Friday, April 4, 2008

Purpose in the universe

In 14th Century Europe a fictional Scandinavian knight with his squire after the last Crusade return to their homeland. The civilized world is being ravaged by the Black Plague: More horrific than any battle and just as wasteful. With altruism in mind for companion and acquaintances and an opportunity to probe the mysteries of life the brave knight challenges and arrests his call by Death through a game of chess--alleviate the emanate peril temporally and allowing time seeking the ultimate answer to life. Granted, the tone is more theological than scientific but it nevertheless attests to the timeless question of the purpose of the universe and man's relationship to the universe.

The KNIGHT is kneeling before a small altar. It is dark and quiet around him. The air is cool and musty. Pictures of saints look down on him with stony eyes. Christ's face is turned upwards, His mouth open as if in a cry of anguish. On the ceiling beam there is a representation of a hideous devil spying on a miserable human being. The KNIGHT hears a sound from the confession booth and approaches it. The face of DEATH appears behind the grille for an instant, but the KNIGHT doesn't see him.

KNIGHT: I want to talk to you as openly as I can, but my heart is empty.

DEATH doesn't answer.

KNIGHT: The emptiness is a mirror turned towards my own face. I see myself in it, and I am filled with fear and disgust.

DEATH doesn't answer.

KNIGHT: Through my indifference to my fellow men, I have isolated myself from their company. Now I live in a world of phantoms. I am imprisoned in my dreams and fantasies.

DEATH: And yet you don't want to die.

KNIGHT: Yes, I do.

DEATH: What are you waiting for?

KNIGHT: I want knowledge.

DEATH: You want guarantees?

KNIGHT: Call it whatever you like. Is it so cruelly inconceivable to grasp God with the senses? Why should He hide himself in a mist of half-spoken promises and unseen miracles?

DEATH doesn't answer.

KNIGHT: How can we have faith in those who believe when we can't have faith in ourselves? What is going to happen to those of us who want to believe but aren't able to? And what is to become of those who neither want to nor are capable of believing?

The KNIGHT stops and waits for a reply, but no one speaks or answers him. There is complete silence.

KNIGHT: Why can't I kill God within me? Why does He live on in this painful and humiliating way even though I curse Him and want to tear Him out of my heart? Why, in spite of everything, is He a baffling reality that I can't shake is He a baffling reality that I can't shake off? Do you hear me?

DEATH: Yes, I hear you.

KNIGHT: I want knowledge, not faith, not suppositions, but knowledge. I want God to stretch out His hand towards me, reveal Himself and speak to me.

DEATH: But He remains silent.

KNIGHT: I call out to Him in the dark but no one seems to be there.

DEATH: Perhaps no one is there.

KNIGHT: Then life is an outrageous horror. No one can live in the face of death, knowing that all is nothingness.

DEATH: Most people never reflect about either death or the futility of life.

KNIGHT: But one day they will have to stand at that last moment of life and look towards the darkness.

DEATH: When that day comes ....

KNIGHT: In our fear, we make an image, and that image we call God.

Excerpt from Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal screenplay.

Existential angst for Antonius Block [the knight]? Answers may not be found, but no harm in asking. Meaning, purpose, relevancy. Science/technology have yielded tremendous data and extended our probe into the universe. The raw data is refined and analyzed and we know little more about the meaning of the universe and ourselves than when we started. Relevant conclusions provide no further reason and in some case just cloud and frustrate. We certainly are overwhelmed with events and the immensity of the universe--we still can't find our niche. I suppose we try to find solace in our wish to find other beings and wish that we may be unique but may well have to accept utter loneliness and a species's futile existence. The juxtaposition between man and the universe for a purposeful relationship may be non-existent and irrelevant in the long run, but we wish to make it meaningful--individually and as a species. We question the universe; we question ourselves--our mortality is on the line.

As the late Richard Feynman said: "But I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn't frighten me". Steven Weinberg also said: "The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy." Neither is that a pointless endeavor nor an invocation of mandatory religion/theology. If it is significant for an individual to introduce a custom made deity or a deity of popularism and mainstream religious/theological movements to enhance the meaning of the universe, that is fine, but one must understand it is best to be fair and tolerate realms of epistemology, cosmology, metaphysics, the sciences for those that adopt and believe in an alternate or modified perspective when one ponders the meaning/purpose of the universe.

The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe by, Steven Weinberg

ISBN: 0465024378

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