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A Pointless Universe as a Reductio ad Absurdum

There is something odd about the tradition of philosophers and scientists who take on the position that the universe is pointless. For if the philosopher or scientist who makes that statement includes his or her own consciousness and those of all other conscious creatures—which he or she should—in the picture of the universe, then from what standpoint is the philosopher or scientist making this declaration? If I, or anyone else, declare the universe to be pointless, it can only make sense if I do it in relation to something that is not pointless and, if there is such a “thing,” then the universe cannot be pointless, for that thing must be part of the universe. If everything were truly pointless, then how would I know it unless I knew what it meant for something to have a point? Moreover, how could I declare that the universe is pointless for all conscious life? By saying that the universe is pointless, Weinberg is also saying that my conscious life, your conscious life, and all other conscious lives are pointless—because, again, consciousness is part of the universe. It is unclear how these latter assertions could ever be rightfully affirmed.

When Nietzsche, roughly speaking, declares that the universe is pointless in his doctrine of eternal recurrence, he does so because he believes the universe is deterministic and made up of atoms that recombine, and they can only do so in a finite number of ways. This means he would have to live over and over again—something he finds pointless and terrifying. Yet the very fact that he senses this—the pointlessness and terror—means he must conceive of something meaningful. The problem is that his reason cannot grasp that meaning, because it is under the spell of a physical theory of the universe, to which Nietzsche fetters his own consciousness. Nietzsche’s reason tells him he can find meaning in the eternal recurrence, but through existentially facing the pointlessness and thereby overcoming it. But we might say there is something more about Nietzsche—or anyone who thinks in the way he does—that transcends reason and can give a deeper, more profound sense of meaning: the formless, without which his formulation of pointlessness would make little sense.

Hume would have found Nietzsche’s reasoning cold, and Kant would have found it an expression of the tragic nature of reason. Why? Because Nietzsche neither knows what will happen to him when he dies, nor understands how he arrived as a conscious creature. In other words, Nietzsche can only think he can understand his place in the universe, but he can understand neither his mind in itself nor the rest of the noumenal world. Why does Nietzsche think he can understand it all, and why does he not take consciousness more seriously as a source of meaning? The reason, I believe, stems ultimately from a misunderstanding that began with Schopenhauer.

 
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