Will humans ever really understand why the universe exists?

  • Thread starter Holocene
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  • #1
Holocene
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We can and have made models that explain in great detail how the universe behaves, the laws that apply, and have even speculated upon the conditions of the early universe, mere fractions of a second after it came into being.

I suppose as time goes on, future generations will gain even more knowledge, but isn't it safe to say that we shall never be able to understand how, and even more importantly, WHY the universe exists at all?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Blueprint
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No brainer for me *whistles*
 
  • #3
rbj
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well, there are hard-core atheists that believe that someday humans will. i think Richard Dawkins is an example.
 
  • #4
robertm
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I think that your question is flawed. Why must there be a why? I don't think we will ever discover why the universe is because 'why' is an arbitrarily human creation. There doesn't have to be a philosophical reason for everything, only a mechanical.

If we as humans can maintain a stable and supportive society for long enough i most certainly believe that we will discover HOW the universe works, but to search for a why is futile.

I don't mean to say that philosophical speculation on the meaning of things is useless but I do mean to say it is entirely a product of the human mind and does not exist outside ourselves, where as atoms and galaxy clusters do.

I ask, how much easier is it to remain a happy and stable individual knowing that your life 'matters' and has a 'meaning' and that the world around you has a meaning, as opposed to knowing that your life and the world around you means nothing at all outside a human mind; knowing that the world around you is simply a system of actions and reactions based on the physical make-up of the world and has no sense of caring or compassion for you or anyone you hold dear?

Evolution has shaped us to love one another and gravitate to anything with human emotions/traits 'birds of a feather'. And inversely we have been shaped to shy from and even detest things and ideas that seem foreign or fakely human. Which is the more popular pet: a dog bursting with pack mentality and love and emotion, or a harmless yet emotionless fish? Or look at our attitudes towards machines with almost human like emotions, they seem strange and frightening. Even video game designers have troubles because graphics now-a-days are extremely good, yet can not quite express proper human emotions and gamers can feel disconnected and even put off by characters.

My point being we search for a 'why' in the universe because the universe is to cold without one. We desperately want there to be a why. i.e. religion

But we must remember to separate our evolutionary skewed thinking from the actual world. There will never be a meaning to something unless a human prescribes it a meaning. The universe is; and we can describe and measure and discover how, when, where, and what but the why drops out of the equation simply because there is no why and there is no need for there to be any why outside of ourselves.
 
  • #5
sysreset
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0
For those of you out there who have had children, you will remember times when your child asked "why?" and then kept repeating it over and over no matter what the answer. At some point, after the parent has unpeeled the onion of the "because" answers enough times, there is that moment where you realize that the child wins. You can always keep asking "why" forever, until the question becomes absurd.
 
  • #6
stingray78
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Of course not, C'mon.
 
  • #7
cristo
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
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Whether or not we will ever understand why the universe exists is not a question that Cosmology can answer, thus I am moving it to Philosophy.
 
  • #8
g33kski11z
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I selected "In time, yes, we will know exactly why the universe exists.", although, I think it should say "how it came into existence", not why.
 
  • #9
out of whack
435
0
Non-existence is impossible.

Why?

Because the universe exists. (Duh.)

Why?

See first sentence.

:smile:
 
  • #10
Dovekie
27
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I don't think we'll ever fully understand WHY. It's not possible to find the ultimate answer/truth. For one thing, how would we even know it was the ultimate answer. Human knowledge is both limited and limitless at the same time. We'll only ever know what we know and that IS the limit, but if we think of/discover/develop new things, ideas of theories - that becomes the new limit. So, even when we think we've found the reason why or how... it's limited by what we know thus far, and therefore not the ultimate answer.
 
  • #11
Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
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What does the question "Why?" even mean?
 
  • #12
Dovekie
27
0
Also, there's a limit to self-awareness and higher consciousness. Sorry to reiterate the obvious, but I felt it was relevant.

There's a quote: "Our greatest weakness as human beings is not knowing that we don't know".

There's no level of self-awareness/higher consciousness that will grant access to knowing the things we don't know. I personally don't think it's our 'greatest weakness'. As long as you've made peace with the fact that you can't know or understand everything, it no longer qualifies as a weakness, per se. That's not saying you should just give up and stop questioning and wondering - there's still so much out there you can gain from questioning.

There's always going to be the illusion that we're getting close to the answer(s), but once again that's just because we're limited to what we know or what we think there is to know.

∴ (In my opinion) we'll never understand why...

n.b. I haven't been on these forums since 2004, and I love how the cogs in my head are turning again. Cheers for all the intellectual discussions on here. It's nice to have my mind on something other than college gossip *sigh*.
 
  • #13
vanesch
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
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We already know why the universe exists. It is there to make me possible. :cool:
 
  • #14
greghouse
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0
My point being we search for a 'why' in the universe because the universe is to cold without one. We desperately want there to be a why. i.e. religion

I agree completely, the question is biased. If we ask "Why?", we assume that there is a reason for our existence; hade we asked "If there's a reason, then why?" it would have been unbiased.
 
  • #15
Holocene
237
0
I selected "In time, yes, we will know exactly why the universe exists.", although, I think it should say "how it came into existence", not why.

I agree completely, the question is biased. If we ask "Why?", we assume that there is a reason for our existence; hade we asked "If there's a reason, then why?" it would have been unbiased.


I'm not invoking any underlying "meaning" or "purpose" when I use the word "why". "How" and "why" are essentially the same thing here.

Why do objects fall to the ground when dropped? We can explain that fairly well without invoking anything other than scientific theory.
 
  • #16
Barfolumu
68
0
What does the question "Why?" even mean?

I drew up a diagram of English's interrogatives awhile back, and drew the conclusion that they all are built upon "What"

Who: What person?
When: What time?
Where: What place?
Why: for What reason?
How: by what means?

But then we get down to: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/what" [Broken]

It requires one to select an answer out of not necessarily wholly defined set of answers. It requires a set of criteria, and a decision that is backed up by that criteria.

So, in context:

"Why" does the universe exist?
can equate to:

for what reason does the universe exist?

Primarily, I would argue that "Why" is a question of purpose, or more ethereally, a question of "inner meaning". To that, I would say we have several answers, but I would argue that the scientific method is not the best way to go about finding them, since an object with a purpose can be used for another purpose, and there isn't a single answer.
 
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  • #17
Benzoate
421
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I think the universe has always existed. I think the universe could care less what occupies it. Just like hurricanes and other earthly disasters are not going to be nit-picky about who lives and who dies if a person happens to be in the way of the hurricane. Why do humans care about a universe that could care less about the fate of humans
 
  • #18
sysreset
139
0
Why do humans care about a universe that could care less about the fate of humans?

Humans are incredibly curious. We want to find out as much as we can, and explore as far as we can go. Also there is always the possibility that understanding the fundamentals of our universe might pay off in some practical way, such as enhanced ability to survive.

I agree with you that the universe could care less about the fate of humans. The universe is not a sentient being, at least in my opinion. I also think the OP clearly stated in a follow up post that the original question was not asking in a religious sense about why the universe exists but was asking mechanically what got everything started at a particular point in time or in space. But if you are right and the universe has always existed, there may not be a reason for it.
 
  • #19
Eric DMC
19
0
The true question is not will we understand, but will we comprehend its existence?
Also I believe that if humanity had a long enough time we would discover and comprehend our universe.
But I believe we as humans will destroy our selves many centuries before.
 
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  • #20
Barfolumu
68
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The true question is not will we understand, but will we comprehend its existence?
Also I believe that if humanity had a long enough time we would discover and comprehend our universe.
But I believe we as humans will destroy our selves many centuries before.

That's a bummer.
 
  • #21
Moridin
688
3
The question presupposes the primacy of non-existence, which is a dubious presupposition.
 
  • #22
Blueprint
31
0
The question presupposes the primacy of non-existence, which is a dubious presupposition.

I read the total energy of the universe is zero, i.e. negative gravitational energy cancels out the positive energy of matter. My point is what do u call non-existence, because if its zero total energy equilibrium or zero matter (aka big bang), then even non-existence could be considered existence.
 
  • #23
sirzerp
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0
Why do objects fall to the ground when dropped? We can explain that fairly well without invoking anything other than scientific theory.


No, why does not equal how.

How were you born? This is well known.

Why were you born? This is not so well known. :)

Gravity is still not understood, why does a apple fall to the ground is not the same as how does an apple fall to the ground...
 
  • #24
Blueprint
31
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You guys seem to be delving into unanswerable philosophical discussions.

Why - for what reason does the apple fall to the ground? The gravity of the entire Earth broke the EM bonds between a few atoms in the stalk of an apple to pull it off the tree.

Why - for what reason does the Earth have gravity? Without it, life could not exist. Without ALL the interaction forces, or even if they had different strengths (i.e. in other universes different laws of science) we would not be here to ask such questions... The electron would spiral into the nucleus, stars wouldn't be able to balance gravity with fusion reactions to give out life providing starlight and instead would break apart or undergo catastropic collapse etc.

Do u mean why does the universe exist OR why is there not nothingness? Stupid question if u ask me... There is a whole lot of nothing in a whole load of other universes with life-incompatible laws of science. Maybe u mean why are there all these particles in a universe of zero total energy? I think this is answered by quantum evolutionary mutation (I just made that term up hehe) or Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.
 
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  • #25
vinityfair
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A human can claim to know; as the claim is clearly unfalsifable, we can forget it, unless the human acts on the claim and tries to mess up our lives. Then, and only then, would it be worthwhile to take out time to disabuse the claimant. If you want a silly irrefutable answer to support a silly hypothesis, you ask a silly question. I'm surprised that Physics Forum has fallen for such a jejune tactic.
 
  • #26
Barfolumu
68
0
You guys seem to be delving into unanswerable philosophical discussions.

That would be why this is in the philosophy forum. :)

Why - for what reason does the Earth have gravity? Without it, life could not exist.

That doesn't answer why the Earth has gravity, even on a causal level.

Do u mean why does the universe exist OR why is there not nothingness?

I took the OP to mean the former.

vinityfair said:
A human can claim to know; as the claim is clearly unfalsifable, we can forget it, unless the human acts on the claim and tries to mess up our lives. Then, and only then, would it be worthwhile to take out time to disabuse the claimant. If you want a silly irrefutable answer to support a silly hypothesis, you ask a silly question. I'm surprised that Physics Forum has fallen for such a jejune tactic.

I find your response confusing. Do you mind clarifying?
 
  • #27
sirzerp
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0
Since one could assume the complexity of the universe is fixed quantity.

A much better question is will mankind’s ability to understand complexity evolve and improve. o:)

Teaching calculus to a dog kind of thingee.

The dog would have to evolve into something that is not a dog, in order to understand calculus.

Hmmm…..
 
  • #28
ThomasT
529
0
We can and have made models that explain in great detail how the universe behaves, the laws that apply, and have even speculated upon the conditions of the early universe, mere fractions of a second after it came into being.
Of course it's all probably quite wrong. But, what the heck, it provides a living for some people. :wink:
I suppose as time goes on, future generations will gain even more knowledge, but isn't it safe to say that we shall never be able to understand how, and even more importantly, WHY the universe exists at all?
Seems pretty safe to me. :rofl: We'll be gone long before our solar system, much less the universe, ends -- and when the last human takes his/her last breath we won't have understood much of what we experienced up to that instant. But, what the heck, we gave it a shot. :rolleyes:
 
  • #29
Blueprint
31
0
Ok this thread got moved from cosmology, I'll give philosophy a go then... :)

Teaching calculus to a dog kind of thingee.

The dog would have to evolve into something that is not a dog, in order to understand calculus.

Thats a good point sirzerp but flawed... what more complexity do we need to evolve to? We can't evolve to 5+ dimensional beings with the size less than that of an atom to use or understand those dimensions, this could be the key to understanding why (and how) the universe exists.

We could evolve to a bigger brain, that's faster and more multitasking, but theorists can achieve the same over a longer period of time now.

Maybe we could evolve to use telepathy, higher brain functions, but I don't think that will help us see what we couldn't see before.

Even a non-carbon based lifeform, or a different species that evolved to sociality, say lizard-men, would peak like we have.

Just be glad Hitler didnt get the H-bomb and nuke us all :-)
 
  • #30
rootX
465
4
Why do objects fall to the ground when dropped? We can explain that fairly well without invoking anything other than scientific theory.

I don't think so.
{
Objects fall because of gravity
gravity's there because objects attract each other
Why? - I don't know :redface:
}
We haven't yet understood gravity throughly, or have we?
 
  • #31
sysreset
139
0
We'll be gone long before our solar system, much less the universe, ends -- and when the last human takes his/her last breath we won't have understood much of what we experienced up to that instant. But, what the heck, we gave it a shot. :rolleyes:

One thing we do comprehend accurately is the enormity of the universe, and how devoid of sentient life most of it is. We also comprehend that over the enormous epochs of time in past and future history, human existence and awareness of the cosmos is a mere flicker. Discovering fundamental laws of physics is a significant accomplishment for a civilization and merits celebration, not dirision.:smile:
 
  • #32
the408
2
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This is my first post-
I am not a physicist, and it interests me to see such conflict amongst you over the words why and how. Am I not mistaken that many prominent physicists pride themselves on the self attribution that they now answer the hows and why's of life, and philosophers struggle with linguistic problems only (hawking,etc)? Robertm, and the one or two of you who have defended his words, argue an arbitrary linguistic manipulation.
Robertm you say that the "How" is to be discovered inevitably, but the why is futile. Holocene you make a logical, and important point in your post 15: you say that how and why mean the same thing in your question. Your language allows for the very mis-interpretation viewable within everyones posts, however you make an essentially correct assertion.
Original scientists, physicists, and the like originated all of their postulates and maxims from questions that are able to be formulated with the use of "Why": Newton-why did the apple fall onto my head? Copernicus- why do the planets orbit as such? And from these questions new whys are then created and articulated from the old ones they answered. Even today, it is the "WHY" that propels development in Quantum Physics-such as, 'why' are we unable to determine the motion, and location of sub atomic matter at the same time? Why is it one, or the other?
Why and how CAN mean the same thing given the specific context that allows for it: at other times, they make very distinguished questions to which separate, and distinct answers are required.
Should the answer to "how", as regards the universe, ever be discovered: a statement that is asserted by you, Robertm, and your supporters: a complete negation of your futile "why" is the consequence...
Once the "How" is discovered, all that is left to understand is "Why" it happened. After all, "Why" is a fundamental, necessary, and incontestable attribute of your beloved cause and effect mechanized reality: the "How" of things are assumed with the assertion of cause and effect: all that remains is understanding "Why" certain causes generate their various effects: perhaps you'd rather I say, "How" certain causes generate their various effects? :p
 
  • #33
Blueprint
31
0
I enjoyed reading that the408 welcome to teh PF boards :)

I'm thinking why you registered is more important than how -.-
 
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  • #34
vinityfair
4
0
Barfolomu. Sorry for my opaqueness, and poor articulation. My position is that there are no possible procedures to assign unequal truth values to any set of answers to the question, which set can include logically inconsistent propositions, as well as heroically absurd ones. My position entails that any particular claim to know is not knowledge, and I suggest it should not be used by the claimant to impact on the lives of those who do not accept the claim. My silliness remarks were written on the (possibly unjustified ) assumption that anybody who would ask such a why question must have a motive other than seeking knowledge, much as the intelligent design set has a motive in asking its question. Clearly I overstepped the mark in castigating Physics Forum for raising the question, as some may view it as motivated by knowledge seeking rather than by myth endorsing.
 
  • #35
robertm
290
0
This is my first post-
I am not a physicist, and it interests me to see such conflict amongst you over the words why and how. Am I not mistaken that many prominent physicists pride themselves on the self attribution that they now answer the hows and why's of life, and philosophers struggle with linguistic problems only (hawking,etc)? Robertm, and the one or two of you who have defended his words, argue an arbitrary linguistic manipulation.
Robertm you say that the "How" is to be discovered inevitably, but the why is futile. Holocene you make a logical, and important point in your post 15: you say that how and why mean the same thing in your question. Your language allows for the very mis-interpretation viewable within everyones posts, however you make an essentially correct assertion.
Original scientists, physicists, and the like originated all of their postulates and maxims from questions that are able to be formulated with the use of "Why": Newton-why did the apple fall onto my head? Copernicus- why do the planets orbit as such? And from these questions new whys are then created and articulated from the old ones they answered. Even today, it is the "WHY" that propels development in Quantum Physics-such as, 'why' are we unable to determine the motion, and location of sub atomic matter at the same time? Why is it one, or the other?
Why and how CAN mean the same thing given the specific context that allows for it: at other times, they make very distinguished questions to which separate, and distinct answers are required.
Should the answer to "how", as regards the universe, ever be discovered: a statement that is asserted by you, Robertm, and your supporters: a complete negation of your futile "why" is the consequence...
Once the "How" is discovered, all that is left to understand is "Why" it happened. After all, "Why" is a fundamental, necessary, and incontestable attribute of your beloved cause and effect mechanized reality: the "How" of things are assumed with the assertion of cause and effect: all that remains is understanding "Why" certain causes generate their various effects: perhaps you'd rather I say, "How" certain causes generate their various effects? :p

I may have not been clear on my opinion of the futility of why.
Why is one of the most important questions one could ever ask. However, it is not always the right question to ask.

Why implies a reason for something. Not a physical empirical reason, but a human reason. There is no 'reason' for the universe's existence. So unless one is advocating an egocentric universe there will never be any reason for the universe's existence.

However there is most certainly a what, how, and when that one can discover that points to the reasons that the universe is here. Like you said the408, my main point is most certainly one of semantics.

Instead of 'why does the apple fall' one should ask 'what is the cause of the apple's behavior'
I.e. " What are the underlying reasons for the existence of the universe?"

Discovering the underlying mechanics of everything is the the only question to answer. Once we have a so called theory of everything and have answered every observable effect there will be no more questions to answer, no why. Personally I'm not so sure that a state of knowledge as such will ever be reached.

There is no why to the movement of atoms(or anything else) they simply behave in a certain manner due to their physical construction brought about by certain processes that can be described in a similar manner. Attempting to apply a human why to the universe is ridiculous.

We, as intelligent and thoughtful humans, are supposed to be moving away from many of our evolutionary flaws that cloud our true judgment so as to keep us alive. Not looking to apply arbitrary philosophical meaning to things that have no ability to care weather or not we know anything about them.

Try this, picture the universe. Everything, forwards and back in time as far as may be possible. Now, take humans out of the universe. Picture yourself not as a sentient part of the universe but just like any other particle, star, galaxy cluster, whatever you prefer. Now in this situation, ask again, is there a why/reason for everything surrounding you?
 

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