Updated: Feb 4, 2021
Recognizing that any explanation of how the cosmos operates is dependent on, and limited to, the parameters set by the culture I am part of, I offer the following interpretation of our human place in the Universe:
The question of the meaning and purpose of life for our species can be easily understood by the simple observation that human beings are a micro-phenomenon subset of a macro-phenomenon event. The nature of that event is—and inevitably always will be—ultimately unknowable to us in its totality due to the limitations of sapiens intellect, which is dependent on brain function.
Human beings comprehend much of the macrocosm using rational deductions based on scientific methodology, including the hypothesized origins of time-space. The paradigm in which homo sapiens exists is: Time = Space = Matter = Energy.
Once the Great Expansion (Big Bang) was set in motion about 13.8 billion years ago, the Universe went from a state of near-perfect low entropy to a still-ongoing development of high-entropic conditions. The manifest shape and structure of those high-entropic conditions is the subject of that method of human understanding known as science.
As all human knowledge is obtained through the sensory structures of a sapiens-evolving physiology, our place in the cosmos can only be understood through limited observation. So far, this has led us to an awareness that sapiens has a minuscule role in, and an equally minuscule effect on, the totality of the universe. Thus, by simple observation, we are statistically insignificant from a cosmic standpoint.
As sentient beings whose evolved brain capacity has allowed our species to develop self-awareness and a capacity for reasoning (which is an ability to understand cause and effect), we have increasingly sought methods to enhance our biological odds for survival.
The nature of primate instinct centers on group/tribal dynamics and is pyramidal in structure. These inherent traits, combined with an evolving comprehension of our overwhelming vulnerability against cosmic forces, leads us to invent culture.
Culture is created at the tribal level and is structured according to Dunbar’s number which suggests that individuals can maintain stable social relationships only when all members of a group know each other and understand their relationships with each other. This occurs at an observable mean of approximately 150 persons. Beyond that mean, people are socially held together by common mythologies.
Mythologies arise from homo sapiens’ ability to communicate ideas about things not found in the natural world. There are three major paradigms that organize culture, and the first of these is the concept of acquired individual ownership which leads from barter to currency to wealth. Wealth leads to the necessity of enforcement by legitimized power (authority). But the most powerful myth—the one that determines the rationale for enforcing the other two—is religion. Under the auspices of these mythologies—wealth, temporal power, and religion—the norms of any culture are elevated to something supra (or super) human and, therefore, are beyond logical argument, rendering them innately indisputable.
While the tribe/state/nation/empire itself may become the object of quasi-religious fervor, in many cultures, homo sapiens anthropomorphizes the processes of the observed universe into ontological divinities. The persistence of the almost-universal institution of religion among cultures is suggestive of a desire by most human beings to understand time-space from a personalized viewpoint that defines the observer as more cosmically significant than they objectively are.
Mythologies are at the core of all cultural constructs, and where there is compatibility among two or more cultures, and resources are plentiful so that enjoined entities are not threatened with want, there is peaceful interaction. Where control of limited resources is threatened, tribes will rally around their own people, and physical conflict occurs.
And that’s it. All the rest, all the volumes of history, philosophy, and theology ever written, are mere footnotes on the human condition. And yet, we can’t help but keep asking ourselves, “What if …”