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Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

Neil deGrasse Tyson was asked by the Templeton Foundation to answer the question “Does the Universe Have a Purpose”.

In his response, Neil says that any answer beyond “I’m not sure” claims some access to knowledge not based on empirical foundations. Empirical foundations come from observations or experience. His remark seems to be aimed at philosophical and religious ponderings that are not well grounded in such evidence. There is a lot of evidence that can be used to sort out at least some of this question.

First, Neil himself seems to suggest that the universe operates with a great deal of randomness. A game that uses die rolls or a program that uses a randomization function is not automatically excluded from having some form of purpose just because it contains a random element. There does seem to be empirical evidence that the universe has a high degree of randomness in many parts and therefore it becomes likely that any purpose must include that random functioning in some way.

Neil also seems to struggle with wondering what the purpose might be. For the sake of simplicity, let’s perform a trial with a sample purpose. Our purpose can also include some terms and conditions. Suppose the purpose of the universe is to produce a brilliant physicist who can say, “I’m not sure if the universe has a purpose”. The terms and conditions are that it doesn’t matter what his name is, or whether or not he has a moustache, or what language he uses to express the sentence, or what kind of species he is, or how long it takes to evolve the species, or which planet he is on, or what galaxy he is in, or even how matter and energy are arranged and function. Further terms and conditions are that we have to be able to design a simple algorithm of creation that produces a universe of non-predetermined form that has not just the ability to create the end result but an absolute certainty that the desired sentence will someday be expressed by somebody.

Now the question becomes – with such a purpose and under the described terms and conditions of the purpose, what kind of universe would you create? It seems obvious that such a universe needs to have a wonderful ability to use randomness to create an infinite number of options that can result in the end purpose, just as our universe seems to operate. This does not answer the question that Neil was asked, but it does suggest that there might be empirical evidence that we can use to try to answer it, without disappointing Neil.