Stuart K. Hayashi
There is a common philosophic musing that generally goes this way:
We human beings like to think we are so special and accomplished, but we should be humbled by the fact that the universe does not care about us. The universe existed billions of years before we evolved, and it will be around billions or trillions of years after we are gone. We have been to the moon but once, and have not explored even one percent of the universe. We are nothing; we are puny; the Earth will go on, but we won’t.
There is a famous George Carlin bit on YouTube that says that; it is also the message of the song “Dust in the Wind” (good music; not-so-hot lyrics).
That viewpoint is most frequently espoused by atheists, and yet those who espouse that viewpoint hold onto a premise that is a vestige of religious belief: it is the assumption that for humans to have value and meaning, humans must be esteemed by some other entity grander than humans. In the case of many believers in Abrahamic religions, for humanity to have meaning, humanity has to be regarded as meaningful by God. Therefore, if there is no God, humanity has no meaning.
Atheists who espouse the viewpoint I described in the beginning hold onto that premise. They, too, assume that for humans to have meaning, humans must be esteemed by some other, grander entity — here, they substitute God with the universe. And they recognize that the universe does not esteem humans. Therefore, they conclude, humans are metaphysically meaningless, ultimately a blip. That is, these atheists agree with many Christians that for humanity to have meaning, humans must be valued by God. These atheists then say there is no God there to value humans, which therefore precludes the possibility of humans having value.
Here is the problem with that: even though these atheists recognize that the universe does not and cannot value humans literally, these atheists are still being anthropomorphic in assigning, on an implicit level, human psychological traits to the universe. They still assume that for humans to have value and meaning, “the universe” must behave like a human in valuing this species. That is, they set this arbitrary standard whereby they proclaim that for humans to have value, “the universe” has to behave psychologically like a human capable of valuing humans. Then, since “the universe” is not psychologically capable of valuing humans, they proclaim that humans cannot have value.
That game is rigged, very much in the way that socialists set arbitrary standards for the human species and, upon finally observing that humans do not abide by such ridiculous standards, conclude that the human species is just congenitally disappointing. In the case of the humans-have-no-value people, they set an arbitrary standard for “the universe” to meet (the standard being “Does the universe value me?”), and, upon noticing “the universe” does not value humans, expresses the rueful conclusion that Existence itself is empty and disappointing.
Here is what they miss: my significance is not contingent upon “the universe” acknowledging that it “values” me. The reason “the universe” does not care is that it has no capability of caring. However, a specific class of entities within the universe are capable of caring: sapient organisms.
For an entity to be capable of caring about anything, it must be an organism possessing volition. That which is of detriment to the organism’s life is a disvalue; that which furthers or enhances the life of the organism is a positive value. The organism, possessing volition, examines what it does and does not value, and then accordingly takes action to obtain and secure positive values while avoiding disvalues. “The universe” cannot value me; I can value my place in the universe. I am not to be judged by “the universe’s” standards; the universe has principles — natural law — but the universe makes no judgments; it has no capacity for making judgments. By contrast, I am capable of making judgments. The universe, as such, is not teleological; a sapient organism within the universe is teleological.
I do not care a whit that the universe will not care once I am dead; it is meaningless when someone says that the universe’s indifference indicates that the universe “regarded” me as useless the entire time. “Usefulness” and “uselessness” have no meaning to any existents but volitional organisms. What is of significance is that, as I remain alive, entities within the universe are useful to me, and that the entire universe itself will be rendered useless to me once I am dead. The issue is not whether I am regarded as useful to the universe; the issue whether I can regard anything in the universe as useful to me.
I ask not what I can do for the universe. I ask what the universe can do for me.
Here, the proponents of the “universe doesn’t care about you” slogan frequently reply, “Then you are conceding that value is entirely subjective, as everything is in relation to you, the subject.” Subjective is a misleading term in this context, as it implies “capricious” or “arbitrary.” When every value is judged according to what it does for me and my life, those evaluations remain objective. The object- in “objective” refers to the objects I am evaluating, and the -ive refers to the relationship between those objects and me, the subject. When I judge an entity to be an objective value to me, it is because the object provides value in its relationship to me.
Thus, those who say, “Why doesn’t the universe care about me?” are asking the wrong question. Instead, one’s life is the standard by which one judges the universe and everything in it, and one must ask oneself what in the universe one cares about.
Yes, many people shout at me, “The universe doesn’t care about you!”
To that, I can only reply, “There is no reason for me to care that the universe doesn’t care.” ^_^