be IMPORTANT to Phillip 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. Like a common response BACK to hearing this could be: uh, well I’m not AGAINST it. BUt how about the fact that coincidences happen Phillip 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 really mean anything? Well he gives responses to ALL of these questions and even MORE in the book. I want to be respectful and not cannibalize too much of it. But I WILL say this…that when it comes to the MULTIVERSE and this OTHER conversation we’re having right now about ideology…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…like yeah, it’s HIGHLY unlikely we’d get a universe fine tuned for life…1 in 10 to the 136…but with the MULTIVERSE theory…there’s 10 to the 136 and far MORE universes than THAT and this is just the one we LANDED on! NOTICE how this is an entirely, non-material, theoretical explanation to ground their worldview that, ironically, needs to be always grounded in material evidence. Again, ideology can be something that’s SO POWERFUL…a TYPE of person who is a rational, THINKING person but one who’s romanticizing science… will SAY these kinds of things not even THINKING about the contradiction that may be there. To Zizek, it ALMOST lies in the subconscious, again some more food for thought and preparation for next episode. But how about just the more GENERAL question someone might ask Phillip Goff…what if it IS just a coincidence? I mean forget ideology, couldn’t it just be a coincidence? Goff would 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. And just given the evidence we have, filtered through a very standard Baysen’ probability equation that we use to model a lot of OTHER ways that we see reality…to Phillip Goff…in light of this new evidence that has emerged relatively recently…it is just FAR MORE LIKELY that the value selection hypothesis is true. Or that it’s far LESS likely that its false. And he goes into this in the book he says people can say look 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 in his toast and thinks God is trying to communicate with him. Like what are the odds man? But he says 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…that’s unlikely…but not THAT unlikely. We’re talking about 1 in 10 to the 136. That’s the equivalent of sitting at a table, rolling a dice and it coming up six 174 times in a row. As Goff says at a certain point you wouldn’t be saying welp there it is, six again! How’s that for a coincidence! You’d be thinking the dice is loaded so that it always comes up as six or that there’s SOME explanation for this. 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 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. But every generation absorbs a worldview that it can’t see beyond. In our own time, we are so used to the idea that science has done away with cosmic purpose that we are incapable of dispassionately considering the overwhelming evidence that has 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. But just one of 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 1 in 10 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. NOT jesus lotion…not one given by a god that CARES about you individually…but an impersonal, teleological LAW to the universe, something immanent in nature…where the laws of gravity, thermodynamics, motion, these are maybe SUB components of a HIGHER level teleological LAW that SELECTS for chemical complexity or rationality or value. Now, this is not EXPLICITLY Goff…but this is very much along this 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 of the great science we’ve done so far, and explore how it connects to a landscape of MEANING. To build ONE of HIS cases for PURPOSE existing in the universe WITHOUT the existence of a personal God…Phillip Goff cites the work of Thomas Nagel and his book Mind and Cosmos, who HIMSELF was building off a version of teleological laws given by John Hawthorne and Daniel Nolan. He says: “What Nagel had realized is that there is no incoherence in the idea of cosmic purpose without God, provided we can expand our conception of the laws that govern our universe. The laws of nature we have 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 in the future, such as the emergence of life. In other words, there may be laws of nature with GOALS built into them. WE call these teleological laws.” There are certain things to Goff that just don’t make SENSE or seem HIGHLY UNLIKELY if we live in a universe without ANY sort of goal-directedness about it. Not JUST fine tuning or the cosmological constant…but the emergence of CONSCIOUSNESS, or us being the sort of creatures that have experiences that are FULL of meaning and value. If we take a PURELY neo-darwinian approach to explaining this…natural selection just cares about BEHAVIOR. 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 if the universe is goal-driven towards selecting for value. Considering the value selection hypothesis ALSO opens up the possibility of exploring theories that account for free will. Take ANOTHER example that Phillip Goff explains in the book…the theory of Panagentialism…where if you consider a teleology of rationality to the universe, particles as he says could be disposed from their own nature to respond RATIONALLY, to their experience. Part of the thinking is: look, WE…as human beings…have an understanding of rationality and what it is to be RATIONAL that has been HIGHLY SHAPED by millions of years of survival oriented EXISTENCE, running from lions back in the day…running from door to door solar panel SALES people 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. That there’s a very SIMPLE KIND of rational impulse going on that explains the SIMPLE kind of behavior of particles and non-conscious objects…but that WHEN this PROTO-agency gets coupled with experiential understanding and consciousness…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, the logical conclusion is absurdity. But if it’s not…then what does that make the logical conclusion for a 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 Phillip Goff is that this book can HELP MOVE the conversation forward in a productive way. It’s called Why: the purpose of the universe. Now that said: hopefully this was all very thought provoking. Not just when it comes to the details of the scientific theoretical model, our responsibility there if we want to have better and better conversations, but also when it comes to the role of ideology in ALL of this discussion if you’re Slavoj Zizek. I just PICTURE Zizek waiting right now for his ideas we’re gonna discuss on next episode. I just see him sitting on the sidelines, in a field, at a soccer game, sitting in one of those fold out chairs…eating a hotdog, watching this game being played that we’re talking about on this episode…clapping at what he’s seeing like he’s some kind of roman emperor. Just waiting, ready to pounce…ready to get us thinking about the REAL game were all playing. Thanks for sharing the podcast if it’s something you enjoy. Patreon shoutouts this week Cat Clark, Stanford Dsilva, James Traub, Sergiu Filip and yesterday’s rice. That’s both someone’s name and I’d like to just thank rice in general. It has really developed into a fine, respectable carbohydrate option. Thank you for listening. Talk to you next time.

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