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Probability and the Meaning of the Universe

Probability and the Meaning of the Universe

Probability and the Meaning of the Universe

An age old question that human beings have asked since the beginning of our species (not the beginning of time because we weren’t around at the big bang) is what is the purpose of the universe, of life, of anything at all. The underlying assumption is that there must, of necessity, be an entity that decides on said purpose and it is up to us to figure out just what that entity has in mind. The question itself is absurd on many levels but, perhaps, most profoundly on the level that presupposes that one is able to understand the ineffable, the mind of whatever god or gods you attend to. The supposition that there is a purpose to the universe also presupposes that there is a purpose to war, pestilence, famine, hurricanes and tornadoes, earthquakes, disease, love, compassion, empathy, fear, hatred and so on an on we go.

I am an atheist which is to say that there is not enough evidence (other than the pronouncements of sacred textual material such as the Bible, Koran, Upanishads or other texts written by people for people) to justify the existence of an all knowing, all powerful, all loving god. While I am open to changing my mind if the evidence were to prove me wrong in my rational conclusion, in the absence of such evidence I must accept the fact that the universe itself is an absurd construction of human beings. Others on distant planets that have evolved to the point of intelligence may also think they are so important that they must too find meaning in that which we don’t understand.

I find it quite absurd that people think that success is a gift from god while failure is a punishment for sins, real or imagined. That health is a gift from god while disease is a punishment for sins, real or imagined. I rely, not on god or gods rather on the notion of probability. Probability is not luck, good or bad, it just is. If something can happen it will happen. If one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in the course of their lifetime then the odds of my getting prostate cancer are 5 to 1 against. The fact that I have prostate cancer is not a punishment, it is a simple roll of the dice and my number happened to come up. The same thing is true about the fact that I have osteoarthritis, while I don’t know the precise odds, I do know that the probability of my having arthritis was enhanced by the fact that my family has any number of members that have this disease.

Probability is not purpose, it is a simple mathematical calculation that, for the most part, can be done on the back of an envelope, on a napkin in a restaurant; no computer needed. While understanding statistical concepts like central tendency, variance and standard deviation, for example, is a more complex calculation, it is not rocket science (which is also based on mathematical formulas), it is still something that flows from and is dependent on math and math is neutral when it comes to the very notion of purpose.

I am content to know that I experience the world in infinitely brief moments of now, embedding traces of memory that allow me to find meaning in and through the existential moment of existence. I find meaning in my family, my wife, kids, grandchildren, multiple nieces and nephews, and cousins. I find meaning in the worldly relationships I have with my friends, colleagues, and others that roam in and out of my life. As to purpose, well no, I don’t pretend to find an answer to purpose because I don’t think there is such an answer. What I will do is find meaning in my life, try to always do good, and refuse to hate because it is arrogant to think I am so important as to decide that the life of another human being is less worthy than my own.

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