Does the Universe Have a Purpose? An Animated Version of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Response

Neil deGrasse Tyson was asked by the Templeton Foundation (Wait! Don’t leave!) to answer the question, “Does the Universe Have a Purpose?”

His answer, as you might expect, is wonderful — and it’s fun to watch thanks to this animation from MinutePhysics:

(Thanks to Todd for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Aljaž Kozina

    Killer asteroids are awesome! One time, a killer asteroid waited for me in an alley and hit me – pretty hard, too! :P

    • The Other Weirdo

      Unfortunately, that was just me accidentally dropping a chamber pot that I was trying to empty through my window. Sorry. :(

  • CultOfReason

    Well done.  Now if we can just get him to come out and admit that he’s an atheist and not be ashamed of it, all would be good with the world.

    • Sailor

       In the sense of not believing in Gods he is an atheist. But he thinks it so obvious that he does not like the label in the same way few  of us think of ourselves as Afairyiests. By refusing the label he is is perhaps ignoring the annoying fact that way more people today believe in Gods than fairies. I suspect he thinks they are equally nutty and would prefer to ignore the ignorance. However when asked a question he is always direct and to the point, that is good enough for me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.westley Brian Westley

    Eh, the stars display too much first-order correlation (i.e. they are too evenly spaced, not random enough).

    • Baal

       Objects in a row?  Godditit.   Well, I’m convinced.

      Have you ever taken a bunch of magnets, put them in a bag and then shaken it? How about a deck of cards and shake them in an empty box? 

      In the former case, they stack up.  In the second one, you wind up with half the cards face up (assuming they aren’t too curved and shook enough).  These sorts of things are repeatable and have to do with how solid objects work (reality is consistent!!!elventy!11!).  I don’t know cosmology all that well but ‘self-ordering’ is a pretty common feature on a variety of scales.   I bet you could invoke the goggly-demon’s daemons and find out.

      • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

        I think Brian is referring to how dots on a page when truly randomized tend to clump. He’s right in that statistically speaking, placing a mass of dots each of which is roughly as distant from the dots near it, is not the usual outcome of random positioning.

  • ortcutt

    Only agents have purposes.  The universe is not an agent.  Ergo the universe does not have a purpose.  Any questions?

    • Quintin

      Yes, does that mean chairs are agents?

      • ortcutt

        No.  Chairs don’t have purposes.  We might have purposes in building chairs or using chairs, but chairs don’t have purposes.

        • Quintin van Zuijlen

          What the fuck are you talking about? People make chairs to sit on, so their purpose is to be sat on. That’s the whole idea of purpose: it’s whatever some agent decides an object is to be used for.

          • Deven Kale

            The chair is just a piece of wood formed into a shape that’s suitable for a human to sit upon. It has no purpose in itself, no objective for itself to live up to. The purpose of the chair is given to it by the agent who made it, so it’s actually the maker who has a purpose (to make something to sit on), and not the chair itself.

            I guess you could say that the chair has a purpose because it was made for a specific task, but even that is still an outside agent acting upon the chair in order to give it that purpose- not the chair giving a purpose to itself.

            So without an outside agent acting upon the universe to give it a purpose (something for which we have zero evidence), the universe cannot give itself a purpose since it has no agency of it’s own. I think this is what ortcutt is trying to say.

            • ortcutt

               We shouldn’t privilege the maker’s purpose in making the artifact either.  The maker makes the artifact (perhaps to sell it and make money), but someone else can use it for a different purpose.  I might sit on a chair one day, and use it as a step ladder the next.  You might keep your books on it or tame lions with it.  Multiple people are coming to the chair with purposes, but the chair doesn’t have purposes.

              • Deven Kale

                You’re just coming at it from the other side now, that the user is the one who gives it purpose. I can agree with that.

          • Guesty Guest

            This implies that purpose is separable from the entity intending to imbue the purpose into the object. This is an error. What you are describing is the intent of the agent, and mistaking that with the purpose of an object.

            What makes a chair a chair is that it is sat upon. This is what unites all chairs, from bean bags to recliners to Shaker woodbacks, which it should be noted have otherwise nearly infinite diffusion of morphology. Seriously, try to place bean bag chairs within the same functional category as barstools on the basis of structure, I dare you to try.

            What makes an object a successful chair is that it is successfully sat upon. The intent of the producer in having made the object couldn’t matter less; a person might intend a pyramid or a spike to be a chair, but all that would result in is a failure at being a chair; hence, the intent cannot substitute for purpose, for intent can fail to actualize.

  • Dats3

    I don’t like the question. It’s like saying does this rock on the ground have a purpose. Well not really unless I pick it up and use it for something. I give it purpose.  Asking does the universe have a purpose implies one of two things, 1) a creator created it for a reason or purpose in which case our lives are at this creators mercy or 2) I or we humans give it purpose by what we do with it.  I don’t like either answer. I don’t believe in a creator and the universe is too vast for us to use it for anything useful. We can use things in it but to use the universe itself isnt possible. It’s almost the same as asking why was the universe created, that there was intent and it was intentional. I do like Neil’s response though.  I just don’t like the question. That’s my two cents for what it’s worth.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i’ve always hated the “purpose” line of questioning. it’s so vain, imho. i am confident that in this universe, which is boundless and unknowable to the human mind, there are other forms of what we call “life” out there. i’ve always wished that science would come up with some proof of that before i die. just because i’d be greatly amused by watching the various organized religions do the tap dancing they would do, to explain how savior x or mythology y applied to that life too. but really, “purpose” is such a loaded, theologically tainted assumption. i’m with Neil. the bacteria in my gut have as much “purpose” as i do. 

  • Alien

    For me the purpose of the universe is to amuse myself by getting to know and speculate more about it and how it relate to things outside it. When I 10 I thought god might be a mad scientist who entertained himself by creating universes. Later I thought he might also be a stage director and humans are actors on his stage. There is certainly some vague idea of god that keep me speculating. That can keep me amused for hours. Of course, I sometimes go into blogs for a good laugh at how much people think they know about everything. My universe has a purpose very personal to me.

    • Deven Kale

       That’s your purpose for the universe though, it’s notthe purpose. And since there seems to be no outside agent which could have given the universe a purpose, it’s very like there isn’t one at all.

  • Cuberly

    The comments on the Youtube page are interesting.
    They actually go the science vs theology route which is unfortunate if you ask me.
    When a theist approaches me and wants to debate the first thing I want them to know up front is. What we know or agree to know when it comes to our planets evolution can change tomorrow with new theories and evidence. But that’s where “science” is different from religion.
    Evidence and theory based, using the scientific method, your ham-strung into acknowledging we don’t have all the pieces in the puzzle as the puzzle is always getting yet another piece. Which if you ask me is astounding in its own right.

    But the theist must acknowledge that their texts are varied, random and distilled down to the current KJV of the bible. Very much a subjective view of their times, through the ages. They also ignore many other texts from the same period. They also ignore the political and societal makeup from where they came about. Get them to admit that then you can have a discussion.

    Either or arguments are flawed from the start if you ask me. I think its always best to lay some ground rules from where you’re coming from first.


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